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LNP Sunday op-ed by LG Health Chief Clinical Officer Michael Ripchinski, MD

Since the pandemic began, Penn Medicine Lancaster General Health has performed more than 155,000 COVID-19 tests. Almost 30,000 of those tests came back positive, and last week we admitted our 3,000th COVID-19 patient to Lancaster General Hospital.

While we have successfully discharged more than 2,600 of those patients, sadly 349 people, ranging in age from 30 to 100, have died in our care. We mourn their loss and extend our condolences to their families.

Getting vaccinated against COVID-19 is the best way to do your part to end this devastating pandemic. In addition to protecting you from the virus, the vaccine will help prevent you from spreading it to others, including people who could become very sick.

Michael Ripchinski headshot

At Penn Medicine Lancaster General Health, we are grounded in the science and art of health care, and we believe it is imperative for us to take the lead by requiring our employees and clinical staff to be vaccinated against COVID-19. We do this to protect our patients and to set an example for those who remain vaccine-hesitant, both within our institution and in the broader community. The safety of our patients, staff and community are our highest priorities.

The COVID-19 vaccine is now widely available in Lancaster County, free of charge, to anyone age 12 or older. The recently expanded eligibility of children ages 12 to 15 to receive the Pfizer vaccine is an additional piece of great news that marks a welcome step toward a return to normalcy for all of us!

Over 55% of the county’s population age 15 and over has now received at least one dose of the vaccine. Unfortunately, a significant number of people remain hesitant to get vaccinated, citing a number of reasons for their reluctance.

I’d like to address some of the most common misconceptions that we in the medical community hear about the COVID-19 vaccine. As a family physician, it’s not unusual for me to have a similar conversation with my patients.

The vaccines’ development was rushed.

While there is no question that time was of the essence when it came to developing a COVID-19 vaccine, safety was in no way compromised. The science behind the mRNA vaccines began at the University of Pennsylvania in the mid-2000s. Like any vaccine offered to the public, the COVID-19 vaccines were well-tested in research studies with many tens of thousands of people. These studies have shown that the vaccines are safe and effective.

In fact, over 1.2 billion doses of vaccine have been administered worldwide, and more than 1 out of 3 people in the United States is now fully vaccinated. The Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control will continue to monitor the vaccines for safety and effectiveness as time goes on.

The Emergency Use Authorization means the vaccines aren’t fully tested or safe.

An Emergency Use Authorization from the FDA is a normal first step for a new vaccine. This authorization means that a vaccine is available outside of a research study but is not yet licensed. It does not mean that the vaccine is less safe. In fact, most long-term side effects from previous vaccines occurred in the first six weeks following vaccine administration. We are on track for the COVID-19 vaccines to ultimately receive full approval. It’s only a matter of time and paperwork completion with the FDA.

The COVID-19 vaccine will impact my fertility, or is unsafe during pregnancy or breastfeeding.

Though rumors have circulated on this topic, there is no evidence that COVID-19 vaccines negatively impact fertility or pregnancy. In fact, according to the CDC, there is no link between infertility and any vaccine.

If you’re pregnant or trying to conceive, the benefits of getting vaccinated against COVID-19 far outweigh the risks. Pregnant women are at greater risk for developing severe COVID-19 illness, which could endanger the lives of both the mother and the baby. We have seen miscarriages at Women & Babies Hospital that we believe were a result of the mothers’ infection with COVID-19. The CDC is continuing to collect data on this.

The vaccines have serious side effects.

The side effects from the COVID-19 vaccine are similar to common side effects from other vaccines, including a slight fever, chills, fatigue, headache and soreness where you got the shot. These side effects are usually mild and last only a day or two. They are a sign that your body is doing what it should to protect you from COVID-19.

While some people may experience more serious side effects, such as allergic reactions, from the vaccine, this is very rare. The risk of developing serious long-term problems from a COVID-19 infection is much higher. Even if you’re young and healthy, COVID-19 could make you very sick. This is the No. 1 reason you should get the vaccine.

The vaccines aren’t very effective.

Data from large-scale clinical trials and subsequent published studies indicate that all of the COVID-19 vaccines are very effective. Vaccination prevents most people from getting sick with COVID-19. And if you do become infected, being vaccinated will help to keep you from becoming seriously ill.

In fact, an Israeli study of almost 5 million vaccinated people, recently published in “The Lancet,” showed 95.3% effectiveness against COVID-19, 97.2% effectiveness against COVID-19-related hospitalization, and 96.7% protection against COVID-19-related death. We are well beyond studies at this point and have plenty of real-world safety and efficacy data on these vaccines.

I hope these facts help you to make an informed decision about getting your COVID-19 vaccine. Getting vaccinated couldn’t be easier, and it’s completely free. Please visit VaccinateLancaster.org or call 717-588-1020 to make an appointment or learn more about convenient walk-in hours at our Lancaster County Community Vaccination Center. LG Health also offers a number of walk-in clinics throughout the community.

Please join us in protecting yourself and others by getting your vaccine today!

Michael R. Ripchinski, MD, MBA, CPE, FAAFP, is Chief Clinical Officer at Penn Medicine Lancaster General Health.

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