In December of 2020, Sandra Lindsey, Port Washington resident and director of critical care at Long Island Jewish Medical Center in Queens, received the first dose of any COVID-19 vaccine in the country and in the state. It is over two months later and 17% of Nassau County residents and 13% of Suffolk community members have at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccination.
COVID-19 cases are decreasing because more people are protected. However, there are a lot of misconceptions when it comes to the Pfizer, Moderna and the recently approved Johnson & Johnson vaccines, one being the efficacy rate.
“The most common misconception is the 95% [efficacy rate],” said Miguel A. Saldivar, an M.D. at Stony Brook Hospital. “People think that if 100 people get the vaccine, 95 will be protected and five will get the disease. It doesn’t really work like that.”
Saldivar explained how the number is determined by the trial results of those in a study group who are given the actual vaccine and others who are given a placebo. From there, scientists use complicated algorithms along with the results of the trials to come up with “95%”.
The latest approved Johnson & Johnson vaccine’s effectiveness rate is lower than Moderna and Pfizers, being at 66%. But with a limited amount of vaccines worldwide, Saldivar believes it doesn’t hurt to get Johnson & Johnson if it is offered to someone, and it only requires one shot, as opposed to the Modern and Pfizer vaccines which requires two shots.
“It is a low number,” said Saldivar. “However, once you put it in context of comparing the two groups, the vaccinated versus non vaccinated, it’s still really high. In a good year, the influenza vaccine is about 50% effective. At this point, the best vaccine is the one you can get your arm to.”
Certified Nursing Assistant at Stony Brook Eastern Long Island Hospital, Christopher Perdomo, got both doses of the Moderna vaccine, the first one being given in December. He decided to get it to reduce the risk of exposure to his family and friends.
“Getting the first vaccine felt like a huge weight being lifted off my shoulders,” said Perdomo. “I feel more safe being around other people knowing there’s less of a chance of me giving it to them and hopefully they’ve been vaccinated too.”
Perdomo was eligible to get the vaccine early because he is a healthcare worker, one of the categories of people in the 1A and B groups. People in these groups also include P-12 teachers, police officers, first responders, people 65 and over, public transportation workers and more. As of Feb. 15, those 16 and over with risky medical conditions like cancer, sickle cell anemia and other health risks are qualified for the vaccine as well.
“The group 1A consists of hospital workers who have direct patient contact, and people think it’s only nurses and doctors” said Saldivar. “But this went well beyond that to include housekeeping staff, and the people who brought the food trays to the patient’s bedside.”
Saldivar explained how anyone who has direct patient contact was in group 1A. The 1B was added on to expand other fields that have direct contact with others not in a hospital setting. Although these groups are eligible, no one is mandated to take it. In other states such as Kentucky, Virginia, and Texas, they are moving into vaccinating the 1c group starting this month.
Perdomo believes that those who are on the fence about it should take it, but consult their physician first and make sure they’re reasonably healthy.
“RNA vaccines are theoretically much more efficient at preventing you from getting sick with actual symptoms,” said Perdomo.
When referring to RNA vaccines, these include Pfizer and Moderna, which use Messenger RNA (mRNA) technology. Saldivar claims that people have concerns of the vaccine changing their genetic code. This is false.
“The mRNA fragment is a set of instructions that’s delivered to your body and it teaches your body how to make a single protein, which is a component of the virus itself,” said Saldivar. “So in essence, it’s teaching your body to recognize that fragment so that if the virus ever enters your body, it has a way of recognizing it.”
Saldivar also added that once these instructions are delivered, the mRNA is dissolved, therefore having no way to reach deep structures of cells. On the other hand, the Johnson & Johnson vaccine works differently. The vaccine has instead a adenovirus, a type of virus that is modified with a spike protein, to help enter cells. The protein prevents the adenovirus from reproducing therefore not causing said disease.
Because in the past people of color have been experimented on, studies show they have more of a distrust in medical workers. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a majority of those vaccinated in the U.S. are white, with just about eight percent being Hispanic/Latino, over six percent being Black and about four percent being Asian.
“I noticed from observation an apprehension towards the vaccine from minority groups,” said Perdomo, who is also Hispanic. “I think that animosity right now, between minority groups in the government is at an all time high. That, on top of the pandemic is really decreasing the efficiency that we’re kind of reaching the minority groups with when we’re trying to convey accurate information.”
Perdomo also mentions that there can be language barriers that cause distrust and misinformation between the government and these communities. He believes starting more outreach programs and having more bilingual people administering the vaccine will help gain some trust back.
Saldivar agrees with Perdomo’s remarks. He explained how Stony Brook Hospital is addressing the low vaccination rates of minority communities.
“We’re doing some studies to see how we can address that [lack of trust with physicians],” said Saldivar. “It’s an ongoing process right now. We have a couple of Spanish speaking practitioners now in our department that we are reaching out to. It’s a process and going to take some time.”
The lack of distrust, combined with lack of access to healthcare and racism, is also said to be a factor as to why vaccinations in minority communities are lower compared to white communities according to Kaiser Health News.
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