OU Health’s Chief of Infectious Diseases addresses questions, concerns regarding Covid-19 vaccine

OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – OU Health’s Chief of Infectious Diseases, Dr. Douglas Drevets, virtually sat down with KFOR to address some frequent questions and concerns the public may have regarding the Covid-19 vaccine.

The vaccine is set to roll out in the coming weeks, which has some people concerned with the speediness of its creation.

Dr. Drevets said the quick turnaround is due to advances in medicine:

“I mean, I hear that a lot. ‘It’s been developed so fast,’ and this gives people, as you said, discomfort because it was quote, ‘so fast.’ So let me explain a little bit why it is so fast and what’s different about that. So back in the day with traditional vaccines it took literally years to identify a particular germ, such as, say, polio virus, and then there was no way to understand its genetic material. You had just to grow it up and figure out how to grow it up and then it took years to figure out what part of the body’s immune response was actually seeing,, because when you get an infection your body’s immune response sees very particular parts of the germ, and these are called the, you know in antibodies they’re neutralizing epitopes is the buzzword, but they’re the parts that your body can use to make an antibody against or a cell against to kill the germ. That process used to take years. And so it literally took years to get the point where you could figure out what part of a germ to use in a vaccine, and then you would go through this very long and tedious process of experimentation first in what are called preclinical models: mice, rabbits, monkeys perhaps, before you get into humans, and once you get into preclinical models the time has been roughly the same with other vaccines to this vaccine. But then the other huge advance now is that through Operation Warp Speed the federal government pre-ordered huge numbers of doses of vaccine so that the manufacturers, when they identified what was going to work or what they thought was going to work, they already started the manufacturing process to acquire all the raw materials, set up the processes and the plants to make hundreds of millions of doses of vaccine. Under typical circumstances that wouldn’t even start until the phase three trials finished. So, and you can imagine, that if we had done that by the typical process, you know, just now would the companies say, ‘well, OK. Now we know that it works, we need to make 500,000,000 doses of this. So, we need to order this, we need to order that. We need to set up manufacturing plants to do this,’ and it would take another year to get there. So part of the reason it’s so fast is because microbiology, immunology, genetics has advanced tremendously from when other vaccines have been made, and part of it was that the federal government fronted the money to a variety of companies, quite a few companies in actuality, to go ahead and start scaling up even before they knew it was going to work. The idea being that if that vaccine didn’t work, well, then you’ve lost that money. But that was the risk that was taken early on. So, yes it’s been fast, but there are very good reasons why it’s been fast.”

What can people expect once they get the vaccine?

Dr. Drevets said it will be a similar to getting other current vaccines, as in you may experience a few symptoms:

“So we’ll find out more as soon as the FDA releases the information from the EUA, and that will be done as soon as the vaccines, assuming that they’ll be approved. So right now the information I have, the best information I have, is from the British Government, the UK’s vaccine-authorizing body, the information they’ve put out. So yes, it’s going to be very much like a typical vaccine. Most people it’s going to hurt when it goes in. Now, when I say it’s going to hurt, I don’t think that this is, ‘gee, I’m going to need to be on pain medication for the next week.’ I think this is like a typical vaccine. You’re going to feel it when it goes in. You’re going to feel some injection site pain. And if you need to take something like acetaminophen or ibuprofen or Naprosyn, that would be fine, but most people are going to have that. Also, most people are going to have some fatigue, so you have this tired feeling after that. You know, this is very typical after vaccines, and I received my flu vaccine in October and yeah, I had a little bit of pain at the site and then that afternoon I just felt tired a bit, but I stayed at work and could do my job just fine. About half of folks will have a headache, and again, these are all things that are graded as mild to moderate, and so in terms of the severity of the pain, fatigue and headache, it’s not something that interrupted the people who received it, their acts of daily living or interrupted their routine. That’s how they were defined. About a third of folks can have some chills or some muscle aches, and only about one in ten had an elevated temperature.”

Why is the Covid-19 vaccine a two-step process?

Dr. Drevets said the multi-step process is common for vaccines and can actually help reduce side effects:

“Both the Pfizer product and the Moderna product are two-stage vaccines, either three or four weeks apart, depending upon which one it is. And, you know, we have many other vaccines for adults that are two-step or three-step processes: Hepatitis B is a three-step process, Hepatitis A is a two-step vaccine, Shingles is a two-step vaccine. So this is not uncommon at all. It uses the concept of prime and boost to really get the immune system going, but also to reduce side effects for that first dose.” 

Will the vaccine affect you differently based on whether or not you have had Covid-19?

Dr. Drevets said that current studies show the response to the vaccine is similar for both people who have previously had Covid-19 and those who haven’t:

“In the clinical studies they reported no change in, say, adverse events in people who received the vaccine, if they’d already had covid. And if you already had it, you had as good a response as folks who had never had it, or should I perhaps turn that around and say if you’d never had it, you had as good a response. That said, a 95% of response is pretty good, and it will take lots and lots of people to tell the difference between 95% effective and 98% effective. So what I’m generally counseling folks who’ve had the infection is yes, my advice is to go ahead and get it, and that’s in part because we still don’t yet know how long immunity to natural infection lasts. There are good data showing that the response is quite variable. Some people produce very high levels of antibodies and some people produce very low levels of antibodies. And there are also good data to show that people who had really mild symptoms tend to have lower antibody levels than people who had more noticeable symptoms. And you know with this virus, a good percentage of people have no symptoms, and so these are folks who probably will be more than likely to reacquire the infection, and even if they don’t feel sick, they can still transmit it to somebody else who is susceptible. So I think even if you did have the infection, my advice would be to go ahead and feel confident enough that the vaccine will not hurt you, and that it will indeed boost your natural immunity already and help you go on.”

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