As COVID-19 vaccine clinics race to vaccinate as many individuals as possible, many may be wondering what potential side effects there are, and when to expect to see the impact of the vaccine on case numbers.
Dr. Steven Berk, executive vice president of clinical affairs and doctor of internal medicine and infectious disease at the Texas Tech Health Sciences Center, said almost all side effects will be considered non-severe. Non-severe meaning aches and pains that should go away.
Long-term side effects are what people are worried about, Berk said, and there is no evidence to suggest long-term side effects.
However, there have been some allergic reactions, though Berk said individuals with even the worst allergic reactions, some resulting in an epinephrin shot, were OK.
The long-term effects from COVID-19 are what people should be concerned with, Berk said. Some of these effects include mental fogginess, skin problems and multi-inflammatory syndrome in children.
“If we’re worried about long-term effect,” Berk said, “we really should be more worried about long-term effects of the virus itself than of the vaccine.”
Another concern some individuals may have is contracting the virus after receiving the vaccine, and while Berk said this is rare, it is not impossible.
The vaccine does not produce many antibodies until five or six days after injection, Berk said. People may be brewing the virus at the time they get the vaccine or catch it right after getting the vaccine.
Again, Berk said this is very uncommon, but possible.
The second dose of the vaccine is a booster, Berk said.
“It’s needed to make sure the antibody levels stay for a long enough time,” Berk said.
The vaccine appears to be 95 percent effective, Berk said, and seems to be working on variant strains of the virus as well, based on studies done.
To break the COVID-19 pandemic, most would say that takes herd immunity, Berk said. Meaning 70 percent of the population would have to have antibodies, either natural ones or those from the vaccine.
Right now, it appears that only 60 percent of the Lubbock population wants to get vaccinated, Berk said.
However, Berk said if individuals over 65 and those with underlying health conditions get vaccinated, the ICU’s could begin to empty and the number of deaths could drop, decreasing the severity of the pandemic.
The City of Lubbock Health Department is hoping to give 5000 vaccines per week, Berk said.
“If that continued there would be a major impact on COVID-19 within a couple of months,” Berk said.
Lisa Thomason, director of the Lubbock Memorial Civic Center, has been helping ensure that vaccine clinics run smoothly at the Civic Center.
“We’re in the event business,” Thomason said, “and this is a big event.”
The Civic Center staff plays a large role in vaccine clinics. The staff helps maintain the facility and help move people through the space, Thomason said.
Additionally, the staff helps assist in utilizing the space to the best advantage for the event, Thomason said. This is especially important for vaccine clinics because you have to leave enough space to social distance.
Though they continue to work out kinks and make tweaks, Thomason said things are going smoothly.
Mostly, they are trying to communicate with patients that there is no need to come until their appointment time Thomason said.
“It moves much more smoothly that way,” Thomason said.
Dr. Victor Test, a pulmonologist at the Health Sciences Center and director of the Medical Intensive Care Unit, has been working on the frontlines since March and has not seen a non-COVID-19 patient in the ICU since.
Typically, Test said the ICU is always full, but patients are in there for short periods of time. In a COVID-19 ICU, the length of a patients stay has grown exponentially.
“You don’t know on a day-to-day basis, which of your patients is going to live or die,” Test said.
The vaccine represents a way to change the game, Test said.
It is the first thing that can actively be done to get lives back to normal and could alter the course of the pandemic Test said.
As an individual who works on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic, Test said he is puzzled and sad as to why people will not get the vaccine.
“Vaccines make some people nervous,” Test said, “I’ve never understood it very well.”
Though the vaccine is a step in the right direction, Test said they do not expect to see relief in ICU’s for a long time.
Because the ICU’s have been so full, they have not been able to provide much assistance to the outlying communities they traditionally assist, Test said. When cases drop in Lubbock, ICU’s will still be full because of the outlying communities.
Working on the frontlines has been a struggle in many ways, but Test said working in an ICU where everyone has the same disease is strange and his concept of time is occasionally thrown.
“There are times where I’ll work and I’ll not know for sure which day of the week it is, because every day is very similar to the last,” Test said.
Additionally, Test said COVID-19 has added an extra burden to nurses, who have had to stand in for families unable to see their loved ones due to the pandemic.
Test, Thomason and Berk said it is important to get the vaccine if it is available, and until then to remain vigilant, wearing a mask and social distancing.