By Dana-Farber oncology nurse Melissa Houston, RN, BSN
When the first shipments of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine arrived at Boston-area hospitals last week, including Dana-Farber, I was quick to sign up. I understand both how vital getting the vaccine will be in preventing COVID-19, and the many reasons why it is important and safe for everybody to get it. I encourage others to do the same when the vaccine becomes available to them.
You can trust the science.
Fortunately, I’ve had the opportunity to work with a lot of physicians in the infectious disease department at Dana-Farber. They have been instrumental in researching not only COVID-19, but also the vaccine. They trust in its efficacy, and I do as well.
The vaccine does not give you the virus.
This is one of the greatest misconceptions out there. While other vaccines contain weakened versions of a targeted virus to help the body’s immune system adjust to and then fight it off, the COVID-19 vaccine does not. What it does contain is genetic material called modified messenger RNA (mRNA), which helps cells create a protein known as a “spike protein” on the surface of the COVID-19 virus. The body’s immune system recognizes the harmless spike protein as foreign, and creates antibodies to fight it — along with the virus.
It is our duty to contribute to an overall healthier society.
Just as it would be irresponsible of me to not practice proper social distancing guidelines, wear a mask, and wash my hands, I should get the vaccine as soon as its available to further increase the chances of the U.S. reaching full herd immunity. (Herd immunity occurs when a critical mass of people become immune to a pathogen like SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.) While it’s not yet clear if any vaccines prevent COVID-19 from spreading from person to person, I know that my getting the vaccine contributes to the long-term well-being of my community.
Yes, it was developed fast — but still very safely.
The U.S. Federal Drug Administration (FDA) developed a new, rigorous process to ensure vaccine safety. The development process became an all-hands-on-deck when we realized the devastating impact of the virus — how many people it affected and how many were sick or dying from it. We have seen, based on the data, the safeness and effectiveness of the vaccine.
Ethical concerns have been taken into consideration throughout vaccine testing.
There were many checks and balances put in place during the development of this vaccine to prevent any type of unethical treatment by race, gender, ethnicity, or any other classification. I feel confident that no ill or adverse side-effects will come to any group of people.
The truth is well-documented.
I continue to educate myself, and continue to look at the differences and similarities between this and other vaccines that people have received in the past for viruses like the flu. Do your own research, like reading the FDA and U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention websites. You’ll gain a better understanding of why the vaccine is so vital.
This is hopefully a step toward some kind of normalcy. What our new normal is going to look like, no one knows. But this is something we can all do to get there safely.
Melissa Houston has been a nurse at Dana-Farber for 17 years, focused primarily on helping patients with hematologic malignancies (blood cancers) and those undergoing bone marrow transplants.
The current hope is that most oncology patients on active treatment will be able to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. Based on evidence from flu vaccinations, the data suggests that patients with cancer would be able to mount some level of protective immune response, though a number of factors may affect the level of response. Additional research on effectiveness and safety for these patients is ongoing. Please talk to your care team if you have any questions about whether you should receive the vaccine.