How Safe is a COVID-19 Vaccine?

by CNW Reporter

In this Nov. 9, 2020, file photo, pedestrians walk past Pfizer world headquarters in New York. Pfizer said Friday, Nov. 20, 2020, it is asking U.S. regulators to allow emergency use of its COVID-19 vaccine, starting the clock on a process that could bring limited first shots as early as next month and eventually an end to the pandemic -- but not until after a long, hard winter. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews, File)

There’s increasing concern in South Florida and across the U.S. about people contracting COVID-19, as the virus spikes in a second wave. Escalating the concern is that most scientists agree that this second wave could intensify during the coming winter months.

But there’s some good news the anticipated vaccine to prevent the spread of the virus could be available as early as this month.

In the past few weeks, major U.S. pharmaceutical companies Pfizer, Moderna and AstraZeneca announced vaccines they were independently testing were 94 to 95 percent effective and ready for submission to the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) for approval.

Based on the results of its testing, on Monday, November 30, Moderna announced it was filing an application for emergency use authorization (EUA) of its vaccine with the FDA. Once the FDA approval is given, likely sometime in December, official guidelines for its public distribution will be set by the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP), the group that officially sets national guidelines for who should get vaccines once they’ve been authorized by the FDA.

“[The government] has plans to distribute vaccines within 24 hours after the ACIP gives its final approval,” Paul Mango, a Health and Human Services official, told reporters in October.

Despite the concern over the spreading deadly virus, some Caribbean Americans have expressed reluctance about the vaccine. CNW in an informal survey found that only three of 10 Caribbean Americans residing in South Florida expressed confidence in taking a COVID-19 vaccine when it becomes available. The main reason for the reluctance is concern the development of the vaccines may have been rushed, and not yet subject to testing the reaction for any serious side effects when given.

Vaccines being developed by Pfizer and Moderna are mRNA-based vaccines. This versatile class of vaccine has yet to be widely used on the public, though it has been the subject of much research in recent years.

Usually, when producing vaccines, scientists incorporate a weakened or dead form of the virus, or antigen, into the vaccine itself so that the human body can create antibodies to fight the disease. The traditional vaccine development process can take anywhere from 10-15 years, but the mRNA-based vaccines could cut that time down to a year as in the case of the pending COIVD-19 vaccine.

An important fact with an mRNA vaccine is for the vaccine to be effective those receiving it will require two shots about three weeks apart.

Whether or not COVID-19 vaccines are effective at stopping the spread of the will depend a lot on how our bodies build immunity to the disease.

The mRNA in the vaccine is a type of genetic code that, once injected into the patient, should cue protein production in cells. The genetic code creates the spike proteins characteristic of COVID-19, allowing the body to produce antibodies targeting a distinctive feature of the virus. In theory, when the body recognizes these spike proteins on the live virus, it will already have an immune response directly targeting its proteins.

The length of the vaccine’s effectiveness is also unknown. There is no scientific evidence that this is a vaccine that someone will only need to take once (in two doses) or if it will need to be a seasonal shot, like the flu vaccine.

 

Distribution of the vaccine

Although, when the vaccine is approved by the FDA it will be ready for public distribution, it could be sometime before it is available to everyone. The vaccine will first be distributed to four priority groups: healthcare providers—doctors, nurses, lab technicians, and other healthcare workers; essential workers most of who cannot work from home; high-risk individuals with underlying medical conditions like diabetes, asthma, cancer and HIV; and senior citizens over age-65.

According to Dr. Anthony Fauci, senior infectious disease expert in the U.S., who is confident in the safety of the vaccines being tested, “the ordinary citizen” should be able to get a vaccine between April and June 2021.

The official in charge of vaccine distribution in the U.S.,  four-star General Gustave Perna said the U.S. government will stockpile various possible vaccines for distribution. His major concern is that the required second dose three weeks after the initial shot will not arrive on time. This would be detrimental to the vaccine’s effectiveness.

Another problem that the military is working on is how the vaccine will be stored and transported. The Pfizer vaccine must be kept at a temperature that is well below freezing, negative 94 degrees Fahrenheit, making transportation and storage of the vaccine for some populations difficult. An example of this would be in the U.S. Virgin Islands: transporting the vaccine may not be an issue, but facilities there do not have the ability to keep the vaccine cold.

Even if the government is able to get all of the vaccines out on time, the questions remain as to whether the general public, like some Caribbean Americans, is willing to take it.

Since the first report of this virus, there has been a politically polarized debate around whether it should be seen as a threat. With millions of people infected in the United States and billions infected around the world, the pandemic has more than proven that COVID-19 should not be taken lightly. However, only about 51 percent of all U.S. adults report that they would feel comfortable taking the vaccine. Most people said, however, if there is no evidence of negative reaction among the first priority groups taking the vaccine they’ll be more inclined to take it.

West Kendall Dr. Alphonso Fernandes believes about five brands of COVID-19 vaccines will be available by summer 2021. In addition to Pfizer, Moderna and AstraZeneca, vaccines are also being developed by Johnson and Johnson and Novavax. “The competition between these companies will ensure the vaccines produced will be of top quality, extremely safe for patients. These pharmaceuticals are companies of high repute and will not risk producing a vaccine that compromises the health of Americans.”

 

Source: Some information contained in this article was sourced from the University of Alabama ( https://cw.ua.edu/68495/news/a-covid-19-vaccine-could-be-available-soon) and related articles from  www.cnet.com.

 

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