I’m a little nervous about the new vaccines. Are they safe?
Many of my patients ask me if I think there are any risks to taking a COVID-19 vaccine that has been developed so quickly? And my response to them is that I will be the first in line to take a vaccine as soon as it becomes available.
The vaccines have been tested for safety and efficacy, just as they would in a longer process. One of the reasons these vaccines are able to move through the clinical trial process so quickly is due to increased government funding. This has helped researchers proceed with multiple steps in the drug development and testing process at the same time, rather than slowly over time.
The current vaccines that have made headlines have been shown to be more than 90 percent effective in protecting against COVID-19. The significance of this rate of effectiveness can’t be overstated. The novel coronavirus is twice as contagious as influenza, the virus that causes the flu. For the flu vaccine to protect the population, it needs to be 30-40 percent effective. For a coronavirus vaccine to stamp out an outbreak, it only needs to be 50-60 percent effective. So, a vaccine that is greater than 90 percent effective is incredibly promising.
The vaccine will be rolled out in four phases, based on guidelines from the National Institutes of Health.
The first phase includes high-risk health workers and first responders. People of all ages with underlying conditions that put them at significantly higher risk, and older adults living in group settings will also be part of the first phase.
Phase two includes K-12 teachers and school staff, as well as child care workers. Critical workers in high-risk settings, particularly those who are in industries essential to the functioning of society, are included in this phase. People of all ages with underlying conditions that put them at moderately higher risk, and older people who were not part of phase one will also be included in this group — as will people who are living in group homes for people with disabilities, the homeless and people who are incarcerated.
During phase three, vaccines will become available to young adults, children and workers in industries and occupations important to the functioning of society who are at increased risk.
Phase four, which might come as early as late spring, early summer, includes everyone else who did not have access to the vaccine in the earlier phases.
My hope is that if enough people get the vaccine, we could put an end to this pandemic. In the meantime, please continue to wear a mask, wash your hands and maintain social distance to help keep you, your family, friends and community safe.
Philip Robinson, M.D., is the medical director of Infection Prevention at Hoag Memorial Hospital Presbyterian and has been specializing in the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of infectious diseases for more than 30 years.
(Opening Photo Courtesy of CDC/Unsplash)