Q&A with State Epidemiologist on Covid Vaccines

Ethnic Media Services Staff

Vaccines are an important tool in mitigating the spread of Covid-19, said Dr. Erica Pan, California’s state epidemiologist and deputy director of the Center for Infectious Diseases, at a news briefing on Jan. 20, organized by Ethnic Media Services and the Vaccinate All 58 initiative.

“The risks of hospitalization and death remain high for unvaccinated individuals, so the most important thing we need to continue to do is to get vaccinated and get boosted,” said Pan, a pediatric disease specialist and an expert on Covid-19.

“All three available Covid-19 vaccines continue to be highly effective at preventing severe illness, hospitalization and death.”

Pan answered several questions at the briefing, addressing some of the most-asked questions on a call line California launched at the start of the pandemic, to address its residents’ concerns.

How do the Covid-19 vaccines work?

Like all other vaccinations, the vaccines teach our body’s immune system to fight against infection. Scientists have made the Covid-19 vaccines by using part of the virus’s genetic code, either a messenger RNA (mRNA) or DNA, depending on the type of vaccine.

Once inside the cell, this piece of the genetic code gives instructions to make a small, harmless piece of the Covid-19 virus called the spike protein. Our body notices the spike protein, and the immune system makes antibodies to destroy the spike proteins.

This process teaches your body how to recognize and fight against the virus. If you are exposed to the virus in the future, even currently circulating variants of the virus, your immune system will quickly recognize the virus and have the antibodies and T-cells ready to fight infection.

How effective are the vaccines against the new variants we are seeing?

The risks of hospitalization and death remain high for unvaccinated individuals, so the most important thing we need to continue to do is to get vaccinated and get boosted. All three available Covid-19 vaccines continue to be highly effective at preventing severe illness, hospitalization and death.

What are the benefits of receiving the vaccine even though you can still contract Covid-19?

Getting vaccinated and getting boosted helps keep you out of the hospital by lessening the severity of positive cases. Vaccines keep Californians off of ventilators and save lives. Protect yourself from the worst impacts of this virus and prevent spreading it from those at high risk or who can’t get the vaccine.

If someone already had Covid-19, do they still need to be vaccinated?

Excellent question, yes. Even if you had previously had Covid-19, you should still get vaccinated, especially considering highly contagious variants impacting our communities. Immunity acquired from a previous infection of Covid-19 is strong but often variable from person to person, and antibodies developed from a previous infection are also temporary, with immunity declining over time.

The immunity protection from vaccination appears to be broader, providing stronger protection against the virus and variants. The more vaccinations get into the arms of eligible Californians, the more we prevent the spread and shrink the pool of people vulnerable to Covid-19. The goal is to minimize and mitigate the burden of disease in California, which is why every single shot counts.

Does receiving a vaccine or booster eliminate the need for further harm-reduction precautions like wearing a mask or social distancing?

No. Even with a booster dose, harm reduction precautions are still prudent to keep all Californians safe. Vaccines are not 100% effective, and some groups are not yet eligible for the vaccine, so taking harm reduction precautions such as wearing a face mask helps protect them from contracting Covid-19 and becoming seriously ill.

How do we know booster doses are safe?

Booster doses went through the same thorough scientific review process as the initial vaccine series, with trial data from all over the world being reviewed and considered when making a recommendation. The vaccines, including booster doses, are proven safe.

Getting a booster shot is the best way to keep your immunity strong and protect you and your loved ones from being hospitalized or dying from Covid-19, including from the fast-spreading Omicron variant. Californians should go out and get themselves and their children boosted to maximize their protection against variants. The state has an ample vaccine supply, so don’t wait—get your booster today.

Are the vaccines safe for young children to receive? And are there side effects?

Comprehensive clinical trials in more than 4,500 children ages 5–11 demonstrate that the Covid-19 vaccine is safe and effective in this age group, resulting in strong antibody response in children who received the vaccine. The Covid-19 vaccine was found to have only mild side effects such as fatigue, fever and headache.

The nation’s immunization experts analyze all reports concerning any possible serious side effects following a Covid-19 vaccine. Serious side effects are rare—and the benefits of vaccination far outweigh any risk.

There have been rare reported cases of inflammation of the heart muscle known as myocarditis and pericarditis sometimes a week after receiving the second dose of the mRNA vaccine. Cases have generally occurred in young adults, men and people with certain medical conditions or recent medical procedures. In contrast, Covid-19 disease can cause more severe myocarditis than cases rarely seen after immunization.

These are rare, short-term occurrences. The risk is low, and those affected generally recover quickly. Some people have required treatment, whereas others have not. Most cases are mild.

It is Covid-19 that could cause severe and long-term effects, making vaccination critically important.

The science and data—now inclusive of younger children—continue to speak loud and clear: These free, safe vaccines will help kids fend off the worst outcomes of this highly contagious virus.

  • Community Alliance

    The Community Alliance is a monthly newspaper that has been published in Fresno, California, since 1996. The purpose of the newspaper is to help build a progressive movement for social and economic justice.

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