The hopeful vaccine news of recent times continues: Moderna announced on Monday that it will seek FDA emergency approval for its Covid-19 vaccine. The results of the 30,000-person study showed that of 185 Covid-19 cases reported during the study, 174 were in the placebo group. Only 11 were in the group that received the vaccine, and none of these participants were severe.
Other vaccine competitors, Pfizer and its partner BioNTech, filed for their emergency approval on Nov. 23. AstraZeneca and its partner Oxford University published preliminary data from various dosage trials that showed varying degrees of effectiveness between 62 and 95%. AstraZeneca announced on its website that it is preparing documents to be submitted to the licensing authorities around the world and which will enable approval in the event of an emergency.
Those who received these vaccines instead of placebos had, on average, much milder cases of Covid-19 when they got the virus. The flu vaccine offers the same benefit; Those who are vaccinated may still get the flu, but they tend to have fewer complications and a lower risk of hospitalization or death.
If the flu analogy applies to the Covid-19 vaccines, this is a twofold breakthrough: significantly better than expected protection and a weakening of the virus' effects, even in cases that bypass the vaccine.
A PR problem
Although the study news was well received, the public will view vaccines as it affects some.
Biden Covid-19 Advisory Board member Michael T. Osterholm, epidemiologist and director of the Center for Disease Research and Policy, told CBS This Morning that he was optimistic about the vaccines' effectiveness.
However, he admitted that the country has a public relations problem: "We haven't done anything to really reassure Americans about what these vaccines are, what they will do, how they will work, and why they are so important."
What health officials need to help everyone understand is that these vaccines make the difference between living and dying from the virus.
Some medical experts do not use words to fill the communication gap, but use measures like registering for studies themselves.
A doctor volunteers
Kathryn Boling, MD, a family doctor with Mercy Personal Physicians in Lutherville, MD, said this "PR problem" was one reason she chose to volunteer for a clinical trial.
"My patients have expressed fear of taking a vaccine because of the political climate," she told Medical Daily. "They feared a vaccine would be enforced if it wasn't safe, just for political reasons. I am aware of the level of testing and the level of documentation and care that goes into these studies, and I have faith in them."
Dr. Boling decided that it would reassure her patients that it would be safe if she were one of the first to volunteer for a vaccine study, and she hoped it would offer her protection from Covid-19.
Dr. Boling warned that the numbers may not stay constant over time, as vaccine effectiveness was studied over months, not years. Numbers over 90% could therefore be too optimistic. Even so, she believes they are very effective and worth taking as soon as possible.
She also warned that people should expect some side effects after the vaccinations. Her attempt consisted of two doses, and after the first shot, she had a sore arm. After the second, she had severe muscle pain and chills for less than 24 hours. She described the side effects as similar to shingles vaccines, which may affect some people more than others.
She said she would advise her patients, "Make sure you have something unimportant planned for the next day just in case you experience these side effects." But even with some temporary side effects, and even if the level of protection isn't perfect, "getting it is far more beneficial than not getting it," she said.
What Doctors Say
The scuttlebutt in the office is a vaccine, said Dr. Boling. At a staff meeting, the issue of vaccine release and who will come first was addressed.
"A couple of doctors joked that they'd like to get people out of the way – that's how eager they are to have this. Most health professionals want the vaccine."
A call to patience
Even if Moderna and Pfizer are given emergency approval, most people have to wait several months before they can get a vaccine. Not enough is being produced to meet national demand, so the first vaccines will go to those who are most needed. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention met today to discuss distribution.
Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said his agency will make recommendations, but ultimately state governors will determine where vaccines will be distributed first in their states.
Take that away
Dr. Boling said she wants to make sure people understand that the good news isn't a reason to relax the restrictions. "Be very careful for the next few months," she said, "we have a light at the end of the tunnel, but we are still in the tunnel."
Jenna Glatzer is the author or ghostwriter of more than 30 books, including Celine Dion's authorized biography.