Should I get the COVID-19 Vaccine? - Acupuncturist Jimmy Sparrow Reflects on the Importance of Vaccination
Author: Jimmy Sparrow, L.Ac.
As an acupuncturist and practitioner of East Asian Medicine it’s often assumed that I am against Western medicine and most certainly against vaccinations. This assumption was somewhat true until I went to school for Chinese medicine.
My journey to study Chinese medicine started with my own health. I was a sickly kid. Nothing major or serious but always sick. Adolescence brought an increase in fatigue beyond the normal teenager's need to sleep and I was given the nebulous diagnosis of chronic fatigue syndrome. This set off a series of specialist appointments all of which left me with few answers and big feelings of frustration. From my perspective my doctors did not see me as a whole person who was struggling with daily life, they just saw a moody teenager with unexplained health issues. Unfortunately I walked away from this experience with the misguided idea that doctors as a general rule didn’t really care about my health and well being. Fortunately my wise Mother took me to see a practitioner of East Asian medicine (AKA an acupuncturist) and my first treatment was nothing short of profound. I left the appointment knowing that I was not healed but that I was on a path towards health. I had newfound hope and most importantly I felt seen and heard by my new healthcare provider.
This sequence of events put me on a path to rejecting all that Western medicine had to offer. I believed that anything short of an emergency trauma situation could and should be treated by Chinese medicine. My teenage brain was incapable of recognizing that just because a few doctors were unable to help me that did not mean that all of Western medicine was a sham.
I held on tightly to my new belief system. So tight in fact that I needlessly suffered through 3 weeks of a horrific bacterial sinus infection that eventually spread to my ears. I was past the point of Chinese herbs and it was my acupuncturist who told me I needed to see a doctor and get antibiotics. She was right. Within 24 hours of starting the antibiotics I felt a change, within 48 hours I felt better. I had invested so much time and energy into the belief that Western medicine was bad and not to be trusted that I doubled down on my beliefs and decided that I was to blame for getting sick and that I just had to live a healthier lifestyle and prevent all major illness. It was up to me to stay healthy and If I needed Western medical intervention I had done something wrong.
I started Chinese medicine school with this flawed and dangerous belief system. During my four arduous years at the Oregon College of Oriental Medicine (OCOM) I had the great pleasure of learning from amazing acupuncturists, naturopathic doctors, chiropractic doctors and medical doctors, all of whom shared their unique perspectives on the nuances of medicine and the human body. I came to understand that the all or nothing thinking that I carried with me as I started school needed to be shed in order for me to see the full picture of human physiology and pathology as well as the true nature of medicine. Like all things humans do medicine was and is created by us, humans. As a result medicine carries with it our flaws in thinking, the history of medicine both recent and ancient shows our triumphs of understanding as well as our deficiencies and sometimes fatal process to understand our own bodies.
My time at OCOM gave me the opportunity to see that all medicine, Western, Eastern and everything in between is living and evolving. Learning from practitioners from across the spectrum of medicine allowed me to recognize that the end game is not to avoid a particular kind of treatment or medicine but to find the right treatment for each individual person and the ingredients that make up their life and health.
Prevention is wonderful but the reality is that most people experience varying layers of societal oppression that are often incompatible with a healthy lifestyle. It’s hard to focus on living your best life when you are just trying to survive.
Chinese medicine is a powerful and elegant tool that continues to amaze and delight me everyday that I have the privilege to practice. However, Chinese medicine in the US is a topic for a different day. Today and everyday for the foreseeable future we have to talk about vaccinations. We have to talk about the pandemic and realistic ways to move forward during this incredibly difficult time.
Our system of healthcare is flawed but that does not mean that the medicine itself is unreliable or should be avoided. At this moment in time we are facing ICU beds at 77% capacity in the Portland/Vancouver area. Many of those ICU beds are occupied by people with COVID-19. Though a variety of non Western modalities can help support your immune system we as a society have collectively passed the point of those modalities being enough. I invite you to consider not only your own health but the health of everyone you come in contact with before you make a decision about getting vaccinated. Herd immunity has been receiving a lot of attention in the media recently and with good reason. In order to stop the spread of COVID-19 we have to achieve herd immunity which means that an estimated 70-90% of the population need to be immune to COVID-19 in order to halt the spread of the virus. It’s still unclear if those who have recovered from COVID-19 are immune to future infection or spread of the virus which means that for the time being the vaccines are our best hope of ending the pandemic. Not everyone is a good candidate for the COVID-19 vaccine, you can learn more about the vaccine and who should and should not get it. Alternatively, visit the Mayo Clinic's COVID-19 site for more information. The CDC is always a good source of information and for those of you who enjoy a deep dive into data the vaccine adverse event reporting system is an amazing resource. Like all healthcare decisions the choice to vaccinate or not comes with potential costs and benefits. I encourage you to weigh the costs and benefits of the COVID-19 vaccine to your health and the health of those around you with facts from trusted resources.
My last term of school was in Nanjing, China and I was tasked with weighing the costs and benefits of several vaccinations before I traveled. I had never experienced side effects beyond a sore arm or a slight fever after receiving an immunization so it wasn’t a difficult decision for me to choose to be immunized for hepatitis A. If I got the vaccine I could experience mild nausea and a headache for 1-2 days. If I did not get the vaccine I could get hepatitis A which at best would cause diarrhea, cramping and nausea for a few weeks to a few months and the possibility of permanent liver damage. I chose to get the vaccine and I experienced uncomfortable side effects. Within 2 hours of the injection I felt like a bag of sand, I was barely able to move, nauseous and I had a splitting headache. I spent the next 48 hours in bed in the comfort of my own home. Two weeks later I left for China and though I did experience some minor and brief diarrhea in China I am happy to report that I did not get hepatitis A. I can say without hesitation that I made the right choice to get a hepatitis A vaccine.
As soon as I am able I plan to get vaccinated against COVID-19, not just for me and my health but for the health of my clients, coworkers, community, family and friends. I will keep taking my supplements and doing qigong but this is a moment to use every tool in the tool box. We have lost too many lives already.