Professor, Student Look Deeper into COVID-19 Vaccinations

Ev+Mauger+%28right%29+gets+temperature+taken+in+Gladfelter.

Carlos Wyrick/Staff Photographer

Ev Mauger (right) gets temperature taken in Gladfelter.

As the United States marks a grim milestone of half a million deaths from COVID-19, North Carolina is approaching a full year of various states of lockdowns. Such measures, along with mandatory masks, social-distancing and pervasive online meetings, have been experienced nationwide as well. At some point, every American has wondered when is this going to end. Pfizer is one of the companies that may have an answer to this question for the U.S. with its new vaccine, which the FDA authorized in December. 

The only North Carolinians that can actually receive the first doses of vaccines at the moment are health care workers who are in direct contact with COVID-19, long-term care staff and residents, and anyone 65 years or older. Others will have to wait until these groups have received the vaccine.

However, there is skepticism with any vaccine that comes out, especially at the quick rate that Pfizer was able to release theirs. Bassam Shawamreh, a member of the Student Government Association and the COVID-19 Health Team, acknowledges that skepticism is certainly understandable and valid with anything new. The research that Warren Wilson College, and other sister universities, receives from the Mountain Area Health Education Center (MAHEC) reassures him that the vaccine is safe though.

“There is a lot of information and it’s coming fast,” said Shawamreh, but his and MAHEC’s job is to debunk any myths or misinformation.

What are these myths or misinformation that could cause Americans, specifically students at Warren Wilson College, to become wary of getting the vaccine? Kirk Adams, professor of animal science at Warren Wilson College and former employee of the animal health department at Pfizer, understands the aspects that create unease with this vaccine is the speed at which it was created and its potential long-term effects.

“There’s not really a clear hypothesis to why these vaccines would cause long-term issues,” said Adams.

Although he acknowledged that there could be blind spots, he said that the risks of COVID-19 complications outweigh the risks of the vaccine.

Adams explained that the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is made using mRNA technology. This method involves training the protein within cells to produce antibodies to fight against COVID-19. Adams stated that this technology is not new and research on viruses like COVID-19 has been around for two decades. There were two separate outbreaks, one in 2003 with SARS-CoV and the 2012 with MERS-CoV

“You have to consider all the background research,” explained Adams.

Unlike SARS-CoV and MERS-CoV, COVID-19 became a global pandemic that has taken the lives of over 2 million people worldwide. North Carolina solely accounts for 10,000 of these deaths. 

Shawamreh recounted his experience making a social media post about a University of North Carolina at Asheville student who died from COVID-19: “This (student’s death) is so close to me in proximity,” he said. “This is one of our peers. This is like one of our students.”