By: Janie Lytle (Reporter ‘23)
The scarcity of COVID-19 vaccine access has transitioned to a large number of vaccines available in Philadelphia and the surrounding suburbs, causing an ample supply of potential time slots and appointment opportunities, as well as confusion around the safety of the COVID vaccine. The research behind the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines has proved their efficacy in protecting our immune systems and dispelling COVID from our communities with the goal of eventual herd immunity, achieved by communal access to and the administration of the COVID vaccine. However, as announced on April 15th of this year, the Johnson & Johnson vaccine has been paused due to the extremely rare potential of blood clots induced by the vaccine. Authorities hope to restart the Johnson & Johnson vaccine soon. (It has resumed as of April 23).
Let’s first jump into why you should get vaccinated. As of April 22, 2021, the FDA-authorized option for people 16+ is the Pfizer shot, and the options for 18+ are Pfizer, Moderna, and, once available again, Johnson & Johnson. Both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines work in similar ways. The University of Pittsburgh Medical Center explains that they are messenger RNA vaccines; this means that they both increase spike protein production, creating borders around cells that look similar to those of the coronavirus but without infecting people with the actual virus. By tricking our immune systems into recognizing those cells as coronavirus, we build antibodies against the virus as a response, which can fight actual COVID-19. The vaccine does not alter the DNA of our cells, but it instead equips our immune systems with the proper immune memory to fight coronavirus, via antibodies, before it takes root in our bodies. It is important to note that the COVID-19 vaccine doesn’t make us fully immune, but it reduces the probability of transmission and stops the virus from hospitalizing or killing people. As the Virginia Commonwealth University explains, the Johnson & Johnson vaccine attacks the virus through a non-mRNA technology that is similar to a more traditional vaccine, using a “disabled adenovirus.” It is under discussion whether the risk of potentially getting blood clots from the vaccine is significant—because of how common blood clots are in women’s birth control and other common medications, the benefit of having another vaccine may be greater than the small risk of people who could experience this side effect. Most importantly, none of the vaccine options have been shown to carry a significant risk of serious side effects, but all give your body the ability to fight the coronavirus.
Now that the first step of getting vaccinated is available, how does one actually receive the vaccine? You have many options for locations: scheduling an appointment through local pharmacies, pediatricians, health care providers, or travel clinics are all great avenues. In addition to many local and retail options, vaccine.gov says that The Department of Health and Human Services offers a website containing thorough advice on where the best place to find a vaccine is for you, summarized in a few simple steps. The first is to search in your area by zip code, limiting your options by your chosen mile radius, and allowing you to visualize the options that work the best for you. The second step is to identify if you have health insurance or not, which brings you to the last step: choosing the location of vaccination. No matter which vaccine you receive or from whom you receive it, there is no charge for any COVID vaccine. This is thanks to the federal government, which is seeking to make the vaccine as widely available as possible to everyone in the US, including non-citizens. Everyone should investigate the best way to become vaccinated, and remember that vaccination against COVID-19 protects not only yourself from infection but also protects those around you. Until our community reaches herd immunity, everyone should stay conscious of their actions, and continue to take safety precautions such as mask-wearing, social distancing, and proper hand hygiene. With enough of us vaccinated, we will be able to return to pre-COVID life!