By Christopher D Stanton MD
“Hey Doc—what do you think of these COVID Vaccines? You’ve known me for 30 years and I trust you…”
I’ve been asked this so many times over the past few weeks that I decided to write this piece for Plumas News. I appreciate this opportunity. The short answer is — I most DEFINITELY think getting vaccinated against COVID is a good idea. Here is why …
In the past, vaccine development has been a long process with phases designed to verify safety, efficacy and reliability. Vaccines are powerful tools that need to be developed with extremely high standards. All three of these phases can be fraught with financial risk for the companies proposing to make the vaccine. Quite a bit of time is usually required to gather results from enough volunteers to be statistically trustworthy. None of these phases has been cut short with the COVID vaccines being developed and approved in our country.
There are two reasons for this: First, our Federal Government supplied the financial backing for vaccine development, allowing Phase 1 and Phase 2 to proceed at the same time instead of one phase after the other. The drug companies didn’t have to take the risk of a vaccine prototype failing during these two phases. This accelerated progress considerably without sacrificing safety. Second, during Phase Three, when half the persons got the vaccine and the other half got a placebo, we had such a high level of COVID circulating that there were plenty of patients around to see who did and did not get infected. After a few months, the results showed spectacular protection (94-95 per cent) from the messenger RNA vaccines (Pfizer and Moderna.) The 5-6 percent of vaccine recipients who did get infected developed much milder cases of COVID. When these results were released, the placebo recipients were given the opportunity to get the actual vaccine.
Other vaccines are still in the pipeline for approval in our country and thus far seem to be also showing variable but high levels of efficacy. This is an ongoing and quickly changing area of research and development which I continue to follow with keen interest.
The recent development of mutations in the COVID virus is not surprising — viruses mutate all the time and not all mutations are necessarily bad for us. Remember in 2003 when the deadly SARS virus mutated into a strain that went on to die down considerably? SARS did provide, however, a stimulus for earlier work on Messenger RNA vaccines. This research led to the mRNA vaccines we now have for COVID 19. SARS and COVID 19 are both in the Coronavirus family.
We don’t really know how or when COVID 19 will mutate in the future. These mutations need to be constantly monitored so that subsequent vaccines will take these genetic changes of the virus into account. A virus can only mutate when it is reproducing, and it can only reproduce when it is in a living host. We humans are now the main living hosts of COVID 19. Some of the recent COVID 19 mutations have shown worrisome tendencies, such as an increased level of infectiousness and possible lower efficacy rates of vaccines. However, current vaccines still provide some protection against these mutant strains. If we STOP the virus from getting into our cells in the first place by getting vaccinated as soon as possible, we will slow the mutation rate. Natural infection from COVID 19 does provide some level of immunity, but it is not as effective or predictable as immunity acquired from vaccination. More importantly, encouraging infection with the actual virus also carries an unacceptable burden of serious illness and death in those unlucky folks who actually get COVID 19.
By getting vaccinated, we all have a tremendous opportunity to help achieve what is termed “herd immunity”, which will stop the virus from spreading. To understand the link between herd immunity and vaccinations, ask yourself when was the last time you saw a case of measles? Measles is another highly contagious viral disease that we have almost completely eliminated by achieving herd immunity through an effective vaccine. The same goes for Hepatitis B, Chickenpox, Polio …
Thanks to my advanced age I am happy to say that I have already gotten 2 doses of the Moderna vaccine. A sore arm, some tiredness, and mild body aches are a price I happily pay to avoid actual infection with this cursed virus!
So, I urge you to get vaccinated against COVID 19 as soon as you are able. Protect yourself, slow the mutation rate, and protect the rest of us!
One final point — this virus is carried mainly by air, so KEEP WEARING MASKS CORRECTLY, OVER YOUR NOSE AND MOUTH, until we have achieved lower and safer levels of COVID on our planet.