January 27, 2021
It has been about a year since researchers sequenced the genome of COVID-19. Since then, scientists have developed two vaccines to protect us against the pathogen, with more in the works.
When the opportunity to get vaccinated became available, I didn’t hesitate. The vaccine gives me hope for a chance to return to a largely normal life. I am proud to do my part to help society achieve herd immunity, as well as keep my family, my colleagues and our cancer patents safe.
The mortality figures from COVID are devastating in and of themselves, but we must also contend with the frightening long-term health effects some people experience. In comparison, the side effects of the vaccination are quite limited. I experienced a sore arm with my first dose of the Moderna vaccine. That is nothing compared to the long-term effects COVID-19 “long-haulers” experience, which include brain fog, joint pain, extreme fatigue, and damage to the lungs and heart.
Both approved vaccines, developed by Pfizer and Moderna, are more than 90 percent effective at protecting people from infection. Despite the success of the vaccine clinical trials and the proven safety and efficacy, some people remain leery of the vaccines’ rapid development. The clearest path to getting back to normal is to reach herd immunity through vaccination, but vaccine hesitancy could be a considerable obstacle.
You can trust the science
Scientists have been studying coronaviruses for more than five decades. Researchers were able to get a jump start by leveraging existing knowledge about its genome and structure. Of note, two graduates of the University of Kansas Medical Center’s School of Medicine, Dr. Mark Denison, division director of Pediatric Infectious Diseases at Vanderbilt University, and Dr. Barney Graham, deputy director of the National Institutes of Health Vaccine Research Center, played crucial roles in the fundamental discovery science leading to these vaccines.
A unique feature of the two vaccines is the use of messenger RNA (mRNA), an extremely precise approach that bypasses the usual route of developing a vaccine. Most vaccines are made of a weakened or inactivated virus, which triggers an immune response. COVID-19 mRNA vaccines equip our bodies with a “spike protein,” training our body to remember the antigen and protect against future infection.
The vaccines have undergone rigorous reviews
While a different approach to the vaccine’s development, it doesn’t change the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) approval process. In truth, I would say both vaccines underwent even greater scrutiny than usual, given the high stakes. We can be quite reassured there have been no shortcuts in terms of establishing the vaccine’s safety. Several million Americans have already been vaccinated with the number of people experiencing serious side effects very low.
Bottom line: You can trust the science. You can trust the approval process, which exists to protect us. The clearest path to getting back to normal is to achieve herd immunity through vaccination. If you are eligible to receive the vaccine, I hope you consider it. If you have reservations about the vaccine, I encourage you to do your own research on reputable source material.
Visit The University of Kansas Health System’s FAQ page for the latest information about the COVID-19 vaccination.