Throughout this COVID-19 pandemic, we have praised the work of brave essential workers. They have cared for those who have fallen ill and inspired many to keep fighting against COVID fatigue.
These doctors (some of whom are parents of our fellow Harriton students) venture every day into a world of sickness and fear. They have witnessed some of the aspects of this disease that the rest of us have not experienced.
With the news of the approaching vaccine, have these healthcare heroes begun to hope for the end? Or do they still see many trials in the upcoming future? To find out, I interviewed these three doctors from different hospitals and fields throughout the Philadelphia area. I also emailed Dr. Fauci, but he is a little busy at the moment!
Dr. Wolf, a Lower Merion parent, is an Infectious Diseases and HIV Medicine Specialist and Associate Professor of Medicine at Drexel University Medical College. She is also a consultant to Merck, Moderna, and Digitas Health. Dr. Gilbert is a Harriton parent and physician who deals with infectious diseases, ranging from diseases like the common cold to TB, COVID, and HIV.
Dr. Ledley, another Harriton parent, is the Regional Director of Cardiology for the Tower Health System and Professor of Medicine at Drexel University. As an interventional cardiologist, he takes care of patients with all aspects of heart disease and performs invasive procedures such as coronary artery angioplasty and stenting. These three doctors go to work every day to help people through this pandemic, and here is what they have to say about the COVID-19 vaccine.
What do you do in your field of work? How has your daily work been affected by COVID?
Dr. Wolf: Like many other physicians, my ability to see patients in the clinic has been impacted by COVID-19 due to concerns about exposing physicians, staff, and patients to the virus. On the other hand, the pandemic has expanded the use of technology through the opportunity to utilize telemedicine to stay in touch with patients. It can’t replace the value of an in-person visit and physical exam, but it does help to prevent disruption of the physician-patient relationship by facilitating ready access to care.
Dr. Ledley: COVID has affected my work a lot. I am taking care of patients with heart effects from COVID and also working to prevent the spread of COVID in the patients we see in the outpatient office and hospital. I also have to wear PPE, personal protective equipment, from morning till night.
Have you received the COVID vaccine yet? Will you be receiving it soon?
Dr. Wolf: I haven’t yet received a COVID-19 vaccine but hope to do so within the next few weeks, as someone designated to be in the Phase 1 rollout of the vaccine program (healthcare personnel).
Dr. Gilbert: I have received one of the covid vaccines. I received the first dose in mid-December and will be receiving the second dose in mid-January. (For vaccine information, click here.)
What is happening with vaccinations for teenagers such as the Harriton students?
Dr. Gilbert: The FDA has authorized the emergency use of the Pfizer vaccine in individuals 16 years of age and older and the Moderna vaccine in individuals 18 years and older.
Dr. Ledley: There are clinical trials of vaccines underway for ages over 12.
How well do you think the vaccine will work?
Dr. Wolf: The two vaccines currently available through an FDA Emergency Use Authorization (EUA), Pfizer’s and Moderna’s, have both shown excellent immunogenicity and efficacy. Both vaccines have been able to prevent ~94-95% of symptomatic cases of COVID-19, including severe cases that might otherwise have been life-threatening.
Dr. Gilbert: A recipient of the vaccine cannot contract COVID from the vaccine nor can they transmit to any family members.
How much longer do you think the world will still suffer from COVID?
Dr. Wolf: That all depends on human behavior first and foremost, specifically whether people can comply with public health recommendations to avoid high-risk settings (e.g. crowds, indoor gatherings), wear masks, and socially distance. If the vaccines show high effectiveness once much of the population is vaccinated, then the amount of circulating virus will be dramatically reduced through the development of herd immunity. We don’t know how long this will take and if the virus will be eliminated or just better controlled. It also will take some time for the vaccines to be made available and be effectively distributed to all parts of the world through vaccination programs, particularly in poorer countries. Hopefully, though, COVID-19 will be controlled globally sometime in 2022.
What lasting effects do you see in the future after the vaccine?
Dr. Wolf: It’s difficult to know the long-term health effects of having COVID-19. There are many people, termed “long-haulers” who continue to have chronic health issues long after clearing the virus. However, there is a positive side to the pandemic in terms of how quickly and successfully the scientific community rose to the occasion to develop vaccine candidates. In particular, the first two vaccines to be authorized under an EUA, Pfizer’s and Moderna’s, employ a brand new vaccine platform that uses synthetic messenger RNA (instead of a whole virus or parts of a virus) to stimulate an effective immune response against the virus. The speed at which these were developed and the ability to manufacture millions of doses quickly is unprecedented and gives us hope that science and technology will be able to help combat new pathogens in the future.
Are there any complications with the vaccine?
Dr. Wolf: Vaccines are not without potential side effects which most commonly include things like local injection site reactions (pain, redness, swelling) and systemic complaints (fever, headache, muscle aches, fatigue, nausea, etc.). There is also the possibility that some people will experience an allergic reaction to a vaccine, though this is much less common. To date, there have been no serious complications noted in the ongoing clinical trials, but the vaccine manufacturers and FDA are closely monitoring reports of side effects and will continue to do so as the vaccines are made increasingly available to the general public.
Dr. Ledley: I have to admit my arm was sore for two days, but it wasn’t that bad. The chance of a real complication after the vaccine is very low, and the benefits of the vaccine far outweigh the risks.
How long will the vaccine provide immunity?
Dr. Wolf: We do not yet know how long immunity from the vaccines will last. In fact, we don’t even know how long immunity lasts in people who have had COVID-19. This is one of the questions that will hopefully be answered through the ongoing clinical trials. Whether an annual vaccination or booster will be required is an open question at this time.
Is there anything else you would like to tell the readers of the paper?
Dr. Wolf: I hope students at Harriton will emerge stronger, better informed, more compassionate, and engaged in efforts to remedy the problems we face in our society and the world, and with a renewed interest in and respect for science.
Dr. Gilbert: This continues to be a very contagious disease, and at this time social distancing, mask use, and hand-washing remain of the utmost importance to decrease transmission of this deadly virus. When a vaccine is available to the public at-large this will be our best defense in combating this potentially deadly virus.
Dr. Wolf, Dr. Gilbert, and Dr. Ledley have all risked their health by going to work every day. They are true healthcare heroes. You can also be a hero. As Dr. Gilbert said, don’t let COVID fatigue get to you. Continue to follow health guidelines and protocols, and continue to listen to doctors and scientists! Dr. Wolf is right when she says that we can emerge from this vaccine stronger, smarter, and more compassionate. We will get through this pandemic together. With a vaccine reliable and well-tested vaccine on its way, hopefully, we will not have to hold out much longer.