My patients ask, is the shot a dangerous waste of time because some vaccinated people still catch the virus?
Very good and very fair question! You will find it more than worthwhile understanding the logical explanation. Dominica is blessed with few cases and no deaths. The majority of churches, businesses, governmental and non-governmental institutions have done an outstanding job. Overseas, even though the number of hospitalizations and deaths continue to decrease sharply in vaccinated countries such as Israel, Dubai and Britain, reports of ‘breakthrough cases’ are quite disturbing.
The PELTZMAN EFFECT explains why a number of people have become infected with Covid after being vaccinated. What’s that, you ask?
Sam Peltzman taught microeconomics at Chicago in 1988. The Peltzman Effect is a theory which states that people are people more careful when they sense greater risk. They are less careful if they feel more protected. It’s human behavior.
Compulsory use of seatbelts resulted in less deaths, but more accidents. Racetrack drivers flirt with spectacular crashes because they are so exquisitely strapped, air-bagged and protected in steel cages. Safety perception increases risk appetite.
One doctor lamented: “I treated thousands of patients with COVID-19 for the last several months. But I was not positive. But after taking the vaccination, I became positive with the virus.”
Here are the scientific facts as we know them today:
- The immunity against Covid 19 doesn’t build immediately after the first dose or even immediately after the second. Full-fledged immunity takes a few weeks after the second dose.
- Immunity is not absolute. Even after complete vaccination, a person can still get infected. However, their chance of dying or getting a severe infection requiring hospitalisation will be SUBSTANTIALLY LESS.
- Not all vaccines work to the same extent. The efficacy varies.
- Not all vaccines are effective against all the variants. A lot of vaccines are less effective against B1.351 (the South African variant), for example.
This means that vaccines are giving a sense of security which leads to increasingly risky behaviour.
But the problem is that while vaccines neither give immediate protection or full protection (against infection as against death), the SENSE OF SECURITY unfortunately starts much earlier, even before the actual injection. A year ago, the whole world was filled with doom and gloom. We were just waiting for the shoe to drop.
Regardless of controversies of how the virus started, science brought hope. People are no longer fearing death round the corner, they are itching to return to normal. Now that there is light at the end of the tunnel, the Peltzman effect comes into play. People wear masks with less caution, do not maintain distance as soon as they reach vaccination centres. Mask usage, social distancing and hand sanitisation have become progressively less. While this is attributed mainly to PANDEMIC FATIGUE, the Peltzman effect cannot be ignored.
While this behaviour is dangerous for the general public, this can be disastrous for health care workers who directly deal with Covid 19 patients. Having survived the first couple waves they are now letting down their guard. The Peltzman effect is also evident in the drastic decline in the usage of PPE (personal protection equipment) among frontline workers. The result: more are getting infected thereby impairing delivery of health care services especially in Brazil.
It is important to vaccinate the majority of the people at risk. Some areas have done better than others. Unfortunately, overall, people are slacking. They are losing sight of the grave consequences right next door in sister Caribbean islands. Balanced enforcement of official protocols is important. That is why it is so critical to be aware of the Peltzman effect. LET’S BE MORE CAREFUL UNTIL THE EFFECT OF OUR ENVIABLE VACCINATION PROGRAM TAKES US CLOSE TO HERD IMMUNITY.
I am fully vaccinated. I encourage all my patients to do so as well. Stay safe and hang in there with the protocols as your patriotic duty. Be ready to answer the tough questions. Spread awareness and keep on saving lives.
(Information in this article is researched from a social media post of an unknown physician, whom I wish to credit).
Dr. Sam Christian