COVID-19 Vaccines May Have Some Surprising Benefits

Hours before the first COVID-19 vaccine was approved in the US For emergency use, I was on the phone with epidemiologists and medical experts detailing the expected benefits of widespread vaccination: there would be fewer deaths and fewer severe cases of COVID-19, so hospitals wouldn’t be so overwhelmed. The people I spoke to called the news a “light at the end of the tunnel” moment. Getting injections in as many arms as possible would be key to achieving herd immunity, they said, so that we could eventually return to something akin to pre-pandemic normalcy.

But as the three approved American vaccines, Pfizer / BioNTech, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson, have spread to more than 100 million Americans, we’ve learned that there may be more unexpected benefits from vaccination than experts initially saw coming. . These are only some of them.

Many of the vaccines offer at least some protection against the variants.

Although the rapid launch of the vaccine has made the future look brighter than it has in a long time, there is at least one ominous cloud hanging over us: COVID-19 variants, which are mutated strains of the SARS virus. -CoV-2. Experts say that some may be more contagious and possibly more deadly than the original strain. You’ve likely heard of variants B.1.1.7, B.1.351, and P.1, which have affected Great Britain, Brazil, and South Africa, respectively.

When these strains were first identified, experts weren’t sure whether existing vaccines would protect against them. Fortunately, studies have shown that both messenger ribonucleic acid (mRNA) vaccines (Pfizer and Moderna) are highly effective against variant B.1.1.7. And while these vaccines are four to seven times less effective against the P.1 variant, they can still offer a “cushion of protection,” especially after two doses, Anthony Fauci, MD, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, he said during a press conference at the White House. Preliminary research pointed to the idea that both mRNA and Johnson & Johnson vaccines would be less effective against the B.1.351 variant. However, earlier this month, Pfizer released test data showing its vaccine was 100% effective in preventing COVID-19 in South Africa, where B.1.351 is common. To be sure, the developers of the three vaccines that have been approved in the US are working quickly to try to make their formulas more effective against the variants and are experimenting with booster injections.

“All vaccines work really well for serious diseases right now and they probably offer some protection against variants,” says Preeti N. Malani, MD, director of health at the University of Michigan. “I am optimistic, but we still have to be careful at this point.”

Some COVID-19 Carriers Say Vaccines Are Relieving Their Symptoms

Between 10% and 30% of people who contract COVID-19 experience long-term symptoms, notes the National Institutes of Health. Some people who have dealt with persistent problems now say the vaccine helped ease their symptoms. “It’s turning into a lot of reports, hundreds of reports from patients that we’ve been caring for with COVID for almost a year,” Daniel Griffin, MD, PhD, head of infectious diseases at ProHealth, told CNN. “They report that after vaccination they are having a significant, if not complete, resolution of their prolonged COVID symptoms.”

In a survey of 345 people, the majority of whom lived in Britain and were women, 32% reported that their persistent COVID symptoms improved two weeks or more after the first vaccination. Other researchers are looking into this as well, although no peer-reviewed studies have been published on this topic.

It is too early to say why the vaccine can alleviate symptoms in the long term. Persistent problems may occur in people who cannot completely clear the virus from their bodies; the vaccine could trigger a strong immune system reaction to kill the virus that causes COVID-19 once and for all. It is also possible that prolonged COVID symptoms are caused by a form of immune dysfunction. The vaccine can cause an “immune reset” that solves problems, explains Dr. Malani. “We still don’t understand why some people are at risk of [long COVID]”He adds,” but the fact that we are even hearing anecdotes from people who say they have reduced symptoms after the vaccine is promising. “

COVID-19 injections pave the way for future vaccine research

In 1796, the first smallpox vaccine was created, when a British doctor injected pus into a patient “from the sores of a milkmaid who had contracted a biologically related virus from cows,” notes the Association of American Medical Colleges. Until 2020, a similar method was used for all vaccines (minus the pus): patients were often given inactivated or weakened versions of the virus itself. But what scientists have learned during the development of COVID-19 mRNA vaccines may pave the way for future vaccines, including for diseases like HIV, influenza, Zika, and rabies. (Human trials of mRNA vaccines against these diseases were already underway before COVID-19, an analysis in Nature grades). Unlike other vaccines, mRNA vaccines work by instructing our cells to make proteins or protein fragments that help our bodies recognize a key part of the virus and create an immune response to it.

“The field of vaccines has been forever transformed and advanced forever thanks to COVID-19,” Dan Barouch, MD, PhD, director of the Center for Virology and Vaccine Research at Harvard Medical School told the AAMC. .

Pregnant people can pass immunity to newborns

Although vaccine trials did not include pregnant people for ethical reasons, more than 69,000 pregnant people have been vaccinated in the US to date, and early research suggests that vaccines are likely safe and effective during pregnancy.

Not to mention, the preliminary findings of the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology They also indicate that if a pregnant person receives the vaccine during pregnancy, it could also provide protection to newborns. This builds on other research that showed vaccinated people can transmit COVID-19 antibodies through the placenta to the fetus. More research is needed to confirm these findings, but if true, it would be great news, as some newborns are more vulnerable to serious illness and a vaccine for this age group is unlikely to be approved anytime soon.

The vaccine can make people less contagious

For the most part, COVID-19 vaccines prevent people from contracting the virus in the first place. But in the rare event that someone tests positive after the injection, their viral load will likely be much lower than that of an unvaccinated person, an Israeli study suggests (which, fair warning, has yet to be peer-reviewed). . There are two benefits of having a low viral load (which refers to the amount of virus detected in a person’s system): They will have less risk of getting serious illness, and they may not pass the virus to other people as easily.

Vaccines May Reduce COVID Anxiety

Sure, we knew getting the vaccine would be a relief, but many people say they didn’t expect to feel so good post-shot. “For the past year, people have been afraid of doing normal things like seeing their friends and family, and they have really felt alone,” says Dr. Malani. “Being isolated and lonely are also big health risks, and can physically affect both young and old adults.” For some, getting vaccinated and letting go of COVID anxiety feels like taking the first breath of fresh air in a year.

“After the second take, I had that ‘aha’ moment where things are looking up and we’re moving toward our new normal, whatever the new normal is,” says New Yorker Alexa Nikiforou. “There was a feeling of hope

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