Imagine feeling mildly ill for a day or two. Now imagine becoming so sick that you require extended time on a ventilator and risk permanent damage to vital organs like your lungs and heart.
If you had the choice between those two illnesses, which would you pick?
What if we told you that you do, in fact, have a choice? The choice is to be vaccinated against COVID-19 or remain at high risk for contracting the illness and potentially suffering those long-lasting and life-altering complications – or possibly even death.
The choice is clear: when it comes to the risks of a COVID-19 infection versus the risks of potential side effects - there is no comparison. Both the immediate and long-term impacts to health and wellness from contracting COVID-19 far exceed the possibility and the impact of minor side effects from one of the vaccines.
Many studies show that we humans are really bad at assessing statistics and relative risk. Scary stories about someone's vaccination experience – whether true or not – tend to have an emotional impact on us that's stronger than reassuring statistics about vaccine safety.
Nonetheless, here are some important numbers: the World Health Organization reports that – as of Oct. 20 – there have been more than 241 million cases of COVID-19 around the world and close to five million deaths, including approximately 28,500 in Canada. Meanwhile, more than 6.5 billion vaccine doses have been administered, with overwhelming evidence that these vaccines are saving countless lives while carrying far, far lower risks than the disease they're designed to prevent.
Death is of course the most severe consequence of COVID-19. Most people do survive, however the ongoing risks and consequences to their health can be wide-ranging and ongoing. Recovery is not quick and simple. Even after the infection is gone, many symptoms can linger, including fatigue, trouble breathing, joint and chest pain, fever, cough, cognitive issues, and loss of taste or smell - to name a few. These may be with you for weeks or even months and they can also cause depression.
But that's not all. If you've had COVID-19, you are at increased risk of stroke, lung damage, Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease, heart failure, or seizures. You may also have to deal with blood clots, temporary paralysis, kidney damage, or psychological issues from the trauma of being on a ventilator.
Those who have contracted COVID-19 risk permanent damage to the heart. This damage has been found even in people who had mild COVID-19 symptoms. Pneumonia associated with COVID-19 infections can cause long-lasting damage to the lungs, including scar tissue and breathing problems. This means that even mild respiratory infections can cause persistent shortness of breath and trouble breathing, often for months. The multi-organ damage and inflammation that can come from a COVID-19 infection is no joke. There is a real risk of long-term, life-altering damage to the body.
The COVID-19 Vaccine
Overall, the possible side effects of the COVID-19 vaccines are mild. Common ones are the same as those you might experience with your flu shot or other regular immunizations. They can include soreness, redness, swelling or itching at the site of injection. You may also feel tiredness, headache, muscle pain, mild fever or joint pain. Though less common, nausea, sore throat, diarrhea, vomiting, or dizziness may occur. These side effects are generally mild and don't usually last for more than a few days. Some people - especially after the second dose - may experience stronger side effects - but still nothing compared to the effects of a COVID-19 infection.
Allergic reactions to the COVID-19 vaccines are relatively rare. If one does occur, the symptoms can include hives, swelling of the face, tongue, or throat, and difficulty breathing. However, the medical staff who administer vaccines are trained to respond to an allergic reaction and have medications on hand to do so. This is why you are asked to wait at the clinic for 15 minutes after your vaccination.
Other reactions are possible but very rare. For example, fewer than one person per million will experience inflammation of the heart, called myocarditis or pericarditis. Cases are usually mild and resolve on their own or are easily treated. And it's important to realize that researchers say COVID-19 is more likely to cause this condition than the vaccines.
If the description of what COVID-19 can do to your health has you reaching for your mask and hand sanitizer and wondering what else you can do to protect yourself, the answer is simple: get vaccinated today.
How to get vaccinated
Being fully vaccinated is by far the best step you can take to protect yourself against COVID-19.
There are options for getting vaccinated:
For more information about the COVID-19 vaccines, visit our regularly updated FAQs.
If you have questions about the COVID-19 vaccines and do not have access to a primary care provider, call First Nations Virtual Doctor of the Day at 1-855-344-3800. Medical Office Assistants are available to help you seven days per week from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
Share a photo and your reason for getting vaccinated at fnha.ca/vaxchamp. If you do so in October you will get a “Just a kid from the Rez" hat from Kiefer Collison and the FNHA. You'll also be automatically entered into a draw for a $500 Visa gift card.