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The “Isms” And “Schisms” Surrounding COVID-19 Vaccines: Information Is The Best Medicine

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The “Isms” And “Schisms” Surrounding COVID-19 Vaccines: Information Is The Best Medicine

By Yvonne Sam
Contributing Columnist

Yvonne Sam -- newWhen the new COVID-19 vaccines go into use in December, regulatory authorities are poised for a cataclysm of people reporting side effects.

A group of doctors met with the US Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), urging public health officials and doctors to be as pellucid, as possible, about the coronavirus vaccine, because of the potentially-unpleasant side effects people may experience, after the first shot. Both Pfizer’s and Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccines require two doses at varying intervals.

Reports surrounding the vaccines, which are hoped to be 95% effective, are generating as much skepticism as it is optimism.

Notwithstanding, with so much contingent on people actually taking the vaccine, should they not be told, and understand, as much as possible, as they weigh the pros and cons of whether taking the vaccine is the best decision for them and their family? It appears there is no institutional or political will to truly address the issue.

A brief look at what vaccines are, and what they are supposed to do, may assist in explaining the hesitancy that is seemingly more infectious than the virus itself.

Vaccines work in the body by training the immune system to identify and eradicate viruses and bacteria. To achieve this end, certain “particles” (antigens) of the invader are imported into the body in order to provoke a response from its immune system.

Following injection of the antigens into the body, the immune system then learns to pinpoint them as unfavorable invaders, and remember them for the future. Should there ever be a reemergence of either the bacteria or the virus, the immune system will recognize the antigens from that particular virus or bacteria, and immediately attack it, aggressively, before the pathogen can spread and cause sickness.

For many of us, our point of reference for vaccine is with childhood vaccines. Data reveals that overall, most childhood vaccines are 90 percent to 99 percent effective in preventing disease.

Combined with clear communication, it will also be central to building confidence in the new vaccinesWithout trust, the new vaccines can be a financial bust.

In the US, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) looks at all aspects of research and development, including how, and where, the vaccine is produced, in addition to the studies that have been conducted, in people who received the vaccine.

No vaccine will be licensed, unless it meets standards for effectiveness (how well it works) and safety. Results of studies get reviewed again, by the CDC. Currently, the most important consideration on the mind of all mask-conforming individuals, is safety and whether whatever they make available as a vaccine is safe?

Along comes “Operation Warp Speed”, the current race to find a vaccine for this deadly virus. This strategy for the development of a COVID-19 vaccine has added to the underlying concern for safety and effectiveness in the minds of millions. The upshot? Formerly, it takes between five to 18 years of basic research, to produce a usable vaccine, bearing in mind that no vaccine is 100 percent safe. Contrast to traditional vaccines can take years to design.

But perhaps more noteworthy, is the fact that Moderna designed its vaccine in just two days in January, before some people had even heard of the coronavirus.

Conclusively, even as two vaccines reach safety milestones and look poised for regulatory approval, managing the reporting and follow-up of what are known as adverse drug reactions (ADR), will be critical to keeping to the high levels of public participation needed for a vaccination program to be successful.

Effective monitoring is especially important, given these vaccines will be released with less safety follow-up than is typical for widely used shots. Having a robust system to log, analyze and allow for prompt feedback from reported side effects, is essential to ensuring public safety. The factors that influence people to make choices to take vaccines are nuanced.

Recently, the United Nations asked a group of experts, across the world, to propose ways to persuade people to take the COVID-19 vaccine. Combined with clear communication, it will also be central to building confidence in the new vaccines. Without trust, the new vaccines can be a financial bust.

Yvonne Sam, a retired Head Nurse and Secondary School Teacher, is the Chair of the Rights and Freedom Committee at the Black Community Resource Centre. A regular columnist for over two decades with the Montreal Community Contact, her insightful and incursive articles on topics ranging from politics, human rights and immigration, to education and parenting have also appeared in the Huffington Post, Montreal Gazette, XPressbogg and Guyanese OnLine. She is also the recipient of the Governor General of Canada Caring Canadian Citizen Award.

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