Are You Ready for a COVID-19 Vaccine?

I certainly am! I plan to get a COVID-19 vaccine as soon as I am allowed given the State of Illinois guidelines. As someone living with lung cancer and on active treatment, I am hoping to be part of one of the earlier phases of vaccine rollout. Since I am on targeted therapy, I am not considered to have a compromised immune system and I believe that the mRNA vaccines developed by Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna represent the best of modern science.

Making decisions that are right for you

Are these vaccines right for every person with lung cancer? Everyone needs to make their own individual decisions after a discussion with their oncologists, but I think that everyone who is recommended to get a vaccine by their doctor should do so.

For those of you who might be concerned about getting the new vaccine because of rumors that it might be unsafe due to being rushed or concern about severe side effects from the vaccine administration, please read this excellent Mayo Clinic article that debunks these myths and some others.

Understanding the COVID-19 vaccine

The Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna vaccines both use mRNA technology, which stands for messenger RNA. While these vaccines for COVID-19 will be the first mRNA vaccines, mRNA has been studied by scientists for decades, especially in cancer research. These new vaccines do not use the live or inactivated virus commonly used in most vaccines; instead, mRNA carries instructions for cells in the body so that they can make special proteins called antigens. In turn, these antigens trick the body’s immune system into thinking they are part of the COVID-19 virus and as a result, the immune system produces antibodies specific to COVID-19. These antibodies protect the immune system from future infections with the COVID-19 virus.1

Interestingly, mRNA vaccines are believed to be both safer and quicker and easier to produce than more traditional vaccines. They are safer since there is absolutely no chance of developing COVID-19 from the vaccine since the virus isn’t part of the injected material in any form. Due to the lack of infectious material in these vaccines, they can be produced more quickly and easily in laboratories and gotten into clinical trials very rapidly.1

Going back to "normal" life

Does this mean that once I receive the COVID-19 virus I will be able to go back to “normal” life? Not completely because there are still a few unanswered questions.

Since subsets of the population will be receiving the vaccine in staggered phases due to levels of risk, there will be quite a few months before enough people are vaccinated and COVID-19 infections are dramatically reduced. In the meantime, we will still need to wear masks and observe social distancing because it is unknown as of yet whether people who are vaccinated can still spread the virus to others, despite being asymptomatic. In addition, we don’t yet know how long the antibodies produced in response to the vaccine will work to protect us from the COVID-19 virus.

A light at the end of the tunnel

Despite these remaining questions, I see the COVID vaccine as the light at the end of a long tunnel! I look forward to a day in the future, hopefully sooner rather than later, when we can go back to socializing, traveling, and attending events in person.

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