Dr. Timothy Farrell, a geriatrician at the University of Utah, said he was surprised but delighted with the effectiveness of the vaccines in this group. “It will be very important to see the analysis of the subgroups,” he said – that is, whether there are any significant differences after 85 years.
Despite this, he recommended the vaccine to all of his patients, aged 65 to 106.
“We have a clear and current danger from Covid, and we have social isolation,” Dr Farrell said. “We know it’s an independent risk factor for mortality, even stronger than individual chronic diseases.”
Dr Inouye also came to the same conclusion, both professionally and personally.
Her 91-year-old mother, who lives in an assisted living facility, is independent and dynamic, continues to play piano and bridge and exercises regularly. Yet her mother’s age, state of health and living situation place her at “a very, very, very high risk of Covid,” said Dr Inouye.
“We are desperately worried about her every day,” she added. “When you balance this huge fear, I just think the risk for her of contracting Covid is so much higher than the risk of a side effect, which we know will be very rare.
With the distribution of a coronavirus vaccine starting in the United States, here are the answers to some questions you might be wondering:
- If I live in the United States, when can I get the vaccine? While the exact order of vaccinees can vary by state, most will likely prioritize medical workers and residents of long-term care facilities. If you want to understand how this decision is made, this article will help you.
- When can I resume a normal life after being vaccinated? Life will only return to normal when society as a whole is sufficiently protected against the coronavirus. Once countries authorize a vaccine, they will only be able to immunize a few percent of their citizens at most in the first two months. The unvaccinated majority will always remain vulnerable to infection. A growing number of coronavirus vaccines show strong protection against the disease. But it is also possible for people to spread the virus without even knowing they are infected, as they have only mild symptoms, if any. Scientists do not yet know if vaccines also block transmission of the coronavirus. So for now, even vaccinated people will have to wear masks, avoid crowds inside, etc. Once enough people are vaccinated, it will become very difficult for the coronavirus to find vulnerable people to infect. Depending on how quickly we, as a society, reach this goal, life may start to move closer to something normal by fall 2021.
- If I have been vaccinated, do I still have to wear a mask? Yes, but not forever. The two vaccines that will potentially be authorized this month clearly protect people against Covid-19 disease. But the clinical trials that delivered these results were not designed to determine whether vaccinated people could still spread the coronavirus without developing symptoms. It remains a possibility. We know that people naturally infected with the coronavirus can spread it without experiencing a cough or other symptoms. Researchers will study this question intensely as the vaccines are rolled out. In the meantime, even vaccinated people will have to consider themselves as possible spreaders.
- Will it hurt? What are the side effects? The Pfizer and BioNTech vaccine is given by injection into the arm, like other typical vaccines. The injection will be no different from any you received before. Tens of thousands of people have already received the vaccines and none of them have reported serious health problems. But some of them experienced short-lived discomfort, including pain and flu-like symptoms that usually last for a day. People may need to plan a day off or school after the second shot. While these experiences are not pleasant, they are a good sign: they are the result of your own immune system encountering the vaccine and building a powerful response that will provide long-lasting immunity.
- Will mRNA vaccines change my genes? No. Moderna and Pfizer vaccines use a genetic molecule to stimulate the immune system. This molecule, known as mRNA, is ultimately destroyed by the body. The mRNA is packaged in an oily bubble that can fuse with a cell, allowing the molecule to slip inside. The cell uses mRNA to make proteins from the coronavirus, which can stimulate the immune system. At any given time, each of our cells can contain hundreds of thousands of mRNA molecules, which they produce to make their own proteins. After these proteins are made, our cells shred the mRNA with special enzymes. The mRNA molecules made by our cells can only survive for a few minutes. The mRNA in vaccines is designed to resist the enzymes in the cell for a bit longer, so that the cells can produce additional viral proteins and elicit a stronger immune response. But mRNA can only last a few days at most before being destroyed.
For many people, the prospect of getting a new vaccine against a new virus is daunting.
Fear of side effects dissuaded Jeffrey Balkind’s wife from volunteering for vaccine trials, but Mr Balkind, 74, has watched death twice – once during a 13-day hijacking at the Pakistan in 1981, and again three years ago when his Vespa crashed.
“When you’ve had near-death experiences twice, volunteering for a vaccine trial, it wasn’t a great sense of worry or apprehension for me,” Balkind said.