The message from the Good Samaritan Society is very clear to those who are wondering about a COVID-19 vaccine:
When it becomes available, you should get it. It is safe and 95% 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 US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Dec. 13 accepted the recommendation of U.S. Food and Drug Administration's vaccine advisory committee, clearing the way for Pfizer and BioNTech's vaccine to be administered in the U.S.
This followed approval on Dec. 12 by the CDC's Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) to recommend the vaccine for people ages 16 and older. That approval came a day after the US Food and Drug Administration had authorized the vaccine for emergency use.
The Moderna version of the vaccine will likely be available by the end of 2020.
Initially, both vaccines will be prioritized for front-line health care and long-term care workers and residents. That will be the case until sufficient doses are available for the general public.
Fast vaccine, safe vaccine
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 said. And the accelerated pace is not reason to be wary of its safety or effectiveness.
He 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 first 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 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
So 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.”