A new resource hoped to slow the spread of COVID-19 pandemic is making its way across the nation. Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech have developed COVID-19 vaccines that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) formally granted emergency approval. As the number of infections continues to rise, long-term healthcare residents and workers have the opportunity to receive the COVID-19 vaccine for free.
We all have an important part to play in hindering the pandemic’s impact on our country and protecting our most vulnerable citizens. Turenne PharMedCo encourages you to learn more about vaccination and to educate yourself about the available vaccines from credible, evidence-based resources. To help you, we have compiled a list of to address some concerns and myths about the currently available vaccines that have been developed by Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech.
Benefits of vaccination
A COVID-19 infection can be life-threatening to you and your residents. There is no way to know exactly how the virus will affect a person. Vaccines help create an immune system response in our bodies without having to experience an infection and potential illness. Although research is ongoing, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), COVID-19 vaccination may also decrease the severity of a future infection and the ability of people to spread the virus.
About the vaccines
The currently available vaccines, developed by Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech, have met the safety milestones set by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for emergency use authorization. Additionally, these vaccines have been proven safe and effective in multiple trials, including among participants of all ages and ethnicities.
According to the CDC, the COVID-19 vaccines currently in development in America do not use the live virus and cannot infect a person. Moderna and Pfizer- BioNTech have developed mRNA vaccines that require two doses. They were created using genetic material from COVID-19 that is similar to DNA called messenger RNA to trigger the body’s immune system to respond.
This material instructs the body’s cells on how to make a harmless protein that is unique to the virus. After the cells make copies of the protein, they destroy the genetic material from the vaccine. The body recognizes that the protein should not be there and creates defensive white blood cells that will remember how to fight the virus if a future infection occurs.
The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is recommended for people 16 and older. The vaccine has a reported efficacy of 95 percent for preventing COVID-19 infection. Thus far, nearly 44,000 people in the clinical study have received the vaccine and no serious safety concerns were reported.
The Moderna vaccine is recommended for people 18 and older. The vaccine has a reported efficacy of 94.1 percent for preventing COVID-19 infection. As of November 2020, 30,000 people in the clinical study had received the vaccine and no serious safety concerns were reported.
Traditional vaccines take longer to produce and have not proven very successful against challenging viruses, such as HIV, and in rapid viral outbreak situations like the Ebola epidemic. Researchers have been studying and working with mRNA vaccines for decades, according to the CDC. The technology to develop mRNA vaccines has been used in cancer treatment research and in studies for influenza, rabies, and Zika virus. These vaccines can be created in less time and are more versatile. Thus, significant resources were directed toward the development of effective mRNA vaccines to expedite the response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
To be granted emergency use authorization, the FDA must determine that the known and potential benefits outweigh the known and potential risks of the vaccine. Additionally, specific research, safety and success criteria must be met followed by FDA evaluation of the quality and consistency of the vaccine.
Messenger RNA cannot alter or interact with the body’s DNA, according to the CDC. It does not enter the part of the cells where genetic material is stored.
There are unfounded claims circulating on social media that COVID-19 vaccination can negatively impact female fertility and even lead to pregnancy miscarriages. The claims stem from a mischaracterized link between the proteins that cover the surface of the virus’ outer envelope and the protein in the human placenta.
The protein syncitin-1 is critical for the placenta to remain attached to the uterus and act as the source of nutrition and blood supply to a fetus during pregnancy. Although syncitin-1 shares similar features to the protein covering the COVID-19 virus, they are not related. The antibodies produced by vaccination will not recognize and block syncitin-1.
Furthermore, recommendations from the American Society for Reproductive Medicine cite pregnancy as a potential risk factor for severe COVID-19 infection. The organization advises that women who are planning to conceive, currently pregnant or who are lactating not be excluded from vaccination.
Research is ongoing and there is not enough information yet to know how long natural immunity after an infection lasts. Evidence suggests natural immunity from a COVID-19 infection may not be long-term. Although rare, cases of subsequent infections have been reported. Conversely, Moderna recently announced that immunity produced by its vaccine could last at least a year.
The Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines do not cause positive viral antigen test results. These tests are used to determine a current infection. Due to its creation of antibodies to fight a future COVID-19 infection, vaccination may cause a positive antibody test. These tests can be used to predict the likelihood of a previous infection.
The Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines have been shown to have short-term mild or moderate side effects that go away without causing injuries. Some of the common side effects reported from both the vaccines’ trials are flu-like symptoms such as fatigue, headache, and muscle and joint paint. There may also be redness and swelling at the injection site. These side effects normally last for a few days.
The CDC recommends that people with a history of severe allergic reactions not related to vaccines or injectable medications—such as foods, pets, insect venom, environmental, or latex allergies— get vaccinated. People with a history of allergies to oral medications or a family history of severe allergic reactions may also get vaccinated.
While both the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna mRNA vaccines have been deemed safe and effective, some cases of severe allergic reactions have been reported. According to CDC monitoring during Dec. 14-23, 2020, there were 21 cases of anaphylaxis reported after the administration of 1,893,360 first doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine (11.1 cases per million doses).
Although the number of reported cases is small, it is advisable that people prone to allergies consult their allergist or immunologist before getting either vaccine. A person should be evaluated to determine whether they can safely receive the vaccine if:
- They have had an immediate allergic reaction of any severity to a previous dose of an mRNA COVID-19 vaccine or any of its components.
- They have had a severe allergic reaction to any vaccine or injectable therapy.
- They have a history of anaphylaxis for unknown reasons.
The CDC does not recommend the COVID-19 vaccine for the following individuals:
- People who are allergic to polyethylene glycol (PEG).
- People who are allergic to polysorbate. This recommendation is based on the potential allergic cross-reactivity with the vaccine component polyethylene glycol (PEG).
Vaccination does not mean precautions, like wearing face masks and social distancing, are no longer needed. However, vaccination combined with these measures cuts off opportunities for COVID-19 to find a way to thrive and spread to others.
Research and new discoveries about COVID-19, treatments and vaccines are ongoing. Turenne pharmacies are also preparing to offer COVID-19 vaccination in the future and we have immunization-certified pharmacists and nurses that can administer the vaccines. For now, we will continue to follow evolving pandemic information to keep you updated with resources here and on our social media channels.
Madissen Humphries, PharmD candidate – Auburn University, contributed to this article