Catawba County News

COVID Vaccine Facts from Dr. Billy Price

COVID Vaccine Facts from Dr. Billy Price

Published: June 14, 2021

By Dr. Billy Price

Dr. Billy Price is a pharmacist and physician serving Catawba County for many years. He is the medical consultant for the Adult Health programs, Immunizations, Communicable Disease and Tuberculosis programs at Catawba County Public Health.

Now that COVID-19 vaccine is readily available in our community, we have the ability to vaccinate more people than ever before. Despite it being more convenient to get, some folks are still waiting because they have questions about the vaccine – how it was created and how it works. It is normal to have questions about things that are new, and the COVID-19 vaccine is no exception.

Right now, there are three vaccines available in the U.S., and all have been found to be safe and effective through rigorous clinical trials and through the hundreds of millions of doses that have been given nationwide.

In our area, the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are the most widely available, but many people aren’t sure how they work and question whether they are safe. The short answer is that they work very well, and they are safe both now and long-term.

One of the keys to getting these vaccines out so quickly lies in the years of work scientists had already put into developing this type of vaccine. Scientists have been studying and working with mRNA vaccines for decades, and the Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines use the same technology that scientists have already used for the Zika, Rabies and Ebola vaccines, and for some cancer treatments. They are an important tool in the vaccine toolbox because they can be developed in a laboratory using readily available materials. This means the process can move forward quickly without having to cut corners and make mRNA vaccine development faster than traditional methods of making vaccines. In the case of COVID-19, scientists were able to begin designing the mRNA instructions for cells to build the unique spike protein into an mRNA vaccine quickly after COVID-19 was discovered.

With this type of vaccine, the mRNA never enters the nucleus of the cell, which is where our DNA (genetic material) is kept and it can’t affect or interact with our DNA in any way. Simply put, they teach our bodies how to make a harmless piece of protein that triggers an immune response inside our bodies.

After the vaccine is given in the upper arm muscle, cells in our body use that mRNA to make the protein piece. After the protein piece is made, the cell breaks down the instructions and gets rid of them. Next, the cell displays the protein piece on its surface. Our immune system recognizes that the protein doesn’t belong there and begins making antibodies to build immunity. This is like what happens in natural infection against COVID-19 and it is what protects us from getting infected if the real virus enters our bodies.

COVID-19 mRNA vaccines have been held to the same rigorous safety and effectiveness standards as all other types of vaccines in the United States, and people from all walks of life were included in the clinical trials. Both vaccines were found to be safe and effective in the trials and rigorous monitoring through hundreds of millions of doses has shown that they are still safe and effective in real-world conditions.

Many people have questions about the long-term safety of the vaccine, and that’s understandable. What we know from the other uses of mRNA vaccines is that long-term side effects are extremely unlikely. Long-term vaccine monitoring has historically shown that if side effects are going to happen, they usually happen within six weeks of receiving a vaccine dose. This is why the U.S. Food and Drug Administration required each of the authorized COVID-19 vaccines to be studied for at least two months after the final dose. Since the clinical trials, millions of people have received COVID-19 vaccines, and no long-term side effects have been detected. The FDA and CDC will continue to monitor for long-term effects, but all signs point to long-term safety.

The benefit of mRNA vaccines, like all vaccines, is those vaccinated gain protection without ever having to risk the serious consequences of getting sick with COVID-19. That is why I recommend that my patients receive the COVID-19 vaccine. It provides the benefits of immunity without having to risk getting sick to achieve it.

I encourage people to talk to their personal physician to discuss questions they may have about the COVID-19 vaccine.