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Panel Of Oklahoma Experts Discusses Safety, Efficacy Of Coming COVID-19 Vaccines

The Frontier
Dr. Eliza Chakravarty, associate member of the Arthritis & Clinical Immunology Research Program at the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation, on a Dec. 9 virtual panel hosted by news organization The Frontier.

A panel of Oklahoma experts in immunology, epidemiology and infectious disease came together Wednesday to discuss and take questions about coming COVID-19 vaccines in a virtual forum.

"The higher the number as far as getting them into arms the better," said Dr. Jared Taylor, the state epidemiologist at the Oklahoma State Department of Health, on the virtual panel discussion hosted by The Frontier.

Dr. Douglas Drevets, infectious diseases specialist at OU Health, said data show the two vaccines expected to begin arriving in Oklahoma in the coming weeks are remarkably effective.

"Both the Moderna product and the Pfizer product appear to be around 95 percent effective in preventing an infection," Drevets said. "So if you keep the number between 90 to 95 percent, that’s probably where they’re going to land. And that is in contrast to other vaccines, such as the yearly flu vaccine which we all take, which can be anywhere from 40 to 60 percent effective depending on the year."

Dr. Eliza Chakravarty, associate member of the Arthritis & Clinical Immunology Research Program at the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation, said the vaccines were developed rapidly but not at the expense of safety or rigor in research.

"It’s accelerated, but it’s not due to corners being cut," Chakravarty said.

"We had some head starts in order to make this particular vaccine and we had a tremendous investment so that the finances were there, and people were working on all aspects of the research and the development of the vaccines," she said.

Taylor said the state health department will be investing in communications and education campaigns to present information about the virus, though they aren't necessarily targeting staunchly anti-vaccine Oklahomans.

"I feel there’s going to be a minority, it tends to be a vocal minority, but I think a relatively small minority who are just not going to be open to the prospect of receiving a vaccine or vaccinating their family members at all," Taylor said. "There’s probably not much utility in investing time and resources in trying to convince them otherwise."

Taylor said it's important for officials to be upfront about the negligible but real risks associated with the vaccine.

"When you get out of bed in the morning you’re taking a risk, right? When you drive to work or whatever, there are risks involved with any activity and that includes vaccine uptake," he said.

"I think that’s our goal: to be empathetic to those concerns, to try to address them reasonably and have confidence in the judgment of Oklahomans in weighing those balances of benefits and risks," Taylor said.

Taylor said the priority tier system developed by the state is liable to adapt and change due to logistical constraints and challenges.

"It’s sort of going to become this adaptive rolling process where we’re going to certainly abide by the priorities that we’ve established, but  have enough flexibility that we can continue to provide the most good for all the individuals," he said.

The same goes, he said, for the logistics involved in getting the necessary second dose.

"We don’t want to become a slave to silliness, right? If you say well the booster is supposed to be in 21 days, well, does that need to be to the, a.m., p.m.? Does that need to be the exact hour? Let’s get it within that reasonable time period and the immune system’s going to do what the immune system does very well," Taylor said.

The panel agreed that masking, social distancing and other public health best practices will not become obsolete but rather remain important after the vaccine rolls out, both because not everyone will have had it and it remains unclear whether an immunized person can still spread the virus despite not being sickened by it.

"It’s just not yet known if folks who receive the vaccine can also at least harbor or carry the virus up in their nasal passages even if they don’t have symptoms," said Drevets.

"You shouldn’t have the idea that you can get the vaccine at 4 o’clock and then go out and party all night because you’re immune. It doesn’t work that way," he said.

Chris joined Public Radio Tulsa as a news anchor and reporter in April 2020. He’s a graduate of Hunter College and the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism, both at the City University of New York.
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