I’ve been caring for COVID-19 patients in the ICU, and I think refusing the vaccine is a mistake

Daniel W. Johnson, MD, critical care anesthesiologist, shortly after getting his first COVID-19 vaccine.

This is a social media post written by Nebraska Medicine critical care anesthesiologist Daniel W. Johnson, MD. It is shared with permission from Dr. Johnson.

I am a physician who has been caring for COVID-19 patients in the ICU during the pandemic. Recently, some people who have been offered the newly authorized Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine are refusing to receive it because they want to hold out for one of the two previously authorized vaccines. 

I think refusing any of the vaccines is a mistake for multiple reasons.

In the phase 3 trial of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, 21,895 people received the vaccine. At analysis on day 29, ZERO of those 21,895 people were hospitalized for COVID-19, and ZERO of those 21,895 people had died of COVID-19. 

Imagine if you decline to take this vaccine, and then a month later, you find yourself critically ill with COVID-19, heading toward needing a breathing tube. You would be irate with yourself that you refused to take a vaccine that could have prevented this ordeal. Every single one of the COVID-19 patients I have witnessed struggling to stay alive would have given anything to go back in time and receive a vaccine that could prevent such misery. If our COVID-19 victims who have died could speak with you, they would beg you to get vaccinated.

In addition to the protection this vaccine gives to you,  you are doing your part to promote the common good by receiving the vaccine. You are doing your part to protect your family, your friends and people all over the world. When more people get vaccinated, the spread of the virus will be greatly reduced. This means fewer people get sick, and fewer people die. It also means that we get back to our normal life more swiftly. If you are offered this vaccine, you are essentially being asked: “Will you accept a shot in your arm if it means that you are less likely to die from COVID-19 and you are less likely to hasten the death of other people?” With stakes like that, how can you decline?

There is no guarantee that you will have access to one of the alternatives if you decline the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. You might contract the virus in the meantime. You might become critically ill or die. You might infect others in the meantime, and they might become critically ill or die.

We are in the second half of the contest against SARS-CoV-2. We just recently took the lead in this grueling battle. Choosing not to receive a safe and effective vaccine against the virus is like choosing to soften up our defense against this very formidable opponent. If we soften up our defense, our opponent will start winning again. If we get everyone vaccinated swiftly, the virus will not have the opportunity to mutate into new variants that are untouchable by existing vaccines. 

In other words, we are in a race with the virus. The more infections that occur, the more opportunity the virus has to mutate. Widespread refusal of any of the vaccines means that we will not end this pandemic in 2021. Refusing the vaccine is like waving the white flag in this war against SARS-CoV-2.

Please receive the first COVID-19 vaccine you are offered, regardless of which one it is. They are all safe and effective. Your life might depend on it. And other human beings’ lives definitely depend on it.