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  • @ Cynthia Adina Kirkwood

Spectacular COVID-19 Vaccines

Updated: Dec 5, 2020


News of the vaccines lifted my heart as did the fireworks in Lisbon last New Year’s Eve.

Two safe and highly effective COVID-19 vaccines. I am elated.


I lost many friends to the AIDS virus. I waited for a vaccine.


I am still waiting. Medical treatments make the virus not the death sentence it was 40 years ago. However, there is no licensed HIV vaccine on the market. The highly mutable virus makes it difficult to develop an effective vaccine, but multiple research projects are underway.


So, when COVID-19 entered the world, I feared that a vaccine might not be a possibility. The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines have vanquished my fear. Both have been proven to be 95 percent effective when only 50 percent would have been acceptable by researchers.


Both vaccines use a new technology, known as messenger RNA (mRNA), which has been researched for decades. However, the COVID-19 vaccine is the first product using this technology to be approved for use.


To trigger an immune response, many vaccines, such as the flu shot, put a weakened or inactivated germ into our bodies. Not mRNA vaccines. Instead, they teach our cells how to make a protein – or even just a piece of a protein – that triggers an immune response inside our bodies. That immune response, which produces antibodies, is what protects us from getting infected if the real virus enters our body, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.


mRNA is not DNA. mRNA never enters the nucleus of the cell, which is where our DNA (genetic material) is kept. The cell breaks down and gets rid of the mRNA soon after it is finished using the instructions. The mRNA’s instability requires the refrigeration of both vaccines, the Pfizer inoculation at -70 Celsius.


“The vaccines deserve our confidence,” Portugal Prime Minister Antonio Costa said this week.


Whoever takes the first dose of the Pfizer vaccine will have the second dose scheduled for 21 days later. Two spaced doses of both vaccines are necessary to achieve optimal immunity.


The United Kingdom was the first Western country to authorize emergency use of the Pfizer vaccine. It will begin to vaccinate its population next week. The United States plans to begin its vaccination program later this month.


Portugal, whose population is 10 million, plans to begin its three-phase program in January. The vaccine will be free, optional and administered at more than 1,200 health centers, according to the National Health Service.


The first phase of vaccination, from January to April, will be of the high-priority group of 950,000. Those who fall into this group are 50 or older with such pathologies as heart failure, coronary disease, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease with ventilation support and/or long-term oxygen therapy.


People residing in care homes and hospitalized in long-term care units along with their professional carers also are in the high-priority group. Vaccinations are planned to take place in the homes.


Health professionals treating patients, and armed and security forces are the final group in the first phase.


The second phase of vaccination (March or April to June or July) of 1.8 million will be of people older than 65, even without diseases, and people over 50 with a wider range of pathologies such as diabetes.


The third phase is the rest of the population.


“We can see the light at the end of the tunnel,” said various television newscasters. Portugal Prime Minister Antonio Costa was optimistic but mindful of possible delivery delays and circumstances outside of the control of Portugal. He gave the saying a little twist:


“The tunnel is very long and rather painful.”


But there is a tunnel, and there is a light.


Vaccination will take time. Most say that 70 percent of people must get vaccinated for the program to be effective. Polls show vaccine hesitation among many.


However, flu vaccine campaigns to avoid a twin epidemic of flu and COVID-19 were so

successful in Europe, Asia and the United States that demand exploded with even staunch vaccine naysayers lining up for a shot. As a result, the Northern Hemisphere is experiencing a shortage, fortunately, in what is described as the weakest recorded flu season.


Jan De Belie, of the Pharmaceutical Group of the European Union, said shortages were

challenging for healthcare workers, including pharmacists, who face angry customers.


“We are often confronted with verbal aggression when people don’t get their flu vaccines,” he

said.


Portugal bought a total of 2.510 million flu vaccines (2.070 million for the National Health

Service and 440,000 for pharmacies). Pharmacies have dispensed 205,996 doses, which is

not even half of the order, but it is all that has been delivered thus far, according to Sabado

(November 18).


Nevertheless, Portugal’s National Service said that it plans to guarantee confidence in the population, thereby, ensuring acceptance of the vaccine by increasing health literacy of vaccines with reliable and transparent information. It hopes to combat misinformation, fake news and anti-vaccination groups; to ensure a flow of information with health professionals, and to evaluate and monitor public perception of the vaccine and barriers to vaccination.


COVID-19 is in the world now. It is not going away. The safety measures of handwashing,

social distancing and mask-wearing will be with us for some time. However, these vaccines and others will save lives now.

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