The end of the pandemic in the U.S. is in sight. The COVID-19 vaccines currently available in the United States have proven to be outstandingly effective at protecting recipients from coronavirus and they are also safe.
These vaccines - and the potential of others on the way - have the power to lift us out of the depths of this pandemic and put us on the path forward to rebuilding from COVID-19's devastating economic, social and psychological impacts.
Put simply, getting America vaccinated is our ticket to halting the death toll and significantly slowing the spread of the virus. The vaccines are our ticket forward - this is the message that needs to be shouted from the roof tops right now.
While public confidence in the vaccines, and access to them, continues to grow, many Americans - especially Black and Hispanic adults and those living in rural areas - remain hesitant about getting the shot.
In redoubling efforts to dispel fears about COVID-19 vaccines, the message that needs to be conveyed across the board is that these breakthroughs will not only stamp out the virus, but also end much of the growing collateral damage due to the pandemic.
We know that these are very safe vaccines. Out of the first 1.9 million Pfizer vaccine recipients, only 21 people experienced severe reactions. That's 0.00001 percent.
We also know that the vaccines have demonstrated successful results. In a Moderna trial of 30,000 volunteers, half received the vaccine and the other half a placebo. In the placebo group, 185 came down with COVID-19, whereas in the vaccinated group, only 11 did, and all those cases were mild. That translates into an efficacy rate of 94.1 percent.
Even more importantly, the data shows that the Moderna vaccine is 100 percent effective in preventing severe COVID-19 infections. The data from Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson is remarkably similar.
Skeptics say the vaccines were developed too quickly to be effective, that they'll cause worse side effects than the coronavirus itself or that they won't prevent person-to-person spread.
The medical community knows that the first two of those statements are wrong, and the third, while very unlikely, has also been proven wrong in clinical trials where even when the virus was contracted the cases were notably mild.
Underselling the vaccine and fostering skepticism has very real consequences - especially for the vulnerable communities who have already been most hard hit.
Even before COVID-19, our health care system was fraught with millions across America living with one or more chronic conditions. People with chronic illnesses are six times more likely to be hospitalized and 12 times more likely to die from COVID-19 than people with no chronic conditions.
We also know that this pandemic disproportionately impacts persons of color. According to the CDC, Black and Hispanic people are about four times more likely to be hospitalized and almost three times more likely to die from COVID-19 than whites.
With awareness of these impacts must also come awareness of the path forward that the available vaccines provide us. This awareness is simple: Get vaccinated as soon as you are eligible.
Carlos del Rio, M.D., FIDSA is a Professor of Medicine at Emory University School of Medicine, Professor of Global Health and Epidemiology at the Rollins School of Public Health of Emory University and the Executive Associate Dean of Emory at Grady Health System. Dr. del Rio also serves on the Board of Directors for the Infectious Diseases Society of America.