Written By Andre Nye, MD – As of June 2021 the virus known as SARS-CoV-2 (severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2) infected 181 million people on the planet and killed an estimated 2 to 4 million people. By September 2021 it has killed over 675,000 Americans, more than the 1918 Spanish Flu US casualties. We have a vaccine, so why are people more afraid of the COVID vaccine than dying from COVID?
Why Should I Get the COVID Vaccine?
Opinions of people living in the U.S. have seemed to have become more and more divided over time. 911 changed our culture, perhaps forever. A 20-year war, the loss of American soldiers, a rapid exit from the conflict with no atonement for the overwhelming sacrifice, a powerful and hopelessly divided political movement, and finally a terrifying global pandemic. Is it possible for a society to suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)?
The psychiatric community describes PTSD as an inciting and traumatic event(s) resulting in the following:
- Intrusion – intense psychological distress.
- Avoidance – avoiding external reminders.
- Negative alterations – a persistent distorted sense of blame on self or others with detachment and negative beliefs.
- Arousal – angry outbursts, destructive behavior, and hypervigilance.
Ultimately, PTSD leads to a loss of trust at many levels of society.
Covid Vaccine Hesitancy
Some have described COVID vaccine hesitation using a model known as the 5C’s:
- Confidence – can I believe this vaccine is safe and will it protect me?
- Complacency – most people live after they get it. Is it really my problem?
- Convenience – I have to get a shot(s), carry a card, prove my vaccination record. What about my liberty?
- Calculation – people who get the vaccine can still get COVID. I know people who had COVID and are fine.
- Collective responsibility – I really am not responsible for getting the country to herd immunity.
Surveys have shown that feeling sympathy for any one of these reasons can lead to not getting the vaccine.
Vaccine hesitancy is real and has momentum in society. To ignore this as willful ignorance would be doing a disservice to patients. It is very easy to list reasons to a patient why the vaccine is safe, and why being exposed to the virus is dangerous. This is however an arrogant approach to taking care of patients. A better course is to improve a sense of trust with the patient. Validate their fears of the vaccine. Empathize with their worries even though the conclusions may appear misguided.
Establishing Trust With Your Doctor
Spending time with a patient with PTSD is a long process. Establishing a sense of trust and safety is the goal. Only then will you have the confidence of your patient to accept advice.
I have a simple tenet in my practice: There is a disease that kills. There is a safe vaccine. I have the vaccine in the office. You can choose to accept or decline it. Either way, I will still be your doctor for as long as you want.
Additional Reading: Safety of COVID-19 Vaccines – Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
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