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COVID-19: Healthcare Workers vs The Vaccine

The mid-December rollout of two FDA-approved COVID-19 vaccines coincided with a surge in US infections, as we surpassed 21 million cases and 300k deaths. Amidst the hope for a recovery from the virus, that has captivated the world for the past 10 months, the vaccine rollout was met with stiff resistance from many Americans. Of these, healthcare workers comprise the largest group of those refusing vaccination (albeit, healthcare workers also comprised the majority of people offered the early doses). This theme has persisted over the past few weeks. I will review some of the ideas behind the refusal of vaccine acceptance.

First, the headlines (taken from Forbes):

  • Last week, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine said he was “troubled” by the relatively low numbers of nursing home workers who have elected to take the vaccine, with DeWine stating that approximately 60% of nursing home staff declined the shot.
  • Joseph Varon, chief of critical care at Houston’s United Memorial Medical Center, told NPR in December more than half of the nurses in his unit informed him they would not get the vaccine.
  • Roughly 55 percent of surveyed New York Fire Department firefighters said they would not get the coronavirus vaccine, the Firefighters Association president said last month.
  • The Los Angeles Times reported that hospital and public officials in Riverside, Calif., have been forced to figure out how best to allocate unused doses after an estimated 50% of frontline workers in the county refused the vaccine.
  • Fewer than half of the hospital workers at St. Elizabeth Community Hospital in Tehama County, Calif., were willing to be vaccinated, and around 20% to 40% of L.A. County’s frontline workers have reportedly declined an opportunity to take the vaccine.
  • Nikhila Juvvadi, the chief clinical officer at Chicago’s Loretto Hospital, said that a survey was administered in December, and 40% of the hospital staff said they would not get vaccinated.

Distrust For The Government Among Black/LatinX

Frontline workers in the United States are disproportionately Black and Hispanic. It is no surprise to my readers, as mentioned briefly in my AHA recap article(s), that structural racism is (and has been) a pervasive force within healthcare. “I’ve heard Tuskegee more times than I can count in the past month — and, you know, it’s a valid, valid concern,” said Dr. Juvvadi. This forms the crux of the argument made by minority frontline workers against receiving the vaccine. A recent survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that 29% of healthcare workers were hesitant to receive the vaccine, citing concerns related to potential side effects and a lack of faith in the government to ensure the vaccines were safe. Furthermore, dissenters question the involvement of Black/LatinX participants in the clinical trials that led to the development and deployment of at least two FDA-approved vaccines at the time of this article. Dr. Juvvadi told NPR that “there’s no transparency between pharmaceutical companies or research companies — or the government sometimes — on how many people from.” In an op-ed published in the New York Times last week, emergency physicians Benjamin Thomas and Monique Smith wrote that “vaccine reluctance is a direct consequence of the medical system’s mistreatment of Black people,” exemplified by the unethical surgeries performed by J. Marion Sims and the Tuskegee Syphilis Study, that highlight “the culture of medical exploitation, abuse, and neglect of Black Americans.”

Altruism and Others More Deserving

Medicine is an inherently altruistic field, one that requires a dedication to the service and betterment of others. This theme has largely affected the sentiment concerning the acceptance of the COVID-19 vaccines. In an op-ed published earlier this week by Marty Makary MD MPH, a professor of surgery and health policy at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, the case for delaying vaccination is made. Dr. Makary states:

“After a summer of corporate statements pledging that Black Lives Matter, America’s vaccine rollout is creating inequities stemming from a ruling class making rules to favor themselves. In the first two weeks after the FDA authorized the life-saving vaccine, hospital board members, spouses of physicians, cosmetic surgery receptionists, and young firefighters have been getting the vaccine ahead of our society’s most vulnerable. Low-risk Americans with access and power are cutting in the vaccine line and, by doing so, are essentially telling our society’s most vulnerable members ‘your life matters less.’”

Dr. Makary shares his experience as a physician who performs surgeries on COVID-negative patients in a sterile environment with the highest infection control precautions accounted for. Furthermore, he weighs his personal risk of having a complicated course of COVID-19 infection versus that of his elderly patients, many of whom have multiple comorbid medical conditions. He argues that low-risk healthcare workers, including those who have already been infected, defer their vaccination in order to allow for higher-risk individuals to receive a potentially life-saving intervention. This highlights the chasm in Medicine between altruism and self-preservation. Is it possible to do both?

I end with a quote from Dr. Makary, expressing his views on the matter:

“I’m not criticizing clinicians who get the vaccine — my personal decision might be different if I spent more time in the ICU, took more ER calls, or was at high risk of being a silent carrier of the virus, putting my patients at risk. But that’s not me. Given my very low personal risk of mortality and my very low risk of getting the virus in my clinical work, I have joined a growing chorus of healthcare workers who have taken a pledge to not get the vaccine until every high-risk American has been offered it first.”

Thank you for reading, and please feel free to reach out to me with comments or questions on Twitter @DrDapo.

 

“The views, opinions and positions expressed within this blog are those of the author(s) alone and do not represent those of the American Heart Association. The accuracy, completeness and validity of any statements made within this article are not guaranteed. We accept no liability for any errors, omissions or representations. The copyright of this content belongs to the author and any liability with regards to infringement of intellectual property rights remains with them. The Early Career Voice blog is not intended to provide medical advice or treatment. Only your healthcare provider can provide that. The American Heart Association recommends that you consult your healthcare provider regarding your personal health matters. If you think you are having a heart attack, stroke or another emergency, please call 911 immediately.”

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The Inequity of the COVID19 Vaccine Distribution: The rich countries hoard vaccines while the poor countries struggle to get them

Last week at Cedars-Sinai, we received an email asking its employees interested in getting the vaccine against COVID19. I was very excited about this since it means a lot of things at once. The development of safe mRNA vaccines in a short period shows how much technology has advanced and highlights the importance of working together as the companies that manufactured the vaccines were not in a race against each other but against the virus. On the other hand, getting a notification that I was soon going to get vaccinated against this virus that has changed our world was pure joy, that sadly faded away.

As I told my friends and family the excitement that I was having because I would be vaccinated soon, all they did was ask me, but when are we going to get the vaccination for us? For our healthcare workers, grandparents, and grandmothers? We have heard in the USA with optimism how the government has secured millions of doses for its people, and it only makes sense that a government wants to put their citizens first but, at what cost? Where does the solidarity with other nations reside? These questions made me dig deeper into an issue that gets shadow by the hype of us getting vaccinated.

The People Vaccine Alliance, an international watchdog that includes Amnesty International, has warned that some countries have bought enough COVID vaccine to immunize their populations more than once. It highlights Canada as the top country on this matter that has reported over 400.000 cases of COVID19 has secured enough vaccinations to immunize its population at least five times. In contrast, poorer countries will only be able to vaccinate one in ten people. The Alliance data also showed that the deals that have been done between the governments and the eight leading vaccine candidates’ risk of leaving behind middle-low and low-income countries, as rich nations hoard on vaccine deals.1

A clear example of the disparity between the rich and the poor has been the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines’ inequitable deals, which have shown on their preliminary data to have the highest efficacy rate. Due to their promising results, the vaccine lots have been bought in a staggering 96% for Pfizer and 100% for Moderna by rich nations. With those impressive figures, the gap between the have and the have nots will stretch even further. The Director-General of the World Health Organization, Tedros Adhanom, warned during a press conference “Every government rightly wants to do everything to protect its people, but there is now a real risk that the poorest and most vulnerable will be trampled in the stampede for vaccines”.2

Nonetheless, international efforts have been made to achieve global vaccination, such as COVAX. This compact, composed of 189 countries, amongst which the USA and Russia resonate for their absence, has high and middle-income countries committing to provide funding to ensure access to vaccination and equitably manufacturing them. In contrast, poorer countries have signed to secure vaccines for their population. This effort will also be backed up by agencies such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.3 Efforts by the Oxford/Aztreneca are also of great importance to allow developing nations to get the vaccine, as they have pledged to five more than half of its doses to developing nations. Unfortunately, this would only reach 18% of the world’s population.4

I concur with Melinda Gates’s denomination of this phenomenon as vaccine nationalism, with the populist premise of “our citizens first,” that suffice its purpose of improving the polls for political gains. However, these actions go against one of the most powerful lessons this pandemic has taught us, the sense of community and working towards the benefit of all.

I firmly believe that vaccine allocation for a health crisis like this should prioritize global immunization for healthcare workers and elderly patients, rather than prioritizing country of residence or origin. It is not acceptable to have an effective vaccine, not reaching healthcare providers on the frontlines of developing countries fighting this virus without this indispensable weapon. In contrast, rich countries rely on an excess of vaccines and immunize low-risk citizens first.

This pandemic has shown us how fragile humanity. Now more than ever, the rich countries and their economic capacity must set an example of global leadership and outline a sensible policy that focuses on a global perspective rather than an exclusive, nationalistic one because this crisis won’t be over until everyone gets vaccinated.

 

References

  1. International. A and https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2020/12/campaigners-warn-that-9-out-of-10-people-in-poor-countries-are-set-to-miss-out-on-covid-19-vaccine-next-year/. 2021.
  2. https://abcnews.go.com/Health/rich-countries-hoarding-vaccine-report/story?id=74623521 A.
  3. https://www.cnn.com/2020/12/13/world/coronavirus-vaccine-developing-world-intl/index.html C.
  4. https://www.bbc.com/news/health-55229894 B.

“The views, opinions and positions expressed within this blog are those of the author(s) alone and do not represent those of the American Heart Association. The accuracy, completeness and validity of any statements made within this article are not guaranteed. We accept no liability for any errors, omissions or representations. The copyright of this content belongs to the author and any liability with regards to infringement of intellectual property rights remains with them. The Early Career Voice blog is not intended to provide medical advice or treatment. Only your healthcare provider can provide that. The American Heart Association recommends that you consult your healthcare provider regarding your personal health matters. If you think you are having a heart attack, stroke or another emergency, please call 911 immediately.”

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COVID-19 Vaccine: What We Need To Know

While we are living in the third peak of COVID-19 pandemic, we have been delighted to hear about the recent food and drug administration (FDA) approval of the COVID-19 vaccine, after trials involving hundreds or more of patients showed the vaccine safety and efficacy [1,2]. However, the COVID-19 vaccine is associated with some side effects, which in fact might be more common than the flu vaccine. Healthcare workers and first responders will have the priority to get the vaccine at many institutions given their high-risk work environment. So, I decided to share some knowledge about some of the side effects of the vaccine I recently read about and how institutions are planning to stagger the vaccines among their employees.

What are the side effects of the vaccine?

Side effects seem to be more common than the annual flu vaccine, with arm pain at the injection site, generalized fatigue and malaise, headaches, dizziness, fever, chills, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. Rare side effects include Bell’s palsy and temporary facial muscle paralysis. Most of these side effects are mild and resolve in a few days. These side effects occur more frequently after the second dose of the vaccine. These side effects actually suggest reactogenicity and that the immune system is responding to the vaccine [1,2].

Are there long-term adverse events of the COVID-19 vaccine?

This is still unknown and under close monitoring by FDA [1].

How will the vaccine change things from now on?

The COVID-19 vaccine is an additional protection layer, but it does not substitute the other protection measures we have been following; that means we should still conform to social distancing and follow hygienic instructions wherever we go till the pandemic is over. This pandemic has taught us all, as a healthcare professional and as members of the community, to be responsible for our actions toward each other and persist despite all the obstacles. The vaccine could be the first step that leads us back to “normal life” as long as we stay responsible for each other.

REFERENCES

[1] Walsh EE, Frenck RW Jr, Falsey AR, et al. Safety and Immunogenicity of Two RNA-Based Covid-19 Vaccine Candidates [published online ahead of print, 2020 Oct 14]. N Engl J Med. 2020;NEJMoa2027906. doi:10.1056/NEJMoa2027906

[2] Yuan P, Ai P, Liu Y, Ai Z, Wang Y, Cao W, Xia X, Zheng JC. Safety, Tolerability, and Immunogenicity of COVID-19 Vaccines: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. medRxiv [Preprint]. 2020 Nov 4:2020.11.03.20224998. doi: 10.1101/2020.11.03.20224998. PMID: 33173896; PMCID: PMC7654888.

“The views, opinions and positions expressed within this blog are those of the author(s) alone and do not represent those of the American Heart Association. The accuracy, completeness and validity of any statements made within this article are not guaranteed. We accept no liability for any errors, omissions or representations. The copyright of this content belongs to the author and any liability with regards to infringement of intellectual property rights remains with them. The Early Career Voice blog is not intended to provide medical advice or treatment. Only your healthcare provider can provide that. The American Heart Association recommends that you consult your healthcare provider regarding your personal health matters. If you think you are having a heart attack, stroke or another emergency, please call 911 immediately.”

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COVID-19 Vaccine & Cardiovascular Disease: What We Know So Far

It’s hard to believe the majority of 2020 was spent in a pandemic. The world came to a screeching halt and the entire scientific community worked tirelessly to find ways to keep each other safe. However, we all have experienced highs and lows due to COVID-19. But we were fortunate to have Operation Warp Speed to help produce and deliver millions of doses of safe and effective vaccines against the COID-19 virus.1

It is well known that traditional risk factors such as hyperlipidemia, hypertension, diabetes, and obesity are modifiable risk factors for coronary artery disease. Through the evolution of research, inflammation and infection were also discovered to play a role in developing an acute myocardial infarction (MI).2,3 After the epidemics of influenza in Europe and the US in the early 1900s, it was speculated that there is a relationship between influenza and MI. This was on the basis that excess mortality was due to other causes than influenza, such as heart disease.4 Mechanistically, influenza causes platelet aggregation leading to MI. This finding (along with others) led the American Heart Association and American College of Cardiology in 2006 to recommend influenza immunization as a part of comprehensive secondary prevention in persons with coronary and other atherosclerotic vascular diseases (class I, level B).5

Based on our past experiences of viral infections and the current pandemic-state, what emerged was that on November 20, 2020, Pfizer and BioNTech (the sponsor) submitted an Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) request to the FDA for an investigational COVID-19 vaccine. The purposed use under a EUA is for active immunization for the prevention of COIVD-19 caused by SARS-CoV-2 in individuals 16 years of age and older; with a 2 doses regimen, administered 21 days apart.1

There are many safety and side effects to discuss regarding the vaccine (any vaccine for that matter) but I’ll be focusing on the cardiovascular risk profile. The most frequent comorbidities were obesity (35.1%), diabetes (8.4%), and pulmonary disease (7.8%).1 Other baseline characteristics included: myocardial infarction (1%), peripheral vascular disease (0.6%), congestive heart failure (0.4%), and hypertension (24.5%).1

Of the serious adverse events, a total of 6 deaths (2 vaccines, 4 placeboes) from the total 43,448 participants occurred. Both vaccine recipients were >55, one experienced a cardiac arrest 62 days after the second vaccination dose and the other died from arteriosclerosis 3 days after the first dose. From the placebo group, only 1 patient died from an MI. Interestingly, 1 patient had ventricular arrhythmia but was known to have cardiac disease. Overall, there was no imbalance in severe adverse cardiovascular events. In general, serious adverse events were uncommon and represented medical events that occurred at a similar frequency in the general population.1

Some of the gaps from the safety reporting of the COVID-19 vaccine includes; duration of protection – as the participants are not more than 2 months out from initially receiving the vaccine, the et of immunocompromised individuals is too small to evaluate efficacy (i.e. heart transplant recipients ), children <16, and pregnant/lactating individuals.

Where does this leave us as leaders in the health community? We can recognize that the benefits do outweigh the risks and continued efforts will be made to monitor the health of Americans. At this point, I believe we can clearly communicate potential cardiovascular outcomes with our patients to help them make an informed decision.

References

  • Vaccines and related biological products advisory committee meeting. FDA briefing documents. Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine.
  • Epstein SE, Zhou YF, Zhu J. Infection and atherosclerosis: emerging mechanistic paradigms. Circulation. 1999;100:20-28
  • Syrjanen J. Infection as a risk factor for cerebral infacrtion. Eur Heart J. 1993;14:17-19.
  • Collins SD. Excess mortality from causes other than influenza and pneumonia during influenza epidemics. Public Health Rep. 1932;47:2159-2168.
  • Smith SC Jr, Allen J, Blair Sn, et al. AHA/ACC guidelines for secondary prevention for patients with coronary and other atherosclerotic vascular disease: 2006 update. Circulation 2006;113:2363-72

“The views, opinions and positions expressed within this blog are those of the author(s) alone and do not represent those of the American Heart Association. The accuracy, completeness and validity of any statements made within this article are not guaranteed. We accept no liability for any errors, omissions or representations. The copyright of this content belongs to the author and any liability with regards to infringement of intellectual property rights remains with them. The Early Career Voice blog is not intended to provide medical advice or treatment. Only your healthcare provider can provide that. The American Heart Association recommends that you consult your healthcare provider regarding your personal health matters. If you think you are having a heart attack, stroke or another emergency, please call 911 immediately.”