As the U.S. begins to witness the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, the question of when and how we will return to a safe and normal society remains, but the simple answer lies within the development of a vaccine against the novel coronavirus.
According to senior instructor Cheryl Doughty, Ph.D., of the UCCS Biology Department, viruses can be eliminated, but large-scale vaccination is required. “It is very important to note here that eradication of a virus requires mass population vaccine compliance and generally many years to distribute the vaccine to a world-wide community to induce herd immunity,” Doughty said via email.
However, stigmas condemning vaccines exist in modern day society that could discourage people from getting vaccinated. “The main fallacy associated with vaccines is that they are not safe and that they cause other health problems,” Doughty said. “Vaccines are some of the most rigorously vetted and tested therapeutics that we have.”
According to Doughty, vaccination involves exposing a patient to a modified version of a pathogen, or microorganism that causes disease. This modified pathogen is weakened or destroyed so that it only acts as a model for the immune system to recognize and raise defenses against.
Should the patient ever come in contact with the actual disease or virus after receiving the vaccine, the immune system of the vaccinated patient will be equipped with an appropriate response. Doughty explained that immune cells in the body known as T cells and B cells have memory capabilities, which allow the immune system to remember pathogens and the vaccination process to be effective in preventing a patient from being infected, sometimes for the duration of a person’s life.
Vaccine production is a complex process that traditionally follows one of two methods, according to Doughty. One method involves scientists destroying or killing a pathogen before introducing it to a patient to induce immunity. For the other, scientists seek out a version of the microorganism that does not cause disease symptoms to use for vaccination.
Despite multiple vaccines being in the process of development for the pathogen that causes COVID-19, it remains unclear when and how vaccine distribution will occur. According to Wellness Center Wellness Promotion Manager Katie Gordon, initial vaccine availability is expected to be minimal. “Even though there is a worldwide effort to develop a safe and effective vaccine against COVID-19, it is inevitable that initial vaccine supplies will be limited,” Gordon wrote in an email.
However, when there is a more available supply, vaccines will likely be available to the UCCS community at the Wellness Center. “The Wellness Center does have a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with El Paso County Public Health that designates us as a Point of Dispensing (POD) for situations such as this so if we are able to get enough vaccines, we will be providing them to faculty, staff, and students on campus,” Gordon said.
Both Gordon and Doughty expressed that they will get vaccinated against COVID-19 at the earliest possible opportunity and will encourage others to do the same.
“I want life to return to normal as quickly as possible and that won’t happen if people refuse the vaccine,” Doughty said. “The reality is that achieving herd immunity without a vaccine will likely cost millions of lives and I think that cost is simply too great to bear.”
Before a vaccine is developed, everyone should continue to follow guidelines and mandates put forward by the CDC and local and state governments. According to Doughty, “The only way out of our current pandemic is to protect each other as best as we can by wearing masks, social distancing, and good hand hygiene until a reliable vaccine is available.”
In addition to exercising the three W’s of Practice the Pride (wash your hands, wear your mask, watch your distance), Gordon is urging students to get a flu shot this year to ease the burden on the healthcare system and its employees. “I highly recommend that anyone able receives a flu shot annually, regardless of the pandemic. However, this year it is even more important to reduce the amount of flu cases to preserve critical health care supplies and hospital resources,” Gordon said.
The Wellness Center is offering free flu vaccines to students to aid this effort. There will be two flu shot clinics held on campus, the first on Nov. 10 from 4 – 5 p.m. and the second on Nov. 18 from 4 – 5 p.m. Students can also call 719-255-4444 to set up an appointment.