Since January 2020, U.S. citizens have been living under an ominous cloud. Because of the COVID-19 virus, America has suffered nearly 17 million cases and over 300,000 deaths. However there may be a light at the end of this long tunnel.
On December 11, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued an Emergency Use Authorization for use of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine in people aged 16 years and older for the prevention of COVID-19. Three days later the first Americans began to receive the vaccine. Williamsburg Regional Hospital Chief of Staff Dr. Joe Asaro and Chief Medical Officer Dr. Troy Gamble were the first to be administered the vaccine.
Gamble treats COVID patients virtually every day. “It’s been a devastating illness that has multiple presentations, multiple ways it can take people’s lives,” said Gamble, who is rarely sick but was himself a patient of COVID. Though he has recovered from the virus, Gamble is following the recommendations of Dr. Anthony Fauci, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director. “I’m going to take it because I never want to experience that again.”
The supply of COVID-19 vaccine in the United States will be limited at first, with initial supplies to be allocated to healthcare personnel and long-term care facility residents. It should be noted that you cannot get COVID-19 infection from the COVID-19 vaccines as they are inactivated vaccines and not live vaccines. It will take a few weeks for the body to build immunity after getting a COVID-19 vaccination. As a result, it’s possible that you could become infected with the virus just before or after being vaccinated.
The vaccine is administered twice with a two-week period in-between. An App is available to track any side effects and a reminder when the second dose is scheduled. Visit www.cdc.gov/vsafe to learn more about the app.
The News conducted a poll of readers on its social media page asking whether or not they would take the vaccine. The results show readers leaning slightly toward “no”. Some readers said they would wait for more data before deciding while others would take it if their doctor recommended it.
The rapid development of the vaccine was made possible through billions of taxpayer dollars and decades of research on mRNA vaccines. According to a Scientific American article, the groundwork was laid by Dr. Barney Graham’s viral protein design and the concept of RNA modification first developed in the 1970s and proposed use as a therapeutic in 1989 by Katalin Kariko.
But what is RNA and how does the vaccine work? According to the Mayo Clinic, both the Pfizer/BioNTech and the Moderna COVID-19 vaccines use messenger RNA (mRNA). Coronaviruses have a spike-like structure on their surface called an S protein. COVID-19 mRNA vaccines give cells instructions for how to make a harmless piece of an S protein. After vaccination, cells begin making the protein pieces and displaying them on cell surfaces. Our immune system then recognizes that the protein doesn’t belong there and begins building an immune response and making antibodies.
The FDA says the most commonly reported side effects, which typically lasted several days, were pain at the injection site, tiredness, headache, muscle pain, chills, joint pain, and fever. It was also reported that more people experienced these side effects after the second dose than after the first dose, so it is important for vaccination providers and recipients to expect that there may be some side effects after either dose, but even more so after the second dose. Pfizer states these side effects are indicators that your immune system is responding to the vaccine and are common when receiving vaccines.
With the help of researchers, scientists and others, there is hope that the virus that causes COVID-19 will be brought under control and may well end up being the catalyst for the creation of better vaccines in the future. As one scientist said, we have learned more about the immune system in 2020 than any year in history.