The message from the Good Samaritan Society is very clear to those who are wondering about a COVID-19 vaccine:
When you are eligible, you should get it. It is safe and effective. The future has the potential to be much brighter individually, within your family and within your community if you get vaccinated.
The director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) accepted the recommendation of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's (FDA) vaccine advisory committee, clearing the way for Pfizer/BioNTech's, Moderna’s and Janssen’s (Johnson & Johnson) vaccines to be administered in the U.S.
This followed approval by the CDC's Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) to recommend the vaccines for people ages 16 and older. That approval came a day after the FDA had authorized the vaccine for emergency use.
How they’re made
The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are both two-dose vaccines and use messenger RNA (mRNA) to trigger an immune response.
Messenger RNA vaccines are a new type of vaccine to protect against infectious diseases, according to the CDC: “To trigger an immune response, many vaccines put a weakened or inactivated germ into our bodies. Not mRNA vaccines. Instead, they teach our cells how to make a protein — or even just a piece of a protein — that triggers an immune response inside our bodies. That immune response, which produces antibodies, is what protects us from getting infected if the real virus enters our bodies.”
Meanwhile, Janssen (J&J) and a few others are a one-dose vaccine and which use viral vectors to trigger immunity.
According to the CDC, “Viral vector vaccines use a modified version of a different virus (the vector) to deliver important instructions to our cells. For COVID-19 viral vector vaccines, the vector (not the virus that causes COVID-19, but a different, harmless virus) will enter a cell in our body and then use the cell’s machinery to produce a harmless piece of the virus that causes COVID-19. This piece is known as a spike protein and it is only found on the surface of the virus that causes COVID-19.”
How they’re stored
Another difference is the storage requirements. The Pfizer vaccine requires ultracold storage (-76 to -112 degrees F), while the Moderna vaccine can be stored at -20 degrees F, or normal freezer temperatures. The Janssen (J&J) vaccine can be stored at refrigerator temperatures.
Fast vaccine, safe vaccine
You should get the vaccine regardless of which one is made available to you. The benefits of taking the vaccine apply both to individuals and public health overall.
Dr. Greg Johnson, Chief Medical Officer of The Good Samaritan Society, put it this way:
“This is the hope for the beginning of the end of the pandemic,” he says. “This is the way out.”
The timeline for the development of an effective vaccine for COVID-19 is unlike any that preceded it, Dr. Johnson says. And the accelerated pace is not reason to be wary of its safety or effectiveness.
Dr. Johnson gets a lot of vaccine questions from people who may be apprehensive. Why did the development of this vaccine move along so much faster than past vaccines? Are politics involved? Should I be concerned about it being safe?
“My answer is that the technology used to create the vaccine is not new,” Dr. Johnson says. “Is it being applied to something new? Yes. Why did the vaccine move along so quickly? Because the world is suffering from a pandemic. But in terms of stages – the rigor of the process – it has not been compromised. We’re second-to-none on the world stage in the U.S. in our approval process.” The FDA has established clear guidelines for the development of a vaccine. Its criteria for authorization are based on scientific and medical principles that clearly demonstrate safety and efficacy. The final product represents the clearest, quickest and safest route back to normal.
It is why those who would be getting the vaccine should move forward and get vaccinated.
“We’re hearing from some who are telling us: ‘It’s too new, we don’t know enough about this,’” said Sanford Health Chief Physician Dr. Jeremy Cauwels during a Facebook Live appearance on Dec. 10. “My response is that we know more about this virus scientifically and more about this vaccine scientifically than we have with any other vaccine in history.”
Sending the right signals
The vaccine enters the body and sends a signal, as Dr. Cauwels explains. It lets the body develop a response to the signal and then the signal dissolves.
“It’s a method of delivering the vaccine that we’ve never used before,” Dr. Cauwels says. “It is astoundingly safe because there are no by-products left over to cause concern later.” In the early stages of COVID-19's presence in the U.S., health officials were hoping for the best in regard to a vaccine. Like so many other parts of the pandemic, however, they were not sure what kind of results to expect. What they got, based on the numbers now being reviewed by the FDA, is great news.
“It's beyond our wildest dreams at this point that we have a vaccine that is 95% efficacious,” Dr. Johnson says. “The typical flu vaccine on a normal-to-good year would be about 40% effective. And the flu vaccine is something we recommend for everyone because we believe it's helpful in decreasing hospitalizations, decreasing mortality and complications from influenza.”
Difficult for nursing homes
The same framework applies in regard to the effort to stop the spread of COVID-19. The difference is that the stakes are higher, the vaccine is better and the emotional and physical damage done has been worse.
This is especially true of senior care communities. Access to elder loved ones has been limited and the impact on families has been immense.
“The most profound deprivation has been felt on the part of nursing home residents whose channels of social interaction have been severely limited,” Dr. Johnson says. “It has been a difficult road for workers in long-term health care facilities too.”
The “difficult road” has not ended yet. The effectiveness of the vaccines will always be hooked to a high level of cooperation in getting the vaccine.
“You can fill in the blanks for all the COVID-19 disruptions we’re dealing with in life,” Dr. Johnson says. “Those things are not going to go away until this public health emergency goes away. The vaccine is what will end this pandemic.”