EXIT RAMP FROM A PANDEMIC: COVID VACCINES TO SOON BE AVAILABLE TO MORE IDAHOANS
By Dr. Kelly McGrath
As of January 17, 2021, Covid 19 has taken 397,000 American lives in just around 10 months. It is an unprecedented nightmare that has destroyed the lives of many, brought grief to countless households, slammed our economy and left many with chronic, smoldering symptoms. Yet, the virus marches on. There is, however, only one way to end this pandemic and that is when enough of us, around 65% – 70% of the population, become immune to the virus to stop its rapid spread. This is called “herd immunity”. This can only happen if enough of a community gets vaccinated or is infected by the virus. The problem with infection as the pathway to herd immunity is that it has enormous human and economic costs. For example, in Idaho the death rate from the Covid virus is about 1% which means that at least 12,500 Idahoans will need to die before we reach herd immunity from infection. That is almost 8 times the number that have died so far in our state which is an unacceptable option when we have an effective, safe vaccine available. Clearly, the fastest, safest and most economical pathway to get free of the pandemic is through vaccination. It is our “exit ramp” from this mess and with two highly effective vaccines available (95% effectiveness from both the Moderna and the Pfizer vaccines) that have had only minimal side effects, it is our only good option. In fact, it is a great option.
Although vaccination with the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines has started, soon they will be available to a large number of people in our community. So far, in Idaho, 50,552 citizens have been vaccinated. After February 1, 2021, the vaccines will be offered to those over age 65 and those who qualify as essential frontline workers.
As the opportunity to get vaccinated approaches. Many in our community have asked the following questions:
- I hear that the Pfizer and Moderna Vaccines are a new type of vaccine called an “mRNA vaccine”. How does that work?
Both of these vaccines use a clever strategy to recruit our immune systems to fight off the virus. Tiny strands of molecules called mRNA are normally used by all of our cells as the blueprint for our cells to make necessary proteins. In the case of these mRNA vaccines, a segment of mRNA that is the blueprint for a Coronavirus protein is used. It is delivered in microscopic lipid / oil particles which, after being injected in our arm, are taken up locally by our cells in region around the injection. Our cells then use this mRNA to manufacture the Coronavirus “spike protein” only (not the virus itself). The vaccine mRNA does not interact with our own DNA since it is not taken up into our cell nucleus where our DNA is stored. It also does not encode any other parts of the virus. The ”spike protein” manufactured by our cells is recognized as “foreign” and stimulates our immune system to create an immune response to that virus spike protein. This response then protects us from infection (95% compared to placebo). The other thing to know is that the vaccine mRNA is very short lived so it does not hang around long in our bodies. While the immune response lasts, the vaccine materials are broken down quickly and do not remain in our bodies. This is a much “cleaner” type of vaccine compared to other vaccines we have used in the past which contain manufactured pieces of viruses or actual weakened viruses.
- What kind of side effects could I expect if I receive the vaccine?
The side effects observed so far are short and fairly mild. They can include soreness at the injection site, muscle aches, fatigue or fever usually not lasting more than one day. Many who receive the vaccines have no symptoms at all. There have been some rare reports of allergic reactions which can be treated if they do occur. This is no comparison to the possible effect from actual infection with Covid which can range from mild symptoms to death. The risks of the vaccine are tiny compared to the real and severe effects that can occur with infection from the actual Covid virus.
- When can I expect to receive the vaccine?
The state of Idaho is determining when certain groups can be vaccinated and this information is changing almost every week as the strategy to vaccinate Americans evolves and more vaccine becomes available. Checking for the most updated information at: coronavirus.idaho.gov is probably the best source. Locally, we are vaccinating people by appointment at the Orofino Health Center according to their status in the state’s plan.
In short, until the pandemic ends, we should all be caring for ourselves and our fellow Idaho citizens by taking simple steps to slow the damaging impacts from the virus. These steps include wearing face coverings, staying home if we are sick, keeping a physical distance of 6 feet in public, frequent hand washing and covering coughs and sneezes. These are necessary to bring Covid under control, even after being vaccinated. Once we have widespread vaccination, this pandemic will come to a halt. Please help yourself, your family, community and our nation by getting vaccinated as soon as possible.