Understanding COVID-19 Vaccines

By Dr. Jeffrey Gladden

As the global pandemic rages on, my patients are anxious to learn more about COVID-19 vaccines. Vaccines offer hope for economic recovery and a return to our everyday routines. Patients are eager to protect their health and avoid serious illness. But most of my patients have some concerns about vaccine safety.

Often, my patients ask whether the vaccines are as effective as the makers claim. They want to know whether they should get the vaccine right away or delay vaccinations. Patients also ask about different vaccines and whether a particular version is superior.

Today, we’ll take a close look at COVID-19 vaccine safety and efficacy. Read on to learn more.

What vaccines are currently available?

The US healthcare system is currently distributing vaccines produced by Moderna and Pfizer. Other pharma companies are also working to develop new COVID-19 vaccines, but these new vaccines are still in clinical trials. If you receive a COVID-19 vaccine today, you’ll get the Pfizer or Moderna version.

They’re administering these mRNA vaccines through two shots. After the vaccine is injected, the virus’s genetic code enters our cells. Our body learns to make a special protein that interferes with viral attachment. If the virus can’t attach to our cells, infection can’t take place. In theory, people who receive the vaccine are immune to future COVID-19 infection.

Pfizer or Moderna vaccines appear to be effective, but it’s unclear how much protection they offer. Some statistics suggest that an efficacy rate of about 95%, but keep in mind that these vaccines are new to the market. During clinical trials, some procedures were shortened or omitted. Patients may not have been systemically exposed to COVID-19 during the testing process. This omission could affect efficacy rates.

The vaccines have still undergone rigorous safety testing. For many patients, the benefits of vaccination outweigh the risks. However, I encourage patients to do their homework before getting the vaccine. The vaccine may not be appropriate or necessary for everyone. Patients should also have realistic expectations for the vaccine. Unfortunately, the vaccine isn’t a silver bullet.

Viral mutations might limit the efficacy of the vaccine. In addition, it takes time for immunity to build. Patients should continue to take precautions, even after receiving the vaccine. Let’s discuss these topics one by one.

Who should receive the vaccines?

COVID-19 can trigger a hyperinflammatory response in some patients. This inflammation may result in hospitalization, permanent vascular damage, or death. As a rule, people over the age of 75 are at the highest risk for complications. Younger people with chronic health conditions are at risk, too.

Some individuals might also be genetically prone to inflammatory responses. In my practice, I perform genetic testing to determine to identify these patients. This type of testing can decide whether or not you’re at risk of complications. Genetic testing can help you make better choices and stay safe.

High-risk patients benefit from early vaccination. For these patients, COVID-19 immunity is a priority. But if you have an autoimmune condition, it may be wise to delay vaccination. The vaccination might trigger or worsen autoimmune issues. Your doctor can help you better understand your risk unique factors.

Understanding Viral Mutations

We already know that COVID-19 is mutating. New variants have appeared across the globe. At present, researchers believe that the vaccine will remain effective against new variants. But as new variants appear, the vaccine might not provide full protection. As a result, most of us should continue taking precautions for the next several months.

Once infection rates drop, we can start to lower our guard. For now, commonsense precautions are key. I recommend that patients continue to wear masks, wash their hands, and socially distance. These actions can help protect against deadly mutations.

Understanding the Vaccine Timeline

The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are delivered in two shots, spaced a few weeks apart. It takes time for your body to build immunity after vaccination. Patients achieve peak immunity two weeks after the second shot. If you socialize shortly after vaccination, you might become infected before immunity kicks in. Continue to wear your mask and avoid gatherings in the meantime. Taking precautions can keep your family healthy as we continue the fight against COVID-19.