| Debbie Gardner
ST. PETERSBURG, FL – Yes, the COVID-19 vaccine is a reality – both the Pfizer and the Moderna versions have been FDA approved and are being administered, and there are two more in late-stage testing, with AstraZeneca’s version recently approved by the UK. But that does not mean life will be going back to what we consider normal in the very near future.
“Up to 80 percent of the American public would need to be vaccinated to slow the pandemic,” said allergist and immunologist Dr. Susan Bailey, president of the American Medical Association, during a recent press conference about COVID -19 and the vaccines. “We are right at the beginning, there is so much to be hoped [for]. But the vaccine alone will not end this pandemic. We still need to wear masks, wash our hands, social distance and avoid large crowds for now.”
Bailey was one of four experts who spoke to reporters from across the U.S. during the virtual press event hosted by The Poynter Institute for Media Studies, a non-profit journalism school and research organization located in St. Petersburg, Fl..
Dr. Paul Offit, director of Vaccine Education Center at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, explained that the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines – both mRNA based – are formulated and work differently than the typical influenza vaccines people receive every year. The influenza vaccines, he explained, include deactivated virus. The mRna vaccine include a “snippet of code.”
“Usually when we give a vaccine we are interested in inducing an immune response by introducing a protein, usually on the viral spike. What is different here is we are not giving you the protein, but the genetic marker to create the protein; we’re giving you the information to make the protein and your body creates the immune response,” Offit said.
According to the explanation on the Center for Disease Control’s website, “mRNA vaccines work by providing the genetic code for our cells to produce viral proteins. Once the proteins, which don’t cause disease, are produced, the body launches an immune response against the virus, enabling the person to develop immunity.”
Both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines require two doses to be completely effective. The Pfizer vaccine requires a second dose after 21days; the Moderna requires a second dose after 28 days. Like any immunization, there are some common side effects.
“Here’s what you should expect,” said pediatric nurse-practitioner Patricia Sinchfield, president-elect of the National Foundation of Infectious Diseases, who participated in the Poynter briefing “Your arm may be achy [at the shot site], you may have some feeling of fatigue or muscle aches. You may get a fever, or some headache.” Sinchfield said the symptoms may last one to two days. She also said the use of mRNA technology to develop the COVID-19 vaccine was not as new as many people believed, as it had already been employed to create vaccines against tuberculosis and Zika.
Offit advised that anyone who has had any reaction to “an injectable product” should avoid taking the vaccine at this time. It is also prudent even for people who normally take vaccines without incident to “hang around” for 15 to 30 minutes following injection – as is often requested following the flu vaccine – to be certain no reactions develop, he said.
Bailey also advised against getting Pfizer for the first dose, and Moderna for the second, or vice versa. “They have slightly different active ingredients,and that may be where the reactions come in,” Bailey stated. Offit suggested that the vaccine still under development by Johnson & Johnson may be more effective in “patients 65-plus.”
When asked about the level of immunity following each vaccine dose, Offit said following the first shot “it could be argued that vaccine protection is as high as 52 percent” against contracting COVID-1 within 10 days of inoculation. There is still a question about how long the full immunity – achieved after the second dose – will last, however, and if the vaccines will prevent asymptomatic shedding of the virus, Offit added.
Even with the vaccine one in 20 individuals may still contract COVID-19, he explained.
Offit also indicated that the scientific community was already aware of the COVID-19 mutation that has been recorded in the UK, and its effects on the current vaccines was under study.
Dr. Leon McDougle a family physician from Columbus OH. and President of the National Medical Association, the largest Black medical society in the U. S., said trust in the vaccine and its effectiveness is a hurdle Americans will have to overcome, especially members of the Black, Latinx and Native American communities who have an inherent and historical distrust of mainstream medicine.
Acknowledging the distrust these communities may have in the equitable distribution of the vaccine to all at-risk groups, McDougle said “the politics needs to be taken out of this [issue]” and urged people to visit www.blackcoalitionagainstcovid/loveletter to follow the dialogue about COVID-19 being hosted by black doctors and nurses. This conversation, he noted, is taking place in collaboration with Howard University, Moorhouse School of Medicine, Meharry Medical College, Charles Drew University, National Medical Association, National Black Nurses Association and the National Urban League. Individuals can follow that conversation at #ILoveUs.