Answering questions about vaccines: in short, they work and they’re safe

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By Dr. Stephanie McGannDMD FAGD, Columnist, The Times

Here we are closing in on a year of life altered by the pandemic.  As a practicing dentist I have fielded my share of questions from all points of view. I want to share my perspective on where we are what lies ahead.

There are lots of questions about vaccines.

Yes, they work.

The job of the vaccine is to keep people out of the hospital and protect folks from dying.  Do they completely make it impossible for a person to contract or spread COVID-19 19? NO.  What they do is make a recipient’s immune system able to fight the virus to the point where it becomes something most recipients can handle.

We are exposed to viruses every day, some never cause a symptom; some cause the common cold and others can be more vicious like the flu or something even more terrifying like Ebola.  Modern medicine has always been working hard to find ways to fight, treat or cure people who get infected.  We eradicated smallpox thanks to a vaccine. We will tackle COVID-19 when according to the Cleveland Clinic 50-80% the population is vaccinated.

But is the vaccine safe? When they developed it so fast?

Actually, not really as fast you may think.

Three things made this go quickly. 1. The basic premise of this type of virus was already being worked on as part of the programs to combat SARS, H1N1, and Ebola.  Our scientists are always looking ahead at scenarios for the next outbreak they use these to get a starting point in the development.  We already know viruses will always be a waging a war so our public health professionals are trying to be a step ahead.  2.  Modern computing technology allowed for the genome of the virus to be mapped rapidly.  It’s also why we can now identify different strains quickly.  3. The big M word.  Money.  Instead of waiting for funding, money was given to multiple companies and researchers to find, develop and manufacture the vaccine before it was given approval. This is huge and cut months or years off the bureaucratic process.  They funding streams allowed multiple types of vaccines to emerge, even some that were scrapped along the way as just not any good.

Even with all of that there were bottlenecks in raw materials, manufacturing and distribution.  This is the human factor; we just didn’t make enough or plan appropriately for mass distribution.  Fortunately, as a nation we are working hard to solve these bottlenecks and making it happen. Fast.

I have also been asked, why can’t I just go to my doctor or pharmacy and get the shot?

Someday that may happen but the distribution reality is that since the initial vaccines required some very difficult (expensive) storage and handling it was only prudent to develop some mass distribution areas where a quantity of vaccine can be readied for hundreds if not thousands of recipients. The last time I had a vaccine at my pharmacy between the paperwork and the wait time I was there for almost an hour. Hardly an efficient way to do this right now. Vaccine distribution has been phased so that those most likely to get, spread, or have fatal outcomes are high on the list.

As the quantity of vaccine increases more trained providers will be needed to administer the vaccine.  Currently many health care providers are waiting approval by Gov. Tom Wolf to allow them to be part of the administration team and these large vaccination centers. My name is on the list compiled by the Pennsylvania Dental Association as a provider willing to serve.  So, one day (soon I hope) I will be spending some time helping to get folks their vaccines.  Gov. Wolf, if you read this, we are ready, willing and able to help!

This is the math. We need to get enough people vaccinated to stop the spread.  The faster we get it done the sooner we stop the spread the better it is for our economy, our families and our lives.

It is important, that when you can, as soon as you can, you get immunized.  Not just to protect yourself, but to limit the overall spread and help allow us to reopen some of those things we love.  I don’t know about you, but I really want to go to a ball game and while I was never a big “sit at the bar” person, I really am looking forward to the opportunity to belly up with my husband or a colleague.

Dr. Stephanie McGann, who has more than two decades of dental practice experience, is a resident of the Unionville area and owns and practices at Rainbow Valley Dental, in Valley. She is a past President of the Chester/Delaware Dental Society and she is a Fellow of the Academy of General Dentistry.

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