Finally, we are at that historic phase where a vaccine against COVID 19 is being rolled out. A vaccine is the most important thing in beating the virus. 

I am Dr. Shravan Gangula and as your local health officer and the medical director for Montgomery County, I would like to take this opportunity to shed some light on Pfizer’s vaccine against COVID 19. I have gathered this information by reading and listening to articles and lectures from trusted medical professionals- FDA’s press release, Dr. Poland’s interview, etc.

There have been a lot of questions about this new vaccine regarding safety and efficacy. We mainly have two vaccines as of now against COVID 19- Pfizer and Moderna. Both of them are mRNA (messenger RNA) vaccines.

The mRNA vaccine can trigger an immune response to produce protective antibodies without using the actual virus. The mRNA is the genetic code for the spike protein of the virus. It is not the code for the whole virus. It gets in to the cells and uses our own cellular mechanisms to make spike protein. This spike protein then gets to the outside of our cells where immune surveillance cells see that and begin to produce an antibody response. So, basically we are tricking our body to think that it is seeing coronavirus. Now, let’s say that we are exposed to the real coronavirus after being vaccinated, the body knows what to do and starts producing the antibodies right away, thus giving us an upper hand over the virus. 

Who can get the vaccine- All individuals above the age of 16 can get the vaccine. However, we still do not have enough data about the use of this vaccine in pregnant population/breastfeeding moms. 

What is the efficacy of the vaccine and is the vaccine safe- Efficacy means, did the vaccine prevent infection. The vaccine is 95% efficacious after the second dose. And, this efficacy does not change with age, gender, race or any comorbidities. At this point of time, we have about 2-3 months of safety data which looks promising. The COVID 19 vaccine has been tested approximately in about 40,000 individuals which is the usual number of people that are tested with any new vaccine. Usually, almost all the serious vaccine reactions happen within 6 weeks of receiving any vaccine. There have not been any serious reactions reported with the COVID 19 vaccine and we are well beyond the 6 weeks time period. 

What are the side effects of the vaccine- The most common side effects experienced are injection site pain, myalgia’s, headache and fever. Getting these symptoms after vaccination is actually a good sign and means that the body is producing antibodies appropriately in response to the vaccine. The side effects usually subside with over the counter medications.

Why should I take this vaccine which has been developed in such a short period of time- Development of mRNA vaccines started in 1990. A mRNA vaccine for SARS was available in 2000, but we did not have to use it as the epidemic ended pretty soon. So, the development of mRNA vaccine has been a work in progress for several decades now. Scientists just needed to insert the spike protein code in to the carrier molecule. The advances in science and technology made it possible for our scientists to do it in a short time and this is why we were able to test this vaccine so quickly. 

How many people have to be immunized to end the pandemic- Experts say that about 70 % of the population needs to be immunized to achieve the so called Herd immunity. This is the number of people that need to be immune before the disease can stop spreading widely. People need to be immune with the least possible adverse effects and this can only be achieved with a vaccine and not the disease. 

This vaccine might not be effective in immunocompromised patients meaning, patients whose immune system is too weak to mount an immune response. This can be secondary to a medical condition that the patient has or could be secondary to some drugs that a patient might be taking. This is one main reason that we have to achieve a very good immunization rate so as to achieve herd immunity. It means that, even if some individuals are not able to get the benefit of the vaccine, the people surrounding them should achieve immunity so that the spread of the disease is halted in the vulnerable individuals.

Can the vaccine cause infertility- There is absolutely no evidence that the vaccine can cause infertility. 

Does the vaccine have tissue from aborted fetuses- No. The vaccine does not have any tissue from fetuses. 

Can the vaccine change our genetic makeup- No. The code in the mRNA vaccine only enters the cell but can note enter the nucleus in the cell. Hence it has no way to get close to our chromosomes and thus cannot alter our genetic makeup.

Can the vaccine make us get CVOID 19- No. The mRNA vaccine does not use any inactivated or weakened viral particle and hence has got no chance to give us an infection. 

Is the vaccine a micro tracking system injected to monitor us- No. The only thing which monitors us are our smartphones. 

Would I (Dr. Gangula) get the vaccine- Absolutely YES.

Please remember that hand washing, social distancing and masking will still play a pivotal role in curbing the pandemic. Trust your medical providers and be safe. Wishing you all a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.