Summit County officials promote COVID-19 vaccine safety and efficacy
Editor’s note: This story has been updated to clarify why people have side effects from the vaccine.
Now that the novel coronavirus vaccine is a reality, officials across the country are working to educate the public and dispel any myths about its lack of safety.
In Summit County, the vaccine is being distributed only to people who work in health care. However, it’ll soon be available to the general public. When that time comes, public health officials want people not to be afraid to take the vaccine, as it will help open the community and stop the spread of the virus.
Summit County Nurse Manager Sara Lopez said current data demonstrates a high degree of safety for those who take the vaccine. The main side effect of the vaccine is pain at the injection site, but it’s also possible that people develop a fever, fatigue or headache.
However, those side effects are no different than what people might expect from other common vaccines, such as the flu shot.
“What we’re asking the body to do when we administer the vaccine is to make an immune response,” Lopez said. “So a lot of the vaccine reactions that we see are mild and moderate with these vaccines and quite short lasting: one to three days.”
The reason people have these reactions to the vaccine is that it activates one’s immune system, which results in minor side effects. Lopez said it’s not unexpected, and public health officials don’t anticipate those side effects to be long lasting.
Lopez said the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines are “groundbreaking” because they use a messenger RNA, or mRNA, platform.
“Essentially, it’s this delivery mechanism that once it’s injected into the body … it goes and delivers instructions to our cells,” she said. “It’s actually asking the body to create these proteins.”
The proteins that result from the vaccine are identical to a spike protein that’s on the COVID-19 virus. The spike protein is what allows the virus to gain entry to people’s cells, Lopez said.
The vaccine gives the body the code for a portion of the spike protein, which allows it to then build antibodies to protect against it.
Lopez added that the vaccine is administered in two doses, which are around 30 days apart, to increase the efficacy. With both doses administered, both types of vaccines are around 95% effective.
“They were hopeful to achieve 50% efficacy on this vaccine, so having an efficacy of 95% is quite remarkable,” she said.
Lopez said the combination of the mRNA technology and the anticipation of a pandemic by world scientists led to the swift creation of the COVID-19 vaccine.
“In the background, there has been infrastructure being built to quickly study and run clinical trials and get what we would call a medical countermeasure of a vaccine into the market as quickly as possible,” she said.
As of right now, the vaccine is still in Phase 1 of distribution, which includes health care workers and first responders. The county distributed its first batch of Moderna vaccines to people who qualify at drive-thru events Saturday, Dec. 26, and Sunday, Dec. 27.
The next phase will include people who are high risk and essential workers, such as grocery store workers and teachers. In an interview Dec. 17, Public Health Director Amy Wineland said the county is awaiting more guidance on Phase 2 distribution.
“(Phase 2) will include our essential work force, our older adult population, those most vulnerable for severe illness,” she said. “That’s a large group that goes into Phase 2.”
Once the county reaches Phase 3, nearly everyone will be eligible for the vaccine. Lopez said the vaccine has been tested only on people who are 16 or older, and it hasn’t been tested on pregnant women.
While experts believe the vaccine is unlikely to pose a risk to pregnant people, it may require some more discussion between the patient and their health care provider, she said.
Lopez added that people who have had the virus are immune for 90 days after exposure, so they should still get the vaccine just to be safe.
“Individuals who have had confirmed COVID infection within 90 days, they could give up their place in line if they were one of the first to receive the vaccine,” she said. “However, they can also choose to take the vaccine for additional protection. Certainly, people whose infection has been beyond 90 days, that guidance is clear that they would benefit from receiving that vaccine.”
Lopez and Wineland have both said they plan to get the vaccine when it’s available to them.
“I am so excited,” Lopez said. “When it’s my turn, I would love to have the protection of this vaccine, both for myself and for anyone that I might come in contact with.”
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