Most vaccines take years to develop, test and gain authorization—COVID-19 has shattered all records. In a race to develop called “Operation Warp Speed,” the FDA issued an emergency use authorization of the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines less than a year after the virus was officially reported to the World Health Organization.
So far 124 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine have been administered worldwide, according to Bloomberg, with the United States averaging 1.36 million doses per day. But many people are skeptical of its effects given the unprecedented turn around. From unsubstantial claims of being microchipped by the government to fears about the unknown long-term effects, the decision to receive the vaccine isn’t completely black and white.
According to The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the main priority is the inoculation of healthcare workers and residents of long-term care facilities, which have seen a high death toll in the pandemic. Yet on campuses like the University of Miami, the vaccine is already being offered to faculty and medical students, who will soon work in hospitals.
“I am surprised they opened it up to first and second years,” said Connor Shatz, a first-year student at UM’s Miller School of Medicine. After UM offered Shatz and other medical students the vaccine, he began researching and turning to colleagues for advice. “My worries quickly dwindled, and the only option seemed to be to get it,” he said. While talks of negative side effects swept across social media, Shatz said he believes there’s nothing to worry about. “A lot of people don’t realize that the side effects that people experience are just your body’s immune system kicking in and doing what it’s supposed to,” he said.
According to the CDC, when a person is infected with COVID-19, it takes several days to weeks for the body to combat it. Once infected, the body produces memory cells that attack the virus if it’s encountered again. Different vaccines work in different ways to protect the patient from the virus, but all vaccines leave the body with similar cells to help it fight sickness, which become effective a few weeks after vaccination.
Multiple types of COVD-19 vaccines are currently in various stages of the trial or approval process, and the CDC states that none will give patients the virus. The Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines have already been approved in the US and are mRNA vaccines. Unlike many traditional vaccines that inject the body with a weakened or dead virus, mRNA vaccines teach the cells in your body how to trigger an immune response that produces protective antibodies, according to the CDC. After a few months of stage three clinical trials, both companies reported a rate of 94-95% effectivity.
Both approved vaccines require two shots administered three to four weeks apart. The CDC recommends the Pfizer vaccine for individuals 16 or older, while Moderna can be taken by those 18 or older. The most common side effects include pain, swelling and redness at the sight of the shot along with chills, tiredness and headaches. The Moderna vaccine was tested right here at UM under Susanne Doblecki-Lewis, an associate professor of clinical medicine at UM’s Miller School of Medicine. “The COVID-19 pandemic is having a tremendous impact in South Florida and across the world,” she said in a press release. “We are testing vaccines with the goal of finding a safe and effective way to halt the spread of the virus.”
First-year medical student Serena Shah said she had no fears about getting the vaccine. “I believe in the power of science and research—two things that have fueled medicine and kept people healthy and safe for thousands of years,” she said. “Scientific evidence and expertise by medical experts made me confident in my choice to receive the vaccine.” Shah said she believes it is important to get the vaccine not only to protect herself, but to also protect others. “Receiving the vaccine is a selfless and safe choice that protects yourself and everyone around you from experiencing a severe disease,” she said. After getting the first shot, her symptoms included soreness at the injection site, mental fog, fatigue and a low-grade fever, all of which only lasted a few days.
But not all students are as anxious to get the vaccine given the possibility of long-term effects. One nursing student is opting out of getting the vaccine after hearing that it could affect her ability to get pregnant in the future. “It’s not that I don’t want it or [don’t want] to end COVID,” she said. “I read an article that said it could affect fertility in women, and that is something that I’m not willing to risk at this time. My dream is to be a mom.”
While Florida is currently vaccinating healthcare workers, long-term care staff and residents and people over 65, it’s still unclear when the general public will get their turn at immunity. According to their website, the University of Miami says there are “plans to distribute the vaccine to faculty, staff and students in phases based on the quantity received and each individual’s risk of exposure, as determined by state regulations.”
Many faculty members have already been vaccinated, like Monica Maingot, a business manager in UM’s IT department. Maingot said she received her first does on January 16 and second on February 13. “I was just grateful to be able to get the vaccine and how UM was able to offer it to us,” Maingot said. “I know of three other co-workers in my department that have been vaccinated.”
Even after you get the vaccine, White House health advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci says that individuals should still wear masks and practice social distancing until the shots are broadly available, as there is not yet data on whether vaccinated people can still spread the disease without getting sick themselves.
As for the future of the vaccine, President Biden has signed 10 executive orders, memorandums and directives focused on combating COVID-19 including the acceleration of manufacturing and delivering supplies for vaccination and the establishment of the Pandemic Testing Board to expand U.S. COVID-19 testing capacity, according to CNN. Although life isn’t quite back to normal, the development of COVID-19 vaccines are certainly a light at the end of a very long, dark tunnel.
The CDC lists pain and swelling on the arm where you got the shot, along with fever, chills, tiredness and headache throughout the rest of your body as “common side effects” of the COVID-19 vaccine.
For many people, like Connor Shatz, the side effects were minimal. Shatz is a first-year UM medical student who received the Moderna vaccine in early January and February. “I had a slight headache the day after, but went about my day as usual. Other than that, I had no side effects.”
On the other hand, Ibrahim Ali, a second- year UM medical student who received the same vaccine had a different reaction. Ali said after his second dose he experienced “fevers, chills, fatigue, a headache and redness at the injection site” that lasted for one day.
Whether you feel side effects or not, don’t stress. These are “normal signs that your body is building protection,” according to the CDC website. If you receive it and have a severe allergic reaction, the CDC recommends seeking immediate medical care.
words_gabby lord. illustration_abby pak. design_geethika kataru.
This article was published in Distraction’s spring 2021 print issue.