I’ve resisted medical expertise a few times, particularly when it comes to advice on staving off insomnia. Late night, nonsensical Google searches born of restlessness and imagination kept me from a good night’s rest: “What is the plural of mongoose?” “What do mongooses eat?”
With each click I attempted to lull myself back to sleep, leaping into endless internet rabbit holes — the exact opposite of what the experts recommend. They say to put down the phone and its snooze-stealing blue light. Surely, there is science behind the advice to avoid screen time before bed, but in those moments I didn’t worry about science or facts. That familiar, comfortable dismissal nearly stopped me from getting the COVID-19 vaccine.
During the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, I dug through the accompanying rabbit holes. Driven by the thought of the coming apocalypse, I searched online for something to beat the disease. They — the government, the CDC, whoever — often struck me as giving us, the public, spotty information. Convinced nature had the answer, I bought more herbs than Snoop Dogg.
My mistrust of the Powers That Be was, and still is, strong. Science has been wrong before. And Big Pharma isn’t a Boy Scout. So, who is really looking out for my family? When the COVID-19 shots came out faster than a typical vaccine, I said to myself: “You guinea pigs go ahead and take their poison. I’ll stick with my elderberries.”
When spouting something that sounds scientific or official, many people lean on broad terms like they. They said not to eat after 6 p.m. if you want to lose weight. They said the bridge will be finished in November. They said to take a brand-new vaccine for a disease we barely understand.
I struggled to trust what felt like an ambiguous, all-powerful they.
Horrific vaccine scenarios floated through my imagination. Silly ones, like Blinky the three-eyed fish from The Simpsons. And very serious ones, like the fallout from thalidomide, the widely used drug in the 1950s and early 1960s in Europe that resulted in severe birth defects. Or the Tuskegee experiments, where African American men were promised free medical care by the U.S. government, but instead had treatment for syphilis withheld — their deadly symptoms studied in the name of “science.”
Meanwhile, I thought of other scenes. Like when our pediatrician insisted our infant daughter receive a series of vaccines. “What if she gets a vaccine injury? What if she is allergic?” So many what-ifs tumbled out of my mouth as tears welled up in my eyes. I imagined the very worst.
My doctor listened carefully to my concerns, without judgment or condescension. He gave me a truthful answer for each one. We discussed the risks, and the many diseases my daughter would be protected against. As he spoke, I recalled images of polio patients shown in my science class years ago.
“My doctor listened carefully to my concerns, without judgment or condescension. He gave me a truthful answer for each one.”
“I’ve given vaccines to all of my children,” he said. I looked into his eyes. I knew how much he loved his kids. His was a face and a voice I could identify with.
My daughter got her vaccines.
I don’t trust the faceless, collective they, but I do trust my family and friends. My cousin, who knows everything about cars, will tell me if I’m being taken for a ride by my mechanic. While I am perfectly capable of reading and reviewing a legal contract, I’m grateful for the advice of my neighbor who specializes in corporate law. Similarly, I turn to familiar faces with questions about the COVID-19 vaccine that are well above my pay grade: my friend the microbiologist. My best friend’s relatives, nurses who worked with COVID-19 patients. My neighbor, a cancer researcher. My cousin who is a guru in discovery research.
My compadres explained, in layman’s terms, how the vaccine appeared so quickly. Spoiler alert! The technology has been studied for years. The speed in crossing the finish line was due to a windfall of funding, the flood of COVID-19 cases, and willing clinical trial participants lining up around the block. Not the typical scenario.
My trusted sources explained the relatively small risks. They broke down topics like herd immunity and virus mutation. But, I protested, you’re vaccinated. Why should you care if I choose not to vaccinate myself? Spoiler alert #2! A virus needs hosts to spread and mutate. When enough of us are vaccinated, the virus will hit a dead end, or at least get closer to it. But if this virus keeps going, we do have to fear mutations.
And it’s our job to protect those who cannot be vaccinated, like the young and the immunocompromised.
While science is never infallible, what is the point of having experts if we aren’t going to believe them when the muck hits the fan? We get second opinions at the doctor’s office. And now we have, quite literally, thousands of specialist opinions saying the exact same thing: Get your vaccine.
So, I did. After several weeks, in late February I got over my skepticism. You should, too. The human race is counting on it. And in this spirit of trust, I’ll shut off the phone tonight — as they say — and get some sleep. Finally.
Bethany Watson-Ostrowski is an author and owner of Bethany’s Events Catering.
Read more stories of changed minds
Want to write about your own change of mind or heart? Tell us at email@example.com.