As hospitals across the Carolinas have received shipments of the Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines, front-line workers have started getting vaccinated. One of those front-line workers is William French, M.D. -- a North Carolina doctor, and my younger brother. I spoke with him over Zoom recently to discuss what it was like when he got his first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. Here's the conversation:
How was it when you got the email that said you were going to get the vaccine? Because you weren’t sure when you were going to get it, you might have to wait a little bit longer but now, here it is, kind of in the first week, as they’re being distributed.
Well, it’s very exciting... it was something we were anticipating and something we were looking forward to ever since the pandemic started.
When we got the email I think myself and the other residents and physicians expected to be in the first group. We knew we were going to get a limited number of vaccines because that’s a limited resource right now. It was kind of in question who was going to get those time slots to get the vaccines and, luckily enough, myself and a lot of my colleagues have gotten some of those early timeslots and a lot of us have been able to get our vaccines already.
What would you say to someone who’s nervous about getting the vaccine -- because it’s so new they aren’t sure of the long-term side effects -- what would you say to them?
Sure, I would say it’s always a great and smart thing to be cautious, it’s always easy. It’s never wrong to question it, say is this the wrong thing to do, is this safe? But I want to reassure everyone out there that all the data that we have up to this point shows that this vaccine is just as safe as any other vaccine that we’ve had ... vaccines for the most part are very safe in general.
Generally, within the scientific and medical community, it’s viewed as a very safe thing to get. We’ve seen a lot of high-profile people get this vaccine and show confidence in it and the medical community has confidence in it and I think the public should as well.
"So a lot of people want to know -- is it like the flu? If you get this vaccine can you potentially still get coronavirus or spread it?"
"No vaccine is perfect. The flu vaccine only works kind of half the time. So you can still get the flu vaccine and get the flu, and the coronavirus vaccine is no exception. You can still get coronavirus even after you get the vaccine. But as far as the efficacy or the effectiveness of the vaccine in preventing you from getting coronavirus, it is exceptionally high -- it’s higher than a lot of other vaccines that we have...
It’s been showing about 95% of people who get the vaccine -- speaking to the Pfizer vaccine -- will be protected against coronavirus at least for two months or the time they studied so far. About 5% or so may still contract the virus.
As far as, 'Can you still get an asymptomatic infection, can you still harbor coronavirus while you’re vaccinated' -- that’s still to be studied. We really don’t know the answer.
It very well may be -- the vaccine may prevent us from getting really sick while at the same time we may still carry the disease and possibly pass that onto others around us so it’s still very important to at least in this moment in time to continue wearing masks to continue practicing physical distancing until we know more about how effective the vaccine is ... not only preventing us from getting serious symptoms but also protecting us from being asymptomatic carriers and then passing it on to others.
Editor's Note: None of the COVID-19 vaccines in use contain the live virus that causes COVID-19, according to the CDC. While it is still possible to get COVID-19 despite having the vaccine, the vaccine will not give you the virus.
So you mentioned Pfizer. Is the vaccine you got the Pfizer vaccine?
Correct. So the first FDA approved vaccine was the Pfizer vaccine, we now have two FDA approved vaccines -- the Moderna vaccine was just approved as well.
So our first big shipment [of vaccines] was Pfizer.
There are some nuanced differences between those vaccines. The Pfizer vaccine is two vaccines -- in a couple weeks from now I’ll get my second [dose.] So we get one and a couple weeks from now I’ll get my second vaccine, and actually, the majority of the protection comes after the second vaccine so I’m halfway there to my immunity.
But people have questioned that -- and that is not uncommon, many vaccines that we get as children or that we give to children are stage vaccines. You’ll [get] three or four over various months to years to build up immunity.
I guess the last thing I would say is the development of this vaccine is a great thing and it’s a very impressive thing that our society and scientific community has been able to achieve, and while there are still some questions remaining, wearing masks and physical distancing are important.
But now I think the most important thing we can do not only as a medical community in general, but also as a public in general, to combat this virus and to combat this pandemic in our country and globally is to put some faith in these vaccines.