The Queen of England is a 95-Year-Old Advertisement for Vaccines

Much of the world was rocked by the recent news that Queen Elizabeth II tested positive for COVID-19. She isn’t the first head of state or government to catch the virus: Presidents Trump and Bolsonaro, as well as Prime Ministers Boris Johnson, Trudeau, and many others, have caught the virus.

But if COVID-19 was to tragically take the life of a world leader, the Queen, at 95 years old, would in theory be at the highest risk. Those over 80 have a 1 in 5 chance of dying if they test positive. For those aged 95, it is significantly higher. But Brits aren’t worried, and neither are most experts.

We’re right to be relaxed, for one reason: vaccines. The Queen has received three doses of the COVID-19 vaccine, which likely reduces her risk of severe illness and death dramatically. I wasn’t surprised that she is suffering from only mild cold-like symptoms and is continuing to perform light duties.

The Queen has COVID-19, and she is continuing to work from home.

Queen Elizabeth

Aside from the importance of vaccines, another lesson of the Queen’s diagnosis is that not only is the pandemic not over, but no one is safe from the virus. Her Majesty has the ability to shield and social distance to an extent that maybe only a few thousand people in the world can. I am sure her staff is regularly tested, and her environment is almost perfectly sanitized. 

And she follows the rules, more strictly than most of us. We saw that at her husband’s funeral last April, where she mourned alone, several meters from anyone else. But she still caught the COVID-19 virus.

If she can catch COVID-19, we all can. The only question is how well prepared will our bodies be if and when we do? If the vaccine can protect a 95-year-old woman, it can protect many others.

But many of us are going without protection, by choice. Some US states are still only half fully vaccinated — with far fewer receiving a booster — a full 15 months after the vaccine rollout began.

We Americans do not, in general, mistrust our doctors. As a nation, when a healthcare provider tells us something, we tend to believe it. In fact, we rely on family physicians in particular for a range of intimate functions, whether it’s dealing with family planning, pregnancy, end-of-life care, depression, or anything else.

So, why the distrust of vaccines in some people? I believe it’s because they were mis-sold to us. I, along with many other physicians and healthcare providers, knew that vaccines would reduce serious illness and fatality due to the COVID-19 virus, but that they wouldn’t make our bodies impenetrable to it.

What we were told was different. Vaccines were, if not mis-sold, oversold. Maybe policymakers thought the concept of reduced fatality and milder symptoms was too nuanced for the average American to understand. 

A simpler — but in the end, false — message was constructed: that the vaccine will stop you from getting COVID-19. There was talk of maybe eradicating the SARS-CoV-2 virus by reaching herd immunity. However, even the initial clinical trial of both mRNA vaccines showed vaccine efficacy against the initial  SARS-CoV-2 variant was 90%. That meant at least 10% of people getting the vaccine in initial clinical trials were still getting infected. The vaccine efficacy continued to fall with each variant to as low as 40-50% with the Delta and Omicron variants.

What the vaccine manufacturers and government should have told us instead is that what the COVID-19 vaccines do really well is protect close to 99% of the vaccinated from dying, including the elderly and people with preexisting conditions. 

Instead, what we have ended up with is fuel for the conspiracy theorists, who almost immediately, after the Queen’s diagnosis on Sunday, gloated that she had caught the virus despite being triple vaccinated and boosted. The truth is that she will likely easily survive the virus because she is triple vaccinated.

We can’t entirely blame the anti-vaxxers: If a product does not perform as sold, it’s the salesman’s fault, not the consumer’s. That is true even if it still performs very, very well — but different from what was advertised. That is true even if it helps COVID-19 become a “typical” coronavirus, alongside the other coronaviruses, which are responsible for 20% of common colds that we suffer from every year.

I’m almost certain that the Queen will continue, as she recently announced, with light duties. And I’m sure that she will survive this bout of COVID-19. She will be one of the highest-profile — and I hope most effective — advertisements for vaccines. She may even owe her life to them. 

Will unvaccinated Americans, and the 1 in 5 of her British subjects who are still not fully vaccinated, listen? I hope so. We all want COVID-19 to be just another common cold. It’s time we made it happen.

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Jonathan Baktari MD

Jonathan Baktari, MD brings over 20 years of clinical, administrative and entrepreneurial experience to lead the current e7 Health team. He has been a triple board-certified physician with specialties in internal medicine, pulmonary and critical care medicine. He has been the Medical Director of The Valley Health Systems, Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield, Culinary Health Fund and currently is the CEO of two healthcare companies.
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