By Laura Ong, PhD, Guest Author
Nearly a year has passed since our community at King University was turned upside down by the COVID-19 pandemic. While face coverings, physical distancing and other safety measures have become familiar by now, we all still long for a return to more normal experiences of life. But the United States alone has lost over 468,000 lives to COVID-19 thus far, with hundreds more dying each day. The pandemic will not end anytime soon without quick and effective deployment of vaccines to as many people as possible.
Since the beginning of this pandemic governments around the world quickly invested billions of dollars to help pharmaceutical companies develop, test, and mass-produce vaccines to help protect against COVID-19. Two different vaccines developed by Pfizer and Moderna have been approved for emergency use by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). A third vaccine from Johnson & Johnson is currently under review by the FDA. Each of these vaccines was determined during testing to provide from 70-95% protection against developing severe COVID-19 disease. This level of protection is considered quite good, since the average effectiveness for yearly influenza vaccines ranges from 40-60%.
Each individual state is responsible for developing its own vaccine distribution plan, but most states have prioritized healthcare workers and elderly citizens for the earliest stages of vaccine distribution. Sullivan County, Tennessee (in which Bristol is located) is currently vaccinating the 70+ age group and local elementary, middle and high school teachers who elect to receive the shot. Since both of the approved vaccines require two doses for full protection, each health department must carefully plan to administer two shots to each person, around three weeks apart. Most of the vaccines for the Bristol, TN area are being administered at the Bristol Dragway to allow for recipients to remain in their cars while receiving vaccines.
The United States has collectively vaccinated 33.3 million people with at least one vaccine dose, with the goal of vaccinating at least 1.5 million more per day in the coming months. Demand for the vaccines currently outstrips supply. However, pharmaceutical companies are working to increase their supply lines and ramp up production to meet the worldwide demand. According to Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease, the national vaccine supply is expected to surge in the spring and summer. This production increase should allow for vaccination of young adults towards the end of summer.
For vaccines to effectively diminish the pandemic, a large percentage of the population will need to agree to be vaccinated. Scientists are still determining exactly how many vaccinations it will take to reach “herd immunity”, so that enough people become immune to the novel coronavirus to prevent its spread amongst the general population. This uncertainty is compounded by the development of mutated “variant” strains of the coronavirus, which may or may not be affected by the vaccines. So far, the approved vaccines protect against disease caused by most of the variant virus strains being studied, although a particular strain first discovered in South Africa appears to be more resistant to effects of the vaccines.
The good news is that each of the approved vaccines, and several others in the regulatory pipeline, were tested in tens of thousands of volunteers and very few serious side effects were observed. Several of our own King University faculty and staff have been vaccinated already, so that they themselves will be ready to vaccinate the King community when supply allows. King University has been designated as a POD, or “Point of Dispensing” for vaccines. This means that King will be able to distribute vaccines to its own faculty, staff and students as soon as the state of Tennessee announces our assigned vaccine delivery phase. Exact dates for King’s vaccination clinics are unknown at this time, but it is likely that faculty and staff could receive vaccines later this spring and that students could be vaccinated before the start of the fall semester.
There are currently no plans to require COVID-19 vaccines for students, but everyone in the King community is highly encouraged to get vaccinated as soon as possible. Any King student, faculty or staff who has already been vaccinated should notify Dr. Rhonda Morgan at email@example.com, so that the university can effectively plan for the upcoming campus vaccine distribution. Dr. Morgan is Professor of Nursing and the Special Director for Campus Health, and has been instrumental in coordinating King’s response to the pandemic. As we proceed through the spring semester, please continue to follow all of the safety guidelines to prevent virus transmission. These efforts, along with vaccine acceptance, will hasten our return to normalcy and to brighter days ahead.
Dr. Laura Ong is an Associate Professor of Biology at King, and currently in her ninth year here. Her PhD thesis work investigated molecular details of bacterial infections in different types of plants.
Some of her current courses at King include Human Anatomy and Physiology 2, Cell Biology, Microbiology, and Immunology. Dr. Ong is an ordained Ruling Elder in the Presbyterian Church (USA), and a member of the Sanctuary Choir at First Presbyterian Church in Bristol, TN. She and her husband Dr. Han Chuan Ong have three young sons and enjoy traveling, cooking, singing, and watching King student events of all types.
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