As at January 10th, 2021 the death toll from Covid-19 was about 1.9 million globally and 372,522 in the United States. This is almost as many Americans as died in World War II. In the past week we have hit record numbers of Covid-19 deaths. Total deaths on January 7th was 4.033, more deaths than in any other day since the pandemic hit. Hospitalizations are at an all time high. This is no surprise to anyone who has been keeping track of this pandemic. Even with good vaccine implementation this could continue well into mid-February. The question on the minds of some though is; “what should they expect when they get the vaccine?” That is what I would like to tackle today. Do the question for today is; “what are our Covid-19 vaccine pioneers saying?”
Safety Issues Reported in the Published Studies
In the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines trials, reactions like, pain, redness and swelling at injection site, fever, headache, fatigue, muscle pain, joint pain, diarrhea were reported. Most adverse events were mild. Overall, only 28% of those who got the vaccine needed to use OTC medications to manage side effects. In the Pfizer study, only 4 individuals out of 21,720 who received the vaccine had severe reactions. The incidence of severe adverse events was similar in both those who got the active vaccine and the placebo for the Pfizer study. Though, there were concerns about vaccine related hypersensitivity during vaccine implementation in the UK. This occured rarely in the studies and in the Moderna trial the rates reported were similar in both the vaccine and placebo groups. Also 3 participants in the vaccine group for Moderna had Bell’s Palsy compared with 1 in the placebo group.
Who were the survey population?
I used an anonymous social media survey to find out how real-life individuals were doing with vaccine implementation. The survey targeted individuals mostly health care workers who had received the vaccine. Respondents provided this data from December 26th – January 8th 2021. Three hundred and sixty-three people answered this survey in this time period. Majority of those who responded were females 90% with 10% males. Ages of respondents ranged from 18 – 74 years of age. Men tended to be within a very narrow age range 70% of male respondents were between the ages 25 – 54 years. Only 10% of male respondents reported ages 55 years and above. We had a broad distribution of females, 44% of women were older than 55. Most respondents self identified as white; 71.8% of all respondents African Americans were 16.3% with 3.9% Asians and 3.6% identifying as hispanic or latino.
What were the professional roles and work settings of the respondents?
Majority of the population surveyed were physicians 143 (39.5%) of all those who responded. Nurses accounted for 122 (33.7%), other healthcare workers involved in the poll included; nurse practitioners, physician assistants, counselors and social workers, respiratory therapist, physical therapist, radiology technologist and medical assistants. Most of these individuals worked in hospitals, 64.5% of all those that responded, others worked the outpatient setting (29.3%). Only 4.1% of those who responded reported nursing homes or longterm care facilities as their primary place of work. Almost all were frontline healthcare workers with less than 1% involved solely in administrative work.
The vaccines and experiences after the shot?
Most of those who answered the poll took the Pfizer vaccine. Among the 362 individuals who reported the vaccine brand, 237 (65.5%) received the Pfizer vaccine and 125 (34.5%) got the Moderna vaccine. Most of these individuals took the poll within 4 weeks of their first dose. We did not collect any data on 2nd doses. Overall 49.3% were within a week of their first dose, 38.5% between 1 – 2 weeks of their first dose and 11.4% from the end of week 2 to week 3. Only 3 individuals were in their 4th week. Four respondents provided vaccination dates in the future. We excluded these entries from the data on vaccine experiences.
One in two of respondents reported some form of reaction from the vaccine. Most reported their reactions as mostly mild and those who required some form of medical intervention mainly reported taking over the counter medications. Only 7 (2.2%) of individuals reported requiring some medical attention which could include primacy care, ED or urgent care visits. Nobody reported any hospitalization or life threatening reaction. Twice as many respondents who self-identified as whites 32% reported reactions requiring either OTC medication or medical appointments compared to 15.5% of blacks. It is possible that this is due to easy appreciation of erythema in white skins compared to blacks. We cannot confirm this hypothesis since we did not ask about specific reactions.
What Are The Recommendations of those who have been vaccinated?
Most of those who took the poll recommended the vaccine for friends and family members. Overall, 98% of those surveyed will recommend the vaccine. Only 2 individuals 0.6% will not recommend the vaccine. Five individuals had different responses which are provided below unedited.
Not sure, caution is the word I use
I think majority yes still, I think I was an unlucky statistic
Personal decision but people should know potential side effects to prepare. I wouldn’t have gone to work for 2 days
Depends on the family member
idk after those side effects. I had Covid twice & i’d rather have it 100 times than have a night I describes as feeling death entering my bones. I can no longer recommend getting it.
Recommendations of Prior Vaccine Recipients
Vaccine anxiety is fairly common, this is not surprising considering many of us are totally scared of needles. In the case of SARS-CoV-2 and many other vaccine preventable diseases the anxiety goes further than the sharp pointed needle. Whether by chance or by design modern day anti-vaxxers have turned vaccines into the bogey man. Personally, I believe being anti-vaccine is a luxury of our current golden age of medicine. When deadly diseases like plague, and smallpox ran rampant in our populations most were willing to accept any potion offered.
Vaccine Safety in A Historical Context
In terms of safety there is no fair comparison between the first smallpox inoculations in the US and our current Covid-19 mRNA vaccines. It is interesting to note that Benjamin Franklin in 1754 declared smallpox inoculation an ‘incontrovertible success”. Two and a half centuries later in in the throes of a major pandemic some of us have concerns with SARS-CoV-2 vaccines. I take comfort in the fact that the vaccine crusaders of the 18th century had to contend with more resistance than we have to deal with nowadays. Those poor guys did not have more than 2 centuries of experience and published data to quote.
In this small anonymous online survey of 363 individuals our respondents overwhelming supported vaccination and will recommend it for their friends and family. Only 2 of those vaccinated out of 363 about 0.5% will not recommend vaccination to friends and family members. I would like to state my gratitude for my colleagues who shared their experiences. The experience of these frontline workers gives me hope that many more will follow their example. I am waiting patiently for my message to schedule my Covid-19 vaccination.
For my readers and those who requested information from those who have already taken the shot, please take these words from the mouths of those who have gone ahead and get vaccinated.
By Dr. Leonard Sowah an internal medicine physician in Baltimore, Maryland
Feature photo: Picture collage of several healthcare workers displaying their Covid-19 vaccine credentials. Much gratitude to; Hazel Jones-Parker, Michael Mensah, Naana Atsina, Norma-Clayton McKinley, Otha Myles, Zureena Curlees, Rachael Reynolds, Rachita Navara-Patel & Kunj Patel for allowing me to use their photos.