The Covid-19 pandemic has been part of our world for over a year. Millions of Americans have had Covid-19 and thousands have died from it. Not since the Spanish flu outbreak of 1918 have we experienced a pandemic like this one, but in contrast to the Spanish flu, vaccines are now available for Covid-19.
In recent months, three Covid-19 vaccines, developed by three different pharmaceutical companies, have been authorized for use and everyone over age 16 is eligible to take one at no cost.
Are you undecided whether or not to take a Covid-19 vaccine? I’d like to address four common concerns.
First, how effective is the vaccine in preventing Covid-19?
Vaccination substantially reduces the risk of contracting the disease and is highly effective at preventing severe disease, hospitalization and death. In addition, it helps prevent viral spread from an asymptomatic person to someone who is at high risk for Covid-19 and can’t be vaccinated.
While the level of effectiveness varies based on the different vaccines, all of them have proven extremely effective. Because disease immunity isn’t all or nothing in the human body, no vaccines are 100 percent effective. When someone gets Covid-19 after being vaccinated, it is called a breakthrough case. The Washington State Department of Health currently reports 127 breakthrough cases per million vaccinated, or a .01 percent chance of getting Covid-19 after vaccination. And most of these cases were mild or had no symptoms.
Second, some are concerned about the safety of the vaccine and the possibility of vaccination side effects.
Infectious disease specialist Dr. Shobha Swaminathan says most side effects are minor and happen in the first week. Since serious side effects usually appear within six weeks, the FDA requires at least eight weeks of safety data before authorizing a vaccine. The FDA then continues to closely monitor vaccine safety because additional but very rare side effects may not appear until many thousands of people have taken it.
An example of this is the recent pause of the Johnson and Johnson vaccine due to concerns over a very small number of women developing post-vaccination blood clots. Medical researchers are looking closely to determine whether or not the vaccine might have caused the blood clots.
On April 23, the FDA and CDC concluded that the benefits of this vaccine outweigh the very small blood clot risk (7 cases per million doses given to women ages 18-49) and recommended its continued usage. This allows consumers to continue choosing which of the three authorized vaccines to take.
A third concern is the Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) the FDA gave the three vaccines instead of the usual FDA approval.
According to Dr. Francis Collins, head of the National Institutes of Health, the EUA did not allow vaccine developers to cut any corners. No shortcuts were taken or steps skipped. The process required by the FDA was still rigorous, but the EUA sped up the timetable making the vaccine available faster.
For example, several potential vaccines were being produced before any were authorized for use so that the vaccine was ready for distribution. Unauthorized vaccines were not distributed.
Fourth is a concern regarding the rapid speed with which these vaccines were developed.
It took less than a year from identification of the virus to vaccine use, which is an unprecedented speed. Most vaccines need many years of testing before use. But because Covid-19 quickly reached epidemic levels, vaccine research was prioritized in a joint effort between pharmaceutical companies and the federal government.
Billions of dollars from both the government and non-profit organizations enabled researchers to move quickly. Prior research on coronaviruses from the SARS (2002) and MERS (2012) epidemics gave scientists a big head start. The needed technology was already in place. And strong public support from around the world led many to volunteer to participate in clinical trials.
In fact, far more participants than past vaccine efforts were enrolled in order to help researchers quickly discover any potential problems.
Covid-19 has been extensively studied and will continue to be. Everything in life has risks and benefits. Medical experts have determined that, for the vast majority of people, vaccination benefits far outweigh any risks.
As always, people with certain specific medical conditions should not take the vaccine and anyone questioning whether or not they should take the vaccine is advised to talk with their healthcare provider.
Beth Sanborn is a licensed nutritionist who lives in Birch Bay and holds a master’s degree in public health nutrition.