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An Updated Perspective on COVID-19 Vaccines

Since mid-December 2020, we now have three COVID19 vaccines available via emergency use authorizations (EUA):  two that use mRNA-based technology by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna, and one that uses a virus-based technology by Johnson and Johnson. Still more vaccines are in the pipeline. More information on EUAs is found on the FDA website. Finally, we now are able to see the light at the end of this pandemic tunnel. However, I still hear concerns from people who doubt the benefit vs. risks of the vaccines. Are the vaccines safe, and are they necessary? Yes, and Yes.

We can trust the vaccines. Scientists were able to develop the COVID-19 vaccines so quickly—at “warp speed” as the project is called—because of the 110% global effort devoted to this project. There has been unprecedented financial support from governments worldwide along with dozens of vaccine candidates undergoing development. No safety measures were ignored and no steps were shortened or skipped during the development process. The timeline was able to be condensed by starting some of the steps in the development process earlier than they normally would have occurred during a non-emergency situation. However, all necessary research was properly completed. Pharmacists, nurses, and physicians would not be administering the vaccines if there were any questions about the benefits outweighing the risks.

Safety data have been collected throughout the study process and continue to be collected following the rollout of the vaccines. The detection of a rare but serious adverse event with the Johnson and Johnson vaccine illustrates the integrity of the safety monitoring system. As of early May, the vaccines have been administered to over 106 million individuals in the US with minimal side effects compared to the risk of getting COVID-19. Studies included older adults and minorities and support both safety and effectiveness in these populations.

The serious nature of COVID-19, the name for the illness caused by the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus, makes the vaccine a gamechanger. This virus is more serious and more transmissible than other viruses. Not only should you get the vaccine to protect you from COVID-19, but it will protect those around you who might be more vulnerable to a serious infection. Recent studies confirm that COVID-19 is more dangerous than seasonal influenza (the flu). Compared to having the flu, individuals with COVID-19 are twice as likely to be hospitalized, more frequently require treatment in an intensive care unit (ICU), and are twice as likely to need mechanical ventilation. Furthermore, the risk of death with COVID-19 is more than three times higher compared to the flu. Post-infection complications also have been documented.

As a means to ending the pandemic, getting vaccinated is necessary. Improved trends in daily cases and death rates, as tracked on the CDC and Johns Hopkins websites, reflect the effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines. Real-world reports are being shared about how vaccinated individuals prevented outbreaks within closed communities.

Being vaccinated is associated with a significant reduction in symptomatic and asymptomatic infections, COVID-19 hospitalizations and COVID-19-related deaths. In addition, early data suggest that vaccinated people are much less likely to transmit the virus to others, which bodes well for a return to normalcy, which in the end, is what we strive for.

At some point we probably will need an additional vaccine dose (a booster), but when it will be needed is not yet known. Mask-wearing in crowded indoor spaces makes good sense because not everyone is vaccinated yet. Hopefully the attention to frequent hand washing and not touching the eyes, nose, or mouth will never go away—this reduces transmission of viruses old and new.

If you still have doubts about the safety or value of the vaccine, talk with your doctor or pharmacist—someone you trust and who can give you reliable information. Here are other resources about COVID-19 vaccines:

Written by Hedva Barenholtz Levy, PharmD, BCPS, BCGP

5-4-21

 

Bibliography:

COVID Data Tracker. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://covid.cdc.gov/covid-data-tracker/#datatracker-home.

Piroth L, et al. Comparison of the characteristics, morbidity, and mortality of COVID-19 and seasonal influenza: a nationwide, population-based retrospective cohort study. Lance Respir Med 2021;9:251-9. https://doi.org/10.1016/ S2213-2600(20)30527-0.

Verma AA et al. Characteristics and outcomes of hospital admissions for COVID-19 and influenza in the Toronto area. CMAJ 2021 March 22;193:E410-8. doi: 10.1503/cmaj.202795; early-released February 10, 2021.

This material is intended to encourage discussion with your health care provider. It is informational only and not intended to replace the guidance of your health care team.