THE STATE OF COVID-19: Vaccines
By: Marvin S. Hausman, MD – Mar 22, 2021
Three vaccines are currently authorized for emergency use in the United States. This is great news, and it means that more people can get vaccinated sooner. It also means more potential for confusion, misinformation, and uncertainty.
Let me state this clearly and upfront:
If you can get a vaccine, you should do so as soon as possible. Do not shop around for vaccines. Get the one that is offered closest to you, and get it as soon as you can.
This installment of the State of COVID-19 focuses on the state of vaccines. This article will be broken into two parts:
- The Three COVID-19 Vaccines
- The Path Forward
- Bottom Line
Before we look at the three types of vaccines currently available, let’s clarify some important things by looking at a few pervasive COVID-19 vaccine myths.
There is a lot of confusion and misinformation out there about the virus itself, proper protection practices, and the vaccines. In this section, I want to ensure that you are not operating on false information when considering getting vaccinated.
I will not be addressing the more wild myths about infertility, DNA alteration, or tracking devices. They are categorically false and should not even be repeated. There are, however, three more pernicious myths I would like to focus on today. Instead of writing out the myths themselves, I have phrased them as questions just in case anyone is skimming this article:
- Can COVID-19 vaccines make me sick with COVID-19?
- If I have been infected with COVID-19, do I still need to get vaccinated?
- Why bother getting vaccinated when the vaccines aren’t 100% effective?
Can COVID-19 Vaccines Make Me Sick with COVID-19?
No. None of the three vaccines for COVID-19 use a live COVID-19 virus. I will get into the specifics shortly, but Moderna and Pfizer are mRNA vaccines, and the Johnson & Johnson is a viral vector vaccine.
These are innovative, proven vaccine methods that do not run the risk of exposing you to COVID-19. Do not worry; you will not get COVID-19 from the vaccines.
If I Have Been Infected With COVID-19, Do I Still Need To Get Vaccinated?
Yes. At this early stage in the process—and make no mistake, one year is very early—we do not know how long immunity to COVID-19 lasts after you have had an infection.
It is possible to track your immunity. For more information on that, please refer to my last article on COVID Passports. Tracking immunity is not currently a national policy or priority. It should be, and hopefully, it will be.
In the meantime, to ensure that you are as immune as possible, you should get vaccinated even if you have had COVID-19.
Why Bother Getting Vaccinated When The Vaccines Aren’t 100% Effective?
No vaccine is 100% effective. The human body is immensely complex and varies so wonderfully from individual to individual that 100% effectiveness is impossible.
Humans are marvelous creatures with splendid variety. This does, however, lead to variety when it comes to our body’s response to disease, viruses, germs, bacteria, and vaccines. For more examples of our varied responses to stimuli, see: sunlight, music, food, art, weather, and pets.
The effectiveness of the COVID-19 vaccines ranges from 66-95%. For reference, the mumps vaccines in 88% effective. The whooping cough vaccine is 80% effective, and the yearly flu shot is about 50% effective.
These three COVID-19 vaccines are perfectly effective. Do not let the fact that they are not 100% effective keep you from getting vaccinated. Go get your vaccine as soon as you are eligible.
Now that we are all on surer footing, let’s turn our attention to the vaccines themselves.
The Three COVID-19 Vaccines
On February 27, 2021, the Johnson & Johnson vaccine became the third vaccine authorized for use in the United States. Worldwide there are seven vaccines authorized and/or approved for use. This article will only focus on the three used in America.
The Three FDA Emergency Use Authorized (EUA) Vaccines Are:
COVID-19 VACCINES AUTHORIZED IN THE USA
|Name:||Pfizer||Moderna||Johnson & Johnson|
|Also known as:||BNT162b2||mRNA-1273||JNJ-78436735|
|Shot Schedule:||2 Shots|
21 Days Apart
28 Days Apart
|Length of Immunity:||More Data Needed||More Data Needed||More Data Needed|
|Authorized Ages:||16 and up||18 and up||18 and up|
The Pfizer vaccine was authorized for use on December 11, 2020, becoming the first COVID-19 vaccine available in the U.S. It was developed by the American pharmaceutical company Pfizer in cooperation with the German biotech company BioNTech.
It is a Messenger Ribonucleic Acid (mRNA) vaccine. This sounds complicated, and it is. Put simply: this vaccine tricks your immune system into creating a harmless protein, and then your body destroys that protein. This process builds immunity without giving you the virus itself.
COVID-19 cells have what we call “spiked proteins” on the outside. Think of a ball with spikes on it, and you are picturing, basically, what a COVID-19 cell looks like. The exact spiked proteins on COVID-19 are unique to COVID-19. No other viruses have spiked proteins exactly like these.
The mRNA vaccines (both Pfizer and Moderna) inject instructions for making, not the virus, but the spiked proteins. Your immune system then recognizes the unwanted proteins and attacks them, creating antibodies. Some of these COVID-19 specific antibodies stick around and defend you from the virus.
It is a remarkably simple yet sophisticated process. The Pfizer vaccine requires two shots, in the shoulder, given 21 days apart. Two weeks after the first shot, you are about 50% immune from COVID-19. Two weeks after the second shot, you are 95% immune.
Authorized on December 18, 2020, the Moderna vaccine became the second vaccine available in the United States. It was developed by the Boston-based company Moderna in conjunction with the National Institutes of Health. This vaccine is the result of a private/public partnership.
The Moderna vaccine requires two shots in the shoulder, spaced 28 days apart. Two weeks after the first shot, you are about 50% immune from COVID-19. Two weeks after your second Monderna vaccine shot, you are 94.7% immune.
Like the Pfizer vaccine, the Moderna is an mRNA vaccine. While they both work in the same manner, they are not the same vaccines. It is important not to mix them unless there are no other options. There is currently not enough data to suggest that mixing mRNA vaccines would be safe.
If your first vaccine shot is Moderna, your second vaccine shot should be Moderna as well. So long as you follow the instructions on your vaccination card and return to the same location for your second shot (with your vaccination card in hand), you will get the correct second shot.
Johnson & Johnson
The Johnson & Johnson vaccine was developed with the cooperation of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center by Janssen, a Belgium-based division of Johnson & Johnson. It was authorized for use in the United States on February 27, 2021.
This vaccine is a viral vector vaccine. This technology was invented a decade ago by the scientists at Beth Israel Deaconess in Boston. It works similarly to the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines in that all three trick your body into created the COVID-19-specific spiked proteins.
While Pfizer and Moderna use mRNA as the delivery device, Johnson & Johnson use what is basically a fake virus called Adenovirus 26 (Ad26). It is harmless and engineered to be a delivery system for vaccines. It acts like a shell that can be filled with vaccination material. It has previously been used against Ebola and other diseases.
Unlike Pfizer and Moderna, the Johnson & Johnson vaccine requires only one shot. According to the CDC, the Johnson & Johnson vaccine was 66.3% effective in its clinical trials.
The Path Ahead
The work to get us to this point has been nothing short of monumental. We all owe an enormous debt of gratitude to the scientific, medical, and health professionals for getting effective vaccines to us in record time.
This amazing work is still on-going. There are currently two additional vaccines in Phase 3 trials. They could get EUA soon. Early tests are also being conducted on COVID-19 vaccines for children. Several booster shots are in development to be used if necessary.
The future looks to be filled with several more vaccines before the year is over. Couple that with the growing vaccination rates across the country, and it is beginning to look a lot like success.
I have said it before, and I will say it again: the arrival of these vaccines is cause for celebration but not relaxation. We must remain vigilant in our fight against the spread of COVID-19.
These vaccines are new, and that means all the data we have on them is also new. We are getting more data every day, but we do not yet know if vaccination confers a lack of contagiousness. You may very well be capable of passing along COVID-19 while never getting sick yourself.
We must continue to contact trace, test for infections, and track recovery. We still need a comprehensive national policy for immunity tracking to ensure not just that everyone is vaccinated but that everyone is presently immune.
Without these measures in place and continued vigilance in the face of this virus, we run the risk of igniting another outbreak. We simply cannot stop now.
Please get vaccinated as soon as possible. For information on how to find your nearest vaccination location, please check the CDC website. Join me next time when I’ll take a look at the state of COVID-19 itself.
Marvin S. Hausman, MD, is an immunologist and board-certified urological surgeon. He has more than 30 years of drug research and development experience with various pharmaceutical companies, including Bristol-Myers International, Mead-Johnson Pharmaceutical Co., E.R. Squibb, Medco Research, and Axonyx. Dr. Hausman founded Medco Research, which in the 1980s became one of the top contract research organizations (CRO) and a successful pharmaceutical company. At Axonyx, Dr. Hausman successfully licensed in and developed inhibitors for acetyl and butyrylcholinesterase and the drug Posiphen®, a compound that inhibits synthesis of amyloid precursor protein (APP). Dr. Hausman has done residencies in General Surgery at Mt. Sinai Hospital in New York and in Urological Surgery at UCLA Medical Center. He received his medical degree from New York University School of Medicine.
*DISCLAIMER: This information should not be considered comprehensive and is not a substitute for discussing these matters with your doctor or medical professional. Please consult with your insurance company, your doctors, and all applicable health professionals for personalized advice and information regarding COVID-19 and your health.
- https://www.cdc.gov/vaccinesafety/ensuringsafety/history/index.html – one
- https://covid.cdc.gov/covid-data-tracker/ – datatracker-home