By Dr. Rebecca Katzman
The release of two vaccines against SARS-CoV2, the virus that causes COVID-19 infection and illness, has been a bright spot in the world’s path to recovery from this pandemic.
I got my vaccination the day it was available at Clearwater Valley Hospital and Clinics, and many of my coworkers did as well. So did doctors and healthcare workers around the country. We see this as one of the most important ways to protect ourselves and our communities.
There are two vaccines that have received emergency use authorization from the FDA over the last few weeks, one made by collaboration of the companies Pfizer and BioNTech and one by the biotechnology company Moderna. Both of these vaccines have been rigorously studied and have been shown to be nearly 95% effective in preventing COVID-19 illness and maybe even more effective in preventing serious disease. Each is a series of two shots, spaced 3-4 weeks apart.
Safety has been the top priority in the development of these vaccines. The development of these vaccines was not rushed and corners were not cut; widespread multidisciplinary efforts reduced the typical barriers of funding, enrollment, production, and distribution. These vaccines were studied in large group of over 40,000 people. For comparison, newer medications to treat certain types of cancer are often studied in groups of 30-40 people prior to receiving FDA approval. In addition to the studies that have already been completed, people who get vaccinated can answer quick surveys from the Center for Disease Control to help collect more information about possible adverse effects or reactions.
The most common adverse event or side effect of vaccination is local injection site irritation, redness, or soreness. About half of people experience fatigue and a smaller percent have some muscle aches or feel feverish for 1-2 days. It is true that nothing is without risk, but the risks of Coronavirus infection and its effect on health, wellbeing, and livelihood are greater.
A few other comments about the vaccines – the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine is approved for people ages 16 and older, the Moderna vaccine for ages 18 and older. This is because younger children and adolescents were not included in the studies. Pregnant and lactating women were not included in the studies, so the FDA cannot make a statement regarding administration. Both the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the Society for Maternal Fetal Medicine support pregnant or lactating women talking to their healthcare providers if they would like to be vaccinated. People who have had COVID-19 may still benefit from getting vaccinated. We do not know if protection will be lifelong or if we will need re-vaccination or booster shots. People who get the vaccine should still adhere to masking and distancing precautions at this time.
We do not yet know when we will have the supplies for more widespread community vaccination, but the Clearwater Valley Hospital and Clinics website is a good resource and we plan to advertise in the paper and on the radio when it is available.
What we do know is that widespread vaccination is a key factor to getting back to open businesses and social gatherings and getting away from spending so much time on Zoom or Skype!