By Dr. Damon Raskin, M.D. | Special to the Palisadian-Post
Q:It seems that there is one topic at the front of everyone’s mind as we make our way through December and into a new year: vaccines. Is it really safe for all ages? What about for people with preexisting health conditions?
This is the time of year when we should all be spreading joy and holiday cheer. Although that may be happening, it looks like we are also spreading a nasty virus leading to more COVID cases and hospitalizations than ever before.
But just when things are looking bleak, there could be a Christmas miracle just around the corner. With the rollout of Pfizer’s vaccine last week and Moderna’s vaccine coming this week, this is the beginning of the turning point in the battle with COVID-19, and there is light at the end of the tunnel! We will have a better 2021, although we do all have to be patient.
As my last column of 2020, I am so pleased to be able to give our Palisades community a glimmer of hope for a better new year. Normally, vaccines may take up to 10 to 15 years to come to market, but incredibly these two vaccines (with more on the way) have come out in less than a year.
This all came about because of the new technology called messenger RNA vaccines. The old way of making vaccines introduced a weakened form of the virus and allowed our body to recognize that and be prepared to fight the virus when it comes into future contact with it.
The messenger RNA uses only the virus’s genetic code to tell our body to make the spike protein found on the virus. Then our immune system can fight the coronavirus when it encounters it. No actual virus is needed to make this type of vaccine, and the rate it can be made is vastly accelerated.
The scientific data looks incredible with the vaccine delivering a 94 to 95% protection rate. It is clear that the vaccine can prevent severe disease, but still unknown whether it can prevent asymptomatic transmission.
It is also still unclear how long the vaccine’s protection will last, although evidence from Moderna indicates immunity is sustained for at least three months after receiving the two-dose regimen.
At present, the Pfizer vaccine has only been approved for those 16 years old and up, and the Moderna vaccine is approved for those 18 years old and up. They both need two doses, either three or four weeks apart.
There are ongoing trials to see how well the vaccine works in children and younger adolescents, although these are still in the early stages. For those adults with preexisting health conditions, it is of utmost importance to get the vaccines as soon as possible, as these patients are at the highest risk for severe disease and hospitalization.
The safety of the vaccine also appears to be very promising. So far, the most common negative effects have been injection-site pain after the first dose, and fatigue, muscle and joint pains, headache, and redness at the site after the second shot.
While the vaccine effort is just starting with frontline healthcare workers and nursing home residents who are at highest risk, eventually the rollout will continue to include everyone who wants it in the next several months. In the meantime, it will be important to continue standard preventive measures including social distancing, wearing masks and washing hands.
Have a question you’d like to see answered by Dr. Raskin in 2021? Send it in to email@example.com for consideration.
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