Note: The following is a letter I sent to all the staff of Bay Haven Seniors, a joint Retirement and Nursing Home. There has been rather a lot of variable information about the new Covid vaccines out there, and I wanted to address that up front. Some of this information may help you as well, so I’m copying it here.
To: All Staff at Bay HavenFrom: Dr. M. S. Gandhi, Medical Director
Re: New Vaccines for COVID19
As I think all of you are now aware, Bay Haven has been fortunate to have our staff given the opportunity to immunize early with the new vaccines for COVID19. There has been much written about the vaccines in print and on Social Media (unfortunately!!) . I wanted to let you know about some information on the development of the vaccine, and why I do strongly encourage people to get the vaccine.
In “normal” times (remember those?), when a drug company thinks about whether it’s a good idea to develop a vaccine for a certain disease, there is a bit of convoluted process that has to happen first. Some officious bureaucrat at the drug company does a cost analysis on how much it will cost to make the vaccine and how much profit could be made from it. Then it goes to a regulatory body in the host country where some other pointy headed bureaucrat looks at how widespread the disease is and whether it’s worth while to approve a trial. Then it goes back to the company where some lawyer reviews the cost/benefit ratio, whence it goes back to the officious bureaucrat and then back to the pointy headed one. Amazingly enough (and I’m not kidding here) this process can take 2,3, even 5 years before a trial even begins.
This time, every body agreed right off the bat that it was good idea to have a vaccine for COVID19, and so the up to five years of paperwork was eliminated. Seriously, that bureaucratic bafflegab can take that long.
The next step after the paper work is done is for a vaccine to undergo three phases of trials. It’s important to know that both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines DID undergo all three phases of trials. Given the catastrophic situation around COVID, the trials were done quickly, but they were fully completed. The Pfizer trials had about 42,000 people (by the way about 35% were people of colour ). The Moderna vaccine had over 30,000 people (also with 35% people of colour). The trials were extremely successful (94-95% effectiveness).
The main side effects are the same as you would get from just about every other vaccine (pain at the injection site, fatigue, muscle pain, joint pain, fever). These side effects are rare and and if they occur, go away in a couple of days.
There has also been a lot of talk about the fact that these are the first vaccines to be developed using “mRNA” technology. I appreciate that when people talk about genetics, it can cause many people to have second thoughts. But, mRNA technology has been studied for something like 30 years now in the oncology field. Additionally, mRNA cannot and will not affect your genes. It’s your genes that make mRNA in your body. Your mRNA can’t go backwards and affect your genes.
In short mRNA vaccines are an efficient, safe process. They actually herald a new era of vaccine development that promises rapid and effective prevention for new pandemics in the future. This is a good thing.
I also want to address some concerns about side effects circulating on social media. The first is with respect to Bell’s Palsy. There were four people in the Pfizer trials who developed Bell’s Palsy (now recovered) after getting a dose of the vaccine. This translates to a side effect rate of .01%. However, the “background rate” for Bell’s Palsy is .03%. Put another way, if we were to simply pick 40,000 people at random, and watch them for a year, we would expect 12 people to get Bell’s Palsy. This is why health professionals don’t feel that Bell’s Palsy is related to the vaccines.
Second, there is some talk about anaphylactic reactions (which can happen with any vaccines). With the Pfizer vaccine the concern is polyethylene glycol. Moderna has this in their vaccine too, but it seems in a different manner. There may be some concern about this for patients who have severe allergies (to the point that you carry an epi-pen). The best recommendation I could give is that if, and only if, you allergies are so bad that you need an epi-pen, it would be reasonable to wait for the Moderna vaccine (which just got approved today). We expect this vaccine to be available for distribution in February. If you do not need an epi-pen, then you should get the Pfizer one as it is out already.
If you want additional material, there is a nice thread from one of Ontario’s leading infectious disease specialists here:
There’s also a great interview with one of Ontario’s leading allergists/immunologists here:
Finally, I would like to thank all of you for all the hard work you have done this year. 2020 is a year that we will never forget, and I suspect a year that we are all anxious to give the boot too. Yet despite the hardship, the challenges and the seemingly unending (bad) surprises, you have continued to keep the residents safe, clean and comfortable. Providing this at the latter stages of peoples lives is the absolute minimum sign of respect we can show, and the staff have done that in spades this year.
Thank you again, and allow me to wish all of you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!
Dr. M. S. Gandhi
Medical Director, Bay Haven