Now that Pennsylvania has universal vaccinations, a WellSpan Health doctor recently discussed barriers that could hamper the drive to inoculate 80% of Lancaster County residents against COVID-19.
Dr. Mark Goedecker is vice president and regional medical director for WellSpan Health’s central region. In an interview with LNP | LancasterOnline about vaccine hesitancy, Goedecker identified three obstacles to vaccine acceptance.
Seven months after the Trump administration announced an accelerated vaccine development program, the Food and Drug Administration granted emergency use authorization for the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines.
Calling the national program “Operation Warp Speed” may not have done the effort any favors.
The name, Goedecker said, might have falsely conveyed a lack of scientific rigor and safety protocol.
While these were the first mRNA-based vaccines, the science is not new.
Messenger ribonucleic acid, or mRNA, are single-stranded molecules that teach cells to make a protein to trigger an immune response. This differs from traditional vaccines that inject a weakened or inactivated pathogen.
For decades, researchers have studied mRNA vaccines for influenza, Zika, rabies and cytomegalovirus (a viral infection common for people with AIDS).
“They’ve been doing research on it for a while,” Goedecker said.
A December 2020 article titled “Head of Pfizer research: COVID vaccine is female sterilization” went viral on social media, instilling fear among women of child-bearing age.
The article, posted on the blog Health and Money News, said, “The vaccine contains a spike protein called syncytin-1, vital for the formation of human placenta in women.” It theorized that if the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines work “so that we form an immune response AGAINST the spike protein, we are also training the female body to attack syncytin-1, which could lead to infertility in women of an unspecified duration.”
What gave credibility to this now-debunked claim was that one of the article’s co-authors, Michael Yeadon, was the chief science officer at Pfizer, where he had worked until 2011.
As of April 19, at least 94,000 COVID-19 vaccine recipients were pregnant at the time of inoculation.
While researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are studying pregnancy outcomes and complications as well as possible newborn issues, experts believe COVID-19 vaccines are unlikely to pose a risk because the vaccines are non-replicating. (For more on the study or to participate, visit www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/vaccines/safety/vsafepregnancyregistry.html.)
But studies have found pregnant women are at an increased risk for severe illness if they contract COVID-19.
“The concern was a theoretical one,” Goedecker said. “If you got the virus, you also have the same antibodies. And we’re not seeing more miscarriages with COVID-19 infections.”
Long-term side effects
No drug prescription or vaccine is entirely free of side effects.
But new COVID-19 vaccines have — among some — given rise to concerns about possible long-term effects.
With more than 200 million doses administered in the United States through April 19, the roughly 58,000 adverse effects reported to the CDC equates to about 0.03%.
The percentage of deaths following vaccination is even smaller, about 0.0016%, according to the CDC, which is reviewing the reports.
While research attempts to answer what the long-term side effects for a COVID-19 vaccine could be, the history of vaccines is encouraging. Most post-vaccination effects occur within two months, according to the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.
Health officials, including Goedecker, note the danger of contracting COVID-19 should outweigh side-effect worries.
“We’re doing this not only for ourselves, but for each other,” Goedecker said.
“All the data shows that it’s not only safe but it’s effective.”