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For Your Health: Roll up our sleeves to fight COVID-19


For Your Health Graphic 2020

Dr. Graham Colditz Headshot

We’re coming up on a full year since the pandemic began to drastically impact our lives, so it’s wonderful to be able to greet spring with a feeling of optimism about our fight against the coronavirus.

We now have three very effective vaccines that have been found to prevent COVID-19. There are two 2-dose vaccines that have around 95 percent protection against the illness, and the newest, a one-dose vaccine that has around 66 percent protection against moderate or severe illness, and that greatly protects against hospitalizations.

Each of the vaccines has been rigorously studied in clinical trials that had more than 100,000 total participants, and more than 65 million shots have already been given across the United States. As that number increases, we should continue to see a significant drop in infections and hospitalizations from their recent peaks earlier in winter. Over time, this likely means a welcome return of more normal everyday activities, even as many basic pandemic safety measures will remain important.

“People should sign up and get the vaccine when it’s their turn,” said Dr. Marci Moore-Connelley, chief medical officer for Southern Illinois Healthcare. “The approved vaccines are safe, effective and our opportunity to turn the course of the pandemic.”

Some minor side effects can be expected following a shot, which is a normal reaction to the vaccine. Serious side effects, though, are rare. Since vaccination began in the U.S., frequently reported reactions include a sore arm, fatigue, headache, muscle ache and chills. With the two-dose vaccines, these have more often followed the second dose than the first. But for all the vaccines, most side effects tend to go away within a day or so.

With high demand and currently limited supplies, the vaccines are being rolled out in a prioritized order. The specific order of vaccination groups varies from state to state but generally gives priority to essential workers and those at increased risk from COVID-19. Groups such as health-care workers and nursing home residents were typically vaccinated first. Younger, generally healthy people who aren’t part of any other priority group will generally be vaccinated after others.

A quick web search or call to a local or state health department can help you find out which group you belong to and how to sign up for your turn to be vaccinated. Most appointments are scheduled online, and that can be a challenge for those who could use help with technology, Dr. Moore-Connelley said. If that’s the case, don’t be shy about asking. Pick up the phone and call your doctor, health department or teenage grandchild. And if you’re good with computers, be sure to reach out to people you know who might need assistance.

We’re all in this together. And that highlights one of the great benefits of getting vaccinated against COVID-19. It not only protects each of us individually from the disease, but it helps protect the health our family, neighbors and community, as well. If we can keep the rates of infections and hospitalizations down overall, we all win.

Thinking about her own experience rolling up her sleeve and getting the vaccine, Dr. Moore-Connelley shared the excitement of the moment and the promise it held.

“Everyone was upbeat and happy to be there,” she said. “There was a real feeling of hope for the future.”

It’s your health – and your family’s and community’s health. Take control.

Dr. Graham A. Colditz, associate director of prevention and control at Siteman Cancer Center at Barnes-Jewish Hospital and Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, is an internationally recognized leader in cancer prevention. As an epidemiologist and public health expert, he has a long-standing interest in the preventable causes of chronic disease. Colditz has a medical degree from The University of Queensland and a master’s and doctoral degrees in public health from Harvard University’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health.