As I met and prayed together with my fellowship group over the past few weeks, my heart has been troubled by the hardships faced by my family in Christ who are hesitant or against vaccination. I know that many are facing a job loss due to being against the vaccines that public health professionals, the CDC, and the likes are pushing. After praying with and for the members in my fellowship, my heart is burdened for those facing job uncertainty.
As a person living with junior rheumatoid arthritis and as an ovarian cancer survivor coming up on my fifth year being cancer-free, I was extremely concerned about getting vaccinated. I have experienced a bad reaction to a vaccine in the past and am aware of what can go wrong with the immune response and the long road to recovery once my overactive immune system does what it does best and overreacts to a foreign invader. I have refused and then also have hesitated with getting flu shots because of the less than 5% risk of Guillain-Barré that can accompany one.
During my service working as a contact tracer for COVID-19 for the state, I encountered many different people with varying degrees of illness when contracting COVID-19. There were varied attitudes about the illness as well. However, the one common thread was that most people I spoke with shared a commitment to containing the virus and keeping the community and our loved ones safe from its spread.
I am my father's caretaker and he lives with a traumatic brain injury. He also had multiple strokes and major bypass surgery. I am extremely cautious with him and I carefully researched everything his doctors recommended. When the vaccines became available, I was fortunate to be well-trained in their safety, yet I was still hesitant because the mRNA technology was relatively new. The emergency use status also gave me some hesitation as I can carry a heavy mistrust in doctors and in pharmaceutical companies with my health history.
During the height of the pandemic, I was following up on a contact when working as a contact tracer during a surge period. I encountered a young man who was my age and I was looking for his dad who was my dad’s age. When I called, he told me that his dad had become extremely ill and had died from COVID-19 two hours prior to my call. From what I could gather, this young man had contracted COVID-19 and passed it to his father who was now deceased. All the training I had went out of the window and all I could say was, “I’m so sorry” and that I would be praying for him. After the call, I fell on my face and I cried and I prayed with everything I had.
Sometime after that, a good friend and doctor whom I work with in the hospital had said to me that “whatever you get with the vaccine is better than getting COVID,” and I knew he was right. I fought to get my dad vaccinated. He got the Moderna with minimal side effects and I had some peace knowing he would have some protection against the virus.
Because of my autoimmune and health issues, when it came time for me, I spoke with a colleague who is a conscientious rheumatologist and researcher who had been stationed next to me at the hospital. She also has an autoimmune disease and understandable concerns about the vaccine. We would discuss the risks associated with the vaccines and we shared our insights from the research publications we studied.
We both decided on the J&J vaccine because it uses the adenovirus, which is just the mild common cold virus, as a delivery system to help enable our body to see what the spike protein in COVID-19 looks like. Because this technology is older — as it’s been around since the 1970s and has been used for decades — and it also had an impressive safety profile, I felt it was the safest for me. I remember arguments saying it was less effective than the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines, but it had been tested harder, in more countries, and against more and different variants than the other vaccines. Right before our vaccine appointments, there was an alarm about the side effects. J&J held off on administering its vaccine because six women developed rare and serious blood clots in the brain after receiving it.
I actually was reassured that the company was being transparent and extremely cautious about potential rare and serious side effects and that it took the events seriously and halted the administration of the vaccine. To me, it meant that J&J was following ethical guidelines. My colleague and I saw that in order to make this last hurdle, we needed to evaluate if we had a history of low platelet count, which is what you would need to have to get such a side effect. We both had no history of this, so my colleague suggested (just to be on the safe side) that we go for a long brisk walk after the shot, as exercise would reduce our chances of a blood clot.
I got my shot and walked and experienced some mild symptoms after my vaccination, as most people do. But now I have a shield and a weapon in this war against COVID-19. I still wear my mask and take precautions, however, because no vaccine or treatment is perfect. While God is perfect, science and medicine are not perfect. I do believe when God saved me from a 10-lb cancerous ovarian tumor, he sent me to the right doctors. He set up the right team and he re-routed me to the right people when I needed it. I put my faith in God alone and in response, He has sent the right people to help me.
I’m certain He created the people and scientists who created these vaccines and technologies. I pray we learn to go to Jesus with our questions and doubts in all our decisions making, trusting His Word that He will never leave or forsake us. As members of God’s family, we are in this fight against COVID-19 together. I got my vaccine to not only protect myself but to prevent myself from spreading the virus to my loved ones. From my work as a case investigator and contact tracer for COVID-19, I’ve seen that natural immunity lasts only 3 months (at best) after having it. I’ve spoken to many who got it more than once, some of them being pregnant women who couldn’t get a vaccine. I know through anecdotal evidence, which I acquired by one phone call and one person at a time, that the vaccine works.
It’s not perfect. It is a risk, as is everything in life. In public health and in epidemiology, we evaluate risk and the risk from getting COVID-19 far outweighs the risk of getting a vaccine. I will be getting a booster shot of the J&J vaccine as soon as it’s available. My father will happily be the first in line for his vaccine booster as well.
I have no personal agenda. I’m just sharing my story about my journey in getting vaccinated and how God has sent people into my life to help me make my decision with the hope that it could help someone else. Everyone must have their own walk with God, yet we are one family in Christ and must encourage one another. May the voice that lead us come from Jesus, from His Word, and from His Holy Spirit, and not from talking heads, social media, and the news.
Ann Kutlik is a Christian who is completing her Masters in Public Health and works in research that supports individuals living with disabilities.