COVID-19 vaccine: What to expect
As the development of a vaccine continues, it seems like the light at the end of the tunnel is getting nearer. Infectious disease physician Divya Ahuja, MD, explained what to expect as the journey toward a COVID-19 vaccine continues.
Are the vaccines effective? And safe?
Dr. Ahuja said early data shows that the vaccines are very effective when compared to a placebo and there are few immediate adverse effects.
“We don’t know about long-term adverse effects, but early data suggests these vaccines are safe and effective. There is discomfort at the injection site and low-grade fever. Some recipients may need to take the day off, but overall it’s well tolerated.”
Dr. Ahuja said it’s important to note that these are not live vaccines. “These are mRNA vaccines. This is the first time an mRNA vaccine will be put into real world use, even though it’s been looked at for a long time. Both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are mRNA vaccines.”
According to the National Institutes of Health, mRNA vaccines represent a promising alternative to conventional vaccine approaches because of their high potency, capacity for rapid development and potential for low-cost manufacture and safe administration. The way it works is a small, non-infectious snippet of messenger RNA (mRNA) is injected into muscle. A person’s own body will then begin to make the key viral spike protein. As the immune system detects this spike protein, it spurs the production of antibodies that may help to fend off the virus.
How will the vaccine be distributed?
South Carolina uses a statewide advisory task force, led by the state’s health department, to help with vaccine distribution. This advisory group is led by SCDHEC and includes clinicians, as well as representatives from multiple organizations and advocacy groups from around the state. “There are representatives from SCDHEC, AARP, minority groups, long-term care facilities, educational institutions, federally qualified health centers, BlueCross BlueShield, Medicaid – it’s a large group,” said Dr. Ahuja.
Who will get the vaccine first?
Dr. Ahuja said there will be a phased response. “Phase one includes first responders, healthcare providers, nurses, hospital housekeeping, and residents and staff at long-term care facilities. Next phase would include people older than 65 years old, patients with other comorbidities, other essential workers and staff and students at schools, colleges and universities, and so on, depending on the availability.”
Who will provide the vaccinations?
“Vaccination providers will have to sign up on the health department website, and they would need to have the capability to store and administer the vaccine in a safe manner. The vaccine itself should be free to recipients, although there may be an administration fee. There are reporting requirements to make sure there is follow up on any side effects from the vaccine. It’s quite a robust, detailed effort, in terms of data collection,” said Dr. Ahuja.
How long will the vaccine offer protection?
We don’t yet know how long the vaccines will offer protection.
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