| Special to Wooster Daily Record
As an immigrant and a dentist in Wayne and Holmes counties, I am writing to encourage all residents to take the COVID-19 vaccine as soon as they have that privilege.
The two biggest public health measures in any country are access to safe water and immunizations. Access to treatment is important but prevention and protection of the most vulnerable is essential.
My husband’s grandmother, Trasie Yoder Raber, lost her only brother, Clarence, 30, to the Spanish flu in 1918. Influenza took her 39-year-old husband, Ernest, in 1929, and her 11-year-old son, Blaine, in 1934. She was left to raise the other three children alone.
Today, they would have had access to both the flu shot AND antibiotics. Just days ago, I was reading old letters written by relatives in the early 1900s. There was a lot of mention and worry about the various epidemics, including smallpox and whooping cough.
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What is seen as American history is still REALITY in many countries. Much less privileged and less educated populations understand and have lived through multiple epidemics (cholera, Ebola, yellow fever, etc.) and highly contagious diseases (tuberculosis, chikungunya, malaria, etc.). Without immunization of pregnant women against tetanus as part of routine prenatal care, an approach pioneered in Haiti in 1967, millions of babies born in unsanitary conditions around the world would still be dying of umbilical cord acquired tetanus.
Poorer countries understand and respond much better to epidemics. They are quicker to act and in many ways have done better at facing COVID-19 than richer countries.
They know their populations do not live in spaces large enough to social distance and their populations appreciate the value of public health measures. Their government will not and cannot provide individuals and employers with stimulus money.
Their people must be out and about daily to carry water, look for today’s food, and get to the marketplace if they are to survive. India, Bangladesh, Egypt, and other African countries have found novel, safe, economical ways to lessen virus impact.
Unfortunately, leaders in rich countries have dismissed this real world evidence, stating there were not enough studies while refusing to undertake their own studies. I believe that this is now one of the reasons some in the general American public are suspicious about the vaccine.
The American public has gotten a bit too comfortable. We demand pills or shots researched for a decade and available for most diseases. In epidemics and pandemics, you do not have that kind of time!
What people must understand is that vaccine technology is extremely safe and well-studied. The main downside of a fast-to-market vaccine is that it may not be as effective in all age groups as the next generation of the same vaccine (HPV and shingles vaccines are two recent examples). The elderly typically have the least success rate with vaccines.
The speed with which the two available vaccines were made is due to existing technologies developed by children of Turkish immigrants to Germany (husband and wife Drs. Sahin and Dr. Türecie) and by a Hungarian immigrant (Katalin Karikó) to the United States who was fleeing communism. Their costly but effective technologies existed long before COVID-19. There just had not been a reason to use it for vaccines.
The doctors’ technology was being used to manufacture customized treatment to help a person’s own immune system fight cancer.
Don’t fear COVID-19 vaccine
Katalin Karikó grew up in a one-room house in Hungary with no running water and no refrigerator. In the United States she struggled to keep her position at the University of Pennsylvania after no one would fund her mRNA research. She accepted a lower-paid position so her daughter could get the staff discount at the prestigious university. Karikó was eventually let go by the university.
Her synthetic mRNA discovery would turn out to be a key element in speeding up the development of a COVID-19 vaccine, allowing scientists at Moderna, as well as Pfizer, to dramatically accelerate the time usually needed to develop a vaccine.
Messenger RNA is a fast but expensive way to make vaccines and must be kept at extremely cold temperatures. Such vaccines will not reach 75% of the planet due to cost and temperature requirements. The less privileged will have to wait for the traditional cheaper and slower to manufacture vaccines that will come to market later.
When my husband and I went to the Health Department to take our first of two doses of the vaccine, we met other excited doctors and health care providers waiting their turn.
We have studied biology and genetics. We understand how the vaccine is made. We know the mRNA technology cannot harm us. We would not be taking it if not convinced no harm will be done. We would prefer to be taking a 99% effective vaccine but are settling for 90%.
I do appreciate that we still have freedom to choose. Freedom also comes with responsibility and acceptance of consequences.
I realize that sometimes lawmakers make rules that are enforced for others and not applied to them. This vaccine is not one of those situations.
The COVID-19 vaccine is least effective in the elderly. Unfortunately the COVID-19 disease is most deadly for their age group. I am especially pleading with anyone working or even entering a nursing home, or anyone in contact with immune compromised or elderly friends and relatives to PLEASE protect THEM and take the vaccine.
It’s not only easy but also crucial to lifting all the restrictions we are living under worldwide.
Editor’s note: Myriam Raber, D.D.S., practices general dentistry and orthodontics at Raber Dental offices in Kidron (Wayne County) and Mount Hope (Holmes County). She was born and raised in Haiti, the youngest of 11 children, and started her private practice in 2007.
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