Ferdnand Osuagwu MD
December 19, 2020
Since the development of a vaccine for Covid-19, reports indicate that many are worried and skeptical about its efficacy and motive behind the quick production. Based on recent surveys, there remains a section of Americans uneasy about the Coronavirus vaccine, while some believe the rapid production is suspect, considering the historical racism and mistreatment suffered at the hands of biased science.
Globally, the suspicion is even widespread for example, in Africa, many are wondering how it is possible to arrive at a vaccine in less than a year, while the world can’t find a vaccine for Cancer and HIV till date. Are you worried about taking the vaccine? The following is a conversation with a concerned individual wondering whether or not to take the Coronavirus vaccine:
Twenty-five years of Research on HIV and yet, no vaccine
RESPONSE: HIV is a retrovirus that mutates a lot making it hard to get a vaccine. Coronaviruses are a family of viruses that cause illnesses such as the common cold, middle east respiratory syndrome (MERS), and severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS).
Researchers were already working on vaccines for MERS (2012) and SARS (2003). None of these vaccines was finalized due to paucity of interest and more importantly, the viruses disappeared. Lessons learned from those efforts was leveraged when crafting the Covid-19 vaccine.
Fifty years of research on Cancer, yet no vaccine
RESPONSE: This is a bit of overgeneralization. Cancer comes in different shapes. Liver cancer can be caused by infectious agents like the Hepatitis B virus. Cancer of the skin is caused by too much sunlight exposure, while Some cancer is due to the clustering/inheritance of bad genes. Coming up with a generalized statement that we do not have a vaccine for cancer is fraught with issues because we do have vaccines for Hepatitis B that causes liver cancer and we have a vaccine for HPV responsible for cervical cancer.
There are also vaccines for cancer caused by infectious agents and If you have lung cancer caused by tobacco smoking, it is a tall order to get a vaccine for that. If your cancer is due to genetic mutation like some forms of breast cancer, it will be a tall order to get a vaccine for it. But, research into this field is ongoing.
Ongoing research on the common cold, no vaccine yet
RESPONSE: Common cold is sine qua non with flu here as we refer to it. We do get vaccinated for it every fall because it tends to mutate/change from year to year.
Yet in less than one year, Covid-19 has a vaccine?
RESPONSE: Covid stopped the entire world economy forcing infectious disease scientists to work day and night for a cure. Our lives and economic activities did not grind to a halt due to cancer or HIV. The infectious disease scientific community across the globe had to race against time for a vaccine. The US Vice President just got the vaccine and the President-elect will get one soon. If there are safety concerns, the USA will not put the security of its highest level of government in jeopardy.
Some things don’t easily add up yet, for me though
RESPONSE: I feel your pain because the conspiracy theorists have done a fantastic job to sow seeds of doubt in people.The Pfizer Vaccine is an mRNA vaccine and not a DNA vaccine. Our genomes are made up of DNA. We have 23 chromosome pairs with approximately 3 billion DNA base pairs. RNA is unlikely to alter the human genome because RNA converts to proteins and not to DNA.
The only time an RNA converts to DNA is when there is a reverse transcriptase present. The Covid vaccine does not have a reverse transcriptase. mRNA instructs our body to produce proteins and for the Covid vaccine, it was designed to produce the proteins through which the virus attaches to infect humans.
Also, mRNA is extremely unstable and disintegrates within a few minutes, a reason why they must be kept at low temperatures. The vaccine helps the body to produce immunity that can last for a while. The component of the vaccine is expected to disintegrates.
—The theory that this vaccine will be a ‘chip or code or mark’ injected to alter humans is not backed by the scientific evidence that we have currently.
The vaccine is dangerous and some people reacted to it
RESPONSE: Vaccines are foreign agents injected into the body and may sometimes cause an over-exuberant immune response. Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines are based on same type of technology and similar in their ingredients. They contain mRNA encased in lipids. Two British individuals with a history of allergic reactions had allergies to the vaccines and two health care providers in Alaska suffered a similar fate.
Despite reports that the Pfizer vaccine has a favorable safety profile in clinical trials conducted in about 44,000 individuals, the current recommendation is that the vaccine recipients stay for monitoring for 15 minutes after receiving it.
Should a pregnant woman get the Covid vaccine?
RESPONSE: Pregnant women did not take part in the vaccine trials because we do not typically enroll pregnant women in clinical trials. We don’t have data regarding how pregnant women would respond to the vaccine. The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) issued an interim recommendation for use of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine in persons aged ≥16 years for the prevention of COVID-19 illness. Following this, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecology recommends that COVID-19 vaccines should not be withheld from pregnant individuals who meet the criteria for vaccination based on ACIP-recommended priority groups. Pregnant women should discuss their options with their obstetrician.
Should children get the Covid vaccine?
RESPONSE: Children were not randomized in the vaccine trials. We do not have data regarding how children would respond to the vaccine. The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) issued an interim recommendation for use of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine in persons aged ≥16 years for the prevention of COVID-19 illness. Parents should discuss their options with their pediatrician.
Ferdnand Osuagwu MD, is an attending physician at the MidMichigan Health (University of Michigan Health System) and Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at Central Michigan University.
Published and edited with introduction by Adeyemi Oshunrinade JD.
Original questions by Lanre Ogunshina.