Dr. Timothy Farrell, a geriatrician at the University of Utah, said he was surprised but delighted with the effectiveness of the vaccines in this group. “It will be very important to see the subgroup analysis,” he said – that is, to see if there are any significant differences after age 85.
Even so, he has recommended the vaccine to all of his patients who are between 65 and 106 years old.
“We have a clear and present threat to Covid and we have social isolation,” said Dr. Farrell. “We know that this is an independent risk factor for mortality that is even stronger than individual chronic diseases.”
Dr. Inouye came to the same conclusion both professionally and personally.
Her 91-year-old mother, who lives in an assisted living facility, is independent and bubbly, still plays the piano and bridge, and exercises regularly. However, her mother’s age, state of health and living situation put her at a “very, very, very high risk of Covid,” said Dr. Inouye.
“We are very concerned about her every day,” she added. “When you counterbalance this tremendous fear, I just think the risk for you of getting Covid is so much higher than the risk of a side effect that we know will be very rare.”
The road to a coronavirus vaccine ›
Answers to your vaccine questions
With a coronavirus vaccine spreading out of the US, here are answers to some questions you may be wondering about:
- If I live in the US, when can I get the vaccine? While the exact order of vaccine recipients may vary from state to state, most doctors and residents of long-term care facilities will come first. If you want to understand how this decision is made, this article will help.
- When can I get back to normal life after the vaccination? Life will only get back to normal once society as a whole receives adequate protection against the coronavirus. Once countries have approved a vaccine, they can only vaccinate a few percent of their citizens in the first few months. The unvaccinated majority remain susceptible to infection. A growing number of coronavirus vaccines show robust protection against disease. However, it is also possible that people spread the virus without knowing they are infected because they have mild symptoms or no symptoms at all. Scientists don’t yet know whether the vaccines will also block the transmission of the coronavirus. Even vaccinated people have to wear masks for the time being, avoid the crowds indoors and so on. Once enough people are vaccinated, it becomes very difficult for the coronavirus to find people at risk to become infected. Depending on how quickly we as a society achieve this goal, life could approach a normal state in autumn 2021.
- Do I still have to wear a mask after the vaccination? Yeah, but not forever. The two vaccines that may be approved this month clearly protect people from contracting Covid-19. However, the clinical trials that produced these results were not designed to determine whether vaccinated people could still spread the coronavirus without developing symptoms. That remains a possibility. We know that people who are naturally infected with the coronavirus can spread it without experiencing a cough or other symptoms. Researchers will study this question intensively when the vaccines are introduced. In the meantime, self-vaccinated people need to think of themselves as potential spreaders.
- Will it hurt What are the side effects? The vaccine against Pfizer and BioNTech, like other typical vaccines, is delivered as a shot in the arm. The injection is no different from the ones you received before. Tens of thousands of people have already received the vaccines, and none of them have reported serious health problems. However, some of them have experienced short-lived symptoms, including pain and flu-like symptoms that usually last a day. It is possible that people will have to plan to take a day off or go to school after the second shot. While these experiences are not pleasant, they are a good sign: they are the result of your own immune system’s encounter with the vaccine and a strong response that ensures lasting immunity.
- Will mRNA vaccines change my genes? No. Moderna and Pfizer vaccines use a genetic molecule to boost the immune system. This molecule, known as mRNA, is eventually destroyed by the body. The mRNA is packaged in an oily bubble that can fuse with a cell, allowing the molecule to slide inside. The cell uses the mRNA to make proteins from the coronavirus that can stimulate the immune system. At any given moment, each of our cells can contain hundreds of thousands of mRNA molecules that they produce to make their own proteins. As soon as these proteins are made, our cells use special enzymes to break down the mRNA. The mRNA molecules that our cells make can only survive a few minutes. The mRNA in vaccines is engineered to withstand the cell’s enzymes a little longer, so the cells can make extra viral proteins and trigger a stronger immune response. However, the mRNA can hold for a few days at most before it is destroyed.
For many people, the prospect of getting a new vaccine against a new virus is daunting.
Fear of side effects deterred Jeffrey Balkind’s wife from volunteering for the vaccine trials, but the 74-year-old Balkind stared at death twice – once during a 13-day kidnapping in Pakistan in 1981 and again three years ago when his Vespa crashed.
“If you’ve had near-death experiences twice and volunteered to try a vaccination, it wasn’t a big feeling of concern or concern for me,” Balkind said.