What You Need to Know About the COVID-19 Vaccines
Misinformation and contradicting headlines make it challenging to understand the current state of COVID-19 in the United States and around the world. The complexities of vaccine distribution have made the situation even more confusing. To help provide clarity, Theodore Bailey, MD, JD, MA, Chief, Division of Infectious Diseases at GBMC, spoke with WMAR News host, Mark Roper. Dr. Bailey answered questions about the differences between Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, vaccine development, and why some safety recommendations have changed over time.
Many have asked about the differences between Pfizer and Moderna and whether one brand of COVID-19 vaccine is “better” than the other. Some question whether they should wait until they can receive a specific vaccine. When asked his opinion on the subject, Dr. Bailey asserted that people should not wait. “If you have access to the vaccine, getting vaccinated sooner rather than later is the priority,” he said. “The margins between the two are very subtle, so the most important thing is to be vaccinated.”
While the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines have slight differences, they have both proven to be highly effective in preventing illness from COVID-19. “The big picture – that these are 90+% effective – is well confirmed, and that’s the most important part,” Dr. Bailey explained. He added that the only people who need to be concerned with the distinctions between the two manufacturers are those who have previously had allergic reactions to vaccines. He emphasized that while these are rare, it is important to talk to your doctor if you have had negative reactions in the past. In that case, it’s necessary to pinpoint what you are allergic to and make sure the ingredient isn’t in either of the vaccines.
Both authorized vaccines use mRNA technology to provide immunity against COVID-19. Because this technology is new, there has been skepticism about its safety. Dr. Bailey assured viewers that the vaccines are safe. “The scientific goal line – the standard of evidence that we were looking for – was not altered or decreased,” he explained. “These vaccines are well proven by current scientific standards. We didn’t compromise the science.” In order collect more data in a shorter period of time, the scientific trials included higher numbers of participants who consented to an increased level of risk. The data from those trials provided concrete evidence that the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are both safe and effective. Researchers continue to follow trial participants to gather more data as time passes.
Dr. Bailey went on to address concerns about safety recommendations changing over time. He acknowledged that some new recommendations contradict old ones, but stressed that this was due to the situation evolving. “It’s not just that the statements change,” he said, “it’s the situations relevant to those recommendations are changing underneath them.” Mask wearing is a prime example of this. In the early days of the pandemic, health organizations were asking people not to wear masks unless they were in high-risk situations. Dr. Bailey explained that this was because COVID-19 had not spread to most areas in the United States and it was very unlikely that someone would be exposed if they washed their hands and maintained physical distance. There was worry that people wearing PPE in low-risk situations would cause a shortage for those in “hot spots” during a time when mass production was not yet available.
The rapid spread of COVID-19 made it necessary to update this stance. “The responsible medical response is to be looking at new information that’s coming in,” Dr. Bailey expressed. “Healthcare is always learning and trying to be better. We are never stopping, which is why recommendations may change over time.” Now that the infection rate is evenly distributed across the United States, there is a significantly higher chance of coming into close contact with someone who is infected, making masks critical in preventing further spread.
When asked the one thing that he wanted viewers to remember, Dr. Bailey replied: “Get vaccinated. This is really what is going to move us forward as a society in terms of getting the pandemic under control. Our tools for treating COVID-19 are limited, but our tools for preventing it are very powerful.”
To learn more about the COVID-19 vaccine and GBMC’s vaccination process, visit www.gbmc.org/covid-19-vaccine-faq.