Opinion: Vaccines are the way out

Submitted by Mt. Shasta Rotary
A Covid-19 vaccine does photographed at Spectrum Health on Monday, Dec. 14, 2020.

Finally, the vaccines against COVID infections are being used across the US, and the world. As of today, about 24% of Californians have had at least one dose, and 14% of the population has had the full treatment. What do we know about them? In a presentation to the Rotary Club of Mount Shasta, member Ken Brummel-Smith, a retired geriatrician, provided an update on COVID vaccines.

There are 3 vaccines available in the United States – ones made by Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson. The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines require 2 doses, while the J & J vaccine is only one dose. All are very effective at preventing serious illness or death from COVID infections, with the two-dose vaccines being over 90% effective and the 1 dose version being over 72% effective at preventing serious illness or death. A bit of good news is that they are also at least 50% effective at preventing “asymptomatic” infection. That’s when a person contracts COVID but does not have symptoms or feel sick. This is a dangerous condition because it allows easy and rapid spread of the disease in the community.

Another piece of good news is that they are safe. Somewhere between 20% and 60% of people have mild side effects, like injection site pain, muscle aches, chills or fatigue after the shot. For most, these relent after 2 days. Serious side effects, like anaphylaxis (a massive allergic reaction) occur in about 2 to 6 per million people.

These three vaccines were developed to act against the “spike protein” located on the virus’ outer coat. The spike protein is what sticks to our cells and facilitates the virus “injecting” its genetic code (mRNA) into our cells, causing the infection. Because the only thing that comes in the vaccine is the mRNA segment for the spike protein, there is no way to catch COVID from the vaccine. The spike protein is recognized by our body as foreign, and it “teaches” our immune system to fight it. It does that by creating antibodies, and by teaching our “T Cells” to neutralize any infected cells. There has been a lot of worry about the development of mutant “variants” because they involve changes in the viral spike protein. While it does appear that there may be a decrease in the response of our antibodies to the new spike proteins, it also appears that the T cell memory (which doesn’t deal with spike protein) is still effective, even in the variants.

Historically, there is much justifiable concern that medical science has neglected minorities and older people, or even used them unethically in research. However, there was a concerted attempt in the development of the vaccines to include older people, Blacks, Hispanics, Asians, and Native Americans, in the approximate proportions of the general population. This is a first for vaccine development and also good news!

As always, there is a lot of misinformation in social media about the vaccines. However, here are the facts. One, you cannot get COVID from the vaccine. Two, side effects are usually mild and short-lived. Severe side effects are rare and there have been no long-term side effects reported, so far. Three, receiving the vaccine does not involve injecting a microchip into your body. Four, if you have had COVID, you still need the vaccine. That is because most people have an asymptomatic or a mild case, and those do not confer strong immunity. In fact, those conditions may actually increase the risk of a variant developing. And five, we don’t have a lot of evidence of its safety in pregnant women, but many women in the research trials became pregnant after getting it, and there have not been reports of extra side effects.

Of course, there are still many uncertainties. We are not sure how long the immunity will last (although a study two years ago showed lasting immunity 90 years later from the 1918 flu pandemic!). We don’t know if the variants, or a decrease in immunity, will mean booster doses are necessary, or whether COVID vaccines will need to be repeated regularly. We don’t know what happens if you delay or miss the second dose, but we do know your immunity is much stronger of you have it! And we don’t know whether there will be long-term complications. But we do know long term complications are very rare with other vaccines.

The bottom line is that getting any of the vaccines is good for your personal health, the health and safety of your family, the health of our community, and the way out of this pandemic.

Skye Kinkade is the editor of the Mt. Shasta Area Newspapers and the Siskiyou Daily News. She is a fourth generation Siskiyou County resident and has lived in Mount Shasta and Weed her entire life.