Jody Moss - "Seniors Sunset Times - Clallam County Edition

Let’s Talk Vaccine

November 30, 2020

By Jody Moss, Olympic Area Agency on Aging

The end is closer than we think.  No, I am not one of those sign waving people who is collecting followers.

I am talking light at the end of the tunnel.  The COVID-19 tunnel.

We have all heard vaccines are on the way.  And they are good vaccines with great effectiveness rates.  And they are coming soon.  Today (November 25th), my nephew (a biomedical technician) is setting up the vaccine storage unit at the hospital he works at in Colorado, because the vaccine is on the way.

When they first started talking vaccines I sat in the “I’ll just wait and see what the side effects are,” group.  I was in no hurry to rush out and get a vaccine that had been so rushed through the process.

But here is where I sit now – yes! Let’s get that vaccine to all the health care workers and to all the first responders and to all the seniors stuck at home for safety and to all the immune compromised individuals who are able to receive a vaccine and to everyone else.

Yes, because I have sat in on multiple webinars with medical professionals describing the process the vaccine has gone through to be able to meet the high quality safety standards that are required.  Yes, because I have heard scientists talk about how the vaccine will work, and the apparent lack of significant side effects.  Yes, because I believe the scientists who say that vaccines are a public health benefit and do not cause autism – and the scientific data is very clear on that.

And here is a telling one, yes, because one of the researchers working on this has cancer and has said he will be taking this vaccine for his own protection and because he believes in the safety and efficacy of the vaccine.

I heard yesterday that Pfizer will be able to provide many millions of doses by spring.

Here is how the various vaccines work, taken from CNN’s “Here’s a look at how the different corona vaccines work”:

Pfizer’s & Moderna’s Vaccines – researchers used a little piece of genetic material coding for a piece of the spike protein — the structure that adorns the surface of the coronavirus, giving it that studded appearance.

Messenger RNA is a single strand of the genetic code that cells can “read” and use to make a protein. In the case of this vaccine, the mRNA instructs cells in the body to make the particular piece of the virus’s spike protein. Then the immune system sees it, recognizes it as foreign and is prepared to attack when actual infection occurs.

MRNA is very fragile so it’s encased in lipid nanoparticles — a coating of a buttery substance that can melt at room temperature. That’s why Pfizer’s vaccine must be kept at ultra-cold  temperatures of about minus 100 degrees F (minus 75 degrees C). That means special equipment is needed to transport and store this vaccine. Moderna’s vaccine only needs to be chilled to minus 20 degrees C (minus 4 degrees F) and can be kept stable for 30 days at 2 degrees to 8 degrees C (36 to 46F), the temperature of a standard home refrigerator.

AstraZeneca’s vaccine, made with a team at Britain’s Oxford University, is called a vector vaccine. It uses a common cold virus called an adenovirus to carry the spike protein from the coronavirus into cells.

It also aims to make people’s bodies in essence produce their own vaccines by churning out little copies of spike protein, but the delivery method is different. This adenovirus infects chimpanzees but doesn’t make people sick. It was modified so that it doesn’t replicate itself — then genetically engineered to inject cells with the DNA encoding for the full coronavirus spike protein.

It’s a cheaper way to make vaccines — but slower than using RNA. The company has pledged to make its vaccine available inexpensively to countries around the world. The vaccine can be kept stable for six months at standard refrigerator temperatures.

Johnson and Johnson / Janssen Pharmaceuticals’ vaccine is a recombinant vector vaccine. Like AstraZeneca’s, it uses an adenovirus but this one does infect humans. It is a genetically engineered version of adenovirus 26, which can cause the common cold but the gene tinkering has disabled it. It also delivers the genetic instructions to make spike protein.

This is one vaccine that has been tested on the market before. The adenovirus 26 vector was used to make the company’s Ebola vaccine, which won marketing authorization from the European Commission in July.

This vaccine is a one-shot vaccine but earlier this month Johnson & Johnson started a two-dose, Phase 3 trial in Britain, because there’s some evidence that two doses provide better protection. Volunteers will get two shots, 57 days apart, or placebos.

Novavax, a Maryland-based biotechnology company specializes in “protein subunit” vaccines. They use virus-like nanoparticles as a base and cover them with genetically engineered pieces of the coronavirus spike protein.

This is also a tried and true vaccine approach. A hepatitis B vaccine given to newborns is a protein subunit vaccine, as is the human papillomavirus or HPV vaccine and FluBlok, Sanofi’s influenza vaccine.

Novavax uses an insect virus called a baculovirus to get the coronavirus spike protein into moth cells, which then produce the protein. This is harvested and mixed with an adjuvant — an immune booster –based on saponin, found in soap bark trees.

Sanofi and GlaxoSmithKilne – This is also a protein subunit vaccine, using Sanofi’s FluBlok technology with a GlaxoSmithKline adjuvant. It also uses a baculovirus to grow little bits of spike protein.

Sinovac, a Chinese company developed CoronaVac which uses an inactivated virus — one of the oldest methods for vaccinating people. Whole batches of coronavirus are grown, “killed” and then made into vaccine. Likewise, Sinopharm’s vaccine in an inactivated virus.

Sputnik V, a Russian company’s coronavirus vaccine is an adenoviral vector vaccine. It uses two common cold viruses called adenovirus 5 and adenovirus 26 to carry the genetic material for the spike protein into the body.

We will likely not have access to all these different types of vaccines, and maybe access to only one brand.  That’s fine, I’ll take it.

Now this doesn’t mean we get to lose our masks for a while or that we can be any less vigilante.  We will still need to be masked for some undetermined period after the vaccines come out.  We will likely have people refusing to get a vaccine, and they will be at risk themselves, and also pose a risk to people who have immune systems which cannot tolerate a vaccine.

Some of the vaccines are 90%-95% effective, some less so. So there is still a risk. I’ll take that risk.

Truth be known, we do not know what is going to happen with the progression of this disease.  But we now have better treatment modalities, and vaccines on the way.

So…light at the end of the tunnel.

And as we emerge from this, let’s make a pact.  Let’s agree to be more kind to one another, to disarm over our political beliefs, to be compassionate of others’ circumstances, to be a part of a community that takes care of one another.

In fact, I believe that is how we have made it this far.

Jody Moss is the Director of Contracts Management & Planning for the Olympic Area Agency on Aging and can be reached at 360-379-5064.  For help with senior or adults with disability questions call Information and Assistance at 360-452-3221 in Clallam and 360-385-2552 in Jefferson.