In partnership with The National Institute for Health Care Management Foundation, The Texas Tribune is producing a limited series of Spanish podcast episodes focused on providing accurate information about the pandemic.
Cuando se trata de los mitos de la vacuna contra la COVID-19, el Dr. Iván Meléndez lo ha escuchado todo, tanto como médico en la región fronteriza como director de Salud Pública del condado de Hidalgo.
En este primer episodio, Meléndez, compartió con nosotros lo que piensan sus pacientes cuando les recomiendan vacunarse.
In this first episode we will talk about the myths that still exist around the COVID-19 vaccine. Iván Meléndez, Hidalgo County public health director, shared with us what his patients say when they are advised to get vaccinated.
María Isabel Gonzales: How do you react as a doctor when you hear someone say to you, "I don't want to get vaccinated?"
Dr. Iván Meléndez: I respect their opinions. But my job, my duty, my responsibility is to continue speaking with the scientific truth, with statistics. Eliminate any type of subjectivity and remain objective so that people can reach a conclusion that is not related to politics, that is not related to misinformation on social media. There is a direct relationship between the numbers of people who have been vaccinated and the results of deaths and hospitalizations. The difference between a year ago and now is not just based on human behavior.
We, unfortunately, and even more so Latinos, have found it very difficult to wear masks, wash our hands and keep our distance. That's because of our Hispanic culture and also because of the need to work. It's hard not to leave your house when you have to support five or six people. It's hard not to go to the grocery store when you only have money to buy food for two days. So, what I'm saying is that the only thing, the only tangible, objective thing that we have seen is using the vaccine.
Gonzales: When one of your regular patients confidently tells you, "Doctor, I'm not really sure about the vaccine." How do you convince them?
Meléndez: To begin with, you have to give them some credit. You have to recognize that person has the right to have that opinion. No. 2, identify what is the reason. What is the myth that has led people to this conclusion? The most common one I hear is, “The technology is new and it was developed too fast. I don't trust it because it hasn't had enough time. And I'm afraid that in the future, like other treatments, this could be a problem, not just for me. Maybe I have to get vaccinated, but will never consider it for my kids because it is a new and potentially dangerous technology because it is unknown and was developed so quickly.”
So, I explain to them that they’re misinformed. This technology is approximately 10 years old. The use of the messenger RNA is not a technology developed this year or last year. It is relatively new, but we have already been using this technology for 10 years. This technology is the safest because you are not injecting a live virus, you are not injecting an attenuated virus and you are not injecting a part of the virus. What you are injecting is the recipe to make a protein that produces antibodies that the host, the vaccinated person, develops.
It is a vaccine so safe that it was the first thing that was investigated and the first thing that was successful: Moderna and Pfizer. It is simply a recipe to produce a protein so that the body then knows how to defend itself. Because we know that if you have antibodies and the disease arrives, it is like having police outside your house all the time and if a thief arrives, they will not escape because the police are there.
The second thing you hear is that “I think it is a conspiracy so that governments or big pharmaceutical companies can profit, and I don't want to participate in that.” These conspiracy theories seem a bit surreal to me, but let's assume they are true. The virus is here, and it doesn't matter why you are at war — the enemy is at the door.
Gonzales: What other myths do you hear about side effects?
Meléndez: The other myths tend to be based on the fear of side effects, and there are a thousand examples that people give: “It will make my arm small. It will cause infertility. It will change the DNA. It will give men myocarditis.” Well, nobody’s arm has gotten smaller. Myocarditis is identified in many viruses. And they are not injecting you with viruses, impossible. They say it gives you infertility because it is a protein similar to a protein in the body that is in the womb of women, and that has been discredited.
And finally, “that my DNA is going to change.” No. The DNA of a human being lives in the nucleus of the cell. We know that the messenger RNA is in the cytoplasm in the human body, and it is not in the nucleus, which is where the DNA is. So it is impossible for the DNA to be changed by an RNA vaccine.
Gonzales: When they say, "I believe that natural immunity is better, therefore I do not need the vaccine." That is, someone who has already had the disease and who believes that they are immune and no longer need it, in those cases: What does science tell us?
Meléndez: I think that is quite a controversial position. So people who have already gone through this can argue, “Well, I have already overcome the danger because I had it [COVID-19] and now I have better immunity than a vaccine.” My answer is: You are absolutely right, but for how long? You may have better immunity for 60 days, for 90 days, for 120 days. We don’t know.
We know that the Cleveland Clinic, which is a clinical center of excellence around the world, three weeks ago argued the same thing: If a person has had the disease, they do not need to be vaccinated. However, we continue to recommend the vaccine. We don't think it's necessary, but we recommend it.
And why do they recommend it? They recommend it because people who already have immunity from a natural source are only going to further increase their antibodies, their plasma cells and their ability to cope with another case of the disease. So, for those, like me, who had the disease and then also got vaccinated five months later, they will have superior immunity. Not only do you go to war with a pistol, you also go with a rifle and a grenade, and you have more tools to be able to fight.
Gonzales: Doctor, what would you say to people who are listening to us and who are not yet vaccinated or who still have doubts?
Meléndez: In the 30-plus years that I’ve been doing this, I never encountered and never imagined the pain, the suffering that we have had with this disease. When you are subjecting your relatives to tubes in their trachea so that they can live. When you are waiting outside in cars because you cannot get out of the cars at funerals. When bodies have to wait eight or nine weeks frozen because there is no space in cemeteries. When you have to enter trailers, refrigerated trucks, which are for food, but instead of food there are 70 to 80 corpses.
My goodness! It has been a painful time for us. At the hospitals, every 15 minutes it would be announced over the loudspeakers, “Attention! Go to this or that room,” because you had to resuscitate people every 15 minutes.
My point is that if we don't get vaccinated we are leaving the potential for this enemy, once again, to rear its ugly head and rise again.
Gonzales: If you are looking for information related to the coronavirus, visit us at trib.it/vacunas.