LEXINGTON, Ky. (Jan. 22, 2021) — Following is a blog by the University of Kentucky College of Public Health's Marc T. Kiviniemi, professor and chair of the Department of Health, Behavior and Society, and Donna Arnett, dean of the college and professor of epidemiology.
With COVID-19 vaccines becoming more widely available, we may finally be seeing some light at the end of the pandemic tunnel. If we can vaccinate enough people quickly enough, life may begin to look a little closer to normal later this year. We’re excited to see children return to school, to see our own students in the classroom, and to greet loved ones who we haven’t hugged in far too long. Here are some things you should know about COVID-19 vaccination, as well as ideas for how and why to make a vaccination plan.
First, the highly effective vaccines currently approved for use in the U.S. can prevent you from becoming seriously ill with COVID-19 and lessen the chance that you can spread it to others.
One of the great things about vaccination is that — unlike eating your veggies, brushing your teeth, getting a colonoscopy, or lots of other things that we public health folks tell you to do — vaccines can protect you, those you love, and the broader community in which you live, work, play, and pray. Think about the feeling you get when you take a casserole to a sick neighbor, volunteer at a shelter, work with your church on a service project, or give money to a good cause. Getting that warm feeling plus protection for yourself is a pretty good deal.
Even if you aren’t worried about your own health, there are still important reasons to get vaccinated. We’ve all heard the stories about people spreading the virus to others — the wedding that led to multiple deaths, the church services where the pastor and parishioners became sick after, the parties that led to community spread. Can you imagine what it must feel like for the person who inadvertently caused those cases and deaths? Getting vaccinated can help you avoid that regret.
Some people have expressed concern about the speed of COVID-19 vaccine development and the use of mRNA technology, which instructs immune cells to manufacture proteins that in turn trigger the production of protective antibodies. But scientists have spent decades researching principles of vaccination, and the scientific groundwork for mRNA pharmaceuticals goes back to at least 1990.
While the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines are the first mRNA vaccines to reach the marketplace, mRNA vaccines for rabies, influenza, cytomegalovirus, and Zika have been tested in humans. These vaccines were found to be safe, but at the time there was no urgency to approve and manufacture them given the existence of other therapies for these diseases. But by 2020 mRNA technology was already proven and ready for deployment against COVID-19.
It is difficult to overstate what an enormous triumph these vaccines, based on years of tried-and-true science, represent for us in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic. They are extremely effective and have excellent safety data from complete clinical trials. Negative vaccine reactions make headlines, but according to a recent report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there were 21 cases of severe allergic reactions out of 1,893,360 people who received first doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine. Most of these reactions were successfully resolved with treatments like epinephrine (the medication in “Epi pens”).
The slight risk of allergic reaction is why you will likely be asked to stay in a waiting area for about 15 minutes after receiving a COVID-19 vaccine — so health care providers can respond in the rare instance of a problem. But the truth is that COVID-19 vaccination is overwhelmingly safe for most people, carrying about the same risk as getting hit by lightning. We don’t recommend you play in thunderstorms — but given all of the individual and community benefits of Covid-19 vaccination, we believe the rewards of getting a vaccine are worth the small risk.
Okay, ready to get your vaccine? Answering a few questions can help you put together a plan and stick to it. First, where will you get the vaccine? The best resources for information on local vaccine availability are your local health department and your primary care provider. In Kentucky, you also visit https://govstatus.egov.com/ky-covid-vaccine. When will you get the vaccine? Schedule an appointment — and remember that you will need two doses. How will you get there? Make your transportation plan. Who will you tell? Tell someone your plan and ask them to hold you accountable. And once you get vaccinated, know that you’ve done your part to protect yourself as well as your community.