In early January, Nali Gillespie watched her social media feeds fill with selfies about vaccines: photo after photo of her peers at other medical schools across the country standing proudly beside a syringe with their dose of Moderna vaccine or Pfizer Covid-19.
But Ms Gillespie – who is in her third year at Duke University School of Medicine and focuses on research rather than clinical training – knew she couldn’t join them yet.
Because she volunteers at an outpatient clinic once a week, she is less exposed directly to Covid patients and queues up behind her classmates who work in intensive care units and emergency rooms.
“You hear that in some schools the students are already getting their second dose, and then there are some of us who weren’t even scheduled for our first,” Ms. Gillespie said.
When she shows up for her weekly shifts at the clinic, she knows she is still vulnerable to exposure to the coronavirus. “You are more and more aware that an asymptomatic patient can come into the clinic and you see them in a small examination room,” she says. “The risk is very real.”
In December, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced guidelines setting priorities for who should receive vaccines first when the rollout begins. Although the guidelines were broad, medical students learned they could be included in the first wave of healthcare workers, especially those involved in caring for Covid patients. But the rollout varied widely across the country’s 155 medical schools, each of which prioritized based on the availability of vaccine doses in their state.
This has caused stress for some medical students who are continuing their clinical placements. Although some schools prohibit students from treating Covid patients, this rule can be difficult to enforce, especially in asymptomatic cases.
While the exact order of vaccines may vary by state, most will likely prioritize medical workers and residents of long-term care facilities. If you want to understand how this decision is made, this article will help you.
Life will only return to normal when society as a whole is sufficiently protected against the coronavirus. Once countries authorize a vaccine, they will only be able to immunize a few percent of their citizens at most in the first two months. The unvaccinated majority will always remain vulnerable to infection. A growing number of coronavirus vaccines show strong protection against the disease. But it is also possible for people to spread the virus without even knowing they are infected, as they have only mild symptoms, if any. Scientists do not yet know if vaccines also block transmission of the coronavirus. So for now, even vaccinated people will have to wear masks, avoid crowds inside, etc. Once enough people are vaccinated, it will become very difficult for the coronavirus to find vulnerable people to infect. Depending on how quickly we, as a society, reach this goal, life may start to move closer to something normal by fall 2021.
Yes, but not forever. The two vaccines that will potentially be authorized this month clearly protect people against Covid-19. But the clinical trials that delivered these results were not designed to determine whether vaccinated people could still spread the coronavirus without developing symptoms. It remains a possibility. We know that people naturally infected with the coronavirus can spread it without experiencing a cough or other symptoms. Researchers will study this question intensely as the vaccines roll out. In the meantime, even vaccinated people will have to consider themselves as possible spreaders.
The Pfizer and BioNTech vaccine is given by injection into the arm, like other typical vaccines. The injection will not be different from any you received before. Tens of thousands of people have already received the vaccines and none of them have reported serious health problems. But some of them experienced short-lived discomfort, including pain and flu-like symptoms that usually last for a day. People may need to plan a day off or school after the second shot. While these experiences are not pleasant, they are a good sign: they are the result of your own immune system encountering the vaccine and building a powerful response that will provide long-lasting immunity.
No. Moderna and Pfizer vaccines use a genetic molecule to stimulate the immune system. This molecule, known as mRNA, is ultimately destroyed by the body. The mRNA is packaged in an oily bubble that can fuse with a cell, allowing the molecule to slip inside. The cell uses mRNA to make proteins from the coronavirus, which can stimulate the immune system. At any given time, each of our cells can contain hundreds of thousands of mRNA molecules, which they produce to make their own proteins. Once these proteins are made, our cells then shred the mRNA with special enzymes. The mRNA molecules made by our cells can only survive for a few minutes. The mRNA in vaccines is designed to resist the enzymes in the cell for a bit longer, so that the cells can make additional viral proteins and elicit a stronger immune response. But mRNA can only last a few days at most before being destroyed.
At some institutions, like the Duke School of Medicine, students working in intensive care units and emergency departments were placed in the highest priority group, 1A, while everyone else was told that they would be vaccinated in group 1B. At Yale School of Medicine, all medical students, regardless of their patient exposure level, were told that they would be vaccinated in reverse alphabetical order (“with the first letter of their last name beginning at the end of the alphabet ”).
“Those in the later stages of the alphabet were happy but a little confused about its arbitrariness,” said Sumun Khetpal, a fourth-year student.
Students at the Texas College of Osteopathic Medicine in Fort Worth said for weeks they had not received any communication from the school on when they would receive their shots, so some drove for hours through the State looking for private pharmacists who would give them vaccines. And at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, students said they also needed to “take matters into their own hands” and go to private pharmacies to inquire about the possibility of getting the vaccine, because until ‘last weekend they weren’t told how to get vaccines from their school.
“The CDC’s guidelines did not have the level of granularity needed for hospitals and schools to make decisions,” said Dr. Alison Whelan, director of studies for the Association of American Medical Colleges. “There was quite a lot of variability due to the lack of a national plan.”
Adding to the confusion, vaccines have been allocated to states based on their populations, which do not always reflect their health worker populations, added Dr Janis Orlowski, the association’s health care manager. There are 21,000 medical students in the country.
For some of them, there is a feeling of guilt relief as they are getting the vaccine knowing that some of their peers still do not have it.
“A close friend of mine is a dental student and is regularly in people’s mouths, but she has not received the Covid vaccine,” said Azan Virji, a second year medical student at Harvard who received her first dose late. December. “We have the impression that there is a disparity.”
Still, Mr Virji said he has treated Covid-19 patients on several occasions and felt increased weight knowing he was now inoculated.
“My parents in Tanzania may not have access to this vaccine until 2022, and now I am one of the first people to have access,” he said. “It’s bittersweet, but essential for me to feel calmer in the hospital.