COVID-19 and the New Vaccine: What You Should Know

The COVID-19 virus has devastated the lives of thousands of Americans. Many have been put in the hospital. Others have been out of work for weeks and, unfortunately, untimely deaths of many citizens have occurred. This powerful virus was first seen in China during winter of last year, and has slowly made its way across the world, spreading into the United States. The virus is a powerful form of pneumonia that affects, primarily, the lungs of an infected individual. Those infected with the virus can experience a host of symptoms, ranging from inability to breathe, dry cough, and low oxygen saturation, to having no symptoms at all.

Who Is Affected?

Virtually every age group has been affected by the virus, ranging from infants, to adults, and also to senior citizens. In the older population of seniors, the most deaths have been reported by the CDC, with over 87,000 people 85 and older dying of COVID-19 in the United States. However, even younger people have died of the virus, making it virtually impossible to predict whether someone will be safe from the COVID-19 virus, or if they will become another victim of the deadly disease. However, some studies have shown that those who are younger, don’t have pre-existing conditions, and don’t smoke or drink have a higher likelihood of surviving the virus and not being hospitalized.

Where Is the Virus Spreading?

The COVID-19 virus is highly contagious, and according to the CDC, can be spread by simply coming in contact with an individual and speaking to them for 15 minutes. This is because the COVID-19 virus is found in the droplets of an individual, and these droplets can spread when someone sneezes, talks, or eats around others. In addition, the cold weather has caused a surge in cases, where people indoors are now contracting the virus from others who are also indoors, either co-workers, family, or friends. The CDC has also shown that 50% of cases of COVID-19 transmissions are from people who are asymptomatic, or pre-symptomatic and show no symptoms currently of the virus. This can happen anywhere, but for those who work in the healthcare setting, ranging from hospitals to in-home assistance living for seniors, should be more aware of the possibility of transmission.

What Can I Do?

Luckily, there has been some proven, effective methods to stop the transmission of COVID-19, ranging from simply wearing a mask, social distancing, and willingness to get the vaccine for COVID-19. Wearing a mask is one of the simplest and easiest things someone can do to stop the spread of COVID-19. By wearing a mask, you reduce your chances of spreading the virus by capturing particles inside your mask. As mentioned before, some 50% of cases of transmission arose from those that didn’t feel they had the virus yet because of symptoms. Wearing a mask ensures you’re not unknowingly passing the virus to someone else because you don’t feel sick yet. Surgical masks and N95 masks are also available to the public, and to healthcare workers also. Wearing a mask is required especially in cases where you’re having close face-to-face contact. For instance, visiting dermatology care services, where you might have to wear a mask until it’s time for the doctor to take a look at your skin.

In addition to masks, social distancing of six feet and preventing large gatherings is another proven way to stop the spread of the virus. When people choose to gather in close quarters, the risk of COVID-19 transmission goes up significantly. The CDC has shown that restaurants and coffee shops are the biggest factors of community transmission due to people gathering and eating close together. Because of this, it’s important for everyone to do their part in continuing to social distance, wear a mask, and stop gathering. If need be, make some online restaurant reservations and take your food to-go to enjoy at home and minimize the risk of transmission.

The Vaccine

After billions of dollars and countless hours poured into research, the first COVID-19 vaccine was issued in the United States on December 14, 2020. The vaccine was given to nurse Sandra Lindsay’s at Long Island Jewish Medical Center, making her the first American to get the vaccine outside a clinical trial. Lindsay said she wanted to get the vaccine as a nurse and healthcare worker. Others working in the medical industry said they wanted to get the vaccine in remembrance of those that have died while they were being treated, and for family members they haven’t been able to see. The vaccine was made by company Pfizer with the German company BioNTech, and is 95% effective with two doses of the vaccine.

Why Get Vaccinated?

Recent surveys show that only 45-61% of people are willing to get vaccinated. This comes as a result of distrust in the COVID-19 vaccine, as it was made in record time and rushed into manufacturing. However, though the vaccine was only in the testing phase III process for two months as opposed to the regular six months, even those that took the vaccine and were over the age of 70 had positive reactions. The decision to get the vaccine is an important one to end the pandemic, as the vaccine has the power to prevent infection, reduce the severity of the illness if someone does get the disease, and interrupt the chain of transmission of COVID-19, according to Dr. Jaime Sepulveda, Professor of epidemiology and biostatistics at UCSF. If people want to wait to get the vaccine until more tests are done, it’s better if they know whether they are at a high-risk of contracting the COVID-19 virus or not.

Who Should Get Vaccinated?

Everyone should get vaccinated at some point. As Governor Cuomo of New York said, “The vaccine doesn’t work if it’s in the vial.” Someone who works a travel nursing job, for instance, is both working in the medical industry as well as traveling, making it important for them to be vaccinated to ensure their safety, as well as the safety of others. Those who don’t work in the medical industry, and are otherwise healthy adults, do have a lower risk of having negative effects of the virus. Nevertheless, it’s still important for them to get the vaccine in order to create herd immunity.

How Does the Vaccine Work?

There are different types of vaccines available. Most people understand and know of the concept of a live vaccine, which is where a small, weakened version of a virus is introduced into the body, and the body then is able to make antibodies against the disease. However, the COVID-19 vaccine works differently. There is no SARS-COV-2 virus injected, but rather, mRNA is used to give the body’s DNA instructions on how to form the antibodies for the COVID-19 virus. This means that there is no way the body can start to make COVID-19 and cause someone to get sick. This is also great news for those that might already have COVID-19 immunity and not know it. This is a big possibility, as many people with the virus show no symptoms and didn’t even know they had it in the past.

What Is Herd Immunity?

According to the World Health Organization, herd immunity is the concept by which a virus is no longer able to infect individuals because it is not spreading to other people who have been vaccinated. When someone is injected with a vaccine, this vaccine tricks our body into thinking it is fighting the actual disease. Once a vaccinated individual’s body recognizes the outside virus, it forms antibodies that are able to fight off the virus, developing an immunity to it. Those who get the vaccine, however, don’t have to get sick and suffer the negative consequences of the virus, but might have some side effects such as fatigue or a mild form of the illness. People who get the vaccine are able to be protected from the disease and not pass it on, breaking the chain of transmission that is necessary for a virus to survive. It takes a certain percent of immunized people to stop the virus from spreading. For instance, in the case of polio, 80% of people need to be vaccinated to stop the spread of the polio disease. In the case of measles, 95% must be vaccinated. For COVID-19, it is still uncertain what this percentage must be, but plans are to get as many people vaccinated as possible.

When Can I Get Vaccinated?

The COVID-19 vaccine is brand new, and currently is being implemented in phases. Because healthcare workers are most vulnerable, such as oral surgeons that are in close contact to an individual’s mouth, or emergency room doctors that deal with heavily sick and symptomatic patients, they are receiving the vaccine first.

Though you still cannot receive the vaccine from your primary care health provider yet, plans are in place to start making the vaccine available to the general public as well.

What If I Can’t Get the Vaccine?

As mentioned earlier, herd immunity takes into account the inability of some people to be vaccinated, and no population needs to be 100% immunized for herd immunity to work. With this in mind, it’s important to know whether or not you should receive the COVID-19 vaccine or not. Of those that received the Pfizer vaccine, two had a severe allergic reaction to the vaccine. Though they are stabilized now and are doing fine, it’s important to check with your doctor in case you have severe allergies. If you depend on your epi-pen, for instance, if you have had severe allergic reactions to vaccines in the past, or have severe allergies to things such as latex, you still might be fine to take the vaccine. However, it’s important to always check with your doctor for the best advice on your health. If you are immunocompromised, talk to your doctor or vaccine provider about these concerns also. As the CDC states, “Immunocompromised individuals may still receive COVID-19 vaccination if they have no contraindications to vaccination. However, they should be counseled about the unknown vaccine safety profile and effectiveness in immunocompromised populations, as well as the potential for reduced immune responses and the need to continue to follow all current guidance to protect themselves against COVID-19.”

What If I Get Sick Before the Vaccine?

Unfortunately, since the vaccine won’t be available to the general public right away, there’s still the possibility that someone could get sick before they receive the vaccine. Though the vaccine is now available, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t stop going to the doctor or hospital if you feel sick or are developing symptoms. It’s important to follow-up for any pre-existing conditions, including your asthma doctors if you have asthma and are susceptible to the virus. Or, visit the emergency room if you notice any troubling signs of the virus, including dry cough, trouble breathing. Even before you get the vaccine, you should get tested for the virus through regular testing. COVID-19 testing is now widely available in drive-thru test sites, and results can be made available within hours or days. In addition, if you visit the emergency room for other reasons, such as to see an orthopedic surgeon, it’s important to understand that healthcare workers are taking the best precautions for treating patients coming in.

Will the Vaccine Cost Me Anything?

If you’re wondering whether or not you’ll be able to afford the vaccine, you shouldn’t worry much if you’re in the United States. Federal aid has been granted to make the vaccine free for everyone in the years 2020 and 2021. The federal government invested $10 billion in research, production, and distribution of COVID-19 vaccines. Under the CARES act, which stands for the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economy Security Act, the vaccines should be free to the public. In the future, it is possible that the vaccine will be treated like the flu vaccine, and covered under medicare or other insurance if you carry it. For now, it’s important to know that all clinics and hospitals that have agreed to accept the vaccines must not charge anyone anything to have them vaccinated for COVID-19. This is yet another effort to stop the spread of the deadly virus, and ensure that the chain of transmission is broken wherever possible.