Health care workers, residents and staff of long-term care facilities have been receiving COVID-19 vaccinations from Samaritan Health Services, retail pharmacies and other partners since mid-December.
It’s estimated that vaccines will be available for the general public by spring 2021 at the earliest, with high-risk groups receiving the vaccine before that time.
Data for the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines shows them to be 95% effective in preventing symptomatic infection from the SARS-COV-2 virus.
Adam Brady, MD, infectious disease specialist and chair of the Samaritan Coronavirus Task Force, emphasizes that the vaccines went through all of the necessary steps of traditional vaccine trials, just on a faster timeline.
“Due to the public health emergency, the vaccine development and trial process was accelerated but it is important to stress that none of the regular steps were omitted,” Brady said. “The acceleration was facilitated by billions of dollars in funding to help finance the research and study of these vaccines. There was also a large pool of people willing to participate in the clinical trials and plenty of infections in the world to more quickly help determine if the vaccine is effective.”
Traditionally, vaccine development begins with preclinical studies, which can take years, Brady said. After this comes another five to seven years of clinical studies divided into three phases, with each phase lasting one to three years.
“This length of time is often due to hold-ups involving patients willing to participate, ineffectiveness of vaccines, or funding to move the clinical trials forward,” Brady said. “These three phases are followed by another one to two years for the FDA to review, which is then followed by planning for mass production.”
Some side effects have been observed from both vaccines.
“The most common side effects are pain at the injection site, tiredness, headache, muscle pain, chills, joint pain and fever,” Brady said. “It’s important to note that these side effects can be more common after the second dose than the first dose.”
Time between doses depends on the vaccine received. With the Pfizer vaccine, individuals must get the shots 21 days apart. With Moderna, it’s 28 days.
Does Brady recommend the vaccines? Yes.
“I was comfortable getting the vaccine myself, and we will continue to be transparent with the data we receive about the vaccines’ effectiveness and safety,” Brady said. “But I’m excited about it. This is one of the few tools we have that can stop this pandemic and get our lives back to normal quickly, but it will be important for all of us to do our part and get vaccinated when it becomes available so this can become a reality.”
In the meantime, Brady encourages everyone to continue good hand hygiene, wearing a mask when outside their home and maintaining physical distancing between themselves and others until vaccines are available on a broad scale.
For more information about Samaritan Health Services response to the coronavirus pandemic, visit samhealth.org/Coronavirus.