January 2021 Newsletter

This month, I will focus my newsletter on the recently released vaccine for SARs-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. I will also touch on the new UK variant of the virus that has been in the media over the past few weeks.

Will my office be offering the vaccine?

No. I did not register to be an official provider to administer the vaccine. Due to my practice’s nature, I don’t have a large enough population to justify storing and distributing the vaccine’s current versions.

Where can you get a vaccine?

Each city/county has a unique approach to distributing the vaccine. In Collin County, you can register on the link below if you qualify as part of group 1A and 1B. 

I predict there will be ample vaccines available over the next few months, so go ahead and register online and be patient.

What changes cab I expect when I get the vaccine?

The biggest change is you will have a better chance of survival if you do catch COVID-19. Otherwise, not much will seem different; masks and social distancing will remain in place. Roughly 70% of the population needs to get this version of the vaccine to achieve herd immunity. That is going to take a year (if we are lucky). Tracking how Americans accept vaccines, only 45% of people routinely get the annual flu vaccine. That is a far cry from the 70% needed. However, the more people that receive this vaccine, the fewer hospitalizations from COVID-19 we will have. Reducing the number of people that require hospital support is critical to offloading the current stress on the medical system.

Which vaccine do I recommend?

At the moment, there are two vaccines available (Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna). They are both mRNA vaccines, and they are both excellent. If given the opportunity, either version is fine. The mRNA vaccine’s advantage are safety and efficacy.

In my last newsletter, I referenced how I prefer the Johnson and Johnson vaccine. For a graphical demonstration of how this vaccine works, you can read the New York Times article published a few days ago. The J&J version uses DNA instead of mRNA to generate immunity. It also uses a viral vector (Adenovirus) instead of a less stable lipid bilayer. The viral vector approach gives the Johnson and Johnson vaccine better stability (can be stored in a regular refrigerator for months), better effectiveness (100 % in some studies), and decreased transmission of the virus (compared to reduced hospitalization only with the mRNA models). Finally, you will only need one shot instead of two, and the cost is $3/shot. For all these reasons, every country in the world will be able to vaccinate its population. Once this vaccine launches, the pandemic will very likely end, and at the very least slow down. Again, this is my opinion when I read the data. The vaccine should be available sometime between February and April of this year. As newer vaccines come out, I will continue to compare and contrast each for you. Below is a chart comparing Pfizer to Johnson and Johnson.

 

What is the new UK variant of the coronavirus?

The UK has been excellent about tracking mutations in the coronavirus. The coronavirus is an RNA virus and, as a result, is susceptible to mutations (the RNA virus does not have a proofreading system like a DNA based virus such as Smallpox and HPV). Most mutations are minor and do not affect the way the virus functions. However, the recent mutation changed the now-famous spike protein and tightened the bond between the virus and the ACE-2 receptor (the human receptor used by the virus to enter the body). In short, this means you need to be exposed to less virus to become infected. The original virus spread at a 1:1 ratio; one infected person would infect one non-infected person. The new UK strain spreads up to 50% faster; one person with the infection can infect 1.5 people.

If there is good news about this new UK variant, the lethality is unchanged and the vaccine remains effective. Considering how easy the new version spreads, it is critical to get vaccinated when possible. As I noted above, register to get in line and be patient. The next few months will look very different than today as the vaccine role out continues to improve.

As always, feel free to respond with any comments or questions.

Stay healthy,

Nelson X. Simmons, MD