The Wellness Corner … by Judith Wallace, RN, FCN
It's been quite a while since I wrote about Covid-19 and the pandemic. I've received many questions over the past couple of months since the vaccines have been made available. Many people have the same questions. Using resources from the American Nurses Association, I've compiled those questions and answers below. Before delving into those answers it's important to say that these are not intended to replace conversation with your physician. Please, talk to your doctor if you have specific concerns as to whether you as an individual should be vaccinated. He or she knows your physical condition, your immune status and will be able to talk specifically to you.
Below are a few of the questions that I've received along with answers from trusted resources. Predominantly the answers refer to Pfizer and Moderna because at the time of this writing, these are the vaccines primarily in use in the United States.
Are the COVID-19 vaccines safe? Yes, research to date indicates the vaccines have a very good safety profile. Both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines have been tested in large clinical trials. Results show that the harm from COVID-19 infection greatly outweighs potential side effects of the vaccines. The vaccines have gone through vigorous testing, and the technology itself has actually been studied for more than a decade. With regard to the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines - which have been out the longest - there have been no serious safety concerns.
There have been side effects - as there are with any vaccine. And those side effects are similar to many other vaccines. i.e. sore arm, fatigue, headache, achy joints, or fever and chills. Some people have no side effects at all, others have mild side effects for 24 hours, a few have all of them. It is known that people who have had Covid-19 infection and then receive the vaccine will very likely have more reactions like fever, chills, etc. This happens because the Covid infection causes the body to produce antibodies to fight the virus. As long as those antibodies remain strong, they will mount up an initial immune response to the vaccine. The naturally acquired antibodies cause the body to go "on alert" when the vaccine is administered until no actual virus is detected (sort of a false alarm situation).
I had Covid 19 infection earlier this year, won't that protect me?
It seems to be protective during the first three months. After that, it's questionable. It is as yet unknown how long the natural antibodies will last. Testing in recovering patients indicates that strength of the natural antibodies seems to weaken over the course of several months. It's not known yet whether this is true only for older people or if it is true for the general population. There have been cases of repeat infection 3 months after the initial infection - more research is needed.
How were vaccines developed so quickly without compromising safety?
There were no short cuts. The development of vaccines was a global response. Researchers shared data with one another here and abroad and because of the size of the research team, many steps could be run in parallel instead of one at a time. The technology to develop the mRna vaccines (Pfizer and Moderna) has been in development for years. With that as a foundation, the major task was to fit it to the specific virus. Therefore, the work could focus primarily on that piece instead of starting from scratch. Also, testing went more quickly than with some other infections because the volunteers were exposed to this widespread coronavirus infection very quickly. Therefore, the efficacy of the vaccine could be determined faster than with other infections.
How do Pfizer and Moderna vaccines work?
First of all, they DO NOT contain any virus. They cannot give you Covid. This type of vaccine uses a synthetic copy of messenger RNA that teaches the immune system to produce antibodies to fight off an infecting organism - in this case covid19. By the time the "copy" has done its job, the antibody level is established and the "copy" disintegrates. As long as the antibodies and immune response continue, the person has a defense against severe illness and death. Pfizer and Moderna have a very good track record of providing high levels of immunity.
This is very important because even though many people with Covid-19 have mild symptoms, many others get severely ill and far too many people die. It is also becoming apparent that there is long lasting damage associated with Covid 19 infection. Some people - even those with mild cases - can sustain damage to heart, lung and brain, making them at greater risk for heart failure, chronic lung problems, and neurologic issues. At this point there are thousands of "long-haul" Covid patients in the US.
I've had the shots, can I go back to "normal life"? No not yet. While the vaccine protects the person who received it, the studies have not yet confirmed that a vaccinated person can't carry the virus to an unvaccinated person. That means that while a vaccinated person (like me) has a very high level of protection, I might still pick up and carry around covid viruses. While my body is protected from serious disease, I may possibly be the person to spread it to someone else who hasn't been vaccinated. It is simply too soon to know and might not be known until a large proportion of the population has been vaccinated. That means for now vaccinated people should continue to wear a mask and social distance from unvaccinated people (of course, hand hygiene is always important). Vaccinated people can be unmasked in social situations with other vaccinated people.
I've tried to answer just few of the many questions I've received. I want to close by explaining my own reasons for getting immunized. First and foremost, it was a direct answer to a very specific prayer. When the Pfizer vaccine was released, there was much scrambling to try to get an appointment (thankfully that's getting easier). It seemed that there was no available vaccine wherever I looked. I wondered if I should continue to try. Was God closing doors to me? Everything in my clinical knowledge said pursue this vaccine, it's important. But I didn't want my clinical knowledge to overrule the Lord's will and His wisdom. So, I prayed that He would make it clear to me whether this was something I should pursue and asked that He would give specific direction. Within 4 hours I received word from a friend that slots were available. Clearly an answer to prayer. I got my shot. At this point in time, everyone in my immediate family who is currently eligible has had at least one shot and many are fully vaccinated. I am so thankful for the Lord's provision.
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