Now that vaccine eligibility has expanded in many states, we thought it might be helpful to sit down with one of our physicians at Gillette to discuss the facts about the COVID-19 vaccines that are currently available.
Tori Bahr, MD, is a pediatric complex care physician at Gillette Children’s Specialty Healthcare. Our conversation is included below.
First off, have you been vaccinated for COVID-19?
Vaccinated and it feels so good! When I got my second dose of the Pfizer vaccine it was a truly joyous occasion. Thank you, science!
Now that the vaccine has been made more readily available, many individuals are jumping at the chance to get it, but there are also others who might be reticent to do so. How do you have these discussions in your clinical work?
We’ve been living in an environment of heightened anxiety for quite some time, so I think it’s only natural for people to have certain concerns when it comes to being vaccinated. Several folks in both personal and professional settings have expressed to me their fears about how quickly this vaccine became available in the first place and that it might not have been researched enough.
I’m grateful that patients, families and my close friends and family feel comfortable asking these questions and raising their concerns. When having these discussions, I want everyone to understand the following pieces of information:
We weren’t starting from scratch
The speed of vaccine development was aided by the fact that these vaccines were already in development for similar viruses, so the researchers weren’t starting from scratch. Finding a target is a huge early struggle for vaccine makers but this part was already done. The target here is the spike protein on the virus.
Funding was available right away
Given the severity of the pandemic, funds were allocated for the research to happen immediately. All scientists spend a lot of time looking for grants and resources to fund their research and this part was not an issue which saved months of time.
Finding volunteers for clinical trials wasn’t a problem
There were a lot of willing participants and recruitment for the clinical trials was swift.
Testing efficacy requires exposure to the virus
In order to see if the tested vaccine is effective you need to be exposed to the virus and see what happens. If it is rare to encounter the virus then you have longer to wait to ensure the vaccine is effective. Community spread of COVID-19 was rampant during the clinical trials, which accelerated the ability to determine vaccine efficacy.
This vaccine was moved to the front of the line
The FDA approval process was expedited, meaning these vaccines moved to the top of the review pile, not that they spent less time reviewing all the material. It's like when you apply for a passport. It takes ten weeks waiting in the passport waitlist line, but if you pay to get it expedited you can get it in one week. The passport review staff still spend the same amount of time on your application, they just move it to the top of the pile.
All of that is to say while the vaccine was fast-tracked, that doesn't mean it wasn't rigorously and thoroughly tested before it was distributed.
Do you get questions about which vaccine people should receive?
Yes. This comes up frequently. While there are slight differences in each vaccine (Pfizer, Moderna, Johnson & Johnson), the thing they all have in common is that all of them dramatically reduce the risk that you will have severe medical complications or be hospitalized as a result of contracting COVID-19.
When the vaccine is made available to you, our advice is to get it as soon as you can. The Minnesota Vaccine Connector is a great tool to assist you in scheduling an appointment.
Will a COVID-19 vaccine alter my DNA?
No. COVID-19 vaccines do not change or interact with your DNA in any way.
Will I experience side effects after receiving the vaccine?
It’s possible you could experience side effects. These are typically mild fatigue, headaches, joint or muscle pain. Fever has also resulted in some cases. Most of these effects resolve themselves within 24 hours.
If this does occur, it means your body is mounting an immune response to the vaccine and you get to actively experience the process of making antibodies! These very important proteins are the thing that are going to keep you safe and healthy in the future.
Certainly, if you have questions about the symptoms you are experiencing, the Gillette Telehealth Team is available 24/7 to answer questions.
You might feel run down after the vaccine and for this reason some families are choosing to get vaccinated on separate days, others are planning to get vaccinated together and have a post-vaccine family slumber party. Everyone reacts a little bit differently, but the most common side effects are hope and gratitude.
What does the vaccine mean to you?
It’s been a difficult year for everyone, but especially for our patients at Gillette with complex medical conditions and their caregivers. The world can already be inaccessible to them in a variety of ways both large and small, and the pandemic just added additional barriers. I’m so happy for our families who’ve been able to receive the vaccine and have had several dance parties in clinics as we celebrate vaccinations scheduled or completed.
To me, the vaccine is all about hope. I wish we didn’t need a global pandemic to bring out the best in us and it certainly hasn’t in all cases, but the existence of the vaccine is an example of what’s possible when we come together, throwing our full minds and weight behind something that’s important to us.
There are the obvious medical reasons to do this, but the idea that so many people across the world came together to make this vaccine possible because we missed being around one another and cared about keep our loved ones, neighbors and strangers healthy; that gives me a great deal of hope.
Tori Bahr, MD
For additional information regarding the vaccine for COVID-19, please visit the Centers for Disease Control's website. For more information on how to get the vaccine in the State of Minnesota, please visit the sign up through the Minnesota Vaccine Connector.