CLEVELAND — The COVID-19 vaccine is a first of its kind, using messenger RNA, or mRNA, to teach our cells how to make a spike protein that is found on the surface of COVID-19. In turn, that triggers an immune response from our bodies to fight off the intruder spike protein and create antibodies. It will be the first mRNA vaccine to ever be distributed.
Ohio could receive its first batch of the Pfizer COVID19 vaccine as early as next week. It will be prioritized first to frontline workers and then to vulnerable populations like people who live and work at nursing and assisted living centers.
The CDC said once our bodies use the mRNA instructions, our cells break it down and then get rid of it. Dr. Amy Edwards, a physician in the pediatric infectious disease division of University Hospitals, said it all happens within about 20 minutes, noting that it eliminates any long-term side effects.
“This is messenger RNA. Your body is full of messenger RNA. This is pure human. There is nothing in this that is not already in your body,” said Edwards.
Edwards said both the Moderna and Pfizer COVID-19 vaccines developed quickly, but said that doesn’t mean the science behind it wasn’t sound.
“The areas where the vaccine trial was able to speed up has nothing to do with safety,” she said. “The corners that have been cut are bureaucrat, purely bureaucratic, corners and money corners, not safety or science corners.”
She said other vaccines take years to develop and roll out mostly because the research takes time, it’s expensive and it takes a while to find the thousands of people needed to participate in the trials.
“Pfizer and Moderna are interesting because they had been doing a lot of research lately in mRNA vaccines,” she said. “So that's actually why they were prepared to roll out pretty quickly.”
She said the companies had the money and it wasn’t hard to get people to volunteer to be a part of their trials, which are usually the barriers vaccine developers have to jump over.
For a lot of people who receive the two doses, she said it will elicit a rather mild reaction.
“I’m not saying that you won't feel like crud after you get the vaccine, you will for a very brief period of time,” she said. “It's related to your immune activation. It's not that you're not getting sick from COVID, it's not a sign that the vaccine is bad. It's just a reaction to the vaccine. Everybody gets over it and goes on to do just fine.”
Edwards is especially well-versed because she is a part of Pfizer’s trial, and she'll find out next week whether she got the vaccine or the placebo. She said if she received the 2 doses of the placebo, she’ll be sure to get the real vaccine when it becomes available.
“I’ll be first in line. I have no problem with that. I will put my own body on the line because the data looks fantastic. I have no concerns about it,” Edwards said.
After frontline workers like Edwards, who will be first in line to get the vaccine? It seems like the public is pretty divided. According to the latest Pew Research Center’s poll, 60% of people said they would be vaccinated, but the other 40% said they wouldn’t.
Aubrey Phelps is a Northeast Ohio mom and also a registered dietician. She said she will not be getting herself or her family COVID-19 vaccines when they become available. She feels like the vaccine was rushed.
“We’ve never done a vaccine this fast ever,” she said. ”We have no longitudinal studies and the two leading candidates are using technology that we have never used before in a vaccine.”
Phelps also noted there’s no guarantee how long immunity will last.
“If that’s not going to incur lifelong or long-lasting immunity, what’s the difference between getting the vaccine and getting the disease?” she asked.
Edwards said right now, the science isn’t clear on how long immunity will last.
“So they'll continue to monitor our antibody levels and that sort of stuff so that we can see how long the immunity lasts,” she said.
But said what is clear is the science behind the vaccine.
“Science is science and the science says this vaccine is safe,” she said.