By Betsy Finklea
A group of medical experts held an online panel with hundreds of journalists around the United States and the world to discuss the COVID-19 vaccine through an event set up by Poynter, a non-profit journalism school and research organization.
Dr. Susan Bailey, president of the American Medical Association; Dr. Leon McDougle, M.D., M.P.H., president of The National Medical Association; Dr. Paul Offit, director of The Vaccine Education Center at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia; and Patricia A. Stinchfield, RN, MS, CPNP, CIC, President-elect of the National Foundation of Infectious Diseases, were the panelists.
Dr. Susan Bailey discussed the vaccine and it safety. She said any vaccine once approved by the FDA is not only safe and effective, it has undergone the rigorous review required before it is available to the public.
She said that we are right at the beginning of the deployment of this vaccine, and there was so much to be hopeful about in the future, and we can’t let our guard down now. She said the vaccine alone will not stop the COVID-19 pandemic. Dr. Bailey said we must continue to wear our masks, physically distance, wash our hands, and avoid indoor crowds for now.
She said that the front line healthcare personnel and residents of long-term care facilities will get the vaccine first because we must protect those who provide vital care and protect those at the highest risk. Lives are at stake.
Dr. Paul Offit explained the difference in this vaccine and others. He said this is a mRNA vaccine. He said normally when a vaccine is administered it is a protein that prevents the virus from binding to cells. He said in a mRNA vaccine, one is administering genetic material that teaches your cells how to produce a protein needed to fight the virus.
Patricia A. Stinchfield, RN, said the global mission is to get as many people vaccinated as possible in as timely a way as possible. She called the vaccine “a scientific triumph in technology.” She said mRNA vaccines have been worked on for over 30 years, but even moreso in the last 20 years dealing with cancer.
“The path out of the pandemic now has some light,” she said, but pointed out that “the vaccine does no good if it stays in a bottle.” She said we are done with the vaccine stage and are moving on to vaccinations.
Stinchfield said vaccinations are our “most important tool” in addition to wearing a mask, washing our hands, and staying out of groups for a long time.
She said we need to make sure that we are not getting ahead of ourselves. “Our behaviors are still going to be important,” she said.
Stinchfield emphasized that the safety part of the journey has not been cut short with the COVID-19 vaccine. She emphasized that vaccine monitoring never ends, and that they are constantly monitored.
Stinchfield said that as with any vaccine, some mild side effects can be expected. She said those who receive the vaccine can expect their arm to be sore, and she said there may be some fatigue, muscle aches, and possibly fever for one or two days. Stinchfield said this means one’s immune system is responding. She said something happening is to be expect, but it is far, far better than having COVID-19.
She also said it is important to have both shots. She said partial protection will not get us to herd immunity.
Dr. Bailey commented that at least 70 percent of the public will need to be fully vaccinated to reach herd immunity.
She also discussed the idea that vaccinations can give someone the virus. She said there are no live viruses in flu shots today so the flu shot cannot give you the flu. She said COVID vaccines are “completely incapable” of giving someone COVID. If you get COVID after getting the vaccine, she said it means that you got the vaccine too late and had already been exposed. Dr. McDougle said that one gets full protection from the vaccine approximately seven days after the second dose. Dr. Offit said studies will be done to see if the vaccine not only prevents one from getting COVID-19, but also protects one from spreading it. Offit said even if one has already had COVID-19, the CDC still recommends that one get the vaccine.
Dr. Bailey said once everyone gets the vaccine, COVID will not instantly go back to normal; it will take time and continued precautions will be needed.
Stinchfield said we will need patience, understanding, and the sense of we are all in this together. She said eventually everyone who wants a vaccine will be able to get one at some point and time.
By Betsy Finklea