As the COVID-19 vaccine begins distribution, there has been increased speculation about whether the vaccine is safe. In total, the US has had over 400,000 deaths from COVID 19, and that number is anticipated to rise and reach over 586,000 by March 1, 2021.
While there are many COVID-19 vaccine candidates in development, the Pfizer vaccine was the first authorized for emergency use by the FDA. Scientists Ugur Sahin and Ozlem Tureci developed Pfizer/BioNTech’s COVID-19 vaccine, which became available for public use in late November.
Traditionally, vaccines contain bits of live or dead viruses or viral proteins that scientists isolate through long and strenuous processes, but Sahin and Tureci altered the treatment and composition of these vaccines for the current dire situation, making their synthesis quicker than the traditional vaccine.
Pfizer’s vaccine is called an mRNA vaccine because it uses bits of genetic code to cause an immune response. Trials for the new vaccine concluded its phase three studies earlier in November, and analysis showed the vaccine to be 95% effective against COVID-19 beginning 28 days after its first dose.
With regards to the authenticity of the vaccine, Mrs. Danielle Rouder, a Chemistry teacher at SBHS says, “The study of vaccines—their development, safety, efficacy, [and] distribution— has been around for many years. Typically, a vaccine introduces small amounts of a virus into your body so the immune system can adapt and make the antibodies necessary to fight the disease if necessary. It is not typical that a vaccine is developed, assessed, and distributed in under a year, which would understandably leave some wondering about its safety or efficacy.”
Although the vaccine has gone through multiple tests and FDA approval, a significant number of Americans are skeptical about the vaccine’s effectiveness. In mid-May, an AP-ORC poll found that less than 50% of Americans surveyed would agree to take the vaccine for various reasons.
Public officials have been actively combating these doubts, encouraging the American public to take the vaccine. For example, a video of president-elect Joe Biden receiving the second dose of the vaccine went viral.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, a member of the White House’s COVID-19 task force, who guided the American public during the pandemic, tried easing people’s tensions by confirming that Pfizer/BioNTech’s revolutionary new mRNA technique “actually does work”, Fauci told CNN in a telephone interview.
Healthcare professionals especially have been encouraged to take the vaccine as it became available to them first. Mugdha Kandalgaonkar, a coronary care unit nurse at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital who worked extensively with coronavirus patients at the height of the pandemic, provided her thoughts on the vaccine that she took in late December.
“Since I work with COVID patients, I thought it was in my best interest to take the vaccine. I felt it was better to take it because they had trials [conducted] on it, and the FDA approved it for emergency use and they wouldn’t approve it without sufficient data. Some of my colleagues who are pregnant didn’t take the vaccine, and some just didn’t want to get vaccinated because they think there is not enough data. Some didn’t take it because they were nursing young children, or because they thought it would affect their fertility.”
Nurse Mugdha emphasized one simple statement: taking the vaccine is a choice. She explainedthat no one working with her was pressured to take the vaccine and that while she personally trusts the vaccines, she can understand why others have their doubts.
The COVID vaccine in itself may have some side effects. Moderna’s vaccine has short-term side effects that some people experienced during the vaccine trials are in line with what is normally seen following routine vaccination. Similar side effects appeared in only about 5% to 15% of participants in Moderna’s vaccine study.
The Pfizer and Moderna vaccine candidates both require two doses, meaning that the recipient needs two shots over a short period of time for true protection from the vaccine. In both of their trials, there seemed to be more of a reaction after the second dose, but side effects remained mild to moderate in about 90% to 95% of cases.
Although the vaccines may have short-term side-effects, proponents overall think that taking of the vaccine would improve communities and substantially lower the rate of the spread of the virus.
Biology teacher, Ms. Casey Savoth said, “The main benefit for the vaccine is it will protect you and others from COVID-19. The vaccine can help those who are high risk and older in age and should lessen their chances of getting the virus. It will also benefit frontline workers so they can do their job while being safe. Lastly, the benefit of the vaccine is that it could hopefully bring things back to normal again; we can have large gatherings, open schools fully, and slowly stop wearing masks.”
Since this vaccine–with its unusual composition and relatively few trials–has moved into the public so quickly, the public’s skepticism observers note that it not be dismissed as “anti-scientific”, but rather addressed by the scientific community. According to them, only when people feel comfortable with the options available for vaccination will the country likely see the pandemic subside.