By Austin Fenner
The public has many questions about the coronavirus and the vaccine. The news on the global pandemic virus and the vaccine can deliver a mind-bending punch on how we cope today and in the future as people struggle to breathe, work, and maintain social distance protocols.
Henry Redel, MD, chief of Infectious Disease at Saint Peter’s University Hospital in New Brunswick, NJ, provided answers to questions facing the nation during this public health crisis giving our readers a coronavirus vaccine primer.
Q. What is your opinion of the effectiveness of the rollout of the vaccine?
A. The rollout has been slower than most of us would have hoped, but it’s a major undertaking vaccinating an entire population.
Q. Should we be alarmed? Can things get worse and why?
A. Things can always get worse, but right now, I think they will improve as there are no major holidays that involve large gatherings in the next two months.
Q. What does everyone have to do daily in order for the country to win the fight against the virus?
A. Everyone must social distance, wear masks, and get vaccinated. It is also important to participate in contact tracing if positive or suspected cases are known to be in the community.
Q. Are Black and Brown people skeptical about taking the vaccine or are they more cautious? Is cautious a more accurate phrase to use? Why is this so and who is responsible to educate people to win their confidence?
A. Some people are skeptical; there has been a lower uptake of the vaccine in these communities with only 3% of New Jersey’s vaccine recipients identifying as Black and 5% identifying as Latinx. I would want to reassure everyone that these vaccines have passed the same rigorous vaccine trials that all FDA approved vaccines go through, and the trials included approximately 30% Black and Latinx people in the studies. It is important to educate everyone about how the studies were done and how they can help protect people’s lives and keep their families and communities safe.
Q. What is in the vaccine and why does it work?
A. The vaccine is an mRNA vaccine, meaning it is not a live virus or a gene. It is a genetic code that is read by some of our cells which then produce a protein (the same one that coronavirus produces). Then our body makes antibodies to identify and launch an immune response against that protein, which protects us if we are ever exposed to the coronavirus in the future.
Q. What is herd immunity and what happens to society if we never approach that threshold?
A. Herd immunity is a concept that if a certain amount of people are immune to a disease, then it is hard for the disease to spread among people. For COVID-19, experts estimate that 70-80% of the population need confirmed protection (either vaccinated or recently infected) to achieve herd immunity.
Q. How does the medical community’s experience with HIV/AIDS inform our fight with COVID?
A. Many researchers and advocates from the HIV pandemic have used their skills and experiences to help us in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic with one of the most prominent being Dr. Anthony Fauci.
Q. We have heard of SARS and Ebola and now COVID. Do we have to worry about a new and unknown threat?
A. The medical and scientific communities are always looking for the next threat. It is important to remain vigilant and aware, but for right now, the public should focus on this pandemic and what each one of us individually can do to prevent its spread.