Podcast: To Vaccinate or Not, that is the Question!

It was not Shakespeare who said “Opinions are like assh#les, everybody’s got one.” However, when it comes to getting the COVID vaccine or not, that quote beats anything old Will ever uttered. For it is so true. Everybody’s got an opinion whether or not to get vaccinated. So whom do you believe after cutting through all the bluster, hype, propaganda and obfuscation? We decided to go with Dr. Andrew Dennis. Andrew is the head trauma surgeon at Chicago’s busiest trauma hospital. He is also a cop, a member of two Northern Illinois SWAT teams and medical director for the Illinois State Police. He was the technical director for NBC TVs, Chicago Med, and he is a technical advisor for In the Line of Duty. I wanted to get Andrew’s thoughts about the fact that a sizeable number of law enforcement officers to date have chosen NOT to get the vaccination to which he responded that both he and his wife, who is also a doctor were among the first to roll up their sleeves and get jabbed.

“My arm was the first one out, and so was my wife’s. I mean, in addition to my law enforcement job, I mean, I’m a trauma surgeon and I’m taking care of highly positive, you know, all kinds of patients. And a lot of them are positive. So my existence was, has been in an N 95 mask since this all started. I think we all saw the vaccination as a means to liberation from, uh, from this also, it was, it’s a means to increasing your safety, your personal safety and the safety of the people around you. The vaccine by no means is a panacea. It’s not going to cure for anything. What it does is I think you really have to think about it. Like body armor, you can wear it, not wear it. You can get the vaccine, or you can not get the vaccine. If you get the vaccine, it offers an individual high degree, actually a very high degree of protection from the virus. Does it eliminate the virus or eliminate you from contracting COVID, it does not. But what it does is, um, gives you over 95% protection from getting deathly ill from the virus and the problem with this whole virus. And what’s been really, the most challenging thing to deal with from the medical world is it has been highly elusive as to who is at risk and who’s not. So it’s like a Russian roulette every day with getting exposed. You might be the one with the loaded chamber who, who gets really sick and potentially dies, or has a stroke because, you know, five out of six people that get COVID that are really sick, have neurologic problems associated with it, not just the pneumonia and the, the, you know, the overall flu type of thing.”

“So in my mind, uh, in her mind as well, we look at, at the vaccine as a means of protecting ourselves and our family because we come home every day and, you know, I wanted to hug my parents again as did she, and when our parents got vaccine and we got back saying, we know that the risk of transmission is very low at the end, the end of all of this, the goal is that if COVID-19 becomes, becomes the equivalent of the risk of a common cold, cause it’s here for, to stay, it’s not going anywhere. It’s now endemic. The goal is to mute the risk and to reduce, you know, mute or reduce the risk. And the vaccine does that. It doesn’t say, you’re not going to get it. It doesn’t say you’re, you’re not going to get potentially even a little bit ill from it. But what it does is if you do get it, the probability of you dying or getting definitely ill or getting stroke or neurologic symptoms from it is very, very, very low.”

All right, let’s talk adverse reactions, Andrew:

“Any vaccine or any medication is always going to carry with it, the risk of allergic reactions, the risk of sensitivities, rashes, et cetera. So we braced for that. That was part of the vaccination process when we did it. And when everyone else does it as well, is that you expect a very small percentage of people that get a rash or have some sort of allergic reaction to whatever protein the thing is carried in or that, you know, whatever. So you, you accept that. And those are very small numbers and those exist with all vaccinations and even, you know, Tylenol and Motrin too. You know, so that’s, that’s just the way it is. And that’s the way the human body and the human genome works. The biggest complaint that people had, and it was about 15 to 20% of people that got the vaccine either after the first one or after the second one felt ill. And when, I mean ill, they kind of felt like they had the flu and it was usually no more than 48 hours. Usually self-limited at 24 hours, it was really split as to other people got that feeling after the first shot or after the second shot and of total, it was really only about 15 to 20% that even had any negative effects from being vaccinated.”

Andrew, isn’t it true that the overwhelming majority of directly attributable COVID deaths have been patients in their early eighties who have had comorbidities such as heart and weight issue?:

“I’m not going to dispute here’s the deal, there are two things I think that you have to recognize. One is the data is really dirty. And by that, I mean, there’s been a lot of politics associated with the numbers. I don’t really think we have a great handle on the risk associated COVID as far as the death risk. What I think we do know is, and I can tell you a test this firsthand is I have seen some of the most tragic deaths in younger people. And I mean like I’m calling sixties young, okay. Fifties young, some of the most tragic miserable deaths I’ve seen have been from COVID and COVID alone from this, in that age group. So yes, of course there will be a trend towards the older comorbid people, but this virus has been very indiscriminate. And what we don’t really understand is who is the at risk group. And if you want to live and die by statistics, great, you can do that. But if you’re the one person that that’s statistically falls out and you’re 50 or 40 and you get the virus and you, you die from it. Well, then you died from something that was probably preventable. Had you gotten vaccinated against it? It’s like having a tourniquet, right? I mean, the probability of you needing a tourniquet is really low, but if you don’t have it and you need it and you die from it, then all the statistics mean nothing. I just don’t know who’s who or they’re at risk people and who aren’t. You can shoot, you can get out of here. You can go to work and you can say, well, I got a pretty easy, you know, patrol gig or I’m a detective I’m not going to, I’m not going to be on the street very much. So I’m not going to put my armor on today. I got it. He’ll stay in the truck, you know? And then all of a sudden you find yourself, you know, confronted with being, having to act as the police right now. And you’re not wearing your body armor out again. It’s a preparation thing in my mind, you know, you can, you can take it or you can leave. It is a personal choice.”

Andrew, you understand though, that there’s a level of mistrust in the government decrees and alleged facts and figures:

“Is there a distrust? Yeah, of course there is. I think the question you have to ask yourself, if you don’t want to protect yourself, cool, that’s fine. But just remember, you know, if you don’t protect yourself and your parents did not get vaccinated and you give this virus to your parents who are that high risk comorbid group, it would really suck to be the person to kill your mom. Again, you can look at the statistics. You have to recognize that the data is very dirty. I agree with that. I don’t trust a lot of what I hear or read either, but I do read everything. As far as the literature comes out, it is science and evolution. Science is imperfect as it is. Medicine is more art than it is science. I will tell you. Um, but when the science speaks, you’ve got to listen to it because it’s best evidence-based. It may not be perfect evidence-based, but it is best evidence-based.”

“We know the virus is largely transmitted, not necessarily by touching or contact anymore. So you don’t have to wipe down your groceries. Cause we didn’t know. So we took the most conservative road, you know, now we know that it’s really, really probable to be exposed by droplets and not by contact. We know that hand-washing still helps. We know the flu dropped off too. Right? So, so we’ve moved to evidence-based best, I should say best evidence-based I don’t want to call it a great evidence-based, but situationally best evidence-based decision-making and that evidence will get better and better as time goes on, everyone just has to kind of sit back and be patient. And this is not a patient nation. As you know, I know the science is catching up with this. We’re learning what we can get away with and what we can’t, we’re learning, you know, when we can take our masks off, when we can’t, we know that now the probability of the best evidence says that if you’re with another vaccine in person, you know, you’re in the 0.0 single digits risk of getting the virus.”

“And even if he did transmit it, the risk of getting sick is even lower. With regards to the virus or to the vaccine, this is not new technology, but it is technology in evolution. Just like anything else it’s safe…has been shown to be safe 10, 12 years ago. But you know, we’ll learn more as we use it, but you know, I still subscribed to the vet, the risk of getting sick. If you weren’t one of the unlucky ones that get sick from this virus far outweighs the risk of getting vaccinated with any of the COVID vaccines.”

Andrew, there are all kinds of concerns people have, and the vast majority of us don’t know whether it’s voodoo or substantive. What about the claim by some anti-vaxxers that the vaccination literally changes one’s DNA?:

“They do not. The vaccines do not alter your DNA.”

So why do some people think that it does alter DNA?:

“They do not modify your DNA. The vaccine does not even get into the cell nucleus where your DNA is housed. It doesn’t, it’s not how it works. So it doesn’t get anywhere near your cell nucleus. It goes right to the ribosome and it tells where I was sums to make it. It gives them the marinade. It gives them the roadmap and it says, make this protein, that’s all it does. It goes to the manufacturing side of the cell.”

Or that the vaccines may alter women’s fertility, menstrual cycles and ability of blood to clot:

“I don’t know that any of that data has actually been supported. Honestly, there’s a lot of anecdotal information out there. I don’t think you, I think you’ve got to be very careful. You have these things have to be tracked and watched. Think about when we released taser. Taser was one of my early research projects for decades. You know, tasers, you know, all the safety data and taser for example, was based on pigs. Yet we moved it right to humans and it’s called safe based on pig safety data. And when in fact, when we started looking at it, we realized that, you know, taser can kill you. It can capture the rhythm of your heart and which was completely disputed early on because that information was not shown in the early safety data was not necessarily focused on it was there. And then when we went to look at, you know, when in my studies, when we looked at it tasers and we use the same pigs, you know, we were told, well, it doesn’t matter because it’s been used, you know, you can taze as many pigs as you want.”

“We’ve tased out, you know, 200,000 humans and you know, only two died. So we’re good. So the safety data prevails, you know, there’s always a, there’s always a direction. You can look at information from, it depends on what your bias is. There’s always going to be a bias. Bottom line is we have injected thousands upon thousands upon, actually millions of people now with the, with the vaccines and the risk pattern associated with this vaccine, the reported and the factual risks are so low yet the risk of getting this of getting sick and dying is, is even though it’s ultimately low for younger people, depending on the age bracket, you are, again, there are lots of young people that have it. And so statistics only matter again until it’s you. And then the statistics didn’t really matter.”

Andrew, I noted that seven New York Yankees tested positive for COVID. Although all of them had been fully vaccinated:

“It’s not going to prevent you from getting COVID. It’s not what it’s intended to do. It’s intended to keep you alive if you get COVID okay. It’s intended to blunt the effects of the virus. If you get, if you get the virus, that’s what the vaccine what is intended to do. So yes, as far as the Yankees went, it did exactly what it was supposed to do.”

I found your point about the flu this last season being largely non-existent a very interesting one:

“What else did we learn? We learned that no one has gotten the flu this year. Right? Think about that. Now there’s two reasons why that, that has happened. The first is that we’re washing our hands and we’re wearing masks and that we didn’t give the flu a chance to spread. The other reason that we didn’t see a big uptake in the flu is because there’s something called viral inhibition. And typically organisms do not, or cannot get infected with more than two virus, more than one virus at a time. So if you’re, you’re typically fighting off one, your immune system is so primed and so armed at that point in time that the second virus typically can’t get ahold in order to infect you. So it’s when you kind of deescalate your immune system and you go back down to DefCon Five that’s when you tend to get, be, become more susceptible to the, to other viruses. So flu for the people that were sick or were fighting COVID you know, there aren’t, they were so primed from a passive immune system perspective that the flu didn’t have a fighting chance to add to that. The masking and the hand-washing. We really almost eliminated flu this year. I’m sure it will come back with a vengeance next year.”

“Years ago, the popular TV program was the $64,000 question. So let’s update that to the $64 million question. Do you think there is anyone who should not be vaccinated?:

“I actually don’t know that I would recommend someone not getting vaccinated. The American college of obstetricians & gynecologists have taken a very firm stance that pregnant women, breastfeeding women should get vaccinated, immunosuppressed people, which you would think would be the most at risk are, are the ones that we do want vaccinated because they’re the ones that are at risk for getting sick if you do need it. So, no, I don’t. I would, right now our recommendations are, if you can get vaccinated, you should get vaccinated.”

Children. Should they be vaccinated?:

“Yeah. A hundred percent. We know happily, and for good reasons that children rarely get very sick from this virus. They have, there have been very sick children from COVID, but they’re few and far between, but we also know that children maybe are more frequently asymptomatic carriers of the virus and can therefore transmit the virus. And if they transmitted to someone who is not vaccinated, because we have a large population of this country that is not vaccinated, that child can kill her grandparents. You know, the more people we get vaccinated, the better, and I don’t see,  and the medical community does not see a reason not to vaccinate kids. We have not been vaccinating kids largely because they’ve been, they’re the last group to have best evidence safety data come out. So Pfizer just got approved based on, you know, a few thousand kids that got vaccinated that had little to no side effects. Um, so they got the emergency use authorization. Uh, I want my kids to be able to see their grandparents safely.”

Andrew, you were a main reason that the Illinois state police were given an early opportunity to get vaccinated. How did that work?:

“Our state police in December through beginning of March, the Illinois state police, we ran an operation called Operation Blue Needle and Illinois State Police says to my knowledge, the only law enforcement agency that stepped up there ran our own vaccination site for first responders and their families. And we injected, we did our 32,000 shots in eight weeks for our agency and for everyone’s parents and family that wanted it, the core 1B cause we were restricted to 1B at the time. Well, at the time, um, you know, early in the, when the vaccinations were still hard to get, um, ISP, because we are a medical bureau, we were able to, I work with IDPH and we were able to unburden all the local departments of health and take on vaccinating statewide law enforcement. So we put the call out and said, we opened two vaccination sites around the state.”

“And we basically said every cop in the state, you can bring yourself and you can bring your family who are 1B, which for 65 years and older at the time or family members with co-morbidities, we did 16,000 sets of shots, you know, total shots in eight weeks, which is a total of 32,000 individual shots. No, it wasn’t mandatory. It was purely elective. Um, but it saved it when it does, you know, law enforcement was largely orphaned in the early COVID vaccination world because EMS had places to go. Um, but the police really didn’t. They were really remanded to kind of getting in line with the rest of the 65 year olds, 1B group. So we decided that as the state police and as the safety net law enforcement agency for the state of Illinois, uh, we would vaccinate all of our state, federal and local law enforcement as an agency.”

“So we, we set up these massive vaccination sites and, uh, two of them around the state and you know, I mean, it’s not our wheelhouse, we’re a police department, but yet we still vaccinated and did 32,000 vaccines. What we found was actually once we started rolling through and doing the vaccination, uh, we ended up at 50, almost 58% of our agency vaccinated. So once people realize that it was safe and their peers were getting it and no one grew, you know, lizard tails and, and all the fiction was kind of defeated and people were able to get on with their lives and their families, you know, were getting vaccinated. I think there was a lot of, uh, peer support for each other and at which, which drove up our vaccination numbers considerably.”

Did the Illinois state police lose anybody to COVID?:

“Not directly. We lost family members. We lost several parents of troopers to COVID. It doesn’t jump out at me that we’ve lost any primary employees to COVID. We had parents in their late fifties  that died of COVID this year, late fifties, that’s not old. So, uh, and we had a number of parents die, terrible deaths, rapid terrible COVID pneumonia deaths or stroke deaths that were truly related to COVID. And I can say they’re truly related to COVID because I know the intimate details of the cases.”

Have any of these people passed away after they got the vaccination?:

“No.”

Andrew, I find your comparison to the polio vaccine of the 1950s, very telling:

“This is the first time in decades we’ve had a technology boom in infectious disease. You know, prior to that, that we were, the last one we had was really probably polio. And thank God most of the country subscribed to getting the polio vaccine because the vaccine, because you know, most people didn’t die from polio, but there were people who were terribly terribly maimed from polio. So I think that was a big Unitus and a big stimulus for people to get vaccinated.  Here people either die or get miserably sick. We’ve had patients. I have, I have two friends whose parents have had massive strokes from COVID. They were healthy 60 year old people, early sixties. And two of them are massively stroked out because, because they got COVID and they had a, they had a COVID response to that. It’s a risk based analysis. Everyone has to make their own risk-based decision.”

Now you will agree. It’s not fully studied and approved:

“Of course it’s not. But again, we’re in an we’re, a best evidence scenario. You know, we’re looking for, we’re building our solutions based on best evidence. And again, you can track the statistics and you can follow the statistics until you’re the statistic. And then it’s no longer a statistic anymore. Right. Again, this is an individual thing. I would never force the vaccine upon anybody. That you have to go to make yourself. It’s like, do you want it, you know, do you want to use birth control or not? Do you want to get vaccinated or not? Do you want to wear your body armor or not? It’s your protection. If you want to get, if you want to risk getting shot in the chest and dying, that’s on you. Now, the department may take away your pension. They may take away your workers’ comp because you chose to take those risks. But with the vaccines you’re, we are in an early phase of it. That said, it is very promising. All the data that we’re seeing. I mean, extremely promising. Remember the flu vaccine is 40% effective. We’re seeing an effective rate of 90 plus percent with the COVID vaccines. I’ll stand by anybody’s decision until it impacts somebody else. And then now I have to ask, you know, did you really do the right thing? Or are you just being selfish?”

I can’t thank Dr. Dennis enough for this insightful interview and on very short notice, too. Andrew invites your questions and feedback. Here’s his email address: ajddoc@gmail.com. His website has excellent additional information: policemd.com.

Now, if you’re seeking excellent online training that covers the gamut in law enforcement, visit lineofduty.com and simply click on the red tab to…Get a Free Trial. Thanks for listening. I’m Ron Barber, and that’s Stuff You Never Ever Learned at the Academy!

 

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