Dr. Haight Dispels COVID-19 Myths and Explains Why He Trusts the Vaccine
by TIM CRAIG
Dr. Daniel Haight watched the pandemic unfold like everyone else. He followed the news that a vaccine was in the works, and as he considered, he and his family had the same thought that most a lot of others had.
“I personally took a ‘wait-and-see’ attitude,” he says.
For Haight, Medical Director of Infection Prevention and Vice President of Community Health at Lakeland Regional Health, the wait-and-see attitude was an active one, following the development of the vaccine and searching out as much information from trusted sources as he could find.
He knew what the stakes were. Community health has been the focus of his career. Prior to joining the Lakeland Regional staff in 2012, Haight was the director of the Florida Health Department for Polk County for 16 years, so he knew the process of making sure a population of people received quality, lab-tested health care.
When the vaccine was announced late in 2020, then, Haight also knew the vaccine was trustworthy.
“I understood how the vaccine was manufactured, the process it went through, how they did not cut any corners,” he says, “I became comfortable with what other experts were advising as well.”
So when Haight received the call for essential workers to get the vaccine, he was ready and willing to receive it. Now, Haight is sharing his process and scientific knowledge with others to quell some of the misinformation that has spread about the vaccine. It all starts with people seeking out information, instead of just waiting for information to come to them, he says.
“We encourage everyone to ask questions and seek understanding, and while it may be hard to sort out facts from opinions from so many sources of information that are available, there are community leaders from all levels of healthcare providers that have been vaccinated and can help people understand the process,” he says.
One of the key things people should understand, according to Haight, is that while the vaccine was rushed, it was done with all due care and safety and was not truly a new process. In fact, he says, the protocols that helped create the COVID-19 vaccination were developed more than 20 years ago.
“The protocols were already in place and have been tested and used in developing a variety of vaccines over the past 20 years,” he says. The development of the vaccine has been about incorporating the genetic instructions to make the right protein that is needed to fight the infection, he adds. “Scientists have gotten comfortable on knowing how to put those genetic instructions into the vaccination to make it work.”
The basic way a vaccine works is by introducing one small part of the virus into the body, which gives the immune system the first taste in order to build its defense, Haight says.
“The virus comes with messenger genes in the RNA with all the instructions it needs to duplicate itself and all of the different protein components,” he says. “What this vaccine does is it takes one of the protein components of the germ and introduces the instructions for our own bodies to temporarily make them without getting the full-blown infection from catching the infection.”
For the COVID vaccine, the protein it focuses on is the “spike protein,” according to Haight. The spike protein is the part of the virus that makes it stick to you, which then takes over to make your body replicate the virus. By focusing on getting the patient’s body able to create an antibody to this protein, the virus cannot find a place to stick and cannot replicate enough to make a person very sick.
“When you introduce one small part of the virus, the body then has a way to recognize it and is able to create the antibodies,” he says. “It gets the body ready to attack the virus at its most vulnerable places — in this case, it’s the spike protein.”
While the science behind the vaccination’s development has been proven to work, Haight also recognizes that no vaccine can truly be 100 percent effective. In addition, the range of reactions to the vaccination can vary. Most people report no or mild reactions — something a mild pain reliever could be used to treat. But the important thing is for people to understand that a reaction is probable.
“People with known severe allergic reactions to things like shellfish or nuts or bee stings should probably have a discussion with their clinicians about the vaccine,” he says. “Most of the time, they can get the vaccine safely. It is not common for severe reactions to take place, and when it does happen, it usually happens within the first 15 minutes of taking the vaccine.”
This is why people who receive the vaccine are told to wait at least 15 minutes after their shot before leaving, he says,
“When people understand that reactions are a possibility and they understand why the reaction is happening, it helps them be better prepared,” he says. “Information is the key to overcoming some of our doubts about new treatments.”
Accurate information is key, says Haight, because there are plenty of myths surrounding this vaccine in particular.
Some of the myths are outrageous, says Haight, including the one that says the vaccine contains a micro-chip nanoparticle to control a person’s behavior. The source of this myth is a debunked video.
While these myths persist, partially because they are based on misinterpreted facts, it is up to the public to seek out information from a variety of sources — not just through the media, but also through public officials and people they know.
“You need to find people and ask them why this is a myth and make sure the answer you get is a good answer,” he says. “When people can tell you details and give you sources and when you can talk to people who have already gone through the experience, it helps you know that this is safe.”