By: Kathryn Ho

In December 2019, China reported the first case of a novel Coronavirus, COVID-19. The virus has quickly spread and became a worldwide pandemic. COVID has infected over 28 million people in the United States. 2.5 million people have died from COVID-19 worldwide, including more than half a million deaths in the United States alone as of late February 2021.

“The pandemic with COVID-19 is the worst public health issue we have seen in the last 100 years, resulting in millions of deaths worldwide,” says Dr. Marcus Zervos, Division Head Infectious Diseases, Henry Ford Hospital and Assistant Dean of Global Affairs at Wayne State University School of Medicine. 

“All of us need to do whatever we can to defeat the virus.” Many people do not realize the long-term damaging effects of COVID. “Some people remain sick for several months and longer,” says Dr. Zervos. 

In addition to the devastating impacts, COVID continues to rampage our society in numerous ways. A new University of Southern California study found that the impact of Coronavirus on the U.S. economy could be 3-5 trillion dollars over the next two years. 

According to the Pew Research Center, 15% of Americans lost their jobs due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The virus has shut down many buildings, restaurants, social interactions, and significantly impacted student education. 

The Center for Disease Control (CDC) experts have given scientific guidance on how to slow the spread of COVID by social distancing and wearing masks. Numerous people in the country have not followed these guidelines and are not consistently wearing masks. As a result, cases and deaths have escalated over the last six months. Many have turned their hope to creating the COVID vaccine to prevent the spread and the number of future cases.

According to the National Institute of Health (NIH), the average time to develop a new vaccine takes up to a decade. To fight the pandemic, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reports the United States Government has invested over 10 billion dollars in creating and manufacturing the vaccine. Several different companies were successful in creating and manufacturing COVID vaccines. It only took months to create the vaccine, which is record-breaking in speed. 

The arrival of the COVID-19 vaccine in December 2021 brought new hope to a desperate situation. The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines both use a new mRNA technology. This method uses genetic material called messenger RNA. These are the first successful vaccines to use mRNA, but scientists have studied mRNA vaccine technology for decades.

Many believe that the vaccine is unsafe because of the new technology. It is essential to know that the vaccine does not change our genetic code, nor can it infect anyone with COVID. “The vaccines have gone through all of the studies needed to show that they are safe and effective,” Dr. Zervos says. “It has already been safely given to nearly 200 million people worldwide.”

According to the CDC, more than 72 million doses of Pfizer and Moderna vaccines have been administered in the last three months, resulting in the vaccination of 15% of the United States. A third vaccine, Johnson & Johnson, recently received approval in late February.

When getting the vaccine, a person can not get COVID-19 as the vaccine does not contain a live virus. Many clinical trials have been done testing the vaccine and have been proven the vaccine to be safe. 

As with most vaccines, there are potential side effects. In the clinical trial involving some 44,000 people, typical side effects were pain where they got the shot, fatigue, headache, chills, fever, and joint and muscle pain, says the FDA. These symptoms were all described as temporary and only lasted for a short time.

The two vaccines using the mRNA technology, Pfizer and Moderna, require two shots to reach a 95% efficacy. In the clinical trials, the vaccine prevented 95% of the cases of COVID in those who have received the vaccine. The COVID vaccine is even more effective than vaccines used for other infections. In contrast, the flu vaccine is only 40-60% efficacious, according to the CDC. Johnson & Johnson uses a different technology that requires only one shot.

“The vaccine is the best way to protect ourselves, others around us, and defeat the virus,” says Dr. Zervos.

The distribution of the vaccine is in multiple phases. The CDC determined the order of people based on the risk. The vaccine supply is limited, so they prioritized the people that needed it most. 

Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Health, estimates that at least 70-90% of everyone in the United States will need to be vaccinated to stop the virus’s spread and overcome the pandemic.

Recently, several new variant strains of COVID-19 have emerged worldwide and already spread to the United States. It is not clear how effective the new vaccines will be against these strains. However, according to Dr. Fauci, getting vaccinated as quickly as possible is the greatest hope we have to stop the spread and the mutation of the virus.

“You need to get vaccinated when it becomes available as quickly and as expeditiously as possible throughout the country,” says Dr. Fauci. “The reason for that is viruses cannot mutate if they do not replicate.”

One of the leading causes of people getting COVID is people not consistently wearing masks. “Not adhering to distancing and being around others when sick,” Dr. Zervos says, is another major cause.

It is vital to continue wearing masks and social distancing whenever leaving the house. Most people are getting COVID from friends and extended family members as they are more likely to disregard these recommendations when around them. 

Dr. Zervos advises that we all follow the safety guidelines. “COVID-19 has been hard on all of us. Many of us have lost loved ones; we need to do all we can to reduce any infection. Always wearing masks and getting vaccinated is our best hope.”

COVID-19 Under a Microscope

COVID-19 Vaccine: 6 Facts

  • The COVID-19 vaccines are proven to be safe and effective. They have gone through the FDA process and met all the safety standards. The clinical trials and safety reviews took the same amount of time as other vaccines.
  • COVID-19 mRNA vaccines do not change our DNA in any way
  • It is possible to get reinfected with COVID, so experts recommend everyone take the vaccine and continue masking. 
  • Masking, handwashing, and physical distancing remain necessary until most of the country takes the vaccine and develops immunity. 
  • None of the authorized and recommended COVID-19 vaccines contain the live virus. The vaccines cannot cause COVID infection.
  • None of the vaccines can cause a positive COVID-19 test. 

Source: Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)