The COVID-19 Vaccine: what to know
The COVID-19 virus has made 2020 a tough year for almost everyone. It’s ravaged small businesses, destroyed the economy, separated some from their loved ones and forced some people to go into hiding and isolate themselves for their own safety and health.
Moderna has recently announced a vaccine with a 94% effectiveness rate and have applied for an emergency FDA authorization for their product. Pfizer Inc., a pharmaceutical company, and its partner BioNTech SE have also created a possible vaccine for the virus in the hopes they can protect the larger populace against the disease.
What exactly is a vaccine? How do they protect us from diseases? What do they contain and how do we know if a vaccine is safe to distribute?
According to the CDC, vaccines are a type of medication designed to teach the human immune system how to fight against certain diseases. They do this by containing a weakened or killed version of a disease so that when they’re introduced to the human body, white antibodies pick up on the new foreign element and retain how to fight against the disease in the future. A vaccine does not prevent one from picking up a disease, but it does give the body the tools to fight and kill it if it does.
Vaccines often contain several ingredients, all of which play a role in helping the body stay safe from illness. Adjuvants help boost the body’s response to the vaccine; stabilizers help keep the vaccine effective after it’s manufactured; formaldehyde is used to prevent foreign bacteria from contaminating the vaccine, and while formaldehyde sounds scary, there is actually more of it present in the human body naturally than in any vaccine. Thimerosal is also used during manufacturing but is no longer used in any actual vaccine. There is one exception to this, which is multidose flu vaccines, but the flu vaccine is also available in a single dosage.
The CDC also requires that a vaccine be effectively lab-tested before being released to the population. This testing can take up to several years before being concluded. If the vaccine passes testing in a lab, it then must be tested in humans, which can take several more years. Even after it is released, it is still scrutinized to ensure it remains safe. “Once a vaccine is licensed, FDA, CDC, National Institutes of Health (NIH), and other federal agencies routinely monitor its use and investigate any potential safety concerns,” says the CDC.
This is why any potential COVID-19 vaccines have raised some concerns. It’s barely been a year since COVID-19 was discovered, less than a year since the pandemic began, and there’s no question there’s been a bit of a race to discover a vaccine in the least amount of time possible. But is there cause for genuine concern? Several medical peer-reviewed journals don’t seem to think so.
The New England Journal of Medicine says that in Pfizer’s phase-1 COVID-19 vaccine clinical trial, 195 people divided into 13 groups of 15 were tested. In each group, 12 were given one of two experimental vaccines (BNT162b1 and BNT162b2) while the other three were given a placebo. Overall, both vaccines elicited safe, effective responses across both younger and older subjects, although the vaccine BNT162b2 had lower incidence and less severe reactions.
A peer-reviewed medical journal, the BMJ, said that interim results of Pfizer’s phase-III COVID-19 vaccine trial were even more promising, with BNT162b2 being 95% effective 28 days after initial administration. The BMJ states, “Around 42% of global participants and 30% of US participants had ‘racially and ethnically diverse backgrounds,’ while 41% of global and 45% of US participants were aged 56 to 85 years. Pfizer has said efficacy was consistent across age, sex, race, and ethnicity demographics, with 94% efficacy in adults aged over 65 years.”
Coronaviruses have significantly lower mutation rates than other diseases like the flu, which is good news for the vaccine. Many medical journals have also reported strong findings with little to no adverse effects. However, it is important to remain optimistically cautious; many health experts still wish to take time gathering more data and testing of the vaccine before distributing.
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