For some of us, the decision of whether or not to take the vaccine is a tough one, while for others there is no question. If you are unsure read on. In this article we attempt to unravel the information the public has received, and the questions about the vaccine that have yet to be answered.
There are several important questions to consider.
What are the risks associated with taking the vaccine?
What are the risks associated with having COVID?
Are there higher risks associated with the vaccine or the virus?
These questions are personal and unique to every person considering how to go forward.
Some of the risks of the virus are known: long-term consequences for the heart, lungs, kidneys, brain damage, psychosis, depression, long-term fatigue, long term damage of taste and smell and in some cases death. In a large scientific study published in the United Kingdom, almost one third of people who suffered from coronavirus required subsequent hospital care due to the consequences that appeared in the months after recovery from the coronavirus.
The short and long term consequences of the vaccines will be revealed with time. The topic of vaccination is a hot one, with social and political subtexts.
COVID’s long-term effects on our health will be fully understood with time and study. Covid-19 has created an overbooking of our critical care systems for patients in need of hospital care. The goal to vaccinate the American public has also stressed the pharmaceutical, industrial, transportation and medical systems. At times it seems that there are not enough beds or health workers for other patients who suffer from other diseases and injuries as well as available vaccines for many who are desperate to receive them..
What is the effectiveness of vaccines, and what does it actually mean?
Efficiency indicates the likelihood that the vaccine will prevent infection of the current version of the virus for a period of time. This figure may vary depending on the specific vaccine. According to current reports, all the vaccines have been shown to prevent severe forms of the disease.
On what data are these figures based?
Complete data (all 3 phases of the study) was published for Pfizer-BioTech, Moderna, and AstraZeneca vaccines. The details have been openly analyzed by scientists from all over the world.
Partial data on the effectiveness of Sputnik V are given in press releases, but complete data have not been published in the scientific literature.
Efficiency data for Sinofarm vaccines have not been published. The estimate is based on partial reports in the press, and has not been made available to scientists.
For the Sinovac vaccine, the data that has been published so far states it is 50% effective.
What is Operation Warp Speed (OWS) ?
On March 30, 2020 the US Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) introduced a program to accelerate the development of a vaccine to address COVID. Normal development of a vaccination requires a minimum of ten years to undergo development and the three phases of testing, before receiving approval for use. With OWS, both Pfizer and Moderna completed this process including phase 1, phase 11 and phase 111 trials within a year.
Is the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine still in the trial phase and are we therefore participants in a clinical study?
All the necessary phases of the trial have been completed within a condensed time frame and the vaccine could not have been approved if it had not passed all the phases. It is not possible to know the long range health implications of the COVID-19 vaccinations, since there has not been adequate time to study them.
It is worth mentioning that many studies have been done on mRNA vaccines over the past decade – the plan was to use this technology for a new generation of flu vaccines. Covid-19 significantly accelerated this development, but the technology was already on the verge of use even before the new virus.
Some scientists have raised questions about the long term effects of the vaccinations on the immune system. Specifically, in the Pfizer and Moderna vaccinations, polyethyl glycol (PEG) is used as an adjuvant. Some of the most common questions are :
Does PEG enter only the cytoplasm of the muscle tissue of the vaccination site or does it travel to other parts of the body and the nervous system?
How long does PEG stay in the body?
Are there any long term side effects?
Another question posed by immunologists is about the duration the mRNA stays in our body. Ideally, a vaccination instructs the immune system to produce an appropriate number of antibodies to fight the virus for an appropriate amount of time. If the body produces too many antibodies for too long, iis it possible to develop a chronic immune system imbalance?
How long does the immunity acquired by vaccination last?
While it is expected for the immunity acquired through vaccination to last for several years, the current results can only confirm that it is stable for up to a year. Time will tell how well the vaccine protects us from COVID-19 and the emerging variants of this virus.
Who should not be vaccinated?
1. People who are suffering from acute illnesses, are fighting an ongoing infection or are recovering from a severe injury.
2. People who are under the supervision of a doctor, and who have been advised by the physician not to be vaccinated due to the medications that they are taking.
3. Very old people, with fragile health.
All vaccines can cause fever, nausea, and similar symptoms (these are signs that your immune system is defending itself and making antibodies). If a person is in such poor health that these symptoms would endanger their life, it is better to avoid the vaccine.
(From such cases comes the current story of post-vaccination deaths in Norway.) Immunologists offer a possible explanation for the recent post vaccination deaths in nursing homes. It is possible that the mRNA delivered with polyethylene glycol is transiently immunosuppressive. That means that people who receive the Pfizer or Maderna vaccination may have a temporary but significant drop in their immune system function and become highly vulnerable to other types of infection.
If you have any medical diagnosis (for example, diabetes), be sure to consult your doctor about getting the vaccine.
Which vaccine should people with certain diseases or allergies choose?
1. People who have had anaphylaxis (a severe allergy that required hospital treatment) should not receive Pfizer-BioNTech or Modern Vaccines.
2. People on therapy against autoimmune diseases, as well as people taking steroids, should consult their specialist doctor regarding the choice of vaccine.
3 .Patients who have had negative reactions to vaccinations in the past should consult their physician before receiving the vaccination.
What about the acquired immunity after having the virus?
According to The National Institute of Health (NIH) acquired immunity from having had COVID-19 has been shown to last up to eight months. The period of acquired immunity is likely to increase as we gather data in the future. The presence of antibodies against the spike protein of SARS-CoV-2, virus-specific B cells, and T cells indicated a strong and lasting response in over 95% of the candidates studied by Dr. Daniela Weiskopf at the La Jolla Institute for Immunology.
The length of acquired immunity is not known. It should also be noted that we do not know how long the protection from the vaccination will last. The CDC advises that those who have had the SARS-CoV-2 virus be vaccinated.
Pregnant and breastfeeding women?
Studies indicate that pregnant patients have more risk of developing COVID 19 complications along with an increased mortality rate. Also indicated is a higher risk of preterm delivery.
Vaccines have not yet been tested for women during pregnancy. According to the data published by Jamie Harris (PhD student in biomedical sciences), based on current knowledge held by the American CDC (Center for the Control and Prevention of Infectious Diseases), scientists believe that the mRNA vaccine does not pose danger to pregnant women.
Be that as it may , pregnant and lactating women were excluded from clinical trials during the development of COVID19 vaccine due to concerns over liability. Both the World Health Organization (WHO) and the CDC have said that vaccination is a personal choice for women who are pregnant.
Studies are ongoing , so there is no clear and solid scientific advice. For now, everyone is advised to consult with their doctor and choose for themselves whether to receive the vaccination. If you decide to get vaccinated, it cannot be said that any of the vaccines is a better choice than the others.
As for breastfeeding mothers, the recent studies are more definitive. Many scientists believe that mRNA vaccines do not pose a risk to breastfeeding mothers and newborns. The CDC recommends that breastfeeding health workers receive the vaccine. Immunity acquired by the mother is hoped to be passed to her newborn through the breastmilk.
Children and teenagers?
Currently, vaccines can be given to children over 16 years of age (Pfizer-BioNTech) and 18 years old (Moderna).
Given the increasing levels of infection and the severity we see for children with new varieties of the virus, the vaccine for this group is being considered to be put as a priority . Studies and checks are still ongoing. The situation is being closely monitored,but no official information has been given as to when a vaccine for children under 16 will be available.
How were vaccines tested and how were they produced “so quickly”?
All available vaccines have been tested in several countries, throughout a number of medical centers and hospitals. The number of study participants ranged from about 19,000 (Sputnik V) to 43,000 (Pfizer-BioNTech).
Under normal circumstances (when there is no pandemic), vaccine testing processes take years or decades, as volunteers slowly gather and public health agencies examine the data in order of admission. Such studies and testing cost hundreds of millions of dollars.
In this case where we are all fighting a pandemic , a huge amount of money was invested (up to tens of billions of dollars, so about a hundred times more than usual) to organize studies immediately and in parallel around the world.
International collaborations have been established to accelerate the gathering of participants in the trials. AstraZeneca, for example, tested its vaccine in Britain, South Africa, and Brazil at the same time. All this data was being directly transferred to many public health agencies as it was being gathered . All this was done so that the world could return to the normal as soon as possible.
What are the possible side effects of vaccines?
When your immune system is stimulated by a vaccine to make antibodies, your body believes it is fighting the virus so it is normal to develop flu- like symptoms that usually go away within a day or two. The short lived side effects that may occur after vaccination are: exhaustion, fever, muscle aches, headache, nausea and inflammation of the shoulder joint, and nausea.
When I get vaccinated, can I immediately return to “normal living” (without a mask, distancing, etc.)?
The answer is no. Your body needs time to develop immunity for at least another month and a half. This estimated period covers all the 3 phases – vaccination, revaccination and developing immunity phase. In other words, keep wearing a mask, avoid indoor group gatherings and close contact with people. You will only gain full immunity two weeks after the second dose of the vaccine.
Please note: This post explores some of the currently reported information and opinions on COVID-19 and is neither diagnostic or prescriptive. Please consult a physician before choosing a course of treatment.