This pandemic has tested our country and state in more ways than we can count, but thankfully it appears we are marching towards brighter days ahead. We all want a healthier, safer, and more prosperous society for our families and neighbors to live in moving forward. One of the ways we are going to get there is through the vaccination program now possible in large part due to the hard work of the medical community, researchers, and scientists, as well as the success of federal initiatives like Operation Warp Speed.
I understand that for many of our fellow New Yorkers, choosing to get a COVID-19 vaccine may require more consideration than choosing to get other vaccines in general. The COVID-19 vaccines were developed in record time and sanctioned under emergency use authorization by the Federal Drug Administration (FDA). For some, this has understandably caused concern and has increased a desire to learn more about the COVID-19 vaccines, and perhaps even vaccines in general. As the ranking Republican leader in the Assembly Health Committee, I feel I have a responsibility to try and help answer some of those questions and concerns. That’s why rather than simply posting a photo of me receiving the vaccine, I decided to share with you why I chose to get the vaccine, and why I encourage others who are able to do the same.
The early state roll-out of vaccine distribution was nothing short of a disaster with seniors and high-risk New Yorkers waiting months to get their shot. Due to age, I was ineligible for vaccination during the early months of the rollout. Unlike other national political figures, I refused to cut in line and seek special treatment. I waited until it was my turn. My wife, due to her position as a health care worker, was thankfully able to receive her shot relatively early on. Luckily, our vaccine distribution is in a much better place today than it was in January with eligibility now greatly expanded.
While I don’t support current proposals to create a COVID-19 vaccine mandate for adults or children, I do think it’s beneficial to arm ourselves with information to help us make the best decision. Plenty of us have differing opinions, but we should all do our due diligence to ensure those opinions are formed by facts. That’s why people seeking to learn more about vaccines should also speak with their primary care provider. In the meantime, let’s walk through some of the concerns that are commonly raised so I can explain why I elected to receive the vaccine.
One of the most common concerns shared with me is the speed at which the first three vaccines were developed. It’s true that most vaccines take years to develop and complete traditional clinical trials. However, it’s important to note the science used to develop COVID-19 vaccines was available from years of medical research that had occurred prior to the pandemic. It was further aided by an unprecedented amount of financial support from the federal government, and the removal of vast bureaucratic red tape via Operation Warp Speed. It’s true that the underlying mRNA platform had never been used for a vaccine prior to the pandemic, but as previously mentioned it had already been widely researched for various other applications. It’s also worth noting that a comprehensive and robust approval process which includes clinical trials was followed to obtain the emergency use authorization by the FDA.
Another frequently cited concern is the pause on the Johnson & Johnson (J&J) vaccine. I can see how at first some may see this as a red flag, but the fact that the FDA and New York State Department of Health (NYSDOH) paused the distribution of the J&J vaccine also demonstrates how closely they are tracking the success of each vaccine. The reality is there was a miniscule number of examples cited to pause the J&J vaccine. By comparison, more young women have negative side-effects from birth control pills than the J&J vaccine, but the FDA and NYSDOH paused its use anyway. There was no attempt to brush the concern under the rug. Instead, they paused, reassessed the vaccine, and thankfully were confident in clearing it once again for use.
So why did I choose to get vaccinated? First, I appreciate the massive amount of work and resources invested by the federal government and private sector to get us to a place where we have the ability to get vaccinated. Second, history has shown vaccines work to reduce or eliminate the spread of deadly viruses, and they are an important tool we need to protect ourselves and our most vulnerable. I also want to protect my community and limit the risk of getting the virus and unintentionally exposing someone else who was unable to get a vaccine because they have a compromised immune system or some other serious medical condition. Lastly, and perhaps the most simple and straightforward reason, I want us all to move forward beyond this COVID-19 nightmare.
I decided to share why I elected to get the vaccine because I hope it will help address some common questions from those who may still be hesitating to get the shot- not to shame or marginalize anyone who feels differently.
As Americans, it is our right—and our obligation—to ask questions and seek answers. Marginalizing those with doubts won’t help address their concerns. Personally, I find it more effective to do our best to answer those concerns honestly and directly—which is what I attempted to do in this column.
As of Thursday, May 27, 50.5 percent of Americans have already received at least one shot of a COVID-19 vaccine, according to the CDC. That includes 53 percent of New Yorkers, 59.8 percent of Westchester County residents, and 57.6 percent of Putnam County residents according to NYSDOH. We each have an obligation to do what’s right for the health and safety of our society—including our families, friends, and businesses. In 2021, for me and my family, that means getting vaccinated.
You can learn more about the importance of immunization at letsgetimmunizedny.org.
Assemblyman Kevin Byrne represents New York’s 94th Assembly District, which includes portions of Putnam and Westchester counties. Byrne is the ranking minority member of the Assembly Committee on Health, and serves as chair of the Assembly Minority Program Committee.