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The COVID vaccine - Which one does it take to win? - (2/2/2021)

By Dr. Ron Gasbarro  

Mrs. Lee came into the pharmacy and made a beeline for the pharmacist. "I am a nervous wreck," she exclaimed, "Every time I go to get the COVID vaccine, I hear on the news that everything has changed. Why isn't there a vaccine that works against the whole pandemic?" 

The pharmacist agreed that the vaccine situation is complicated and disorganized. He gets asked a dozen times a day by people who desperately want the COVID-19 vaccine. And why not? Not only does the infection kill people in one of the worst ways possible – through suffocation – but there are also long-term effects that may hide for decades. Already, symptoms such as brain fog, blood clots, lung and kidney dysfunction, mood disorders, and widespread organ damage have occurred. In theory, one can get infected at age 28 and die of a rare COVID-related neurologic disease at age 58. We are defending ourselves against a foe that is not even a living thing. What problems have been identified?  

The problems with the virus: Viruses do not have their own metabolism to keep going. Viruses exist solely to replicate. And unlike robins, collies, and bears, a virus needs a host to make copies of itself. In the case of COVID-19, that's you and me, baby. Without us, they are toast. That's where vaccines come in. But wait! Like any virus, COVID-19 is a master of disguise. With the agility of a boxer, the virus sure-footedly changes its shape through mutation, and new variants of a virus pop up like clockwork. Sometimes new variants emerge and peter out. Other times, new variants appear and persist. COVID-19 variants have been documented – notably Brazil, South Africa, and the United Kingdom, thus far. Are they deadlier, more transmissible, less treatable than the original virus? We may soon find out.  

The problems with the vaccine: The vaccine issue is determining which variants will any single vaccine cover. At press time, we know that efficacy after one shot is 80% for the Moderna vax, 72% for the J&J entry, and 52% for the Pfizer brand. Yet, does one prevent death more than another one? Is one better in California than in Florida? If you get a shot tomorrow and a new variant comes out next Friday, are you covered? We may soon find out.  

The problems with distribution: To date, the CDC has distributed 48 million vaccine doses across the US; of those, 26 million, or 54%, have been injected into patients. Where are the rest? President Biden is working with the Department of Defense to mobilize the military to get vaccines into arms. What did the former Dictator-in-Chief give us? Bupkis. How much damage was done? We are finding out each day.  

Neither a pandemic nor a vaccine should be political. Yet, the previous and, in the pharmacist’s opinion, most corrupt administration tried to do just that. The result was not reelection by a would-be Mussolini. The outcome is an ongoing death toll that will shortly surpass the mortality seen in World Wars 1 and 2, combined. How long before we go from 500,000 to 675,000 – the number of US deaths from the 1918 Spanish flu – to 750,000 – the number of those killed in the Civil War? The pharmacist advised Mrs. Lee to get any vaccine ASAP. Because you can bet your grandma that within 6 months, the vaccine will look completely different than those being released now. Partial protection now is better than nothing. Count on getting a needle stick regularly until we win the battle against the virus.  

Ron Gasbarro, PharmD, is a recovering pharmacist, medical writer, and principal at Rx-Press.

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