‘We are asking people to be honest with themselves’
The CDC changed its pandemic guidance on masks in the hopes that a return to normal will incentivize Americans to assess their individual risks and get vaccinated. Here’s what experts want those with questions about Covid vaccines to know.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced Thursday that fully vaccinated people can safely gather without a mask in most outdoor and indoor locations, and Colorado followed suit the next day, lifting the state’s mask mandate.
“You know, we are asking people to be honest with themselves,” CDC Director Rochelle Walensky, M.D., said Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “If they are vaccinated and they are not wearing a mask, they are safe. If they are not vaccinated and they are not wearing a mask, they are not safe.”
With so much new and changing information, RED went to Ruben Zorrilla, M.D., medical director of the Health Center at Auraria, and Sheryl Zajdowicz, Ph.D., professor and chair of Metropolitan State University of Denver’s Department of Biology, for answers to the vaccination questions raised by changing CDC guidance.
I’ve heard the side effects of the vaccine are bad, especially after the second shot – should I be worried?
Zorrilla: The reality is the overwhelming majority of recipients have minor side effects (arm soreness, fatigue, flulike symptoms) that are gone within 36 hours. This is nothing compared to a possible two to three weeks or longer of intense symptoms for the nonvaccinated immunoresponse, to say nothing of the unforeseen long-hauler possibility we see in approximately 10% of those diagnosed.
Emergency-use authorizations mean that the vaccines aren’t “ready for prime time” yet, right?
Zajdowicz: The vaccines are safe and effective against preventing disease, especially in reducing the severity of disease. Even with EUA designation, the vaccine-approval process still followed all required guidelines to ensure that the vaccine is safe and effective. The vaccine trials included tens of thousands of volunteers worldwide, and the data collected from the vaccine trials were reviewed and approved by multiple independent advisory panels.
I don’t want to be a guinea pig – isn’t this new/unproven technology?
Zorrilla: The 14-month delivery was indeed unheard of, but there were no corners cut for efficacy or safety. If anything, there was more oversight with such an unprecedented effort. The science behind the different vaccines has many years of research behind it. mRNA technology (used by the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines) has been around and tested for over a decade; what is new is the production scaling needed to supply it at the level we needed to combat the pandemic.
The Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca (not yet available in the U.S.) vaccines both use a long-implemented adenovirus-vector approach, which has a “cleaned-up” outer-shell DNA of the spike protein to trigger the body’s natural immune response. And the SinoPharm vaccine (distributed largely throughout Asia) contains an inactive/“killed” strain of the virus – it’s like a spaceship with no one inside.
Can you tell me more about research behind the mRNA vaccines?
Zajdowicz: mRNA technology has been studied for decades, and studies have shown safety in their use as well as limited side effects. In the 1980s, mRNA-based drugs were first proposed; in the ’90s, it was shown that immunity could be induced using mRNA. For over a decade, this vaccine technology has been involved in clinical trials for treating various forms of cancer, with remarkable effects having been observed. Nearly a decade ago, mRNA vaccines for flu and RSV were developed, and since then several additional mRNA vaccines for additional infectious-disease agents are under development or clinical investigation.
I’m young and healthy – I don’t really need to get the vaccine, do I?
Zajdowicz: While a low percentage of younger or college-age individuals develop severe disease, it isn’t always certain what level of disease you will develop if you naturally contract the virus. And depending on the individual, the disease could be incredibly mild to severe or lethal. We also don’t fully understand the long-term effects (as opposed to the research we do have on our best understanding of how vaccine technology functions). You are also able to transmit to individuals who are in susceptible populations and were unable to receive the Covid-19 vaccine.
The bottom line is that vaccination is one of the greatest preventatives that we have for limiting the spread of infectious disease.