I received my first dose of the Pfizer vaccine recently. Here is what I wanted to know first.

Question 1. Was the science rushed?
Answer: No the science wasn’t rushed. We had a head start.

The world has experienced coronaviruses before, two were epidemic: SARS-CoV (2002-2003) and MERS-CoV (2012-13).

The current coronavirus is called SARS-CoV –2 because it closely resembles SARS CoV from 2002, hence the number “2”. In fact, the genetic structure of SARS-CoV-2 is almost 80% similar to that of SARS-CoV  1,2.

Back in 2002 after the first SARS-CoV showed up, molecular biologists and virologists started working on a vaccine. But after 2005, no new cases showed up so many of these scientists changed their focus. Then MERS hit and the same thing happened again.

Here is a nice article by Badgjar et al. showing their query of the scientific research and you can see how vaccine research increased and then faded.

Badgujar KC, Badgujar VC, Badgujar SB. Vaccine development against coronavirus (2003 to present)

When Covid hit, molecular biologists specializing in coronaviruses were already on their 3rd generation of vaccine development. The reason we have a vaccine so quickly is not because the science was rushed, the science has been there. We have a vaccine already because the entire scientific community worldwide made it a priority and funding poured in to support them.

Question 2: Is it safe?
Answer: Yes, based on the data we have currently.

Over 5 million people have been vaccinated here in the US and the numbers are growing. The side effects are mild with a few exceptions which is consistent with other vaccines.

While I would like to have 5-10 -20 year data on the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, I am not willing to risk a SARS-CoV-2 infection until then. Nor am I willing to live in a cave and wait it out.

Question 3: Would it be better to wait and hope we find a drug to treat SARS-CoV-2?
Answer: No

We have no miracle pill or immediate cure for this, which coincidentally, is what I have to tell many cancer patients. Many people seek to avoid the “toxicity” associated with chemicals in the environment, or with taking medications. They want a more “natural” treatment.

What is more natural than teaching your own immune system to attack a foreign invader?

Vaccines are a way we teach the body to heal itself.

Additional Resources I found helpful for this post:

Goop Podcast With Dr. Otto Yang, Infectious Disease, UCLA

New York Times: How Nine Covid-19 Vaccines Work

Department of Health and Human Services Covid-19 FAQ

 

1 Lu R, Zhao X, Li J, Niu P, Yang B, Wu H et al. Genomic characterization and epidemiology of 2019 novel coronavirus: implications for virus origins and receptor binding. Lancet 6736;2020: 1-10.

2 Dhama K, Sharun K, Tiwari R, Dadard M, et al. COVID-19, an emerging coronavirus infection: advances and prospects in designing and developing vaccines, immunotherapeutics, and therapeutics. Hum Vaccines Immunother 2020. https://doi.org/10.1080/21645515.2020.1735227

3 Badgujar KC, Badgujar VC, Badgujar SB. Vaccine development against coronavirus (2003 to present): An overview, recent advances, current scenario, opportunities, and challenges. Diabetes Metab Syndr. 2020 Sep-Oct;14(5):1361-1376. doi: 10.1016/j.dsx.2020.07.022. Epub 2020 Jul 21. PMID: 32755836

Patient-focused treatment, and an individualized approach to oncology means Dr. Norleena Gullett is not just treating cancer, she's treating the whole person.