The vaccines are here!
It’s been over a year since the Coronavirus turned everything upside down. The entire world went into complete lockdown, separating friends, families, and loved ones around the planet.
As a whole, the world has seen over 132 million cases and more than 2 million deaths. The United States alone has over 30 million cases and 500 thousand deaths and counting. We’ve celebrated birthdays, weddings, and new births via the internet, wondering when, if ever, we’d get back to normal. Things felt bleak, to say the least; then, on December 11, 2020, the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine was given emergency authorization by the FDA. The Moderna Vaccine followed shortly after. By February, Johnson & Johnson also joined the ranks of approved vaccines, giving the American people and the world a cause for hope once again.
Where are we in the rollout?
As of May 1st, a total of 104,774,652 Americans have been vaccinated or 31.6% of the country’s population. This is fantastic news, but to reach herd immunity and officially declare this pandemic over, more work needs to be done. Many questions are surrounding the vaccines, and fear of the unknown might be keeping some people from getting them. Today, NEC will try and answer some of those questions and explain the difference in each of the vaccines.
Are they safe?
Are the vaccines safe? This is the central question plaguing many people’s minds. How can a vaccine that was developed so quickly be safe? The short answer from the CDC is yes; all the vaccines are safe and effective and should be taken as soon as you are eligible. It’s a massive misconception that in order to get the vaccines out quickly, steps were skipped in the development and testing stages. This isn’t true. No steps were omitted in the creation or testing of the vaccines. Instead, the dedicated scientists working on the immunization realized several steps could be done simultaneously instead of one after the other. This allowed for the safe and accelerated development of the vaccines.
What vaccines are currently available?
With all the information circulating around social media and the news, details can often get lost. While there are other vaccines in development, there are currently only three that the FDA has approved for emergency use authorization:
- Pfizer was the first vaccine to get emergency authorization by the FDA and is an mRNA vaccine. mRNA vaccines are a relatively new type of vaccine. In many vaccines, weakened or inactive strains of the infectious disease are injected into the body to trigger an immune response. mRNA does not work like this. Instead, mRNA vaccines teach our cells to make a protein that triggers the immune response.
- Pfizer is 95% effective in preventing symptomatic COVID-19 cases and 89% effective in preventing COVID-19 in those with underlying health conditions. This vaccine does not contain eggs, latex, or preservatives.
- The Pfizer vaccine is taken in two doses 21 days apart (or, if necessary, up to six weeks.) There is some protection provided after the first shot, but recipients are not considered “fully vaccinated” until two weeks after the second dose.
- While most are considered mild, some side effects have been reported after injection. This vaccine’s side effects include injection site pain, muscle pain, headache, chills, joint pain, swollen lymph nodes, nausea, and fever.
- Pfizer is also the only vaccine that has been approved for ages 16 and up.
- The second vaccine to receive FDA approval was the Moderna vaccine. Moderna is also an mRNA vaccine.
- Moderna is 94% effective against symptomatic cases of COVID-19 and has more than a 90% efficacy rate for those with underlying conditions. This vaccine does not contain eggs, latex, or preservatives.
- Like Pfizer, the Moderna vaccine is taken in two doses; however, these are given 28 days apart (or, if necessary, up to six weeks.) There is some protection provided after the first shot, but recipients are not considered “fully vaccinated” until two weeks after the second dose.
- Side effects for this vaccine include injection site pain, muscle pain, headache, chills, joint pain, swollen lymph nodes in the arm that was injected, nausea, vomiting, and fever. As with Pfizer, most side effects were considered mild.
Johnson & Johnson
- The third and currently final vaccine to receive emergency use authorization is the Johnson & Johnson vaccine (aka Janssen vaccine). Unlike both Moderna and Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson is a vector vaccine. Vector vaccines use a modified version of the virus to trigger the immune response needed to fight off the virus, in this case, COVID-19. The modified virus is completely harmless to recipients and cannot give someone COVID-19 or any other infections.
- Johnson & Johnson is 66% effective against mild to moderate symptomatic cases of COVID-19 and 85% effective against severe virus cases. This vaccine does not contain eggs, latex, or preservatives.
- Unlike the previous two vaccines, Johnson & Johnson is only taken in one dose. Recipients are considered fully vaccinated two weeks after their injection.
- Mild side effects like fatigue, muscle pain, headache, injection site pain, chills, fever, and nausea have been reported.
*A Note on Johnson & Johnson
It is important to note that in April, out of an abundance of caution, the CDC and the FDA recommended a pause on distributing the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. This pause was recommended after several cases of a very rare, but serious clotting disorder was reported. All healthcare providers distributing the vaccine should explain the risks of administering this vaccine. A fact sheet will be provided to the recipient. During the pause, both the FDA and CDC examined all the available data and determined the following:
- Use of the J&J vaccine should resume in the United States.
- Both the FDA and the CDC have confidence that the J&J vaccine is safe and effective.
- The FDA determined that the data shows that the known benefits of the J&J vaccine outweigh the known and potential risks in adults 18 years and older.
- The chances of developing a severe blood clot are very low, but both agencies are continuing to investigate the risk.
Can I get the vaccine?
Now that we know the difference between the vaccines, you might be wondering if you’re eligible and where you can get one. In Texas, all adults (16+) are eligible for the vaccine. The best way to schedule your vaccine appointment is to visit the Texas Health and Human Services website. There you can get all the current information, find a vaccination center, and book your appointment.
We’re almost there.
It’s been a long hard road, but we’re almost at the end. Parties are being planned, grandparents are getting hugged, and slowly but surely, the world is waking up. Even though there’s a light at the end of the tunnel, it’s important to remember that we’re not done yet. The CDC recommends we continue to practice social distancing, wear masks, and wash our hands as often as possible. Stay vigilant, and we’ll finish this just like we started it, together.