Thank you for your continued efforts to keep our campus safe. We know that wearing a mask, social distance, avoiding large gatherings and washing your hands are all important to disrupt the spread of COVID-19. Let’s continue to do our part.
As a reminder, if you plan to return to campus either for an in-person class or to visit the library or bookstore, you are required to submit a negative, lab-confirmed Covid test to Kathy Lambert (email@example.com). For more information about COVID-19 testing locations in Wake County, click here.
As we return to in person operations, we encourage everyone to review the Return to Campus COVID-19 Guidelines and to be sure you are being vigilant about upholding your responsibilities to keep our communities safe by wearing your mask, washing our hands, and keeping our distance.
COVID Corner with Dr. Scott, WPU University Physician
We have received many questions about the COVID-19 vaccine. Here I will try to share some background information and insights into the vaccine.
Thank you and let’s keep our community protected. —Dr. Scott
When I was a little boy, the polio vaccine was invented (yes, I’m really old! :-).The first day it became available in my hometown, my mom loaded me and my 3 siblings into the family station wagon and drove us to the doctor’s office to get the vaccine. As you would expect with 4 kids under the age of 6, there was a lot of wailing and drama following the shots. I remember seeing my mom’s reflection in the rear view mirror on the way home, and realizing she was crying. I asked her why she was crying, as “We’re the ones that got the shots!” It turned out, of course, they were tears of happiness because for the first time she didn’t have to fear her children contracting polio, that lethal and crippling disease that was the scourge of swimming pools and other summertime activities.
That moment has stuck with me throughout my career as a physician. Vaccines are the most impactful medical intervention of all time. It’s estimated that the smallpox vaccine alone saves 5-10 million lives a year. The impact from the measles, tetanus, influenza, etc. vaccines is almost incalculable. Now, in the midst of the worst pandemic in over a century, vaccines have been developed in record time, offering a safe route out of this challenge we are experiencing (and honestly bringing tears to my eyes the day they were first administered). I will be there to get my dose just as soon as my name comes up in the queue. So let me answer a few questions about the vaccine.
Q: How do the vaccines work?
A: All vaccines work by taking a small, unique piece of the virus and presenting it to an individual’s immune system. An immune reaction follows, and thereafter any exposure to that viral protein will elicit an immune response destroying the virus which carries it.
The Moderna and Pfizer vaccines use mRNA technology, which has been under study for the past 10 years or so and is being utilized for the first time here. In these vaccines, genetic code for the COVID-19’s spike protein (which we all have grown to recognize and loathe) has been attached to mRNA. The mRNA goes into the immune cells and actually results in spike protein production. This non-infectious protein is presented to the immune system, up close and personal, and identified as a bad actor. So any subsequent appearance of a virus with that spike protein will elicit an immune response, destroying the virus and preventing infection.
The Johnson & Johnson vaccine works differently (using more traditional vaccine methodology). It uses a modified adenovirus (common cold virus), which can’t make you sick but carries a protein from the spike. This enables the immune system to manufacture antibodies against that protein, and thus against COVID-19. Because the spike protein doesn’t actually penetrate the immune cell like the mRNA vaccines do, the immune response is not quite as dramatic but it is still remarkably effective. Additionally, vaccines produced by this “adenovirus-vectored technology” are far easier to store and transport, not requiring the ultra-cold storage that mRNA vaccines do. Plus the J & J vaccine only requires a single dose, so the vaccine will be far easier to distribute and administer in rural America.
Q: How effective are the COVID-19 vaccines?
A: Vaccines vary in their effectiveness and duration. The Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines are remarkably effective and appear to give 95+% protection against contracting the virus, which is as close to 100% protection as you can get against dying or having severe complications. The Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which should be available in the next 1-2 months, is about 75% effective in preventing infection, which doesn’t sound as good. However, it appears to be 90+% effective in preventing severe infections and death, which makes it a remarkably effective vaccine by all other criteria. We won’t know about the duration of protection of any of the vaccines until they have had time to be studied and evaluated.
The appearance of COVID-19 variants in different parts of the world has resulted in obvious concern as to whether these vaccines will still be as effective. It appears that the mRNA vaccines are, but the adenovirus-vectored vaccines are more variable, especially against the South African variant. This means that more than one vaccine dose will likely be required.
Q: What are the side effects of getting the vaccine?
A: All three vaccines have similar side effects, including injection site pain and flu-like symptoms lasting 1-2 days. Allergic reactions, some serious but all treatable, have occurred in a small percentage. A small number of persons (fewer than 40, out of over 40 million doses of vaccine administered in the US) have developed a disorder of platelets following immunization. All but one person have recovered thus far. It’s not certain, but suspected, that this is related to the vaccination.
Q: Should you get the vaccine when available?
A: I’m certain that you know what my answer is, so I won’t bore you. But all vaccination programs require that a minimum percentage of the population be vaccinated in order to prevent the virus from “hanging out” in a sizable percentage of the community, eager to leap upon an unvaccinated person and perpetuate the spread. This concept, called herd immunity, is thought to require that 70+% of the population be vaccinated against COVID-19, though this is still theory at present. What is fact, and not theory, is that over 460,000 Americans (and almost 10,000 North Carolinians) have died to date from COVID-19 infections. This is a crisis in our country that won’t be solved by wishful thinking or denial. Please get the vaccine when available to you, continue to wear masks, and do all the other things you can to get this crisis under control and behind us.
Ask the Expert: Submit your COVID related health questions to Dr. Scott and questions will be answered in future communications. SUBMIT YOUR QUESTIONSWe will continue to send out weekly emails to include updates and highlights of timely information to ensure a successful semester. These communications will continue to be added to covid.peace.edu/communications.
Lori H. McClaren, Ph.D.
Executive Director of the School of Professional Studies