A Physician’s Point of View: Medicine is a gift
It is the holiday season in the middle of a pandemic. I can hear the front desk from where I sit and can hear the phone conversations around me when I sit at my computer at 8 a.m.
A caller said, “I tried to call 50 times!” I heard an employee explaining the cost structure and options for COVID-19 evaluations to a caller two or three times, and he was compassionate and kind each time he shared the details. There was another patient arguing with an employee at the front desk that it was our fault that she could not sign in to be tested immediately.
We are fighting cold and allergy symptoms and fatigue, always thinking in the back of our minds, “Is this COVID-19?” All the while working at full intensity, trying to keep all the details straight with testing and in-house procedures, reaching deep to smile and say, “May I help you?” and “Thank you!”
More than ever before, I see kindness and team work among all of us, and patients are constantly thanking us for all we do.
We have done well in serving our communities with compassion and medical acumen during the pandemic.
I also have received a lot of questions about the COVID-19 vaccine and have summarized what I have researched.
How does the COVID-19 vaccine work?
The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are engineered to deliver messenger RNA (a piece of genetic material that is a blueprint for a cell to make a protein) to the cytoplasm (the liquid center that holds the factories of life in all of our body’s cells). The cells in this case are the muscle cells of the arm where the vaccine is administered.
The immune response creates antibodies and activates T-cells to create a double layer of immunity to eliminate any future invasion of COVID-19 germs.
The vaccine uses nanoparticles of lipoproteins to deliver this mRNA, like little droplets of butter. The machinery in the cell takes this mRNA and makes a protein that is a replica of the spike protein from the SARS CoV2 virus that causes COVID-19. The immune system recognizes the protein as a foreign substance and remembers it, just like our brain remembers things, like when the Spurs lost to Miami in the Finals!
The mRNA piece is then broken down in usual fashion. There are thousands of natural mRNA in the cytoplasm that come and go. The native ones are made using the DNA blueprint in the cell nucleus. These mRNA are like “post-it notes” that you look at and throw away. The immune response creates antibodies and activates T-cells to create a double layer of immunity to eliminate any future invasion of COVID-19 germs.
How was this technology developed?
This technology was pioneered in cancer research to help the body take out cancer cells. The mRNA is never incorporated into the muscle cell DNA, so it cannot cause any permanent changes in a person’s genetic code. These mRNA vaccines are similar in many ways to the Measles Mumps & Rubela (MMR) vaccine that used modified live viruses, but the new COVID-19 vaccine has the “plug and play” feature to insert different sequences of genetic codes for other viruses that come along in the future, or perhaps eliminate the need for so many vaccines for our children.
There are also about 30 other vaccines in the pipeline, some using the more traditional vaccine technologies.
The whole process of coding DNA to RNA to proteins in the factories of the cells of our bodies is so complex and on a tiny, molecular level that it is hard to fathom, since we cannot hold it in our hands or watch it under a microscope.
Medicine is a gift
This is where a level of trust comes in.
Do we trust scientists to manipulate genetic material? And if they can do that to create a cure, what is to say they cannot manipulate the viruses to cause disease? And if you create a disease and then a cure you could make a huge profit, right?
It is held in high esteem in our society to be the skeptic, to be cynical and criticize everything. The “believer” is considered inferior, I think. To trust this vaccine to be safe and effective, one must trust the research community to design the vaccine, the pharmaceutical companies to manufacture it, and the CDC and the FDA to approve it.
All of this is done in ways that most people do not understand fully. So, there is a certain amount of faith in the system. I am willing to put my faith in the system in this case, even though I try to maintain healthy skepticism. I believe there are many people trying with all of their skills and talents to find a vaccine to help end this horrible pandemic that has stolen so much and disrupted our lives in so many ways.
Yes, there are bad actors out there, but that is why we have regulatory agencies and the court system. Waiting for herd immunity would be cruel if we can do something to stop the spread of the virus. I know the vaccine was pushed through quickly. But from all that I have read in scientific journals, these initial vaccines are safe and effective.
There has seen so much suffering in those who have gotten COVID. I hate COVID; it is so against all that is good in life when it causes death and disease.
But we live in a world of disease and suffering, and medicine is one gift to help with that. I don’t like getting shots in general, but if I can help in the fight to end the pandemic, I think I will take the vaccine.
Happy New Year; my hope is it is one that embodies the struggle of good against evil, despite all that was difficult in 2020.