Coronavirus Vaccine Questions Answered


*Written by Dr. Antoine Geffrard


Dear Everyone,

As everyone has heard, there will soon be available at least 2 vaccines against the COVID virus, one from Moderna Labs and another from Pfizer. FDA approval is being finalized for both, and at least 3 other vaccines from other researchers are soon to come. Ideally, the vaccines will be available to front line health care workers and vulnerable populations first because of limited supply. The supply will quickly increase, and the general population will have access to the vaccine as 2021 progresses.

A few questions I encountered most recently regarding the vaccine issue are:

1) Are the vaccines safe? (implying lack of trust in the process of vaccine development because of the politics surrounding the pandemic)

Answer: No vaccine is free of risk, but the medical literature regarding these new vaccines indicates they are safe. The scientists that have developed the vaccines are, by far, ethical and brilliant people who are not political in their motivation whatsoever. They also have families and humanitarian concerns regarding this terrible pandemic. The speed of development of the newest vaccines reflects improved technology and innovations surrounding this particular type of virus. 

The risk of NOT taking the vaccine should be considered realistically. While the majority of people who are infected survive the illness, the COVID virus is still a potentially deadly virus. It has swept the globe, and killed nearly 250,000 people in the United States alone, to this date. These people have not merely gone to sleep. Many have had prolonged suffering alone in hospitals and on ventilators. Their families have suffered, and unable to see their loved ones in their last days. Later, many have received hospital bills in the tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars after their loved ones have died. Others who have survived but been left with sustained debility and health challenges and expenses that have changed their life. The toll of this pandemic has not yet been tallied. It will be historic though, without question. In general, the risk of taking the vaccine is clearly much less than the risk of getting the virus.

2) Should I take the vaccine as soon as it’s offered, or should I “wait and see”?

Answer: That’s up to each person and their physician. The effectiveness of the vaccine has been reasonably shown to be very high - up to 95% for the Moderna vaccine, and near that level for the Pfizer vaccine. That means that the vast majority of people who take the vaccine will have only a 5-10% chance of getting ill when exposed to the virus That’s an extremely effective vaccine, as vaccines go. Please remember that now and as time goes on, your chances of being exposed to the COVID virus is 100%. 

Generally, adult vaccines are typically less than 50% effective (eg the annual influenza vaccine). Childhood vaccines are historically more effective, often around 85>%. No vaccine in history has been 100% effective.

Obviously, a “wait and see” approach may be reasonable for some people, depending on their individual emotional and physical health. Talk to your doctor about it.

3) Will we have a choice which vaccine to take?

Answer: Not early on. It’s likely that one vaccine will be offered first. Even if more than one is soon approved, only one will be available in a given area. Later, perhaps sometime next year, others will be marketed and generally available for consumer choice.

4) Will the vaccine remain effective over time?

Answer: It’s very likely that the vaccines being offered will remain effective for months/years. All vaccines lose effectiveness over time, due to mutations in the virus and/or changes in our immune system due to age or other illnesses. For example, the influenza virus mutates so significantly each year, no population (herd) immunity has a chance to develop and a new vaccine is required. However the current COVID virus, including its mutations, seem to be well targeted by the new vaccines, given a healthy immune system in the recipient. The COVID virus has mutated, but not yet so drastically to suggest a new vaccine will be rapidly required.

I hope this information helps make your conversations with your doctors and families more fruitful.

Billye Thompson