On Dec. 11, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved emergency use authorization of the Pfizer vaccine. The same approval was granted for the Moderna vaccine on Dec. 18.
Both manufacturers have reported their vaccine trials to have success rates of over 90 percent. Pfizer’s vaccine has a 95% efficacy rate, according to its website, and Moderna’s vaccine has a 94.5% efficacy rate, according to the National Institutes of Health.
Dr. Vinod Trivedi, an infectious disease specialist as well as the father of Country Day juniors Arijit and Arikta Trivedi, said the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are a different type of vaccine than an average flu shot — they are messenerger RNA (mRNA) vaccines.
Most vaccines are either a reconversion of the virus or use a viral vector — a virus to act as a vehicle to carry genetic material into a cell — to produce immune responses, Dr. Trivedi said. An mRNA vaccine is different. It carries mRNA, a piece of genetic code used to produce proteins.
In this case, the mRNA in the vaccine is the spike protein of the COVID-19 virus, which is what the virus uses to attach to human cells.
“Once the virus attaches the spike proteins with a human cell, that’s when the movie begins,” Dr. Trivedi said. “So, the idea is to alert our immune system to the presence of spike proteins in the body. Once the body knows that there is a spike protein there, then we’ll start churning out antibodies that will block these virus particles or the structures from attaching to the human cells.”
The mRNA vaccines are fast to produce because they don’t need a viral vector, he said. All it needs is to synthesize.
“You don’t have to get the protein of the virus to grow into a different vector virus, then purify it and then you give it to the subject of interest,” Dr. Trivedi said. “That’s why, if you look at traditional vaccines, it takes anywhere between five to 10 years. On average, it takes about 10 years for a vaccine to develop.”
The technology used in this coronavirus vaccine has never been previously used, so potential long-term effects are still unknown, Dr. Trivedi said.
“Just imagine the work has started sometime in April, and you know, just rolling subjects into Phase 1 sometime in June, and now comes December, we already had two trials and the vaccine is all ready to be rolled out. This is the quickest technology that can be used to manufacture the vaccine,” Dr. Trivedi said.
One Country Day student, junior Miles Morrow, participated in the Pfizer vaccine trials. His personal account of that can be found in this edition of The Octagon on page 8.
The Country Day community has mixed responses to the upcoming vaccines.
Chemistry teacher Victoria Conner plans to be vaccinated as soon as it is made available to her.
“When I first heard the vaccines were being rushed through, I was not sure about the safety,” Conner said.
However, after hearing how vaccine trials are being conducted and the vaccine’s effectiveness, Conner said she is more confident in the safety of the vaccines.
“Every time you hear in the news about a trial being stopped because of adverse reaction, they’re actually doing the testing properly,” Conner said.
She added she is not concerned about the vaccine’s efficacy because no vaccine will be 100% effective.
“Because everybody’s body chemistry is a little bit different, how your body integrates the medicine is going to be a little bit different from other people, which is also why some people have more side effects than others,” Conner said.
Though Conner would be vaccinated when possible, she understands there is limited availability.
“I definitely won’t be in the first group of people — that’s going to be the health care workers, which is appropriate.”
Senior Kenyatta Dumisani doesn’t plan to get the first wave of vaccines.
“I believe that it’s prudent to be vaccinated in the modern era, but this is a very abnormal time,” Dumisani said.
Dumisani feels the development of this vaccine may be rushed.
Another factor of Dumisani’s decision is uneasiness caused by how African Americans have been treated in the field of medicine in the past.
“Just looking back on the history of black people in medicine in this country — if you look back to Henrietta Lacks or the Tuskegee experiments — I don’t think it’s in my best interest to take the first wave of vaccines,” he said.
“And looking at the rate at which America is taking care of patients in general, not to mention my community, is a bit troublesome,” he said.
Because of the rapid development of this vaccine, Dumisani fears something could go wrong that would put him at risk of COVID-19.
“I want to stay as far away from that virus as possible,” Dumisani said. “I’ve read enough about how you have to get a pipe down your throat in order to breathe — it’s horrifying stuff.”
Like Dumisani, junior Kali Wells also plans to wait for the second wave of vaccines to get vaccinated.
“The vaccine is super new, and I’m not sure how much testing is going on with it,” Wells said.
Another factor in Wells’s decision is the possibility of unknown side effects.
“I’m honestly not super concerned about the effects, but we still don’t know too much about the long lasting effects and what might happen in the future,” Wells said.
Dr. Trivedi urges the spread of information that mRNA vaccines are effective and safe.
Though potential long-term effects remain unknown, adverse effects of vaccines will happen within six weeks of the injection, and there is three months of data on adverse effects of this vaccine, Dr. Trivedi said.
“It is the duty of not only the health care providers but for everybody who is in some sort of position — either journalists or TV anchors — to spread information that these vaccines are safe, these vaccines are effective,” he said.
“Since there’s so much out there in social media, and there’s so much misinformation, we have to counter those misinformation by using our methods of communication,” he said.
— By Ming Zhu
Originally published in the Dec. 15 edition of the Octagon. Updated Jan. 4.