The availability of the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines has given us all a glimpse of light at the end of the tunnel. If the soon to be released data for the J&J vaccine is positive, then that light will be a little brighter. Unfortunately, many people remain scared of the vaccine for a variety of reasons. I have heard many excuses for not taking tthe vaccine such as “It was developed too fast” or “Politics tainted the data.” The science upon which the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines are based is not new.
Scientists have been working on developing mRNA-based vaccines for decades. Messenger RNA is the set of instructions that our cells use when they are making proteins. In the case of the currently approved vaccine, mRNA with the instructions for making a harmless segment of the coronavirus spike protein is injected into your arm. Your muscle cells read the instructions, make the protein and break down the vaccine’s mRNA. The protein that was made is extruded from your cells. Your immune system recognizes this protein as something new and foreign which it responds to in the usual, normal, and protective fashion.
The speed with which these vaccines were approved is unique for any new drug in this country. This does not mean they are unsafe. The length of time it takes to get approvals for a drug or vaccine by the FDA is notoriously longer and more onerous than in countries outside the US. Looking at all the data and the options, it is my opinion that taking the vaccine is a much better choice than taking your chances with COVID.
Does the availability of the vaccine mean we will be able to finally return to normal activities and social interactions? Unfortunately, not for the foreseeable future. In fact, the data shows that in order to significantly decrease the number of cases of COVID and to save lives we should double down on certain restrictions such as using face masks and social distancing. Many scientists and physicians believe (and I may be included in that group), that current mask-wearing practices are inadequate. We should all be wearing N95 masks or, at least, double masking. In addition, many people do not wear masks properly. A poorly fitted mask does not protect you or those around you.
The data is showing that besides mask-wearing the other important procedures to follow are adequate ventilation and air filtration. It is becoming clearer that droplet transmission of the virus through the air, and not surface contamination, is the major route for infection. Adequate ventilation, placement of air filters capable of removing particles as small as the virus, and maintaining social distancing are the best means to avoid infection. Frequently touched surfaces such as doorknobs should be treated but for the most part, one should not be as concerned about surface contamination as we thought last spring.
Frequent and quick testing is the last arm of this fight to control this virus. Although the PCR or RNA test is the most accurate, the results take too long to, in the minds of many scientists and physicians, help in the control of the virus. The antigen or rapid tests give results in as short a time as 15 minutes and should identify those situations (i.e., someone who is actively shedding virus) about which we are most concerned.
In my office, we strictly follow the guidelines as I outlined above. We wear proper facemasks and face shields, have air filtration devices throughout the office, insure fresh air intake from the outside, and frequently clean appropriate surfaces.
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