A Thrill of Hope – The Weary Doc Rejoices!

Well its finally 2021… Can-I-get-an-Amen?!? You’ve probably noticed (or maybe no one noticed) the Blog took a bit of a back seat these last several months… my sincere apologies. Like most of the healthcare professionals I know, I was busy, stressed, depressed, surviving, huddled in a dark, cold, corner, watching “Tiger King”. Thankfully in the last few weeks the sun has come out and I can feel its warmth on my shoulders (not literally, I live in Montana, it was 7 degrees here this morning). But seriously, It finally feels like there might be a light at the end of this COVID-19 tunnel we’ve all been stuck in for nearly a year!

Two COVID Vaccines are now available and being distributed to the general public. Whoop Whoop!!! I literally shed tears of joy when I got my second dose! (Pfizer for the inquiring minds) For the first time in months, I have real, palpable HOPE. Hope that we might be able to combat this giant beast that has ruined, and taken, so many lives. I don’t know a single person who hasn’t been affected by the COVID pandemic in some way. Many of my friends and neighbors have lost their jobs, businesses and livelihoods. Several of my patients and acquaintances have died. And all of us have lost our sanity! But with the vaccines here, we can finally claw back from the brink of madness and reclaim some of what we have lost. (Well, I can’t get back those three days of my life I spent binge watching “Tiger King”, but that’s neither here nor there)

Unfortunately, almost as quickly as that hope rose up in my chest, so did the negative comments on social media. Conspiracy theories, political agendas and very real fears from the general public seemed to be everywhere. I realized that while I was quick to put my trust in the scientists and doctors who developed the vaccines, many of the people around me put much more trust in what they heard from their friends on Facebook. Years of toxic Anti-Vax agendas and a general distrust of the mainstream media have made it hard for people to know what the right answer is? Fake news is ubiquitous, easy to produce and sometimes easier to believe than the truth. And to be honest I don’t blame folks. The medical community, myself included, have had to say “I don’t know” a lot more than we’d like during this Pandemic. And its much easier to believe a conspiracy theory that seems concrete and full of itself, than the doctor telling you, “we really aren’t sure”.

So here is my plea… Before you refuse the vaccine, before you spread misinformation on the internet or chastise your friends for getting it, please talk to your doctor. If you don’t have a primary care doctor, please read on, I will lay out my cliff-notes version of the COVID vaccines as I understand them. (disclaimer – I am not an immunologist but I did get 12 years of higher education focused on medicine, public health and the diagnosis and treatment of disease…for whatever its worth.)

COVID Vaccines – Quick and Dirty

Pfizer – available for 16+, must be kept really cold (colder than Montana in January), two doses given 21 days apart. 95% effective
Moderna – 18+, cold but not as cold, two doses 28 days apart. 94.1% effective.

Both vaccines are mRNA vaccines and were developed very efficiently. Yikes, aren’t mRNA vaccines brand new and untested?? Well sort of, but not really. They have been in development for over 30 years, and scientists were already working on Ebola, Zika and Influenza vaccines using this technology when the COVID pandemic broke out. So it was really good timing! Yay Science!!! But yes, these are the first mRNA vaccines to reach mass distribution.

How were they developed so quickly? Most vaccines take years!

  • #1 – Money, Lots and Lots of money – these vaccine companies and scientists had way more funds thrown at them from the start. Cash is King $$$
  • #2 – Volunteers, Sooo many brave volunteers – most vaccines trials take months/years to recruit enough participants, thankfully not this time.
  • #3 – Loads of active COVID cases in the community- to be sure a vaccine is efficacious you have to test vaccinated subjects against unvaccinated subjects to see who gets the disease. Unlike Ebola or diphtheria, we had abundant COVID-19 cases in the community during the study and unfortunately many of the unvaccinated cohort got sick after just a few short weeks of observation because the local transmission rates were so high. (95% of the Vaccinated cohort DID NOT GET COVID!!!)
  • #4 – Operation Warp Speed allowed vaccine makers to streamline the Phases of the trials and run them simultaneously, not skipping any safety steps, just going through them much more efficiently.
  • #5 – mRNA vaccines are just generally much faster to produce and manufacture than other types of vaccines, getting them to market faster.
  • #6 – Emergency Use Authorization – allowing distribution of the vaccines while Phase 4 trials were still happening, due to global health emergency.

Safety – Short version, these vaccines are Very Safe!

Longer version – local injection site and systemic reactions (fever, chills, muscle aches) are common. Expect to feel a little crummy after your second dose, this is your immune system doing its job, learning about this vaccine and prepping to fight any future real COVID exposures. It’s like a tiny super hero factory being turned on inside your body!!
Severe reactions were very rare – like 5 in a Million Rare!
For Comparison – about 1/59 people with Symptomatic COVID will DIE
Anaphylaxis rates – 2.5 Moderna-11.1 Pfizer/1,000,000 doses – treatable with epinephrine.
Rate of Anaphylaxis from Amoxicillin = 5/10,000 – and you know you didn’t even hesitate to beg me for those antibiotics when you had a man cold, so don’t start with me bro.
Will it cause infertility -NO
Will it alter your DNA – NO

Safe to get the vaccine while pregnant/breastfeeding – we think yes, but be sure to talk to you own doctor. This is an evolving topic.
Safe to get the vaccine if I’m on an immune modulating medication like Humira or chemotherapy – also yes, but again talk to the doctor prescribing those meds.

Good news, they do appear to be effective against the new, scarier COVID-19 variants circulating the globe.

Do I have to wear a mask and continue to keep my distance from friends and family after I get the vaccine? Short Answer – Yes, but hopefully not for too much longer – we need most of the country to be vaccinated against COVID before it will be safe to stop wearing masks and practicing social distancing, especially with the new variants emerging that spread more easily and may prove more deadly. So if you want to ditch the masks, hug grandma, put those kids in summer camp and get a little sloppy at happy hour with your friends, get vaccinated asap!

For more great info go to https://familydoctor.org/covid-19-vaccine/

Disclaimer- this blog is my opinion and mine alone, I make no money of the products discussed. It is not meant to diagnose or treat any of your ailments or serve as medical advice, for that you should talk to your own doctor.

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