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A cousin shared a Facebook meme that asked why should I trust this vaccine — developed in nine months — when decades of research and development has not produced vaccines against HIV or the common cold, and vaccines against the flu aren’t highly effective?

John Snyder

John Snyder

This was my reply:

You are not alone in being concerned about this new vaccine. My doctor asked me if I would get the shots when the vaccine became available. I said yes. He said about half of his patients (mostly over 65 and at higher risk) are taking a wait and see attitude. Recent national polls suggest a similar level of concern, although willingness to take a vaccine is growing.

It is not necessarily that people are opposed to vaccination in general but because this vaccine is so new. I suspect people want to hear from friends, neighbors and family that they didn’t have any problems with getting the shots.

Although my reasons for getting vaccinated may not change your mind, I hope you will have a better understanding of why I believe it is safe for me to take it.

COVID-19 is different from the other viruses and diseases mentioned in the meme precisely because it is so deadly and because the fear of it has devastated economies throughout the world. The resulting urgency motivated governments worldwide to push the development of vaccines beginning in mid-January 2020, immediately following publication by Chinese scientists of the genetic code for the virus.

In contrast to the common flu and cold viruses, COVID-19 depends on a single protein, the spikes on its outer surface, to infect everyone in the world. Without that specific protein, the virus is not as infectious.

Those “decades of research” on the HIV, flu and common cold viruses and earlier outbreaks of other coronaviruses made it possible for Pfizer and Moderna to develop vaccines based on one specific protein. It also means that, unlike seasonal flu vaccines, the Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines should be just as effective next year as they are this year.

The other major difference from seasonal flu vaccines is that those work by injecting viral proteins from inactivated viruses into our bodies. This mixture of viral proteins then stimulates our immune system to create antibodies to the virus.

With the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, the genetic code for just the COVID-19 spike protein is injected into our bodies. Our bodies then synthesize the spike protein, and our immune system reacts to that protein specifically. This is a major reason why the effectiveness of these vaccines is so high and why the medical community is so excited about them.

These two vaccines were developed quickly in the U.S. and Europe because first, they can be manufactured in laboratory vessels rather than reproduced in eggs — like the seasonal flu vaccines — and second, governments guaranteed they would buy a million doses or more once the vaccines were proven both safe and effective in required clinical trials. Without those guarantees, the companies would not take the huge financial risks to develop a vaccine and pay for the clinical trials.

So, the shortcuts occurred in the time it took to produce enough doses for the clinical trials and the logistics for implementing the trials. I personally believe that the clinical trials were conducted, and data reviewed, as rigorously as our public safety and trust demands.

One reason I will take the shots as soon as they are available is the fact that my wife and I are both in multiple high-risk categories for this virus. This may not be the same with you, so waiting for more information on side effects makes sense.

Meanwhile, before and after getting vaccinated, I will continue to isolate, mask, social distance and wash my hands until June of 2021.