Vaccination choice about weighing risks

Bernie Hewson
Bernie Hewson

Bernie Hewson, of Queensberry, is an immunocompromised front-line healthcare worker. She outlines why she chose to be vaccinated against Covid-19.

It’s no secret that I’m a front-line healthcare professional. It’s probably no secret I’m pro-vaccination, but I’m also pro-choice.

We are fortunate in Aotearoa New Zealand to have freedom to choose with virtually every aspect of life, including our health and healthcare decisions. As adults we make choices and take risks, educated risks to do what we think is best and right for ourselves and our children. I’ve read debates and articles about the Covid vaccination not being 100% effective, not tested enough, transmission of the virus still happening even though a person is fully vaccinated, etc, etc.

Scientific fact is that no vaccine or medicine is 100% effective, no vaccine or medicine is without side effects or risk. Every vaccine or medicine from paracetamol to chemotherapy drugs, and everything in between, comes from big pharma at a cost to the user. Every vaccine or medicine can kill. It’s up to us as individuals to choose and weigh up the risk.

Something many will not know about me is that while I’m a front-line health professional, and vaccinated against a range of deadly diseases, none of which gives me 100% protection against these diseases, I am also  immunosuppressed. In simple terms it means my immune system can’t fight simple infections like a healthy person.  I choose to be immunosuppressed.

Why would anyone in their right mind choose to take medication which has a side effect of suppressing their immune system? The simple answer is so I can live. Without it I am virtually crippled with pain and have great difficulty even walking, let alone working and having any quality of life.

The side effects of simple infections in an immunocompromised person means my body has a knack of turning an average person’s cold into a sinus infection with five back-to-back courses of antibiotics and still no reprieve, or a simple virus in a healthy person into a 10-day hospital admission or a minor medical procedure into sepsis, life-altering surgery and six months off work.

I have lost count of the number of hospital admissions I have had from minor infections that have got out of control. My rheumatologist has even told me to consider giving up my 25-year nursing career as the risk to my health from infection is too great. How do you just give up on your life’s passion? Part of your identity?

Vaccination to me was a pretty simple choice. It involved weighing up the risk of side effects, including death, versus  catching the actual disease with a much higher risk of death for me, versus catching the disease while vaccinated and immune suppressed so therefore not having as great an immune response to the vaccine. With at least some level of protection from vaccination,  if and when I do catch Covid, hopefully it will be a less severe illness. I’m likely to be the person you hear about in the 1pm Ashley and Jacinda Ardern  show who is fully immunised and catches Covid and ends up in hospital.

At least if that is the case, my risk of dying will be dramatically reduced. You see, because I choose to live and have some quality of life, I will continue to choose immunosuppressants, knowing full well the very real risk of death that comes with my choice.

My beautiful and protective family have each weighed up the risks of vaccination also. My 16-year-old twins made their own informed decision,  one of many educated choices they will make over their lives. They chose to take that risk, for themselves but yet for me. They at 16 chose to act as a ring fence to help keep me as safe as possible.

I am incredibly grateful for their maturity and sacrifice to take the risk for me and our family unit. You see the more people around me who are vaccinated, even if it is not 100% effective, the less chance those people are to catch the virus and therefore the less likely I am to catch it. Vaccinated family and those close to me help create a barrier, even if not 100% impenetrable, to the virus getting to me and others like me.

My intention in writing this is not to force or coerce people to vaccinate if they don’t choose to. It’s simply to raise awareness of why I chose to take a risk with vaccination and the likely severe outcome for me if I didn’t get immunised.

To me being able to balance actually having a life, being immunosuppressed and having some protection with immunisation was a simple decision.