My Turn: Let’s talk about vaccine hesitancy

For the Monitor
Published: 5/30/2021 9:30:14 AM

The COVID vaccine has been a reality for several months now and is the best answer to ending, or at least controlling, the pandemic and helping our lives get back to normal. In the beginning, people were clamoring for the vaccine and the online systems were often overloaded and failing due to the demand for vaccination. It is not surprising that the demand has lessened as those who were most interested in being vaccinated have had their opportunity. Now with demand declining, we must look at the reasons for that. I believe the issue is mostly vaccine hesitancy, best defined as concern about whether the vaccine is safe and effective. I’ll try to answer some common questions.

The vaccine is new and was rushed — Actually, the mRNA technology has been known to scientists for decades. There have been vaccines created with this technology before but have not come to public use yet. The reason the COVID vaccine has come into use so quickly is that the labs have been working 24/7 to develop this vaccine, rather than the usual 9-to-5 working hours traditionally put into vaccine research and development, thereby hastening the timeline to a completed vaccine. I am sure this will lead to mRNA being a technology now used to create new vaccines and in fact, I have heard that a potential HIV vaccine is on the way using this technology.

The vaccine will affect my DNA — First, I’ll try to simplify how an mRNA vaccine works. The DNA in each of our body’s cells lives in the nucleus of the cell. This is not where the mRNA goes. The mRNA resides outside the nucleus in the cell’s cytoplasm and it acts as a blueprint for the protein that makes up the spike on the coronavirus. This mRNA blueprint then communicates with the ribosomes in the cell (the factory of the cell so to speak) and it tells the ribosome to make the spike protein (not infectious) which is then released into the bloodstream where the white blood cells recognize it as a foreign protein and develop immunity to it. When the coronavirus enters your body, the now immune fighting white blood cells recognize the virus and destroy it. So, your DNA is safe and not affected at all by this vaccine.

The vaccine will make women infertile or miscarry — There have been studies in pregnant and nursing women and no issues with fertility or miscarriage have been found. In fact, when pregnant women receive the vaccine, some immunity is transmitted to the fetus, thereby protecting the newborn from infection. Also, some studies have shown that vaccinated moms nursing their babies are giving the infants some immune protection from the virus also. Some women have apparently found that their menstrual cycles may be a little “off” after the vaccine, but this also normally happens if a woman has a viral illness on many occasions.

We don’t know what is in the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines — I looked this up just the other day and the ingredients are easy to find with a quick search. The vaccine includes mRNA for COVID spike protein, lipids to help the mRNA enter the cells (lipids are fats), salt and sugar. One of the lipids is PEG or polyethylene glycol and that is a lipid that people are rarely allergic to and may be responsible for some of the allergic reactions. Everyone who receives the vaccine is required to stay at the vaccine site for at least 15 minutes to be monitored for any allergic reactions, just to be safe. In fact, we are exposed to PEG every day in solvents, softeners and moisture cream bases. They are often found in cosmetics and also in some laxatives.

If I had COVID I don’t need a vaccine because I’m immune — Yes, it is true that illness leads to immunity. The problem is we don’t know how long the immunity from the illness lasts, but we are seeing that immunity from the vaccine is lasting for at least eight months. Also, the immunity from the vaccine appears to be quite protective for the variants and we don’t know if having COVID will protect one from the variants that are now spreading. So, it is still important to receive the vaccine even if you had the illness.

There are definitely many more concerns about the vaccine, but these are among the most common. I hope this will reassure people and that they will strongly consider getting vaccinated to protect themselves, their families and their fellow citizens. My entire family is either vaccinated or in the process of being vaccinated and I look forward to being able to share indoor spaces with them and no masks very shortly. This is the best way we have to be back to normal and be able to return to work, school and entertainment venues feeling safe from this devastating illness.

(Pat Edwards is a pediatrician at Concord Pediatrics, PA  and the American Academy of Pediatrics vaccine advocate for NH.)




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