Should I get vaccinated?

04 Oct, 2021
Should I get vaccinated?
Professor Steve Henry

AUT’s Professor Steve Henry is a biological engineer currently working in the field of COVID-19 immunity. He recently ran a Q&A session for AUT staff to unpack and demystify the issues around getting the COVID vaccinations that was both informative and compelling.

“As an academic working my whole life in the field of antibodies and diagnostics and including more recently developing COVID-19 antibody assays* I have followed this pandemic closely.

This time last year my team here at AUT, together with collaborators at the National Institutes of Health in the US and the Russian Academy of Sciences we were working on developing a diagnostic assay to detect COVID -19 immunity. This assay is currently undergoing refinement and clinical evaluation in the US and Europe.

Last year, in September 2020 when we were aware of the mRNA vaccine in development, I admit at that time I was very hesitant to have the mRNA vaccine (although I was happy to have one of the more traditional vaccines).

I was initially vaccine-hesitant to the mRNA Pfizer vaccine, and I think it is a healthy position to be hesitant about new technologies, especially if they are rapidly developed.

However rapidly developed does not mean rushed, and by closely following the valid literature over the year I was easily able to realign my thinking with new data, all of which now strongly supports that mRNA vaccines work very well, are very safe, and are probably much safer than traditional vaccines.

I must admit the day I received my first Pfizer vaccine jab, my eyes welled up with tears, not from any pain (for me there was none) but from a feeling of massive relief, and now that I am fully vaccinated, I know I will not get hospitalised or die from this virus. That’s a great feeling.

I like analogies and as a keen sailor and I liken vaccination to wearing a lifejacket on a boat.

Both are optional choices - you don’t have to wear a life jacket on a boat, and you don’t have to get vaccinated.

You don’t need a lifejacket unless you fall into the water or need a vaccine until you get exposed to the virus, they are both insurance policies.

However you can’t make the decision after the event, if you fall off the boat into the water you can’t then decide to make a lifejacket appear by wishful thinking, it’s too late.

Lifejackets do not stop you from falling in the water and vaccines don’t stop you from getting the virus – they just make your chances of survival very much greater.

However, while the chances of falling off a boat are low, the chance of being exposed to the COVID-19 virus in 2022 is almost certain.

Let me restate state this – everyone in NZ will be exposed to the COVID-19 virus before the end of next year – how your body responds to the virus will depend on your state of immunity (not your beliefs).

9/10 vaccinated persons will have no symptoms and of those who do, they will not be hospitalised or die.

My chat today is not to pressure you to become vaccinated, it is to try and give you information that may help you make this decision for yourself (and dispel some of the misinformation which may be making you hesitant).

A little bit of background:

  • COVID-19 is the disease caused by the virus called SARS-Cov-2 (but we will just call it the COVID-19 virus). The name COVID means Corona Virus Disease and SARS – means Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, it got that name for a reason. Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome.
  • The Delta is just a sequential variant numbering system designed not to stigmatise the country who was first reported it. (by the way, Lambda and Mu are coming and maybe worse than Delta, but the vaccine will provide protection).
  • Our immune system is our bodies defence mechanism which is designed to protect our bodies from infection by foreign things like viruses and bacteria. It does essentially two things:

1. it tries to prevent an infection from establishing itself and;

2. it then tries to eliminate the infection once established.

How our cells, COVID virus, and mRNA vaccine relate is useful to understand. Inside the nucleus of every cell is the recipe book of you, like an Edmonds Cookbook (this is your DNA).

When a cell needs something made it takes a copy of an appropriate page from the recipe book (i.e. scones) and then gets the cell to make it - this copy version of the recipe is RNA.

A virus contains a rogue set of RNA recipes, which enter into your cells and forces them to make a virus.

The Pfizer vaccine is also an RNA recipe that goes into the cell. This recipe doesn’t make a virus but instead makes a harmless part of the virus which teaches your immune system how to make magic bullets (i.e. antibodies) that will kill the virus when it appears (and also to remember how to do it).

It is of note the RNA vaccine does not enter into the DNA nucleus of your cell and so doesn’t become part of the recipe book which is you. It simply does its job in about one day then disappears, the rest is up to your immune system.

Well, that’s all the sciencey bits. Here are my 5 reasons why I believe you should get vaccinated:

  1. Aroha – if you love your family then you need to make sure you protect their health.
  2. Community – only by achieving high levels of vaccination will the most vulnerable in our community be protected – we are a community, AUT is a community, so let’s be a compassionate part of it. Vaccination reduces and prevents the spread of viruses and will prevent our hospitals from becoming overwhelmed
  3. No herd immunity – unlike some previous infections the few who did not get vaccinated were protected by the majority who were vaccinated – not this time. We will all be exposed to the COVID-19 virus before the end of 2022 and COVID-19 will soon become the disease of the unvaccinated.
  4. Lifestyle, if you want to enjoy freedoms, live life, get a haircut!, and eventually travel internationally then vaccination may be the passport required to access these things.
  5. Two little jabs far outweigh the risk of dying or the guilt of being indirectly responsible for the hospitalisation or death of a colleague, friend, neighbour or family member. We as vaccinated individuals can positively impact on the lives of everyone.

Finally, a plea - I know whatever I say can’t change the stance of anti-vaxxers, but please keep your misinformation opinions to yourself. I think it would be hard to live with the guilt of your actions resulting in the death or hospitalisation of a colleague, friend or family member - and good luck to you, I hope you are a stronger swimmer.

So let’s buckle up our vaccine life jackets (i.e. get vaccinated) and prepare to ride out the rest of this year and 2022, it’s sure to be a rollercoaster.”

*assay: analysis to determine the presence, absence, or quantity of one or more components.