Separating the myths from facts about vaccines
By Ernst Lamothe Jr.
In mid-December, the first 170,000 doses of the coronavirus were ushered into the state of New York. Double that number came a week later. Slowly every state has received its initial doses of the vaccine. Now, under the new Biden administration, there is a strong push for everyone to be vaccinated. Recently, the president said that by July everyone who wants to be vaccinated will be able to do so. There have been many questions and rumors about the vaccine as residents hope it is the first wave of good news when it comes to COVID-19 and the attempts to return to normalcy.
“We are bombarded with a lot of information about the vaccine and it is important that people understand all the aspects and that it is safe,” said Aja Bottler, infectious disease physician at Unity Hospital, which is part of Rochester Regional Health.
Bottler answers five frequently asked questions about the COVID-19 vaccine.
1. What is the process?
Some people may wonder if the vaccine was fast-tracked and created too soon. But experts say there is a reason why the vaccine came through in less time than others because COVID-19 had similar strains from Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) and severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS). The vaccines were built upon years of work in developing vaccines for similar viruses.
“The process was quick because the technology to develop it was already in rapid development,” said Bottler. “You had a study where many people took part in clinical trials and we were able to learn so much from the overall cases.”
More than 70,000 people volunteered in clinical trials for two vaccines (Pfizer and Moderna) to see if they are safe and work to prevent COVID-19 illness. To date, the vaccines are 95% effective in preventing COVID-19 with no safety concerns.
Bottler said there was one fascinating aspect of the vaccine process that many people haven’t talked about.
“You had all these companies that were working on and produced millions of dollars in a vaccine that hadn’t been approved by the Federal Drug Administration. If it didn’t get approved, they would be stuck with a vaccine that they would have had to throw out,” said Bottler. “That is something that is unpredicident in the process when other vaccines were created.”
2. Signing up
During the initial roll out and during the beginning of the year, federal elected officials, health care workers, those working in nursing homes and senior citizens were prioritized with the vaccine. The COVID-19 vaccine will be distributed in phases to groups of people at increased risk of exposure or severe illness. Phased distribution will take time, with vaccines not expected to be widely available to all New Yorkers until mid-2021. The different phases of COVID-19 vaccine distribution are determined by New York state and may change. The federal government determines how much vaccine New York state receives. The federal government has given New York about 300,000 vaccines per week for more than seven million people who are eligible, as a result supply is very limited.
3. Should you get the vaccine?
There are people on either side of the vaccine who are either highly excited and plan to receive it right away and others who are skeptical and may take a wait and see approach. Bottler has a clear answer when asked if people should get vaccinated.
“Absolutely they should. I plan to get the vaccine and I have told my parents to get the vaccine when it is available to them,” she added. “You are seeing every age group contract COVID-19 so it is not only seniors.”
The two doses will have to be taken at least four weeks apart.
“The reason why I urge people to receive the vaccine when it becomes available is that we don’t know the long-term effects of being diagnosed with COVID. You could have long-term chronic lung disease and other symptoms that people have talked about lasting for months could recur later, so you want to do everything you can not to get the full brunt of COVID.”
4. Have there been any side effects?
There is no COVID-19 in the vaccines and there are no serious side effects. But a few common occurrences have happened in people.
“You will feel pain in the injection site as you would with any vaccine within the first three days,” said Bottler. “You may feel fatigue or have a headache or a fever. There have been reports that some people have had allergic reactions so that is why everyone is monitored for 15 minutes after they take the shot to see if they have any reaction.”
5. Several unknowns
Bottler said it is difficult to predict when the larger population will receive the vaccine. The goal is for everyone to be able to easily get a COVID-19 vaccine as soon as large quantities are available. Several thousand vaccination providers will be available, including doctors’ offices, retail pharmacies, hospitals, and federally qualified health centers. However, no timetable can be stated for sure.
“Hopefully the vaccine will be rolled out to the general population soon enough. But it is difficult to anticipate when it will occur,” said Bottler.
Bottler said she hears people talking about whether the vaccine will affect fertility. Coronaviruses enveloped positive-sense RNA viruses not DNA so it should not impact the sperm or egg in any way. The American College of Gynecology recommends that COVID-19 vaccines should not be withheld from pregnant individuals. It should be offered to lactating individuals similar to non-lactating mothers.
Medical officials are still trying to figure out what should be the proper protocol with people that have compromised immune systems such as those who are going through chemotherapy or have HIV.