With so much misunderstanding out there, I thought I would try to offer the perspective of a retired rural Alabama pediatrician on what are very emotional issues surrounding Covid19 and the vaccines used to prevent or lessen the severity of it.
What is Covid19?
It is a virus, as are polio, smallpox and the common cold to name a few other viruses. Coronaviruses mainly cause illnesses in the respiratory tract. Most colds we get are different type of coronavirus but still they are related to Covid19.
Why take a vaccine for Covid19?
When I was a young child, the polio vaccine was developed and our parents could not get us in line fast enough for the Salk polio vaccine shots.
Later Sabin polio oral vaccine was delivered on sugar cubes. That same vaccine is used today, just not delivered on sugar cubes.
We older adults have the scars from the smallpox vaccine on our arms from having received vaccinations as a child.
Smallpox is no longer a problem because worldwide vaccination efforts have eliminated it from the earth. The thing that is different about polio and smallpox viruses from Covid or cold or inﬂuenza viruses is that polio and smallpox viruses don’t mutate into different strains like ﬂu or Covid or cold viruses do.
So once vaccinated against polio or smallpox, you are protected.
With Covid and many other viruses, new strains continually appear and are different enough immunologically to require a different version of vaccine to avoid infection by the new mutant strain.
How does one become infected?
Covid, like colds and inﬂuenza, is spread through the air in droplets. When you are outside in freezing weather and can see your breath, what you are seeing are tiny droplets of water that will be carrying bacteria and viruses from your respiratory tract, which includes your nose, sinuses, throat and lungs.
Those tiny droplets will be hanging in the air for a while. If you are indoors they will be likely to be clustered more closely together than if you are outside where the wind will be dissipating them.
If those droplets are breathed in or if they hit your eye and are ﬂushed by tears down through your tear ducts into the back of your nose, they can begin to replicate and eventually may cause you to become ill.
The more droplets you are exposed to, the quicker you will become ill. If you are wearing a mask as you exhale, most of those droplets are trapped by the mask and do not hang in the air to be breathed in by someone else nearby.
Also, if someone nearby is infected (and remember they might not be symptomatic at all but still carrying and spreading the virus), wearing a mask will block most if not all their virus-laden droplets.
Thus, if you don’t breathe in those infected droplets and give them a new host in whom to replicate, you will not be able to spread the virus.
You could still get droplets into your body through exposure to your eyes but because your eyes are not pulling air into your body, the amount of virus exposure would be much less.
You might still get sick, but it would take longer for the symptoms to develop.
If everyone were wearing masks in public places, especially indoors and in outdoor situations of close contact with many people (think football stadiums), transmission of Covid could be markedly reduced because there would not be viral-laden water droplets hanging in the air to be inhaled or travel down the tear ducts into you nose where they can begin the process of replicating and producing illness.
How do vaccines work?
Basically, they trick your immune system to respond to a virus that has been modiﬁed to no longer be infectious so that if you meet the naturally occurring virus your immune system will respond to it and kill it.
Once your immune system recognizes the viral intruder or that part of the viral invader that has been incorporated into a vaccine, it makes and releases antibodies to go and destroy the whole virus.
Thus, you don’t get sick or don’t get nearly as sick as if you had to wait for your immune system to begin the process of antibody production from scratch.
The Pﬁzer and Moderna vaccines are mRNA vaccines, which have been around since the 1990s.
More recently they have been used in humans for rabies, Zika virus and CMV.
Vaccines have to go through a very rigorous development process to ensure that they both work to prevent or markedly lessen the disease for which they are intended, and that any side effects that they might cause are mild and infrequent.
That is why it takes months at a minimum to ensure they are both effective and safe.
Do we have treatments for Covid?
Well, we can give monoclonal antibodies, which can be a big help to fight off the virus, especially if given early before the viral load the body has to try to fight off is too large.
Once the load of virus is very large, that treatment is much less effective in warding off severe symptoms.
Other than that, treatment is supportive, buying time for your own immune system to respond and kill the virus.
As we can all tell from reading and watching the news, being unvaccinated so that you are counting on just your own immune system to respond if you become infected is not working out so well for not only those infected, but also for those whose calling in life is to care for the sick – doctors, nurses, respiratory therapists, lab techs, ambulance personnel, X-ray technicians, aides, dietary personnel, maintenance personnel, housekeeping personnel, administrative staff, etc.
Also, the people dedicated to making our community safe and caring for our kids – police, firefighters, teachers, coaches – the list goes on and on, are also directly affected by Covid exposure as they go about their jobs.
If we all do what we can to protect ourselves and each other, we can get through this.
But how much suffering and loss we incur will be up to all of us – not just some of us.
Our bodies are made up of organs of various colors, shapes, responsibilities and abilities.
So too, our country and our world are made up of people of many colors, shapes, responsibilities and abilities.
We can get through this pandemic with much less death, morbidity and despair if we would only work together as countrymen to fight this viral scourge.