Published February 9, 2021
For a variety of reasons, many Americans are uncertain about receiving the COVID-19 vaccines. One element is not knowing where to turn for trustworthy information. That is why we asked University at Buffalo Clinical and Translational Science Institute Director Timothy F. Murphy, MD, who is an infectious diseases physician scientist at UB, to share some important details about the vaccines and why they are so vital in the fight against the virus.
“You have to assess the risks and the benefits,” Murphy says. “What are the risks here compared to the potential benefit? Hundreds of millions of vaccines are safely administered each year in this country. And as of February 1, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) tracker shows that more than 400,000 people have died from COVID infection in the past 11 months in this country alone. The vaccines are what is going to help us get rid of the virus in our community.”
If a COVID-19 vaccine is available to you or members of your family, Murphy says, do not delay. Here are 10 reasons why.
The science for the vaccines was not rushed.
“People worry that the vaccines were developed too quickly. However, the science was not rushed. The research that led to these vaccines has been going on for 15 years or more; it started during the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) epidemic in 2003 and 2004. This is the case for the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines, and it is going to be the same with the other vaccines to come.”
The vaccine testing process was efficient, but no steps were skipped.
“There are two main reasons the Moderna and Pfizer trials were completed so quickly — collaboration among lots of partners and the fact that the trials were conducted at multiple sites. Since there are so many COVID infections occurring during the trials, we were able to test them quicker and get a faster result. There was no compromising at all in terms of the number of people that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) required to be studied in order to determine the vaccines are safe and effective.”
All of the data produced from the vaccine trials was carefully reviewed.
“Before any trial can begin it must first be reviewed and approved by the Data and Safety Monitoring Board. If there is a bad effect, they stop the study right away. Once the trial is complete, the Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee reviews the data and advises the FDA on whether the vaccine should move forward. The next reviewer is the FDA itself — career scientists who review all the results. The CDC has a fourth review panel that looks at all of the data and the recommendations and makes a final decision. So, these vaccines have gone through four careful reviews by neutral experts to determine that the vaccines are safe and effective.”
Both the Moderna and Pfizer studies included a diverse group of participants.
“The Moderna trial included a significant number of racial and ethnic minorities (Black or African American, Asian, American Indian or Alaska Native, Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander, multiracial, and Hispanic or Latino), as did the Pfizer trial. Both studies were done in such a way that we can say, in contrast to many clinical trials, this vaccine works in our population nationally. It was tested in a broad range of people.”
The vaccine is safe and effective for people who are older and/or have multiple chronic conditions.
“In elderly people, there were no serious side effects in either the Moderna or the Pfizer trials. The reactions — fever, muscle aches, and fatigue — are less common in the elderly and people over 65 than they are in people under 65. The vaccines were more than 95% effective in preventing severe infection, which means they save lives. They work just as well for people over 65 as under 65. This is very important, because 80% of deaths from COVID are in people over the age of 65.”
People with allergies can take the vaccine.
“If you have allergies — food allergies, contact dermatitis, egg allergy, pollen allergies, allergies to other medicines — you are no more likely to have an allergic reaction to these vaccines than someone who does not have any allergies. The only people who should not take the vaccine are people who are known to be allergic to an ingredient in the vaccine itself.”
We need 75-80% of the population to be vaccinated in order for COVID-19 to go away.
“Epidemiologists [definition] talk about what’s called the R-value. If someone has COVID and passes it to one person, that is an R-value of 1. When we can keep the R-value below 1, we wipe out the virus. The estimate is that the R-value of the coronavirus is 2.6. So, without masking or social distancing, each person who has COVID will give it to 2.6 people. That number is what allowed scientists to calculate that about 75-80% of people in the population need to be vaccinated in order for the virus to go away.”
When we reach herd immunity, even those who have not yet received the vaccine will be protected.
“The importance of having a large part of the population immunized is that it causes COVID cases to decrease. And when we do that, not only are the people who are vaccinated protected, the people who are not yet vaccinated are also protected, because there is less of the virus in the community going from person to person. The whole idea of herd immunity is that when more people are protected from the virus by the vaccine, fewer people have the virus so the risk of spread noticeably drops and the virus will go away. And then none of us will be at risk anymore.” [More on the R-value and herd immunity.]
Mutations in the virus do not mean the current vaccines will become outdated.
“As we are learning, there are some mutated versions of the coronavirus. It is going to continue to be watched and if the virus does change, then it may become like the flu vaccine where you have to get it every year. However, that is not going to make the current COVID vaccines outdated. It is worth noting that coronavirus mutates much more slowly than the flu virus.”
There is plenty of COVID and vaccine information available from trustworthy sources.
“The CDC website is easy to find and has COVID information and frequently asked questions right at the top of the page. You can find helpful local information, including where to get a test, from the Erie County Department of Health. The county site also offers vaccine information. You can get local and state information from the New York State Department of Health, and the state website can help you determine if you are eligible yet for the vaccines or make an appointment. It also features a nice ‘what you need to know’ section. The New York Times vaccine tracker is a great resource, as is the Johns Hopkins University of Medicine Coronavirus Resource Center. Those are the best, and it is also worth noting that social media in general is a bad place to get accurate information. I encourage everyone to make the effort to get reliable information.”
ADDITIONAL COVID-19 VACCINE RESOURCES
In addition to the sources linked above, the following pages offer videos, frequently asked questions, and more information on COVID-19 vaccines: