I start 2021 with hope.
The fact that we now have two incredibly effective COVID vaccines approved by the FDA (with more on the way) is amazing and heartening to me. Those responsible for that speedy development with such fantastic efficacy deserve high praise and our thanks.
Let’s talk about what comes next.
Understanding the shot
The remarkable speed of development of these COVID vaccines makes some of us understandably wary and concerned as to whether corners were cut.
I believe the answer to this is “No.”
Researchers sped up their trials by using existing clinical trial networks. Drug companies assumed a financial risk by beginning manufacturing while the trials were taking place. And the FDA and CDC let the vaccines cut in line, setting aside other reviews and approvals.
In that way, labs, businesses, and government agencies accelerated the process without sacrificing safety protocols.
The development speed is also due to the technology. The mRNA vaccines (short for messenger RNA) can be produced faster than traditional vaccines. This begs the question: Is this new technology safe?
Although these are the first mRNA vaccines approved by the FDA, mRNA technology has been used for decades and this type of vaccine has been in development for years. This is really an expanded application of established techniques.
It is also reassuring that we have been studying coronaviruses for years. Although COVID-19 was a novel strain, we are working from a base knowledge of how that family of viruses operates.
Getting the shot
All of us wish the vaccine were available for all tomorrow. But the reality is that demand far outstrips current supply. Producing hundreds of millions if not billions of doses of vaccine is going to take time. So we need to be patient.
Your turn will come, but it will take some time.
Vaccine distribution is determined by the New York State Department of Health, so delaying your own immunization does not help anyone else get theirs. When your turn comes to get vaccinated against COVID, I strongly encourage you to get it. Every person vaccinated is a step toward forming herd immunity and getting back to normal.
Side effects are normal
When you receive the vaccine, review the list of side effects provided by your vaccination center. Prepare yourself for the possibility that you might experience things like pain at the injection site, tiredness, aches or fever.
In other words, you might feel sick. But you need to remember that you’re not.
The vaccine teaches your immune system to recognize and protect your body from certain proteins found in the COVID virus. Some people’s bodies produce symptoms during that learning process. However, because mRNA vaccines do not include actual coronavirus, it is not possible to be infected by the injection.
Simply monitor yourself and contact your practitioner if necessary.
If you do experience side effects, you should still return for your second shot unless instructed otherwise by your doctor.
Masks and social distancing are still important
Researchers are still studying whether we can carry and spread the disease after vaccination. So until we know the answer to this question it will be important to continue wearing a mask and keeping six feet of space between yourself and others.
There are practical concerns as well. With no way of knowing who has and who hasn’t received the vaccine, our businesses and community spaces will still be administering COVID policies uniformly. We don’t want to stymie our economic and social recovery.
This pandemic has been a grueling marathon for all of us. 2020 is over and we want to put it behind us and get back to normal. I think the vaccines we have and will have are the road back to normality, and that is why I start this year with hope.
Dr. Charles Hyman is a senior attending physician in infectious diseases at Bassett Medical Center. Learn more about COVID, the vaccines, and possible side effects at www.bassett.org/covid-19.