Reassuring the skeptics: VCU infectious disease expert weighs in on COVID-19 vaccine

VCU health expert weighs in on COVID-19 vaccine safety

RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) - The means of ending the COVID-19 pandemic - which has caused nearly 270,000 deaths across the United States - could just be a few weeks away.

Both Pfizer Biotech and Moderna have submitted emergency use authorizations to the FDA and if approved, the first shipments of Pfizer’s vaccine could go out on Dec. 15. Moderna’s vaccine could be delivered on Dec. 22.

But there are still many who are taking the news of the vaccine going public with a heavy dose of skepticism.

“We don’t know the long-term effects truly if we’ve only had a vaccine for a couple of months,” said Longwood University student, Telia Pena. “Unless schools require them, I can’t see myself getting it anytime soon.”

Shanequa Reynolds believes there are too many unknown risks to the vaccines to warrant giving it to herself or her family if made available.

“To me, it’s just not safe for me in the same way I fear for my child. I wouldn’t want her to take it either,” said Reynolds. “You don’t know if it will make you sicker, you don’t know if it’s been tested well before they give it to us to try it.”

“I haven’t contracted it since it’s been going on, so I don’t really feel like I should take it,” said another city resident.

But VCU infectious disease professor Leigh Hylton Gravatt wants to reassure those skeptical that the vaccines by Moderna and Pfizer are safe.

“There is absolutely no way you’re going to become affected by the coronavirus by taking the coronavirus vaccine- at least with the two that are available currently,” said Hylton Gravatt.

Hylton Gravatt says this is because only a specific protein on the virus is injected into a subject when taking the vaccine. Once the protein makes its way into the body, the immune system recognizes it as COVID-19 and Hylton Gravatt says your body will begin making antibodies to fight the disease.

“Your body is still mounting a response to this outside protein, however, you are not being given the actual virus,” said Hylton Gravatt.

Research shows that both Pfizer and Moderna’s vaccines are roughly 95% effective at preventing COVID-19. Hylton Gravatt says it’s our best shot at curbing the pandemic.

“The best thing you can do if you have the opportunity to get immunized is to get immunized, it’s the same reason that we’re asking people to mask up,” said Hylton Gravatt. “It’s not just to protect you from contracting the virus, but also to protect from potentially infecting others.”

Hylton Gravatt says in order to obtain enough herd immunity against the COVID-19, there would need to be between 60-70% of individuals to take the vaccine.

Army veteran Donald McGill says he won’t take any chances because he’s seen one too many deaths not to take the vaccine when it becomes available.

“I’ve only known one person who got the virus and he’s dead, and it’s because there too many people running around with the virus and not having it checked and not covering themselves,” said McGill. “You can take it or be in the ICU like everybody else. I would take.”

Hylton Gravatt says the general public will still have plenty of time to make a decision.

“There may be some time for those people who may feel a little hesitant and want a little bit more time and data to come out before they feel comfortable taking the vaccine,” said Hylton Gravatt.

The FDA will be meeting on Dec. 10 to discuss the Pfizer vaccine and on Dec. 17 to discuss Monderna’s vaccine.

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