Recently, there has been a lot of information in the news about COVID-19 boosters in people that have already been fully vaccinated. There is some evidence that vaccines may start to lose full effectiveness after a few months, but there is other evidence that protection may last for years. With the current outbreak of the Delta variant, a fair number of people who have been fully vaccinated are still contracting COVID-19, but it is important to note that these breakthrough infections are almost always mild and do not lead to severe disease or death. These are my thoughts on COVID-19 vaccine boosters:
Having said all this, is also true that there have been over a million doses of COVID-19 vaccines that have gone to waste in the US because they have expired or not enough people are choosing to get them. Our office is currently receiving only excess vaccine doses from health facilities that cannot use them, and we are not ordering them directly from the government. From my standpoint, instead of letting these doses go to waste when they expire, I would rather have someone receive them as a booster shot, even before we have definitive evidence that they are beneficial. I feel that as long as there is a chance that a booster shot will be beneficial, and any risks from the shot are negligible, it would be worth putting that vaccine in someone’s arms as opposed to in the trash can. To that end, we are now accumulating a list of people who are interested in receiving a booster shot. Because the data have not come back yet, we cannot say if it would be better to get the same manufacturer as your first vaccine or a different one. We will prioritize individuals over age 65 and those on immunosuppressive medications first, as these individuals are likely going to be the first that will receive approval for a booster shot if and when it is needed. If you are interested, please send us a message through the portal or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org and let us know your name, phone number, and which vaccines you are willing to come in for.
By now, most people who have wanted the COVID-19 vaccine have probably already received it. If you haven’t, or know someone who hasn’t, please read on. With the increasing number of infections in the US right now, it’s important to know the following information:
If you are interested in getting the vaccine, we now have them available to give at our office, so please call us to schedule an appointment.
For those of you who are still hesitant, here are my responses to several of the issues that people may be concerned about:
The vaccine approval process was conducted too quickly
It is true that most vaccines have taken much longer to receive authorization or approval. This is because when a vaccine company starts testing a vaccine, they start off with smaller trials, and only when they are shown to be successful, do they move on to larger and larger trials. Vaccine companies don’t want to spend a lot of money up front since they don’t know if their vaccine will be successful. After their final trials are successful, they then have to manufacture the vaccines, which also takes a lot of time. However, the Trump administration correctly offered to help fund several of the trials to allow them to be conducted much quicker (although Pfizer did not take any such money for their vaccine development), as well as guaranteeing to purchase millions of doses for all their vaccines. This allowed the companies to produce millions of doses even before they knew if their vaccine was going to be successful. If their vaccine was NOT successful, the government would have paid for those doses anyway, they just would not have been administered to people. What this allowed was the immediate distribution of millions of doses that were already manufactured, ready to be given as soon as the Emergency Authorization was received. So while it seems like the time line for the vaccine development and distribution was so short, this was NOT because scientific corners were cut, as all the proper steps were still followed, but instead, this occurred because we conducted and performed all of these steps at the same time, as opposed to waiting for each step to finish before moving on to the next step.
One other important reason why we were able to conduct these studies quickly was because of how prevalent COVID-19 was while the studies were going on in 2020. If you are testing a vaccine against Ebola, you give half the people the vaccine and half the people placebo, and then you have to wait for a while so that enough people get Ebola, and then you can compare the two groups to see if the vaccine group contracted the disease less often. For COVID-19, the disease was so prevalent last year, and we had many high risk groups such as nurses and doctors caring for sick COVID-19 patients in the hospital on a daily basis, that we didn’t have to wait very long before we could see the benefit of the vaccines.
The vaccine is experimental and we don’t know the long term side effects
While it is true that the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are the first vaccines that utilize messenger RNA (or mRNA) to generate the immune response, that is really not a big deal. Scientists have been researching mRNA vaccines for HIV and Zika virus for years – COVID-19 is just the first mRNA vaccine that has received emergency approval. You should first realize that our genetic material is encoded by DNA in our cells, and in order to translate that DNA into proteins, we use mRNA that our body produces. Therefore, mRNA is not a new substance, and it’s certainly not something that we don’t know anything about. It’s something that is already in each and every one of us right now. The Johnson & Johnson vaccine is called a viral vector vaccine, and it is the same method that the current Ebola vaccine utilizes. This video does a good job explaining the various types of vaccines that are currently being evaluated as ways to deliver the COVID-19 vaccine.
With regards to side effects, it is important to know that other vaccines that we currently use (and that already have FDA approval) do not have any real long-term side effects. There are certainly short-term serious side effects that are possible with the COVID-19 vaccines. However, they are still very rare, so it is important to know about them, but they should be put into perspective.
The important thing to know after reading about these possible side effects is that the COVID-19 vaccines are the most studied vaccines in our history. We are constantly on the lookout for possible side effects, and all the data to this point shows that these vaccines are extremely safe. The major side effects occur in less than 10 cases per 1 million people, which is 0.00001%. Putting it another way, every year, more than 100 people out of 1 million in the US will die in a car accident, so your chance of dying in a car accident each year is significantly higher than a serious side effect from the COVID-19 vaccine, and yet people are willing to take that risk and drive every day. The benefits of being protected with the vaccine far outweigh the risks associated with any possible serious side effects.
So for those of you who have not yet been vaccinated, please reconsider and get vaccinated to protect yourself and those you love. Please call our office if you want to schedule a vaccination or would like to set up an appointment to discuss it further.
For those of you who may not have heard, Scripps Health was hit with a cyber attack this past Saturday. Patient care has not been affected, but the Scripps portal and appointment system is down. If you have appointments, labs, or radiology scheduled early this week, be sure to call them beforehand to make sure things do not have to be postponed. Getting labs and reports back from Scripps may be delayed. Our portal does not run through the same system as Scripps, so we are still up and running, and all of our appointments are still going to occur as scheduled. Hopefully everything will be resolved with Scripps early this week.
Beginning April 1, all adults ages 50 and above are eligible to receive the vaccine. Beginning April 15, all adults ages 16 and above will be eligible. Studies for the vaccine in children under the age of 16 are still being conducted, and the vaccines will hopefully be available soon. For information about booking your appointment, please see the updated COVID-19 tab above.
In another last minute change, San Diego County has expanded the criteria for eligibility to receive the COVID-19 vaccine starting March 15. In addition to the more stringent criteria listed in my last blog entry, they have now added new criteria listed below. The biggest increase would be for people with hypertension and those who are overweight. If you're not sure if you fall into the overweight category, you can calculate your body mass index online with a BMI calculator or log into your portal to see what your last documented BMI was. In addition, YOU DO NOT NEED A NOTE FROM OUR OFFICE. When you show up for your vaccine appointment, you simply have to confirm that you have one of the eligible conditions. To make an appointment, click on the COVID-19 tab above to see the different ways to access appointments, specifically through the county at www.VaccinationSuperStationSD.com or at individual pharmacies.
Side effects: We encourage everyone to report any side effects to the vaccines through the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System. If you want to help out even more, you can also sign up for V-safe on your cell phone. This phone-based app will check in with you daily after you receive your vaccine to see how you’re feeling, and it helps us document the various possible side effects the vaccines may have. Just go to vsafe.cdc.gov on your smart phone and follow the prompts. One important thing to know is that NONE of our patients have had any long term side effects from the vaccine. You may not feel well for a few days after getting the vaccine because you are tricking your body into thinking it is fighting the real COVID-19 virus, but because there is no virus there, you quickly return to normal.
If you’ve already had COVID-19: Many people have already been diagnosed with COVID-19 this past year. Although there are no official recommendations, if you have been diagnosed with COVID-19 in the last 3 months, I would recommend waiting to get your COVID-19 vaccine. Having had the infection, you will most likely have at least 90 days of protection from getting re-infected, and getting the vaccine soon after having had the infection may give you more side effects from it.