Since our last issue, I received not only one, but two of my Covid-19 vaccinations. Excuse, me as I flex… my vaccinated deltoid muscle that is.
I received the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, one of the two vaccines (the other being Moderna’s) approved for emergency use by the FDA in the US. Both Moderna and Pfizer use mRNA technology that consists of re-engineered messenger RNA (mRNA). mRNA are molecules that relay genetic instructions from DNA to ribosomes, the cell’s protein-making machinery. In this case, the vaccine mRNA gives our B-cells (a type of white blood cell) the genetic sequencing of SARS-CoV-2, and the B-cells then produce an immune response that generates antibodies. The particular type of antibodies produced from these vaccines “neutralize” SARS-CoV-2 by binding to the surface of the virus and impair its ability to attach to or gain entry into our cells. There is no part of the virus in the Moderna or Pfizer vaccines, and our cells break down the mRNA within 24 hours.
Both Pfizer’s and Moderna’s vaccines have shown to be approximately 95% effective. You may be wondering, what does that mean?
Moderna had 27,817 people in its Phase III clinical trial. From that number,13,934 received the vaccine and the other half, the control group, received a placebo. How many of the subjects who received the vaccine became infected with Covid-19? Five. How many from the control group developed Covid? 90. The data was published by the FDA and can be found here (reference Table 9 on Page 22).
Pfizer had very similar findings. Pfizer had 40,137 participants in its Phase III trial. 19,965 received the vaccine and only nine of them developed Covid-19. This is a huge contrast compared to the 169 cases of Covid-19 in the control group. This data was also published by the FDA and can be found here (reference Table 7 on Page 25).
My favorite data point about these vaccines is that no participant in either manufacturers’ clinical trial who received the vaccine had to be hospitalized or died from Covid-19 (as of the most recently published data from December 2020). That is incredible to me.
Now, let’s talk about side effects. Remember, there is no part of the actual virus in either vaccine. Therefore, it is impossible to get Covid from the vaccine. But there have been some side effects, most are minor and include fevers, fatigue, and muscle pain. Fevers and fatigue are typical side effects because they occur with the body mounting an immune response to the vaccine. As for muscle pain, jab a sharp item into your muscle and it’s probably going to hurt for a day for two. Yes, there have been cases of allergic reactions, some with anaphylaxis, but that is the case for all medications and is a very small percentage. The CDC published last month that during the first week of the Pfizer vaccine administration (the week of December 14-23, 2020) there were 1,893,360 first doses administered and only 21 cases of anaphylaxis. That is a ~0.0011% rate. I’ll take those odds. My only complaint is that my arm was tender for a day. I had some colleagues who felt tired or achey and one coworker who developed hives. But to be fair, she is allergic to everything.
Currently, Biden’s Covid-19 national strategy includes a plan to vaccinate 100 million Americans by the end of March. That is optimistic at best, not only because of how the current distribution is going, but also because Moderna and Pfizer will have to follow through with their commitments of manufacturing 200 million vaccines by that point (recall that it’s 200 million vaccines because both Moderna’s and Pfizer’s vaccines are two doses).
If the Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca vaccines are granted emergency use authorization, we may be more likely to hit that goal, as they are each one-time vaccinations. Time will tell. What I can tell you is that if you have the opportunity to get a vaccine, any of these vaccines, take it. In an ideal world, all essential workers, the eldery, and the immunocompromised would be vaccinated by the spring but federal and state priority distribution did not go according to plan. However, the majority of society still needs to be vaccinated in order to achieve herd immunity and stop the spread of SARS-CoV-2. Yes, you may not be at high risk but your parents that you started visiting probably are. At the end of the day, it is imperative that these vaccines get into the arms of as many people as possible, as soon as possible.
For the possibility of getting vaccinated while also doing good, read how to volunteer as a Medical Reserve Corp (MRC) member for the New York State Covid-19 vaccination effort. No medical experience or knowledge necessary.
Photo credit: https://www.nychealthandhospitals.org/