December 26, 2020

Going viral

As the vaccination campaign revs up, a new epidemic is occurring in health care workers: selfie taking while being vaccinated. I joined that viral happening today. I didn’t feel a thing- maybe because I was too busy taking my selfie. Woo hoo! Afterward Jamie and I drove up to the Skagit Valley for a few hours of bird watching, hoping to see the snow geese. Instead, we saw trumpeter swans, a tree full of bald eagles, harriers hunting, herons posing, and a close up of a rough legged hawk. So cool.

Then we went home to Seattle and saw the new local celebrity: the snowy owl who has made their winter home on a roof top on Queen Anne. We viewed it along with others who came for the view. Fortunately, the neighborhood is supportive of the viewing. And then I took a nap. All in all, a very satisfying day. I feel fine. Maybe my arm is a little sore, maybe I feel a little tired, but no complaints really. I do feel relief- that is the biggest emotion, along with giddiness and optimism. I am also participating in an app called V-safe, an after vaccination tracker from the CDC that monitors for side effects. The more information gathered the better for education.

I heard today that more than 2 million Americans have been vaccinated, only rare serious reactions in just a few people. Now only 250 million more or so to go in the US and 3 billion in the world.

The shot itself did not really hurt any more than a flu vaccine. It is intra-muscular so that the messenger RNA particles enter into the muscle cells. Those RNA particles are fragile, sticking around only long enough to induce that cell to produce proteins that are shaped like the spike protein on the coronavirus. (That is why they are called “coronaviruses” because those spikes can look like a crown). After the spike proteins are released, the body’s immune system sees these new proteins, realizing they are foreign and don’t belong. The many different immune cells start to attack those spikes and make antibodies against them that will be remembered if the body were to be infected by the real virus. This New York Times interactive explains how it works with illustrations which are helpful. A booster is thought to be needed to ensure the memory cells know what to do. The interesting thing is that the immune system makes more than one kind of antibody, including antibodies that target different aspects of the spike protein. Because the antibodies will attack different parts of the spike protein, knowledgable scientists are not too worried that the new viral variant spreading in the UK and elsewhere will be immune to the vaccine at this time. Point mutations happen regularly but it will take some time for the mutations to increase enough for a new vaccine to be needed. We just don’t know how long that will take.

The good news is that most people have immunity for at least 8 months after infection and very few people get re-infected, which is essentially all the data we have right now. The hope is that the vaccine will induce immunity for at least that long as well. The big questions are whether the vaccine prevents transmission or just symptomatic infections and is the reason, people vaccinated still need to wear masks. Families of health care workers are breathing sighs of relief at the same time everyone needs to continue their protective measures, so no one else gets infected. More data is being gathered to answer that question. The original studies were not designed to show prevention of transmission. They just needed to show the vaccines worked to prevent symptomatic and severe infections, which was a simpler and faster study to gain approval. Now the work is looking at this other question.

Now the big effort to disseminate the vaccines in a fair and timely fashion begins. Deciding the order of priority is important. The good news is the CDC and FDA are considering all those factors with input from medical ethicists.

Now we need to help convince more people that the vaccines are safe and effective. That is starting to happen. Even health care workers who were hesitant before are starting to get on the vaccine train. I have jumped on and am spreading the word that it is safe and the best way to help us start to be together again. I hope you can join me. I know the wait will be worth it.

Meanwhile, wash your hands, cover your nose, keep safe six, take your selfie when it is your turn.

And finally, my caveat is that this is my experience and my opinions, which are subject to change as more information is available, and not related to the organization I work for. Thanks for reading.