This is our shot to leave COVID-19 behind us

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Since the onset of the pandemic, the need and hope to find a vaccine escalated as rapidly as the virus has spread. Simply stated, vaccines are the way to end this pandemic; however, with a global population of 7.8 billion people, eradicating the persistent spread will require a united front. 

Education on vaccinations and debunking myths

A vaccine passes extensive laboratory tests, and three clinical trial testing stages on humans mandated and overseen by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration before reaching the public. You’ve probably heard of phase three, an expanded clinical trial that includes thousands of volunteer subjects of all age groups and ethnicities to determine efficacy and safety. Even then, there are additional independent reviews by more immunologists and scientists. The success of developing effective vaccines against COVID-19 is unprecedented. 

The current U.S. authorized vaccines by Pfizer/BioNTech, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson passed every hurdle. All of the authorized vaccines demonstrated very good protection, with 85% or higher efficacy in reducing severe disease and 100% reduction in hospitalizations and fatalities.

Both Moderna and Pfizer use mRNA technology. MessengerRNA or mRNA is fragile and requires special handling. Pfizer’s requires ultra-freezing temperatures for storage; Moderna uses regular freezing. These mRNA vaccines require two shots. Many other vaccines that we’ve used for years require two injections, like those for shingles, Hepatitis B, and HPV.  

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The Johnson & Johnson vaccination uses viral vector technology and is simpler to use. It requires only standard refrigeration and requires only one shot. There are multiple companies, local and worldwide, working on additional vaccines.

The current mutations we’re seeing are close enough to the original form of COVID-19 so that the current vaccines are effective. In the future, there may be mutations that require adjusted vaccines. All three vaccines can be adjusted to cover new variants.

Beyond having authorized vaccines, it is important to address myths by giving the facts. The COVID-19 vaccine cannot give you COVID, will not make you sterile or infertile and does not come with an implantable chip

Something that is not a myth and is in fact true—the vaccine is free. There is no charge for the vaccine nor the administration of the vaccine. Insurance companies must cover it, and the U.S. government has a special fund to pay for it for those who don’t have health insurance.

To repeat for emphasis, these vaccines are safe, effective, and free. 

Accessibility and post vaccination protocols

As the desire to get vaccinated increases, there has been a great deal of conversation around securing an appointment. Of greatest concern are communities without access to the necessary resources to book an appointment. In addition to the digital barrier, some patients lack the time required to repeatedly try to get an appointment or are unable to take time off from a job to physically get the shot. If vaccinating doesn’t include an approach that explicitly addresses health inequities, we will miss an opportunity to increase trust in healthcare and may not meet our goal of achieving immunity.

Just because someone has been vaccinated doesn’t mean they should stop taking precautions. For example, it takes time for the body to manufacture the protective level of antibodies. This generally takes about two weeks after the second shot. Additionally, the vaccine might prevent an individual from getting sick or as sick, but that doesn’t mean they can’t transmit the virus to others, even if they don’t feel ill. 

Until a level of herd immunity is reached, estimated at 70% to 85% of the world population, we must continue being smart and cautious. We must continue to wear masks and distance in the ongoing fight against COVID-19. The deployment of these vaccines to the world is a massive undertaking. The sooner we facilitate vaccination opportunities for everyone (where medically appropriate), the sooner we can get better together.

Article authored by Dr. Daniel Winn, Chief Medical Officer of CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield