The COVID-19 vaccines can have some surprising benefits
In the hours before the first COVID-19 vaccine was approved in the United States 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 serious cases of COVID-19, so hospitals would not be so overwhelmed. The people I spoke to called the news a “light at the end of the tunnel”
; moment. Getting shots in as many arms as possible would be the key to achieving herd immunity, they said, so that we could eventually return to some form of prepandemic normality. But as the three approved U.S. vaccines – Pfizer / BioNTech, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson – have rolled out to more than 100 million Americans, we’ve learned that there may be more unexpected benefits to vaccination than experts originally came. Here are just a few of them. Many of the vaccines offer at least some protection against the variants Although the rapid vaccine rollout has made the future look brighter than it has for a while, at least one ominous cloud hangs over us: COVID-19 variants, which are mutated strains of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. Experts say some may be more contagious and possibly more deadly than the original strain. You have probably heard of the B.1.1.7, B.1.351 and P.1 variants that have affected the UK, Brazil and South Africa respectively. When these strains were first identified, experts were unsure whether the existing vaccines would protect against them. Fortunately, studies have shown that both messenger ribonucleic acid (mRNA) vaccines (Pfizer and Moderna) are very effective against the B.1.1.7 variant. 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, said. during a press briefing in the White House. Early research pointed to the idea that both mRNA vaccines and Johnson & Johnson would be less effective against the B.1.351 variant. However, earlier this month, Pfizer released experimental data showing that their vaccine was 100% effective in preventing COVID-19 in South Africa, where B.1.351 is common. To be on the safe side, the developers of all three vaccines approved in the US are working fast to try to make their formulas more effective against the variants and experiment with booster shots. “All vaccines work really well for serious illness right now and are likely to provide some protection against the variants,” said Preeti N. Malani, MD, chief health officer at the University of Michigan. “I’m optimistic, but we still have to be careful right now.” Some COVID-19 long-haulers say the vaccines relieve their symptoms. Between 10% and 30% of people who receive COVID-19 experience long-term symptoms, the National Institutes of Health notes. Some people who have treated long-term problems now say that the vaccine helped ease their symptoms. “There will be a large number of reports, hundreds of reports of patients that we have been caring for COVID for almost a year now,” Daniel Griffin, MD, PhD, head of infectious diseases at ProHealth, told CNN. “They report that after vaccination they have a significant, if not complete, resolution of their long-term COVID symptoms.” In a study of 345 people – most of whom lived in the UK and were women – 32% reported that their prolonged COVID symptoms improved two weeks or more after their first vaccine. Other researchers are also looking at this, although no peer-reviewed studies on this topic have been published. It is too early to say why the vaccine may alleviate long-term symptoms. It is possible that lingering problems occur in people who are unable to completely clear the virus from their bodies; the vaccine could elicit a robust response from the immune system to nibble the virus that causes COVID-19 once and for all. It is also possible that long-term COVID symptoms are due to some form of immune dysfunction. The vaccine may require an “immune reset” that solves the problems, explains Dr. Malani. “We still do not understand why some people are in danger [long COVID]”She adds,” but the fact that we even hear anecdotes about people who say they have reduced symptoms after the vaccine is promising. “COVID-19 shots pave the way for future vaccine research In 1796, the first vaccine ever created against smallpox, when a British doctor injected a patient with pus” from the wounds 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 pus) – patients often received inactivated or attenuated versions of the virus itself. But what researchers have learned while developing mRNA COVID-19 vaccines could pave the way for future vaccines, including for diseases such as HIV, influenza, Zika and rabies. (Human trials with mRNA vaccines against these diseases were already underway before COVID-19, an analysis in Nature notes). Unlike other vaccines, mRNA vaccines work by instructing our cells to make proteins or pieces of protein that help our body recognize a key element of the virus and create an immune response to it. “The vaccine field has forever been transformed and forever advanced because of COVID-19,” Dan Barouch, MD, PhD, director of the Center for Virology and Vaccine Research at Harvard Medical School, told AAMC. Pregnant people can transfer immunity to newborns Although vaccine trials did not include pregnant women for ethical reasons, more than 69,000 pregnant women have been vaccinated in the United States to date, and early studies suggest that the vaccines are likely to be safe and effective during pregnancy. Not to mention, preliminary findings from the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology also indicate that if a pregnant person receives the vaccine while she is expecting, they can also provide protection to newborns. This is based on other research that showed that vaccinated humans can carry antibodies to COVID-19 through the placenta to the fetus. More research is needed to confirm these findings, but if true, it would be big news as some newborns are more vulnerable to serious illness and it is unlikely that a vaccine will be approved for this age group soon. Vaccination can make people less contagious. For the most part, COVID-19 vaccines prevent humans in the first place. However, in the rare case that someone tests positive after jab, their viral load is likely to be much lower than that of an unvaccinated person, an Israeli study suggests (that, fair warning, has not yet been peer-reviewed). There are two benefits to having a low viral load (which refers to the amount of virus detected in a person’s system): They have a lower risk of serious illness and they may not spread the virus as easily to others. The vaccines can reduce COVID anxiety Sure, we knew it would be a relief to get the vaccine – but many people say they did not expect to feel so good after the shot. “Over the last year, people have been scared to do normal things like see their friends and family, and they’ve been really lonely,” says Dr. Malani. “Being isolated and lonely are also major health risks, and they can take a physical toll on both younger and older adults.” For some, getting vaccinated and letting go of the COVID anxiety feels like taking the first deep breath of fresh air in a year. “After the second shot – I had that ‘aha’ moment where things looked up and we’re moving towards our new normal, no matter what the new normal will be,” says New Yorker Alexa Nikiforou. “There was a sense of hope. Like what you see? How about something more R29 goodness right here? 9 Common vaccine myths, debunked What happens if you get two different vaccines?