When the first Covid-19 vaccines were approved for emergency use in December, many doctors and healthcare providers volunteered to be vaccinated, often publicly. But for vaccines to reach their full impact, Americans will need to embrace them with comparable fervor.
“Vaccinations will not stop the pandemic unless there is widespread adoption,” said Dr. Benson Hsu, associate professor of pediatrics at the University of South Dakota School of Medicine at Sanford. Hsu, who practices in the pediatric intensive care unit, felt relief getting the vaccine, knowing he was protecting himself and his family. He also felt that the vaccinations “could be the beginning of the end”.
For Dr SreyRam Kuy, the Covid-19 vaccines came after a grueling ordeal that never seemed to end, especially as cases started to rise again in the fall.
“We are exhausted,” Kuy said. “How much more can we take?”
Kuy, an assistant professor at Baylor College of Medicine and a former chief medical officer at Louisiana Medicaid, has seen his colleagues and interns working tirelessly on the front lines during the pandemic. Some of his colleagues have died.
When Kuy got the vaccine in mid-December, she felt joy and gratitude. “I have seen so much courage, compassion and ingenuity that inspires me,” Kuy said. “I am optimistic about our future.”
For Kuy’s hopes to come true, President-elect Joe Biden will need to keep his promise to step up the pace of a slower-than-promised vaccine distribution. Doctors and public health professionals will also need to overcome disinformation and conspiracy theories that threaten to block the deployment even after improved logistics.
Although public acceptance of Covid-19 vaccines is on the rise, even people who intend to get vaccinated have questions. Addressing consumer concerns will be key to the success of vaccines.
How safe are Covid-19 vaccines?
Consumers often wonder if Covid-19 vaccines are safe, especially given how quickly they have been developed.
Dr Brad Younggren, an emergency physician and chief medical officer at 98point6, sought to allay fears about the speed of vaccine development and shed light on the process of determining vaccine safety.
“We know from decades of vaccine development experience that the most dangerous side effects of vaccines start within six to eight weeks of administration,” said Younggren.
If the participants had experienced serious side effects, the trials would have been suspended and the issues investigated. If the vaccine was found to be unsafe, the trial would not go ahead.
But trials of the Covid-19 vaccine have been monitored by independent experts who have found no serious side effects, according to Younggren.
Dr Abisola Olulade, family physician at Sharp Rees-Stealy Medical Group, thinks the choice to get vaccinated is straightforward when one assesses the absence of adverse effects from vaccines along with the “well-documented devastating effects” of Covid -19, even among young people.
“It’s so much riskier not to get the vaccine,” said Olulade.
Will Covid-19 vaccines be safe for children?
Tami Smith, a women’s health and fitness entrepreneur from Williamstown, Massachusetts, isn’t looking forward to getting the Covid-19 vaccine, but she will if it means her kids can go to school and participate to normal activities.
“After the spring closings, I realized how valuable school attendance was, both for my children’s development and for my ability to work and my mental health if I’m honest,” said Smith.
But are Covid-19 vaccines safe for children?
“Unfortunately, not much is known about these vaccines in the pediatric population,” Hsu said. “Children are very different in their responses to drugs and vaccinations, so existing data on adults cannot be directly translated.”
So far, only a limited number of pediatric patients have been recruited into studies of the Covid-19 vaccine, according to Hsu. “Only with more data will we be able to fully understand the safety, efficacy and side effect profiles of Covid-19 vaccines in the pediatric population.”
How well will Covid-19 vaccines work?
The Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines both have high efficacy – 95% and 94.5%, respectively – and both are reported to be effective in patients 65 years and older who are most vulnerable to COVID-19, according to Kuy . By comparison, Kuy said, the flu shot is typically 40 to 60 percent effective.
How long will the immunity last?
There are two types of immunity: natural immunity to infection and vaccine-induced immunity. According to Kuy, we don’t yet know how long either type of immunity lasts; Early data suggests that natural immunity may not last very long, and the vaccine is too new to know how long it will protect people.
Regardless of the duration of immunity, Kuy will pay for the vaccinations.
“As a primary care physician who treats patients with Covid-19, as well as patients with metastatic cancer, the elderly, diabetics, asthmatics and other patients at risk of serious illness due to Covid-19, I have seen how important it is to do whatever we can to mitigate the risks for vulnerable patients, ”she said. “Vaccination is a key element in the protection of these populations.”
Will consumers be able to choose which vaccine to take?
Although Younggren said consumers will compare different vaccine options, the complexities of distribution and limited supplies – at least initially – make it unlikely that people will have a choice between Covid-19 vaccines.
“My advice is this: take the vaccine that becomes available at the time you are considered eligible,” Younggren said. “That way you will be vaccinated as soon as possible.”
Although more Covid-19 vaccines are on the way, the vaccines currently available are “remarkably similar,” according to Younggren. “I don’t really see a problem with taking either one.”