Lexi Schnaser—Staff Writer
Gideon Brandsma, a nursing student at Dordt, hosted a COVID-19 vaccine panel featuring professors Kate Vander Veen, Kristin Van De Griend, and Jeff Ploegstra on April 5. Vander Veen has been practicing and teaching nursing for over 30 years, Van De Griend is an epidemiologist and public health expert, and Ploegstra’s background is in molecular biology.
Brandsma said his goal in creating the panel was to help students and other members of the Dordt community make informed decisions about the vaccine. Following are some of the questions and answers brought up at the panel.
Q: As university students, we are instructed to consider sources. How do we think critically about information regarding the vaccine?
A: This is an important question with which we should all grapple. One of the most important ways to be a critical consumer is to receive your information from multiple sources, such as the U.S. government, governments of other countries, advocacy and health education groups, hospitals, and campus health programs. Try to seek your information from as many sources as possible who have training in the information you are seeking.
Q: What is the difference between the Pfizer and Johnson and Johnson vaccine?
A: Vaccines present your immune system with an antigen that your body will recognize as foreign so that your immune system will trigger the correct response. These new vaccines are doing the same thing, except they are delivering the genetic code for a very small part of the virus. This piece of the virus can’t reproduce in you, but it’s enough to make your immune system react.
Q: What are some possible long-term effects from getting vaccinated?
A: We’ve only had these vaccines for a little while, so there is always the potential there would be some kind of long-term negative outcome. Given what we understand about these vaccines and the way they work, we don’t have any particular reason to think that we would have long-term negative outcomes. If you are worried about possible effects of the vaccine, you should be at least as worried about getting the virus itself. Any response your immune system would have to the vaccine would be the same, if not worse, if you had COVID-19.
We’ve been doing vaccination trials for many months, and any reaction you would have to a vaccine typically happen within six weeks. Most of the severe reactions you would have to the vaccine happen in the first 15 minutes, which is why you have to sit down and be monitored for those first 15 minutes. There haven’t been any long-term effects of vaccines documented after six weeks in our history of vaccines.
Q: There’s been a lot of controversy and concern from Christians about the use of aborted fetal cells and the development of this type of vaccine. Is it ethical to get this vaccine?
A: Researchers have been using cells that were derived from probably only three abortions that happened in the 1970s and 1980s. These cells have been processed and replicated and grown as cells for 40 or 50 years. This is an important question to ask to respect human life. There is no reason to think that your choice to get vaccinated is in any way incentivizing anyone to abort. Those same cell lines have been used in the development of all kinds of stuff.
Q: Can you address the concerns related to the COVID-19 vaccines and infertility?
A: Most of these concerns come from a research paper that was comparing the spike protein of COVID-19 to the protein that is expressed during placental development. People were concerned we were going to have cross-reactivity between the vaccine and the placenta or develop autoimmunity against the placenta. The similarities between the two proteins are not significant enough for us to worry about this. Again, if you’re worried about this with the vaccine, you should be just as worried about developing these responses if you would get COVID-19.
Most global research surrounding women and the vaccine, including obstetricians and women’s health experts, are all saying this vaccination is a good thing for women to get. Women who were pregnant when they received the vaccine had no adverse effects. Women who didn’t know they were pregnant and got immunized have since delivered their baby with no known adverse effects. Women who have been immunized are continuing to get pregnant and have had no known adverse effects that are causally related to the virus.
Q: Should healthy college students get vaccinated?
A: Yes, not only for yourself, but for everybody else. The longer the pandemic drags out, the more likely we are to have expansion and variation in the virus itself and that has implications for the long-term efficacy of vaccines. It would be ideal if we could get as many people vaccinated as soon as possible to get control as many things as we can.
It would be a better decision to get the immunization now and not experience COVID-19 because you don’t know what your experience will be. Once you can hang out with other people who have been vaccinated, we can go out to eat again, and our economy can get better again.
Q: Why should I be vaccinated if I can just build natural immunity?
A: Natural immunity will likely be much shorter than a vaccine. Right now, the CDC is saying that you can get COVID-19 again after 90 days. We’re hoping that vaccine immunity will last months, if not years, where with natural infection we will continue to be naturally infected by COVID-19 and this will become an endemic.
Q: Should I get vaccinated if I have already had COVID-19?
A: Yes, you should be vaccinated once you’ve reached 90 days past your infection. Your immunity will be much better overall once you are vaccinated.
Q: Do vaccinated individuals need to keep wearing masks?
A: From a standpoint of self-protection, you’re probably fine not wearing a mask. The way vaccines work would certainly suggest that you’re much less likely to be a transmitter at that point.
The other question that is important is the impact on the community you’re participating in. There’s a good argument to be made that continuing to wear masks encourages other people who aren’t vaccinated to continue to wear masks.
From a public health perspective, vaccination is just one tool in our toolbox, so masking, handwashing, and social distancing are all part of these tools that we have to continue to do to stay healthy.
If there are questions that have not been answered in this brief synopsis, the professors from the panel expressed they would be happy to meet with anyone who has questions surrounding the vaccine.