New York.- Vicki James Yiannias
In Greek tradition, Saint Nicholas—who unlike his Western Christian counterpart, Santa Claus, doesn’t bring gifts–steps aside on January 1 for the gift-giver of Myra, St. Basil, to bring gifts to well-behaved children. For Orthodox Christians, the celebratory Feast of Saint Basil, like Christmas, is a time when families come together, but his year, in the effort to minimize the spread of the coronavirus which has killed so many in 2019, families and friends are discouraged from gathering, and are urged to continue taking the precautions of social distancing and wearing masks. But another coming together, by pharmaceutical companies, in the form of mutual cooperation has been crucial to society: Through the sharing of information, two vaccines against COVID-19 have been produced in record time.
For much-needed information on the new vaccines against the coronavirus, the GN turned to Dr. John Grossomanides, Pharm.D. R. Ph (pictured below with Dr. Annie George, in Mashantucket, CT), Director of Pharmacy Pequot Pharmaceutical Network (PRxN), A Division of Pequot Healthcare, and past Supreme President of the AHEPA.
GN: How is the efficacy of the new vaccine challenged or diminished when some people don’t accept vaccination?
JG: Because they are outnumbered by those who have protection, those who are not vaccinated acquire immunity. That is, for immunity to occur throughout the population—what is called herd immunity–the estimates are that at least 75 % of the people have to be vaccinated to really provide protection for the 25 %. who are not vaccinated. This gives the unprotected some extra ability to circulate without getting the virus transmitted to them.
GN: Why are some people hesitating to be vaccinated?
JG: I think there are probably a lot of reasons. One is the speed at which the vaccine came to market. The science was built before the COVID-19 virus came into being. Over the years, science and research have been able to establish other diseases that have the COVID-19 virus, like SARS, H1N1, all these viruses all contributed to the knowledge which the scientists have then been able to stand upon come up with the vaccine we have now. I think the other thing that is even more critical: It’s probably the first time in history that all of the pharmaceutical companies have worked together usually they are in competition with each other if one invents something they won’t want to share information because it may cut into their profits cutting down their ability to sell their drugs if another company has something exactly the same that allowed them to further forward Research reciprocally so they were able to really advance the vaccine cause in a very light-speed kind of way, because they were not competing with each other. For once in their lives, they were actually doing what was best for society.
GN: Some people have reported experiencing side effects from their vaccination, which seems to be alarming the already dubious.
JG: Right now, there are two approved vaccines in the market, the Pfizer vaccine, made in cooperation with BioNTech, Pfizer’s subsidiary in Germany, and the Moderna vaccine. They have many similarities. The Pfizer product requires a second injection 21 days after the initial injection, and the Moderns vaccine requires a second injection 28 days after the initial injection. Critical to both vaccines is the second shot. The immunity created by the vaccines doesn’t really begin until that second shot has been confirmed. Even then, the recommendation is to wait 3-5 days before the full effect of the vaccine is conferred upon the individual who has gotten both shots.
A lot of people are fearful, and understandably so. With the Pfizer vaccine there have been some prophylactic reactions. I think there have been 5 reported cases of healthcare workers who have developed rashes, hives, shortness of breath. Less than a dozen that I’m aware of, but certainly if you have a lot of allergies, or if you’ve had reactions to other vaccines, it’s something to discuss with your physician or allergist.
At the end of the day, it really comes down to what kind of protection you want. For instance, if you want to go to Greece next summer–I don’t think this has been written anywhere, but it’s been thought that to travel between countries or between states in the US, it might be required to show proof of vaccination. Obviously, the concern is that those who are not vaccinated could contribute to the spread of the disease. It is a concern from the public health standpoint. Even now, in London, a mutant strain of COVID that may even be even more easily transmitted than the original virus has been reported, and they are locking down airports out of fear it could spread to others.
The first phase of people being vaccinated are doctors and nurses and frontline health care workers, the EMPs. The second phase according to guidelines from the CDC I believe, are those who have an underlying disease, the elderly– nursing home residents, COPD. senior citizen centers, and teachers. The vaccination sequence of the rest of the population is still under evaluation and discussion by state health directors. I don’t have exact numbers of how many people have been vaccinated in the United States since last week, but I think it’s over 100,000 people so far. Normal, healthy people haven’t really experienced any side effects or adverse reactions.
GN: Has anyone gotten a terminal case of the virus from the vaccination?
JG: The vaccine is not a live virus; it is a messenger component that has been replicated. It is impossible for somebody to get COVID from the vaccine. In the past, the polio vaccine, for instance, was a live virus given to people in a small amount to build up immunity. This vaccine is a replication of the virus scientifically made in the lab. We’re not talking about a live virus vaccine.
GN: How long will the vaccine last once the shot is given?
JG: Some of the things that we’re still learning, are, is this vaccination like the flu shot, which is given every year, or will it be like the measles, mumps and rubella shots we got as children which lasted forever. The vaccine has only been on the market for a couple of weeks, and from what I understand, the research is saying that it may last two years. But it may be that it lasts for as little as one year, making it necessary to be re- vaccinated every year. Then again, you know they’ll be able to tweet the vaccine so that as mutations come out, they’ll be able to either improve or modify the existing vaccine to take care of any mutations that occur. My understanding, from my pharmaceutical journal, is that both companies are doing research to ensure that their products are effective against the mutation in England… and it seems like it does have efficacy against the mutation, but I think this is still a work in progress.
We are still learning a lot, not only about the virus, but also about the vaccine, before going into other types of antiviral products and cocktails. I think every day is a learning day against this virus. In the next couple of weeks, and then months, as people get the vaccine and go out in public, we’ll see their ability to resist any transmission of the disease.
GN: Do you have a word for our reading public?
JG: My pharmacy and my health plan just approved the vaccines yesterday, which was Wednesday, so we just received our first 200 doses. I’m planning to be vaccinated this coming week, when we start rolling it out to the fire department and police and EMTs. It’s just a safety precaution. You know, if I look at it much like when I was a child and I got my measles, mumps and rubella shots and when I was a healthcare worker in a hospital and got my hepatitis B shots. It’s a way to protect not only myself, but also my fellow coworkers and family and friends from getting something or giving something. I almost look at as a community service that I can provide as an individual to help and do my part in trying to stop the spread of this really tragic and awful virus that has killed so many people.