Hospitals have been offering the first vaccinations against COVID-19 in our community. Just as crucial as properly storing the vaccine or administering shots is the health education that accompanies them.
One of those on the front lines of health education is Dr. Ronald Reynoso, chief medical officer at Adventist Health Bakersfield and Adventist Health Tehachapi Valley. So far, more than 1,000 employees — including Reynoso — have been vaccinated at Adventist Health Bakersfield.
As at many local hospitals, some employees have been eager to get the vaccine the moment they could, but some had questions or waited to see how it would affect their coworkers first.
The Californian asked Dr. Reynoso how the vaccine works, so that readers can be armed with information when their turn comes, whether they are prioritized sooner or later by the Kern County Public Health Services Department. This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.
Q. This vaccine was developed quickly. Why should we trust that it's safe?
A. You have to take into consideration all the changes in technology over the years. We have been working on similar vaccines. When we had the first SARS infection, which is another type of coronavirus, they were working on a vaccine for that. That condition died down, but people were already in research mode for that. So you can say that there was a basic foundation that helped expedite things.
The other thing is something happens all the time across human history. When we face a challenge as humans, we push hard and come up with solutions. We had a lot of bright minds working across the planet with the best use of technology and research to push for something that we know is necessary. That is a simple explanation.
All the industrial countries like ours have a rigorous net for developing vaccines. All of this has been put into consideration. Even though it appears to be fast, they are not jumping the hoops. This is science that you don't mess around or play with. You go through all those steps. The trials involve a lot of people, and a representation of all sorts of ethnicities throughout the country.
Q. How does this new mRNA technology behind the vaccine work? Does it affect our DNA or fertility?
A. [Messenger RNA] comes into your body and makes your body become alerted to a certain piece of the virus, so the body can identify that piece and target that piece and try to deal with the infection, which is COVID-19. It's not replicating anything else in your body. It's not making any other changes in your body. It's not messing with your DNA, per se.
There's this misconception that because there is a protein that is similar to one of the male reproductive organs, that it is going to cause infertility. That is not right. You cannot stretch the science that way. This is producing a specific reaction to a certain protein of the virus, so the body can recognize the organism as foreign and take care of it.
What is making people uneasy is that it is a new type of vaccine. Before, we either used a live virus or killed virus to produce that response. Now we're just using a piece of the virus to do that.
Q. What would you tell someone who has experienced anaphylaxis and is concerned about reports of allergic reactions from the vaccine?
A. First thing is to have a discussion with your physician. You have to weigh risk versus benefit. If you have identified a trigger and it is a component in the vaccine, it would be a smart solution to not use the vaccine that has that one. We have Pfizer and Moderna, and there are (other vaccines) that might be coming down the line.
If the trigger factor is unknown, you can talk with your primary care provider about whether medication prior to the vaccine will be necessary. Or you might need to be monitored to get the vaccine to see how you react and take medication to minimize that reaction.
Obviously, you have to take into consideration how at-risk you are. If you really are out and getting close to COVID and your risk is higher, you will need that protection. You have to say, "What will happen if I get COVID? Is my immune system going to trigger an allergic response that is going to be as bad?"
Q. Will people need to continue to mask and social distance when they've already had both doses of COVID?
A. For the vaccine to be effective and to have your body recognize and be prepared, it takes several weeks. With the second booster, you are just increasing that knowledge to your immune system to be prepared. People should not be overconfident or cocky and say, "Because I got it, I'm not going to take any precautions and not get it." Because before the time your system might be ready to fight it, you can contract it.
For us to have herd immunity after everyone is vaccinated, you have to have 80 percent of the population. That is what is going to get us really protected as a population. That is when we can not have to worry about other protective measures. I think we have a long way ahead to get there.
You might be getting the vaccine, and you're getting the protection, but if you don't take the precautions, you might get the virus and transmit it to somebody. You might get the benefit of the vaccine and not have any effects or a severe (case) of it, but you could pass it to others. The last thing you'd want to do is pass it on to a loved one or friend and have them die.
Q. Initially, there was a recommendation to wait 90 days to get the vaccine if you had COVID-19? Is that still true?
A. This was mostly done because of how many doses were available. But that recommendation is no longer there. According to the manufacturers and the CDC, there is no hard stop on when you can get it. You should be asymptomatic from the disease itself if you have been exposed to it. But you don't have to wait.