COVID 19 Town Hall: Vaccine Insight With BCBSM’s Dr. James Grant

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Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan’s Senior Vice President and Chief Medical Officer Dr. James Grant joined the Detroit Regional Chamber to answer questions about the COVID-19 vaccines currently available – how they were developed, safety and efficacy, and more.

Approval Process

The testing and approval process for the COVID-19 vaccine has been unique. The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines currently in distribution received emergency use authorization by the FDA. While this means the process was expedited, Grant confirmed that the process in no way impeded safety.

He also noted that what helped move the research, development, testing, and approval process along what the work already in progress on a SARS vaccine. With that groundwork already in place, scientists were able to build on that foundation to develop the COVID-19 vaccines.

The vaccines currently in development are for adults. Because children react differently to vaccines, there is additional research underway to inform the development of a vaccine, especially for children.

Side Effects

As more and more people become eligible to be vaccinated, many are concerned about side effects. According to Grant, some of the most common side effects include:

  • Soreness at the site of injection
  • Chills
  • Headache
  • Body aches
  • Exhaustion

These may be more pronounced following the second dose. More often than not, these symptoms don’t last longer than 24 hours after injection, and many people who were vaccinated did not experience any side effects at all. Individuals should keep in mind that the effects of the vaccine vary from person to person.

In terms of groups that should not receive the vaccine, Grant advises individuals to consult their doctors to determine that. Generally, anyone who has been previously advised not to get the flu vaccine or have a history of allergic reactions to vaccines, should not get vaccinated. Similar considerations for those with extensive food or drug allergies and sensitivities apply. Again, it is best to consult a medical professional to determine the best option for you.

Efficacy

Efficacy is also a key concern and consideration regarding the COVID-19 vaccines. The approved COVID-19 vaccines have achieved upward of 95% efficacy. For reference, the flu vaccine has an efficacy rate of 50%. An important clarification for what efficacy means for vaccines is that it’s not related to the number of people it has been successful in, but rather, Grant said, the ability of the vaccine to protect people from the virus.

“It’s really what are the chances of you getting it,” said Grant, “and sometimes it’s not even necessarily of you getting it…but you getting the symptoms.

Herd Immunity

While initial predictions of the threshold for herd immunity were around 70% of the population vaccinated, the new variants have increased that to closer to 90%. Grant suggests that despite these predictions, people need to remain vigilant and keep up with the precautions that have been effective since the onset of this pandemic – masking, social distancing, hand hygiene, etc. Although the new variants are more contagious, they have not necessarily proven more harmful, so the approach to tackling the new variants is the same as the initial version of the virus. There’s no end date for this and when it will be safe to resume life as normal. It’s a matter of being patient and watching the numbers.

Businesses’ Role

The business community’s role is significant in ensuring the safe, widespread adoption of the COVID-19 vaccine. Grant calls on managers to lead by example – to get the vaccine and share their experiences to show that it is safe, effective, and trusted to protect their team, families, and communities. He also encouraged businesses to leverage all the resources they have  to provide employees with the latest information and opportunities to get vaccinated – even if in the workplace.


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