Top 5 Questions About COVID-19 Vaccines

October 6, 2020

Clinical Contributors to this Story

David Kountz, M.D. contributes to topics such as Internal Medicine.

Ihor Sawczuk, M.D. contributes to topics such as Medical Research, Urology.

The race to find and develop a vaccine for COVID-19 is on. Government groups and private companies are working day and night to develop a vaccine that will help stop the spread and severity of COVID-19, but there’s still a lot of work that needs to be done before a vaccine is ready.

1. How do vaccines work?

Your immune system acts like a response force within your body to combat germs. Once your body has successfully warded off the intruder, it develops antibodies that help protect you against those same germs in the future.

“Vaccines generally work by helping your body develop immunity to a certain germ by mimicking an infection,” says David Kountz, M.D., the co-chief academic officer at Hackensack Meridian Health. “The infection is usually not strong enough to make you sick, but enough that your body detects the signature of the germ and begins creating antibodies to protect you against future infection.”

There are numerous COVID-19 vaccines under development that use either live virus, inactivated virus, or even just fragments of the viral genetic code in their formulation.

Vaccines that use live virus tend to work for longer periods of time because they are so similar to the natural infection. However, these vaccines may not be best for everyone so it’s important that you talk with your doctor about which will be right for you.

2. When will a vaccine be available in America?

Vaccines are being tested in clinical trials across the country. The COVID-19 vaccine is on track to be the fastest vaccine ever developed with this novel coronavirus first being discovered last year. Currently, the record for developing an entirely new vaccine is four years with the Mumps vaccine.

“While we have a lot of good progress on a vaccine – we’re just now getting those vaccines into the arms of clinical trial participants,” says Ihor Sawczuk, M.D.chief research officer at Hackensack Meridian Health. “So, we still have some work to do in terms of following up with the participants and seeing if the vaccine is working.”

There has also been record funding available across the public and private sectors for vaccine development through Operation Warp Speed, an initiative of the Trump administration. According to the Operation Warp Speed fact sheet, the goal of the initiative is to have 300 million doses of a COVID-19 vaccine available by January 2021.

It’s important to remember that there are several steps in place during vaccine development to help ensure a new vaccine is safe and effective when deployed to a larger population.

3. Will the COVID-19 vaccine be mandatory?

Before considering widespread vaccination plans, there must be a safe and effective vaccine that’s ready to be widely distributed. There are numerous legal and regulatory frameworks surrounding mandatory vaccination. The topic can even be controversial to some. However, it’s important to know that vaccines only work if enough people get them.

While there are laws in place in many states around mandatory vaccinations for young children, it’s not certain if any states would enact similar mandates for COVID-19 vaccines.

Employers often require employees to get flu vaccines annually to protect against influenza. They could make similar requirements, especially in health care and other essential jobs.

4. Will a vaccine end the pandemic?

“The development of a vaccine is only the first step in helping end the pandemic, says Kountz. “In order to put an end to the pandemic, we must also have wide distribution of the vaccine and show signs that it’s working as expected.”

Until widespread vaccination has occurred, we must also continue to follow social distancing and mask wearing guidelines to continue to curb the spread of COVID-19.

5. What’s it like to participate in a clinical trial?

Several clinical trials are underway across the United States, including right here at Hackensack Meridian Health.

If you’re interested in participating, you’ll need to see if you qualify first. If you’re near a Hackensack Meridian Health facility, visit our website to see if you qualify.

If you’re selected to participate, you’ll be contacted with next steps. Generally, you can expect:

  • You’ll be chosen at random to receive either the vaccine or the placebo.
  • It’s important to continue to take everyday precautions to protect yourself from COVID-19 while in the trial
  • Keep track of your symptoms and stay in contact with your study team

Each study is unique and varies in length of trial and number of visits required. Talk to your doctor first about your participation in any vaccine clinical trials.

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The material provided through HealthU is intended to be used as general information only and should not replace the advice of your physician. Always consult your physician for individual care.