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The COVID-19 vaccine: A doctor's message to our community

By Dr. Will Ross, Associate Dean for Diversity and Professor of Medicine, Nephrology, Washington University School of Medicine


There are many thoughts that surround the arrival of the COVID-19 vaccines, so I would like to share mine with you.                                                                  

I’ve heard the concerns that some people have about this vaccine, including from my own family. And with each question, I’ve had the opportunity to have a conversation.

First, I understand the hesitation and mistrust, particularly in communities that have been underserved or overlooked by our health care systems for generations. Those feelings are real, often based on personal experiences.

The COVID-19 vaccine was developed to make us healthier. We know the statistics, and they are not favorable to our community. African-Americans and Latinos are twice as likely to develop COVID and three times more likely to die from the virus.

I hear a lot of questions about the speed in which the vaccine was developed. Is it safe? Were corners cut? These are all fair questions, and fortunately, we have answers. Top-notch scientists got together from around the world and dedicated themselves to this work. They used something called messenger RNA, which our bodies use every day, to interact with a part of the virus, so our immune system can make antibodies to protect us. Since the vaccines don’t contain any live virus, they cannot give you COVID-19. They only help our body practice fighting it off.

That’s the science part.

The speed came from being able to apply what we’ve know about previous coronaviruses (COVID-19 is only the most recent), as well as the funding to make this the top research priority. Academic medical centers, like Washington University, and pharmaceutical companies received significant financial support, so they could focus their time and energy on this effort. That is why the genetic sequence of this coronavirus was uncovered earlier than expected. That's why they were able enroll about 74,000 people across ethnicities, ages, and health risks. In the Pfizer and Moderna trials, about 30 percent of the trial participants were people of color.

The result is two vaccines that are about 95% effective in preventing COVID-19 and effective at lowering the severity of the infection.

What should you expect when you receive a shot? After the first dose, I had a bit of a sore arm. After the second dose, I had a mild headache. I took that as a good sign. It meant my body was learning how to fight the real COVID-19 if I’m exposed to it in the future. I took 500 milligrams of Tylenol, and my headache was gone in four hours. That was a month ago and I have continued to feel great.

I want us all to feel great. But, just as important, I want you to feel good about the decision to receive the vaccine, because it’s the only way we’re going to get to the other side of this pandemic. It’s the only way for our community, which has experienced so much distress at the hands of COVID-19, can get healthy. And it’s the only way we will get back to the activities we enjoy, with the people we care about.

Thank you for continuing to ask questions. And thank you for playing a role in our community’s health by getting the vaccine.

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