Everyone everywhere is talking about the COVID-19 vaccines manufactured namely by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna. In every region of the province, persons 70 years of age and older are invited to book an appointment to get vaccinated. The objective: protect the most vulnerable first and achieve herd immunity in the next year. Relief is being felt right across Quebec.
What about you? Have you booked your appointment or are you encouraging your elderly loved ones to do so? Are you reluctant to get vaccinated? Are you worried about the newness of this type of vaccine?
In a recent article published in Virage magazine, Alexandre Chagnon, hospital pharmacist and founder of askyourpharmacist.ca, answers some questions that could be making you hesitant about getting vaccinated against the virus.
I’m reluctant to get vaccinated given that the COVID-19 vaccines were developed so quickly. What does this really mean?
It is true, the dozens of COVID-19 vaccine candidates currently being studied are being developed quickly. That being said, it is incorrect to think that all the work has been done since December 2019 when the virus first appeared in the Wuhan region of China.
In fact, the technology of the RNA vaccines (including those manufactured by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna) is far from new! The study of these types of vaccines began several years ago. For nearly 15 years, hundreds of researchers worldwide have been working hard so that this promising technology could be used in humans. Thanks to the work of these researchers, we already had a very good head start on the virus when it made its appearance.
Why not just use “traditional” technologies?
Typically, a vaccine is when we administer to a healthy person a portion of a virus or a weakened version of the complete virus, so that the body can identify it and build immunity against it. The goal is simple: if the full-strength virus is later introduced into our body, our body will be ready to fight to eliminate it quickly, before we get sick.
Traditionally, a weakened version of the complete virus was used or the virus was divided into small sections before being injected into the person. But this poses a problem when we need to vaccinate a very large number of people in a short amount of time. A large quantity of the virus to be injected must be cultivated, which takes a long time. One of the solutions to this problem is the approach behind the RNA vaccines. With this technology, we inject the recipe that allows our cells to produce a small portion of the virus, harmless on its own, instead of injecting the virus. We can then count on the work of our immune system, which will recognize this portion (a protein in the case of COVID-19), following vaccination. When the real virus that causes COVID-19 comes into contact with our body, our immune system will be ready. We will be immunized.
Do the vaccines protect us against the variants of the virus?
Thanks to the injection of the recipe instead of the vaccine, we are also better prepared in the presence of new variants. The RNA technology allows us to quickly change the recipe that we inject into the body to take into account this new appearance and thus ensure that our body is still protected against COVID-19. Although RNA vaccines had never been used to protect us from a virus prior to 2020, we can say that they are at least as safe as so-called traditional vaccines.
What about the side effects?
To date, millions of people worldwide have already received the COVID-19 vaccine. Overall, we are seeing that the side effects felt by these people are very mild and in line with the effects normally caused by more traditional vaccines, such as pain at the injection site and muscle soreness in the two or three days following the injection.
In short, we must not fear the new vaccines on the basis that they are, precisely that, new. More than a decade of research is now allowing us to return quickly to a more normal life. And we have scientists from across the globe to thank for this.
What if I still have questions?
You can also submit your questions for free to Quebec pharmacists by visiting askyourpharmacist.ca