Getting vaccinated is a personal choice

Originally published here by the Washington Examiner on May 13, 2021.

I did not enter the vaccine maelstrom voluntarily. Two months ago, a Milwaukee reporter asked me if I had received the COVID-19 vaccine. This was when demand for the vaccine outstripped supply. Although it’s a personal and private decision, I answered the question honestly. “No, I had COVID,” I replied, adding, “I think that probably provides me the best immunity possible.” I also said, “I decided to let others go before me who need it more than I do.”

I don’t have anything against vaccines. I have gotten annual flu shots since the 1970s and am up-to-date with all other standard vaccinations. I strongly supported Operation Warp Speed and celebrated its astonishingly rapid success. But I do believe getting vaccinated is a personal choice that should be made in consultation with a doctor.

Since I’m not a doctor or medical researcher, I don’t believe it’s appropriate for me to either encourage or discourage vaccination. My role is to help ensure transparency, so people have as much information as possible to make their own informed medical decisions. That is why I held two Senate hearings on early treatment of COVID last November and December and championed federal right-to-try legislation in 2018.

A reasonable corollary to “right to try” is the right to refuse treatment. No one should be shamed, coerced, or mandated to take COVID-19 vaccines that are being allowed under an emergency use authorization. In the U.S., three COVID-19 vaccines have completed the Phase I safety stage of the FDA approval process. The Phase II and III portions of the clinical trials are currently in an observational period until 2023, tracking participants for two years following vaccination.

Since that interview two months ago, new information has emerged. An Israeli study showed that natural immunity from having had COVID-19 is at least as effective as vaccine immunity. Natural immunity occurs with most other viruses, so why would anyone assume that wouldn’t be true for SARS-CoV-2? Evidence from the U.K. is raising safety concerns about vaccinating previously infected individuals.

The CDC’s own Vaccine Adverse Effect Reporting System has received 3,120 reports of death and 9,351 reports of hospitalization within 30 days of COVID-19 vaccination — with 45.4% of those deaths occurring on day 0, 1, or 2. The VAERS system has many flaws, but vilifying anyone who raises this issue does not instill confidence in the system. When did it become off-limits to ask government agencies legitimate questions?

Due to my interaction with the public, I took one of several precautionary COVID tests in early October 2020. Because I had no symptoms, I was surprised when I tested positive. A test three days later confirmed that result. Fortunately, I was one of the large group who remained asymptomatic.

My advocacy for exploring early treatment options has connected me to medical experts from around the world, including Dr. Hooman Noorchashm, a cardiothoracic surgeon and Ph.D. immunologist. Noorchashm has also been raising concerns about indiscriminate vaccination of individuals who were recently infected or naturally immune. He proposes getting tested for antibodies before vaccination “#Screenb4Vaccine” to minimize harm and maximize benefit from the vaccine by ensuring medical necessity of vaccination. This seems a reasonable precaution.

Noorchashm suggested I get tested for COVID-19 antibodies before making my decision on vaccination. He prescribed a simple blood test, which I had last week. Seven months after testing positive for COVID, this test showed my serology is positive for antibodies against SARS-CoV-2 at roughly the same level he obtained after receiving both Moderna vaccine doses. Noorchashm tells me it’s likely I’m protected against reinfection — at least as well as being vaccinated.

Since there is little to no benefit for me getting vaccinated, I have decided not to. Absent proven benefit or medical necessity, there is only risk. There should be nothing controversial about me or anyone else making a similarly informed decision. I will, of course, reevaluate this decision if contrary information emerges.

Since testing positive for COVID, I have been comfortable living a mostly normal life. My antibody test only increases that comfort level. Witnessing crowds in airports and other public venues, I’d say other Americans are also gaining confidence resuming life. Hopefully, the state of fear is receding, we will respect each other’s medical decisions, and we’ll recognize the danger to individual liberty that vaccine passports or other forms of coercion represent.

The human toll of the coronavirus and shutdowns has been incalculable. The global economic devastation has cost trillions of dollars. Asking questions and never believing we have all the answers is fundamental to science. Being willing to admit when we’re wrong and adapting to new information is the best way to improve outcomes and limit future harm.