Perhaps the greatest gift during the holidays for a nation weary and tired of living nine months under the burden of the pandemic came last week, as scores of front-line health-care workers across the country began receiving the first round of their vaccinations against the deadly coronavirus.
Health-care workers at EAMC were no exception, as those who spend more than 25 percent of their work time directly treating patients began receiving their shots. That group included Dr. Ricardo Maldonado, infectious disease specialist, and Chief of Staff Dr. Michael Roberts, both of whom have provided expert guidance for the Auburn community during the pandemic.
"I think the whole country is tired of this pandemic — that includes every single one of us on the front line," said Maldonado, who got his vaccine shot last Wednesday. "We have seen so much pain and death the last nine months, and today for me I can see a light at the end of the tunnel. This first vaccine for Covid-19 presents an opportunity to change the trajectory of the pandemic. It's been an incredible effort from our scientists and really this should be celebrated.
"What we do with the vaccine is really up to us now. Our job is to educate the people so we can build vaccine confidence so we can seize this moment. Obviously, if there's any way out of this pandemic it's with a vaccine. For me, it's very exciting and I hope we do our part."
Maldonado said he understands that people are nervous about getting the vaccine, but noted how vaccines have historically made a huge impact and "changed the world so many times," citing the vaccine for smallpox, which helped eradicate the disease during the '60s and '70s when the world banded together in an eradication campaign.
The two Covid-19 vaccines by Pfizer and Moderna that have received emergency use authorization by the FDA underwent extensive, albeit accelerated, trials. Both were found to have an efficacy rate of around 95 percent and few adverse side effects.
"This technology is amazing, and I'm hopeful that it makes a difference and this is the beginning of the end of the pandemic," said Maldonado of the Covid-19 vaccines. "But we have to educate the population and make them understand that they have to believe in scientists. What we shouldn't do is politicize the vaccine; we have politicized enough of this problem and that hasn't helped us at all. It's time to believe our scientists. We have some of the best in the world.
"It's to be celebrated. It's incredible what they've done. You have to give credit to Operation Warp Speed and our scientists. To do this is just simply incredible."
Roberts, who also received a vaccine last Wednesday, said he also understands the concerns of some people who fear that maybe the trials didn't reveal something that may emerge when the vaccines are given to a wider swath of the public.
"This vaccine appears to be very safe and very effective based on the science and based on all the trials done by Pfizer," he said. "The question is could there be something out there that you didn't pick up when you did a trial of 40,000 people but you might pick up when you give it to 200 million people. I guess that possibility is out there, but it seems unlikely.
"But I know what Covid-19 does. I've seen it. And Covid-19 is a virus that can kill 300,000 Americans in nine months — in nine months this calendar year. And so to me it's very simple math. If you want something to be concerned about and to get upset over, be upset about the death we've seen, be upset about what Ricardo and I have seen, what our whole staff (has seen) at EAMC this year. I understand that people fear about the unknown, and that's legitimate, but I think we have to look at it objectively and consider what our goals are. We've been waiting on this thing to go away."
Both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines require two doses, given about three to four weeks apart. Getting two doses gives people "the best chance to have a longer immunity," said Maldonado.
"We're hoping that immunity lasts very long," he said.
Side effects are typically short-lived, lasting 24-48 hours, added Maldonado, who said that about 20 to 30 percent of those receiving the vaccine will get a "little bit of fever or body aches."
"Hopefully, 10 days from now I'll start building up good enough antibodies that it will help prevent getting infected with Covid," he said.
Scientists are currently debating the level of vaccination in the populace to achieve heard immunity, said Maldonado, who added that 50 to 70 percent of the population would likely need to be vaccinated.
"I think if we vaccinate at least half of the population, probably the transmission rate would be very low. We would need at least 50 percent of the population to be vaccinated to have herd immunity to end the pandemic," he said.
Both Roberts and Maldonado said it's still essential for people to adhere to mask, social distancing and gathering guidelines.