Delta. Epsilon. Zeta. Eta. Theta …  As the Delta variant continues to spread, we have to realize … we will run out of Greek letters to name the variants that will emerge. Variants are expected.

We are also seeing break-through infections in vaccinated people as the Delta variant spreads. This is also expected. 

Finally, we are seeing very few hospitalizations and practically no deaths in vaccinated people. This is also expected … and the most critical point.  

If you haven’t received the vaccine, your chances of getting really sick and dying are so much greater than if you have been vaccinated – plain and simple. 

COVID-19 will not be eradicated like polio. It is here forever. Therefore, to cohabitate with the virus, we need our immune systems trained to handle it. Training occurs through exposure to either the virus or the vaccine.  And we are so fortunate in our part of the world that it’s a choice. 

Choose the vaccine.

The choice should be clear. 

So why isn’t it?

Vaccine hesitancy arises from the unanticipated consequences of a vaccine. By having a vaccine, each one of us is welcoming the small but present risk of becoming ill now – and doing so willingly – for the sake of future protection. For the COVID-19 vaccine, these fears are based on real events (Guillian Barre syndromes, blood clots, allergic reactions) but also on general fears of vaccines that have been disproven for years (autism). 

However, whether you choose to receive the vaccine or not, with COVID, you are absolutely guaranteed to come in contact with the virus.  This virus – and this current variant – is very contagious, even by virus standards. And it can be spread by all – both vaccinated and unvaccinated.  So everyone – meaning literally everyone – will come in contact with this virus.

For many other diseases, people who forgo a vaccine can be protected by 1) those who have had a vaccine or infection and have immunity (this is herd immunity – where the virus cannot spread among the protected herd); and 2) behavior changes.

Herd immunity is not going to happen with COVID, because as we’ve seen with the Delta variant, vaccinated individuals can still carry and spread it. The herd will not protect you from a COVID-19 illness if you remain unvaccinated.

That leaves behavior change as the only other option. Many viruses can be avoided forever by behavior change. For example, those viruses that are transmitted by unprotected sex or the sharing of blood (needles, blood transfusions) can be avoided forever simply by not engaging in those at-risk behaviors. Remaining unvaccinated – though not recommended – would be reasonable in those cases.   

However, with COVID, the only way to guarantee no exposure to the virus is to live in a cave. NEVER have contact with ANY other human being. As we’ve learned with sheltering in place, it’s completely unsustainable.

So for your next encounter with COVID, how do you want it to occur?  On your terms … or the virus’s?  To reiterate, the choice is the virus vs the vaccine. Choose the vaccine.

For me, I wanted to be immunologically primed to confront the virus – so I chose the vaccine. The very first moment I could. My colleagues in medicine have had a front row seat to COVID. They also overwhelmingly chose to be immunologically trained to handle their inevitable exposure to the virus. And so far, that decision has proven to be a good one.

Yes – there are long-term unknowns with the vaccine, but those exact same long-term unknowns exist for COVID.  Every bit of information we have suggests those unknowns are far worse with COVID than the vaccine.  This is not a choice between good (vaccine) and bad (virus).  We are assuming risk either way. But there is overwhelming data that the lesser of two risks is the vaccine. We hear of no vaccine “long haul” syndromes like we do with COVID, which can occur even with mild cases. 

In the meantime, with our area enjoying a high level of vaccination, though we can expect infections with the Delta variant and the other variants to come, we can also expect less severe illnesses. Masks will help protect our vulnerable and unvaccinated neighbors. It remains “good manners.”  With mass vaccination, schools can reopen fully and safely. Teachers can teach. Students can learn. People can go to work. They can shop.  But they’ll need masks for now.  Finally, they can expect to develop cold and flu-like symptoms from COVID and its many Greek lettered variants to come – and be very confident  that those flu-like symptoms will likely be the worst of it. 

By Eric Chehab, M.D.