By Perry N Halkitis, PhD, MS, MPH, Dean, Rutgers School of Public Health
Special to the Hellenic News of America
As we move forward as a country in the United States, our efforts to fight and defeat SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes the disease COVID-19, will be directed by science and data. As Greeks, we must turn to the truth to help us get through this pandemic. Aristotle and Plato and numerous other Ancients showed us the way.
The falsehoods perpetuated by our U.S. federal and many state leaders over the last four years have resulted in the unnecessary loss of half a million American lives and millions of jobs. The virus is a biological disaster worsened by leaders who chose to mislead us creating economic and social strife. Had we been directed by facts and science we too could be one of the countries with the lowest death rates. As of mid-January, worldwide there are 25 deaths per 100,000 people. Sadly, in the United States that rate is 120 per 100,000 and climbing. In our beloved Greece, it is only 52 per 100,000. You see politics and politicians do affect the health of people and populations.
If you sense any anger in my tone, you would be correct. The politics of the last four years have been anathema to me. In the second week of January, my upset grew exponentially, as my most beloved aunt, Catherine (Katerina), became infected with this virus.
Falsehoods, lies, and disrespect for science made people in our country take risks, especially around the winter holidays, increasing the amount of circulating virus, and causing her illness, despite her best efforts. You see when there are so many people misled by the liars and not following guidelines, the virus spreads wildly placing all of us at risk. And that is a crime to humanity. Within the same week, I was horrified to witness so many members of The United States House of Representatives become infected because their own colleagues refused to wear masks (because they too live a life of lies) when they were all hiding in bunkers during Trump’s terrorist attack on the Capitol.
Fortunately, the development of COVID-19 vaccines provides us with a ray of hope as we move forward. The vaccines were not developed overnight. Scientists have been working to understand SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) viruses since 2003 when the first SARS epidemic emerged in our country. It is because of science and the dedication and skills of scientists, that these safe and effective vaccines were developed rapidly.
So as a Greek-American scientist who honors truth, I provide a Top Ten set of facts to counter the falsehoods that may be perpetuated by irresponsible news outlets, political leaders, conspiracy theorists, or fools like my paternal Greek relatives in Akron Ohio.
- The vaccines are safe. The two vaccine products which currently are available (Pfizer and Moderna) and the two that will soon become available (Johnson & Johnson/Jansen and AstraZeneca) have all undergone rigorous safety trails required by the FDA. There is no evidence of harm or deaths; side effects and reactions are minimal. No vaccine would be released to the public if it were harmful to people. Moreover, people with underlying medical conditions and pregnant women can receive the vaccine.
- The current vaccines which are available require two doses. For Pfizer, there is a period of three weeks between the first and second dose, and for Moderna, it is four weeks. You must take both doses or you will not receive the full benefit of protection. Only the Jansen vaccine requires one dose.
- Protection from the vaccine is achieved approximately 10 days after you receive the full dosage. That means10 days after the second dose for the two-dose vaccines. Thus, it is possible to become infected until the vaccination takes hold (10 days) and you develop immunity.
- If you are vaccinated, you can still become infected. The difference is that you will not get sick because you have developed immunity. However, scientists think it is still possible that you will be a carrier and can spread the disease to others.
- Wearing a mask remains as important as ever. You must still wear a mask until we fully have the spread of the virus fully under control. It may take a year or more to achieve herd immunity because the federal government under Trump failed to create a sufficient stockpile.
- Having been sick with COVID-19 and having antibodies does not exempt you from being vaccinated. A study published on January 12 found that only 1 in 5 people who been infected with COVID-19 and had antibodies, had no detectable antibodies two months later. This and other studies provide clear evidence that for most people, antibodies dissipate over time. So, if you were previously sick or infected with COVID-19 you should still be vaccinated.
- If you become sick with COVID-19 before you are vaccinated and received monoclonal antibody or convalescent plasma therapy, you will need to wait 90 days before you can receive any of the vaccines.
- It is not clear whether an annual or more regular booster vaccine will be needed. This research is still being conducted. It is possible that like the influenza (flu) virus which changes, there may be variants of SARS-CoV-2 that require new vaccinations annually.
- The COVID-19 vaccines do not protect you from the flu. You should have both vaccinations
- You may get some mild reactions for a brief period after receiving the vaccine such as fatigue, headache, chills, fever, and joint and muscle pain. These are normal immune reactions; it means your body is working. Don’t worry. You are not actually getting COVID-19, your arm is not going to fall off, and your DNA will not be alerted. People like me who had been infected and still have antibodies may get such mild reactions after their first dose, while those not infected previously will likely experience reactions after their second dose, and some may get none at all. I had fatigue and muscle ache the day after my first dose.
Above all else, respect science. Listen to leaders like Joe Biden and Kamala Harris and their science team who lead based on data and truth. Get vaccinated. Wear masks. Wash your hands regularly. Do no gather in groups except for the safe pod you have created.
This is our only path out of this national nightmare.
For more information about COVID-19 vaccines, visit the CDC website or speak with your healthcare provider.