In late 2020, the first COVID-19 vaccines were approved for use in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. On December 23, 2020, Jefferson County Health Department received its first allotment on Moderna COVID-19 vaccine. We were overjoyed. There was cheering and singing and a few tears of relief. Those hundred doses of vaccine felt like hope.
They felt like hope because up until then our only defense against a virus that had changed the course of our daily lives were non-pharmaceutical interventions. Hand washing, social distancing, staying home when ill and masking. During my nursing career, I have witnessed vaccines reduce the threat of multiple infectious diseases. A vaccine gave us another tool. A tool that could change the course of a disease.
I believe in the science and the history of vaccines. Vaccination has been part of disease intervention for over 200 years. Smallpox has been eradicated and many other illnesses have almost been forgotten due to childhood vaccination campaigns. People can develop immunity to diseases in different ways. Sharing antibodies, such as from mother to child, can produce short-term passive immunity. Having an illness can develop life-long immunity for some diseases. Vaccination is another way to create active immunity. Vaccines work with our body’s natural defenses to fight disease.
Vaccines are an effective tool in protecting health and preventing disease. There has been a world-wide effort to develop a vaccine to fight COVID-19. This effort has produced several potential vaccines very quickly due to the evolution of science and the increased ability to test the vaccines. The COVID-19 vaccines have gone through the same safety tests and have met the same standards required for other vaccines. Millions of people in the United States have received COVID-19 vaccines. These vaccines have and continue to undergo thorough safety monitoring and standards.
Monitoring of COVID-19 vaccines by the FDA and CDC continues to ensure any side effects are identified. Vaccines, as with any medication, have the potential to produce side effects. After receiving a COVID-19 vaccination, recipients will be monitored at the vaccination site for any immediate reactions. None of the people Jefferson County Health has vaccinated have had a severe immediate reaction. Many people have reported mild side effects. These include pain or swelling at the injection site or mild viral symptoms such as headache, chills, fatigue or body aches. This can be a sign your body’s natural defenses are working. The risks associated with contracting COVID-19 far outweigh any risks of side effects from the vaccine. Studies have shown that the COVID-19 vaccines are very effective at keeping people from getting COVID-19.
Living with a novel virus has taught us many things this year. We are still learning. We have learned to use many tools to protect ourselves and others. We now have greater access to a vaccine that gives us another safe and effective tool. We know that those who are fully vaccinated can return to some of the activities they enjoyed before the pandemic. We are still learning how well the vaccine prevents you from spreading disease to others. We are still learning how long the protection of the vaccine lasts and how effective they are against variants of the virus.
Population immunity indicates that enough people in a community are protected from getting a disease because they have already had the disease, or they have been vaccinated. We know that population immunity makes it hard for a disease to spread from person to person. It even protects those who are unable to be vaccinated. The percentage of people having protection to achieve population immunity varies by disease. We are still learning how many people that is for COVID-19.
I have hope in this vaccine because I believe in the science, efficacy and safety of vaccines. I have come to know that no vaccine is without risk and no vaccine is 100 percent effective, however choosing to use all the tools we have will help create a safer, healthy community for all of us.