Commentary: Get the Vaccine and Mask Up

John K. Murphy

Seems like such an easy thing to say and do but a difficult thing to accomplish. The prevailing wisdom from a scientific point of view is the vaccine works, is highly effective, and will prevent serious illness or death even if you contract the Delta variant of this virus.

Past Pandemics took a staggering toll on American lives: Small pox and Yellow Fever in the early 17th century; Cholera in the 1800’s; Typhoid fever, Scarlet Fever, and Diphtheria remain evident in our modern society but with immunizations and antibiotic treatment manages exposures and reduces the number of deaths.

There was a major influenza outbreak during and after WWI striking the U.S. and the world known as Spanish Flu. It killed more than 50 million people worldwide and over 675 thousand in the United States. In the 1950s and earlier, Polio was that era’s pandemic; I had several friends who contracted it and spent their early childhood in a hospital or in leg splints so they could walk. Quarantine was the preventative method until a vaccine was developed and most it not all Americas participated in that treatment. And last but not least AIDS, first documented in the United States in 1981. There is no cure for AIDS, and it is among the longest-running pandemics in history. [i]

Statistically we are seeing an upsurge of another (Delta) variant of the COVID-19 pandemic with more to come. Currently in the United States there have been more than 39 million of COVID cases with 648,051 deaths to date. Worldwide there are 216 million cases with more than 4 million deaths. The daily U.S. death toll from the virus is ranges from 800 to 1000 new deaths per day.

Firefighters are among this dying population as well.

Vaccines – America is slowly receiving the vaccinations. Most recently, 203 million Americans have received one dose and many of those have received two if receiving Moderna, Pfizer, and Johnson and Johnson. At least 203,475,192 people or 62 percent of the population have received at least one dose. Science tells us that the vaccine is effective with minimal side effects. I know and have experienced the inconvenience of side effects including a low-grade fever, sore muscles for 12 hours but it’s a much better alternative than potentially dying from a preventable virus.

A Primer – How the vaccine works. Each COVID-19 vaccine causes the immune system to create antibodies to fight COVID-19. COVID-19 vaccines use a harmless version of a spikelike structure on the surface of the COVID-19 virus called an S protein. The main types of COVID-19 vaccines currently available in the U.S. or being studied include:

Messenger RNA (mRNA) vaccine. This type of vaccine uses genetically engineered mRNA to give your cells instructions for how to make the S protein found on the surface of the COVID-19 virus. After vaccination, your immune cells begin making the S protein pieces and displaying them on cell surfaces. This causes your body to create antibodies. If you later become infected with the COVID-19 virus, these antibodies will fight the virus. After delivering instructions, the mRNA is immediately broken down. It never enters the nucleus of your cells, where your DNA is kept. Both the Pfizer-BioNTech and the Moderna COVID-19 vaccines use mRNA.

Vector vaccine. In this type of vaccine, genetic material from the COVID-19 virus is placed in a modified version of a different virus (viral vector). When the viral vector gets into your cells, it delivers genetic material from the COVID-19 virus that gives your cells instructions to make copies of the S protein. Once your cells display the S proteins on their surfaces, your immune system responds by creating antibodies and defensive white blood cells. If you later become infected with the COVID-19 virus, the antibodies will fight the virus. Viral vector vaccines can’t cause you to become infected with the COVID-19 virus or the viral vector virus. Also, the genetic material that’s delivered doesn’t become part of your DNA. The Janssen/Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine is a vector vaccine. AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford also have a vector COVID-19 vaccine.

Protein subunit vaccine. Subunit vaccines include only the parts of a virus that best stimulate your immune system. This type of COVID-19 vaccine contains harmless S proteins. Once your immune system recognizes the S proteins, it creates antibodies and defensive white blood cells. If you later become infected with the COVID-19 virus, the antibodies will fight the virus.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine, now called Comirnaty, to prevent COVID-19 in people age 16 and older. The vaccine is still under an emergency use authorization for children ages 12 through 15. The FDA has also given emergency use authorization to the Moderna and Janssen/Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccines. [ii]

The Health Care system is overwhelmed and breaking down. Nurses and doctors and all other staff are working in impossible situations with an increase in Covid cases in the unvaccinated. ICU and other parts of the hospitals are inundated with patients leaving very little room for others who are sick and injured. Ambulances cannot drop off patients and in some areas of the country, the EMS system is seeing more diversions than ever before. In my State of Washington, the medical system is continually and actively searching for beds throughout the Northwest healthcare system and moving patients from one side of the state to the other and even other states for a bed and treatment. At times there is no room in the hospitals for those sick and dying and now there is an increase in children affected by this virus.

Mandated Vaccines – YES, government can mandate vaccines and these mandates have occurred during a Smallpox outbreak in Massachusetts, measles outbreak in New York City, California, and other states. These outbreaks are easily resolved with vaccines. The first state law mandating vaccination was enacted in Massachusetts in 1809; in 1855, Massachusetts became the first state to enact a school vaccination requirement. The constitutional basis of vaccination requirements rests in the police power of the state. Over 100 years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court issued its landmark ruling in Jacobson v. Massachusetts, (97 U.S. 11 (1905)) upholding the right of states to compel vaccination. The Court held that a health regulation requiring smallpox vaccination was a reasonable exercise of the state’s police power that did not violate the liberty rights of individuals under the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. [iii]  [iv]  Challenges to mandatory vaccination laws based on religion or philosophic belief have led various courts to hold that no constitutional right exists to either religious or philosophic exemptions.

Government Mandates – Currently the Governor of Washington State [v]  issued an emergency proclamation mandating that most state executive branch employees and on-site contractors and volunteers, along with public and private health care and long-term care workers, must be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 by October 18. The governor stating in the proclamation that individuals included in the proclamation’s mandate must receive the final dose of their vaccination no later than October 4 so as to be fully vaccinated two weeks later on October 18 to comply with the proclamation. Included in the proclamation are exemptions from the vaccine requirement for those individuals who are entitled to a disability-related reasonable accommodation or a sincerely held religious belief accommodation. The order also applies to those working remotely, since they may need to go to a work site at some point according to directives from employers to employees. The governor’s office said the overall number includes those who have already been vaccinated. Private sector employees who are covered under the order — estimated by officials at about 400,000 — include those who work in health care, long-term care and other group settings, such as nursing homes, assisted living and treatment facilities. [1] [vi]

This mandate also includes firefighters who are considered health care workers as they hold either EMT or Paramedic certifications are aggressively resisting this mandate for a variety of reasons. Fire Departments are currently working with their attorneys and Unions on some type of policy to meet the scope of the mandate and protect those firefighters. Some states are working to stop to stop vaccine mandates and mask mandates with legislation and their own mandates.

Fire service professional organizations such as the IAFF [vii] and the IAFC [viii] have publicly issued proclamations and statements endorsing vaccines for firefighters. Labor unions are reviewing the issues to determine if this an item of bargaining and if so what are those provisions look like.

In addition to my fire service, attorney and health care provider experiences, I try to separate fact from fiction and downright lies. We are a nation of contrarians, which I imagine is OK when faced with a challenge such as a pandemic and other local and national issues and confirms your right to research and make your own decisions based on the facts and science. We are overwhelmed with “pseudo-science experts,” prescribing alternative ineffective treatment to this deadly disease. It is touted by some as though there is “scientific evidence” unproven medical treatments will cure or prevent COVID. Not true and instead those remedies are harming more than healing and disregarding the hard science will cause more to become sick and die. 

Can you imagine your parents not receiving the polio vaccine or smallpox inoculation when they were young? Your current existence is based on those smart choices they made when offered.

Naysayers say — well, it is hard to determine what they mean when they say I will not get the vaccine or wear a mask or allow my child to do the same. In Washington State your self determination may very well affect your future related to your health, the health of your family and community and may result in a job ending choice.

Listening to science and not the pundits, who are more than likely vaccinated and not being honest with their audience, will determine the outcome of this recent pandemic. You owe it to yourself and your family.


 


[i] The Worst Outbreaks in U.S. History (healthline.com)

[ii] Different types of COVID-19 vaccines: How they work – Mayo Clinic

[iii] Chapter 13 – Vaccination Mandates: The Public Health Imperative and Individual Rights – (cdc.gov)

[iv] The police power is the authority reserved to the states by the Constitution and embraces “such reasonable regulations established directly by legislative enactment as will protect the public health and the public safety” (197 U.S. at 25, 25 S.Ct. at 361)

[v] 21-14 – COVID-19 Vax Washington (tmp).pdf

[vi] Washington mandates vaccine for state, health care workers (msn.com)

[vii] IAFF strongly recommends that all IAFF members receive a SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19) vaccine to prevent the spread of disease and assist in administering vaccinations in jurisdictions where appropriate measures are taken to protect our members health and safety and their rights on the job when vaccinations are being administered

Live: Ed Kelly of IAFF on Vaccine Mandates

[viii] IAFC – Upon the approval of a COVID-19 vaccine by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the IAFC calls upon all fire chiefs to advocate for the mandatory vaccination of all of their fire and EMS department personnel against the COVID-19 virus by an FDA approved COVID-19 vaccine, except for those who cannot be vaccinated due to qualified medical conditions or a sincerely held religious belief, practice, or observance.

IAFC Releases Position Statement on COVID-19 Vaccination of Fire and EMS Personnel


This commentary reflects the views of the author and not necessarily the views of Fire Engineering.

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