After months of fighting this virus in the hospitals, I cannot tell you how excited I am to see the amazing work our researchers have done since the start of this pandemic. You have to remember, this is a worldwide pandemic. So, we learned from one another across the globe. This experience demonstrates how we all are unified in this vulnerability.
As a physician, I remember feeling the pain the people and the health care workers were feeling in Italy, Brazil, UK, and of course here in the US. We lead the world in the total number of deaths due to COVID-19.
Personally, it has been exhausting. I have never signed so many death certificates in my 13 year career. I have never cried as much as I did while listening to someone's heart and lungs who was infected with COVID-19.
It is so hard to see a chest x-ray or CT chest of an infected patient who initially might be smiling and talking to you but deep down you know that in the next few days you will be battling a virus that will bring all its might against this same patient. So many sleepless nights have passed with worrying about people under my care and crying over those who I lost.
Many people may not know that as a physician who is treating a COVID-19 infected person in the hospital, you get to really know their family members and their stories as these cases require long hospital stays. Hearing the struggles of others whether it is economic, social, or other issues makes the whole situation even harder.
To say the least, it has been very difficult. I smile a lot so people may not ever know the pain or exhaustion I feel as I write this blog. But, I do this work because I am blessed to be in a position to heal. I am blessed with a team of nurses and nurse practitioners at LiveActive and all the team members we have at our assisted living facility, hospitals, and long term acute care hospital. Together, we have lifted each other when we were down, worked extra shifts when we could, and our families took on risks as we fight this virus.
Please thank the spouses of health care workers too! I feel that we do not recognize them. They are the ones who fear daily for their loved ones. It is they who may have had to make us smile, give us a hug when we needed it the most, or put their concerns on hold while they lend us their ear as we share our frustrations and stories.
BUT...we finally are getting close to vaccination! Here are some important points to remember. The CDC website is helpful, but I found it a bit much to navigate through and make sense of so here is my attempt to simplify it for you.
What the heck is a mRNA?
We are all familiar with DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid). This is the molecule that contains the genetic code for organisms. Remember, plants, bacteria, and many other organisms have DNA. So to get from the genetic code to actual protein synthesis, messenger RNA (mRNA) is needed to transcribe the code for production of protein.
So, how does a vaccine take advantage of this process?
COVID-19 mRNA vaccines give instructions for our cells to make a protein called “spike protein.” This protein is found on the surface of the virus that causes COVID-19.
Where do you inject the vaccine and how does it work?
Once it is injected in the upper arm muscle cells, our cells use the mRNA to make the “spike protein”. Our immune system then goes into action! It recognizes the protein as a foreign invader and starts to build an immune response and making antibodies. Not only will our body protect us from the virus this time but also against future infection.
How safe is the COVID-19 vaccine?
To answer this question, you must understand how a vaccine is developed. Here is a simple picture without getting too technical. At each phase, researchers assess safety while increasing the number of subjects involved in the studies.
In addition, the FDA also looks at the manufacturing of the vaccine to assure its safety.
Manufacturing companies must seek permission to market a vaccine for use in the United States. If the FDA approves it, there is continued monitoring for safety and effectiveness. There are various surveillance systems in place that assist in monitoring for safety and effectiveness.
The CDC website has some great information but it can be confusing. Here are some quick facts that is from their website: Facts about COVID-19 Vaccines (cdc.gov)
Which vaccines are currently in PHASE 3 Clinical trials? As of November 24th, here are the current vaccines in progress or being planned:
This sounds great, but how much is it going to cost me?
Per the CDC website, vaccines purchased with US taxpayer dollars will be given to the American people at no cost. Vaccine providers will be able to charge administration fees for giving or administering the shot to someone. This fee can be reimbursed by the patients public or private insurance company. If uninsured, this fee can be reimbursed by the Health Resources and Services Administration’s Provider Relief Fund.
So, should I get it?
In my humble opinion, I think you should. I trust our country and our researchers. I trust the FDA process. I have faith that every study has been and will be conducted with the utmost care and thoroughness. The FDA is notorious for being complete and having a rigorous process when approving new treatments.
Please discuss your concerns with your primary care physician. Review the CDC website. Ask questions. Stay safe. We all have become stronger and more informed as a result of this terrible pandemic.
UPDATED 01/12/2021: With Missouri and Kansas in the initial phases of their vaccine distribution plans, some counties are allowing residents to sign up to be notified when they're eligible. This is a great new article that lists how to get on the Covid-19 vaccine list for certain counties: https://www.kcur.org/health/2021-01-12/kansas-city-heres-how-to-reserve-your-spot-in-line-for-a-covid-19-vaccine?fbclid=IwAR15z4Ni9FLxqrDbn8r_omTqYVUGcfUlFtT1jmz9F6Ec9tunLEO0xnF-Fv4
"He who studies medicine without books sails an uncharted sea, but he who studies medicine without patients does not go to sea at all."