“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.”

Robert Frost

By Dr. Jim Ferguson

I scored last week, but not in the vernacular sense and certainly not as defined in the urban dictionary. After trying for over a month to get a Covid vaccine I got my first shot last Friday. Thank you, Governor Lee, for lowering the Tennessee age criteria to sixty-five because, despite my qualifying 1a2 doctor status, I could not get vaccinated since I was not quite seventy.

Becky and I were never in a panic about getting the vaccine because we’re careful. But we refuse to be cooped up. If you sit alone in your house, isolated and listening to the fear mongering on MSNBC, you’re already dead, spiritually.

I’ve studied the Covid vaccines as best one can amidst the politicization of everything, even the “science” ballyhooed by Tony Fauci. Everything in life has a risk/benefit ratio. I felt that the benefits of receiving the vaccination at our age were greater than the potential side effects of the novel mRNA vaccines. If I were less than twenty-five years old, I probably would not take the vaccine since the risk of Covid death is one in a million in that age group.

To date, the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines have a very low incidence of significant side effects. But, because they are available on emergency FDA approval, there are no long-term studies of these novel mRNA vaccines. I read a report that the military cannot mandate soldiers take the vaccines because of the emergency status designation. Upwards of one half of service men are currently declining Covid vaccination.

Since I considered the benefits outweighed the risks, Becky and I took the vaccine and became part of perhaps the largest clinical trial in United States medical history. Scientists, but hopefully not Tony Fauci, will be following all vaccine recipients to assess long term side effects.

Vaccines work by challenging the immune system to process the vaccine ingredients, remembering the foreign agent and then rapidly responding if the real McCoy is encountered. This requires a healthy and functioning immune system which I’m afraid we sometimes take for granted. The immune system can be damaged by chemotherapy, radiation and even becomes less robust as we age.

The Moderna and Pfizer Covid vaccines are unique. They are not manufactured from killed viruses like polio vaccines. They are not made from live, weakened (attenuated) infectious agents such as measles, mumps, rubella and chickenpox/shingles vaccines. Nor are they made from the protein subunits of infectious agents like influenza, diphtheria and whooping cough or the toxins of tetanus germs.

In previous essays I’ve explained that historically there were four coronaviruses and these contributed to common colds. However, in 2002 a new coronavirus appeared (from China) and caused SARS. Then in 2012 another coronavirus emerged causing MERS. The seventh coronavirus arose in China in 2019 and swept across the world as COVID-19.

Previously, scientists experimented with mRNA vaccines to prevent SARS and MERS, but were unsuccessful. The animals in their experiments all died. Fortunately, the scientists learned from those experiments and the new Covid vaccines do not cause the problems previously seen. The vaccines are remarkably safe, except in people who are highly allergic or have a history of severe vaccine-associated reactions. Studies have shown the vaccines are highly effective at stimulating an immune response, producing antibodies and memory T cells (a subset of white blood cells). And the vaccines have been shown to prevent or lessen the severity of Covid infection.

Without getting too deeply in the medical weeds, these vaccines work by injecting a piece of Covid viral RNA (ribonucleic acid) which codes for the spike proteins on the viral particle. You’ve undoubtedly seen the cartoons of a Covid virus with numerous spiked projections. (The pics remind me of WWII explosive anti-ship mines.) The spikes allow Covid virus to attach to receptors on the lining of the respiratory tract. With injection of the “messenger” RNA into a person, it is delivered to the vaccinated person’s cells which then produce the spike protein (antigen). The spike protein consequently elicits an immune response through the production of antibodies and memory T cells.

Since this essay is, among other things, about scoring and choices, let’s take a different path, ala Robert Frost. Do you believe in keeping score? You may think this is a ridiculous question or perhaps a trick.

Americans are a competitive people and enjoy sports. Would you watch a basketball game without a scoring system? Do you believe you can have an election without a reliable and verifiable way to count the votes? Some weeks ago, I quoted Joseph Stalin who said it doesn’t matter who the people vote for. What matters is who counts to votes.

I was recently challenged by an email from a friend who presented CDC statistics of deaths in America. The email said between 2017 and 2020 the total number of deaths in America has not significantly changed despite the Covid pandemic. I researched the information which was pooh-poohed by various liberal fact checking sites and confirmed by more conservative sites. Who do you believe? Can you trust those who are keeping score or those watching the scorekeepers?

A cartoon meme was sent to me by another friend which read, “Covid has cured influenza.” In even a mild flu season there would normally be tens of thousands of deaths by late February. In this flu season influenza is virtually nonexistent. Explanations include social distancing, washing hands, face masks, etc. That sounds logical, but there is no study that proves this, despite what double-masking Fauci says. I think the scoring system has been skewed by filthy politics which has corrupted everything. I believe my logical counter-hypothesis is every bit as good as the explanations of titular experts.

This Lenten season causes me to reconsider the story of Didymus, better known as Doubting Thomas, a disciple who was skeptical of Jesus’ resurrection. I’ll admit I have similarly become a skeptic of anything reported in the “news,” which like schools have become less about education and more about indoctrination.

This doctor believes a bit of skepticism is healthy. How do you make sense of the world swirling around you? I advise that you read widely, but consider the source carefully. Use common sense and listen to your conscience. And always, keep looking up!