CORONAVIRUS – VIDEO TEN
Watch our latest live Q&A video with Dr Anna Blakney, Assistant Professor at University of British Columbia and a specialist in RNA vaccines.
To watch our other coronavirus Q&A videos, see our main coronavirus page.
Video Q & A
This video was recorded on 3rd February 2021 and answers some questions put to us by sarcoidosis patients about vaccines.
You can find the latest UK Government information here.
Henry: Hello I’m Henry Shalford, Chairperson of SarcoidosisUK. I’m absolutely thrilled and very excited to have Dr Anna Blakney, Assistant Professor at University of British Columbia and a specialist in RNA vaccines which are clearly the most important thing of the moment. Welcome Anna and thank you again.
Anna: Thanks so much for having me, pleasure to be here.
Henry: People may remember Anna who has kindly participated in a previous video also on vaccines, teaching us about them and particularly RNA vaccines. We’ve had a lot of questions coming in, particularly because in the UK people who are on the shielding list have started to get letters. And so that has suddenly crystalised that decision for people, they’ve been called to come get the vaccine. We’ve got lots of questions sent in, we’re live on Twitter, YouTube and Facebook and we’ve got someone looking at them so if you’ve got a question then post them in. Now this session is particularly about the vaccine technology, of which Anna is an absolute specialist. We are having some sessions on sarcoidosis and the vaccine coming up, we’re looking to have 2 of those, expecting to have one within 1-2 weeks and the other within 3-4 weeks. So those are coming up, I’m going to attempt to answer some of the questions because we’ve answered them before. but this is not that session, we’re very lucky to have Anna talk to us about the technology and that is this session. I thought we’d start of with some of the things you’ve talked about online Anna, because they are the main message points. So if we cut now to what I think is your most recent Tweet. Do you want to just talk us through why you’ve tweeted that out and why you’ve done this.
Anna: Yeah so I’ve been on a number of podcasts recently, and these are really just people wondering what I’m doing on TikTok, and really the whole point is that I’m really passionate about science and vaccines and also educating people about these topics, and of course this is especially important right now. So I’m actually a part of Team Halo, which is a collaboration between the UN and the Vaccine Confidence Project with the goal of connecting scientists and clinicians who work on COVID-19 to the general public, so that’s how I got started on TikTok. But in general I think I’ve experienced this through this pandemic and just from talking to people that my general approach is just to be really open and honest about the data that we do have, as well as just explaining these vaccine technologies, hopefully in a way that makes it so everyone can understand.
Henry: And you’ve had extraordinary success through TikTok and that’s allowed us to know about you. Just over 200k followers, did you crack open champagne getting to 200k, that’s a pretty cool thing, and 2 million likes!
Anna: Yeah I had never imagined it would get this big, but it really speaks to how much interest there is in these particular topics at this time and I think TikTok is actually a really great platform for it. Often science seems really intimidating and unapproachable, but when you’re just making 15 or 60 second videos they can be quite educational. Just a little titbit, just enough where someone can understand some part of the whole system and so I think it’s a really useful platform for being able to show people what we do in the lab, how we make vaccines and how we test them.
Henry: Talking of which, we’ve got some of your videos that we’re going to try show. Wish us luck because I think this is pushing some of our technological grounds somewhat.
Henry: Everyone should go and see them it’s Anna.Blakney on TikTok and that it is fabulous. You’ve also been on The Science Hour, the BBC Sounds service talking about the futures of vaccines, COVID and other ones, can you tell us a bit about that?
Anna: Yeah so I think any opportunity to really talk about these vaccines is really exciting and everybody knows now the first time that RNA vaccine was approved was for COVID-19, but I think the technology is really exciting, obviously I’m biased because that’s what I do my research on but I think we’re going to continue to see also that it really changes the way that we make other vaccines as well. One example that I like to give is the flu vaccine which we make every year, it’s actually not a great vaccine so it’s usually 30-40% effective, and this is just because flu usually mutates so rapidly, so there are people across the world who are constantly monitoring the flu virus but we have do decide for the Northern Hemisphere in February of each year what strains we’re going to put into the vaccine, so that we can produce it in this really old production method so that it’s ready in October when we start administering it to everybody. And so know that we know that RNA vaccines we can make and scale so rapidly, you can envision that instead of having one vaccine that we decide every February, potentially a few different vaccines that we make throughout the winter in response to those changing mutations, hopefully making it even better. So I think there’s a lot of opportunities out there for RNA vaccines.
Henry: RNA vaccines have saved the day, they’ve come through the fastest, it’s a new technology they don’t rely on having live vaccine in them, which makes them more available and less issues particularly for people who are immunocompromised. I presume one of the reasons you chose it as an area of specialism is it’s extraordinarily important emerging area, the Pfizer vaccine came out of being used as a treatment for cancer, but it was then rapidly repurposed, that same technology. So presumably you did pick it thinking this is an exciting area of new development that is exploding right now and it happens to be that it’s exactly the right time.
Anna: Absolutely, it is a really exciting technology.
Henry: What are you working on right now?
Anna: I work on more of a platform, so with the idea that making the RNA work better as well as the delivery platforms work better such that you can apply it to any new vaccine or disease and just have a better vaccine. So it’s not really specific for one indication, the idea is that if it’s better overall it’ll work better for all these different diseases as well.
Henry: And we’re seeing the importance of that right now as we look at treating the different variants of COVID-19, that’s something that’s very important. We’ve had a report in that Tik Tok could be heard so everyone heard your brilliance, and hopefully they will go and subscribe! Right onto questions we’ve had some sent in, I’m going to do some that have been sent in to us first. The first ones are just about the letter to shield so I’m going to do those, we’ve had a question from Emily Jones: “I’ve had a letter to shield from my GP but nothing from the NHS as I’m not undergoing any treatment. Will I be on the vulnerable list?” Your GP will have made the decision and my understanding is that then you’re tagged on the system as shielding, so the letter can come from either side. Do contact your GP, they’re the ones who know and you can talk to them. They’re also maintaining a last minute list, so people who say that they can come in quite quickly and so it may be worth calling them to say also I’m up for being on the last minute list, and I can be here within however long, and that’s a good thing to do too. We’ve had people asking about their families living with them, are they also going to be getting it at the same time as you, the answer is no. It’s in order of clinical need. For instance my father is older, he got called, and 5 days later my mum got called. They’ve both gone, and I am over the moon, thrilled about that. Haven’t seen them for a very long time. We’ve decided since Christmas got nixed, so we’re having Vax-imas, that’s our plan! Anna have you been able to see your parents at all or loved ones?
Anna: So I just moved to Vancouver in January and I was in London beforehand, and my family are in Colorado in the States still, so I didn’t go to Colorado en route because complicated flights and travelling around right now, so no I haven’t seen them in a while.
Henry: As much as Zoom is wonderful it’s not quite the same! Our nursery has had a COVID case so we’ve just tried to do Zoom with 3 year olds!
Anna: They do not have the capacity for it
Henry: I mean I hardly do! Right some questions for the both of us: “If we get a choice of vaccination, which would you get?” You’ve already answered it in the previous video.
Anna: Yeah that’s a good question, and I can inform as to the differences and how you would choose. I think the main point is that in this point of time you probably won’t have a choice, just because we are supply limited right now. Whatever vaccine is available when you get called to go is probably what you’re going to end up getting. In a world where we’ve had unlimited supplies of all of these approved vaccines, I mean really anything that’s approved by the MHRA or any of these other regulatory bodies is good enough for me. I guess if you really had to decide, obviously if you had a choice between all of them I would just go with the one with the highest efficiency and the lowest amount of side effects, so that so far as the data shows are the RNA vaccines but anything that’s approved is good enough for me. I know the rigorous data they look for and all the checkpoints it has to pass, so having that approval means they’re all good vaccines.
Henry: And the alternative which I think people need to focus on, the alternative is wandering around and getting it in the wild. And so which one, I was trying to think of an analogy – I’ve failed Anna, I’ve absolutely failed – but the nearest I’ve got is if you were told you had to go and see a tiger, would you go a tiger infested forest and try and hunt it in the wild and possibly get hunted, or would you go to a zoo. Go to the zoo! It’s a terrible analogy, but the best I could think of. But just that difference.
Anna: I think the point that you’re getting at is the relative risk, and I think that’s really important to consider when you’re thinking about getting any vaccine. Vaccines do have side effects and disease do also have side effects, so I think for me right now thinking about COVID-19 and getting a vaccine it’s like, okay sure the vaccine, I talk about this in a video as well but the first and foremost thing is there a need for me to get it, the answer for most of the global population is yes at this point in time, obviously for people who live in New Zealand or something like that there’s no cases around but I’m sure they’re still going to get vaccinated. But it’s really the risk of how bad is the disease going to be versus how bad are the side effects from the vaccine. For me the really unnerving thing is really how little we understand about COVID-19 at this point in time and how long those effects can last. So we are seeing long lasting effects on the heart or nervous tissue and lungs that we don’t quite understand, so who knows how long those could last for and if there’s irreparable damage to your tissues. Whereas for the vaccine we have better safety data and monitor safety data and a better idea of the side effects in all these clinical trial participants. So for me it’s quite obvious the risk of getting the vaccine is much less than getting COVID-19, even as a young healthy individual. That’s kind of how I calculate it for myself.
Henry: Yeah I think that’s exactly the point, even if you look at the very basic data, we’re now into millions dead from COVID and for people taking the vaccines I think in the actual tests was 0, are you aware of anyone dying?You did a good TikTok, you were brutal, talking about old people dying, but tell everyone what you said about people who were in the older age category who unfortunately passed soon after having the vaccine.
Anna: There’s this story in the media that all these elderly patients in Norway had gotten the vaccine and then died, and they were trying to say that the vaccine is what caused them to die, so yeah that TikTok video is a little bit brutal but it just reminds people that, people do die – it’s an unfortunate fact of life. But just because people died some time after getting the vaccine, that doesn’t mean it was because of getting the vaccine. And so we can dig into that data and see the frequency of death in the normal population for people of this age, and here’s the frequency of death for people who received the vaccine, and there was no difference between them. So it means it’s correlation versus causality, so it wasn’t caused by the vaccine it just happened that they got the vaccine and then died. As far as we’ve seen so far, there are not vaccine caused deaths with the COVID vaccine.
Henry: If you inject all of your oldest people, a chunk are unfortunately going to pass, and it’s not to do with the vaccine, it’s because they are literally the oldest people and that is their time. But what we do know is that if population gets COVID in the wild, then we know that they do die and in very, very large numbers. And you talked about the long term effects, and one of the things that I think is under-spoke about flu, is that if people get severe flu when they’re older it has long term effects, particularly cardiac effects, and other effects, and it’s very common to see the admissions linked to that. So I think the world has previously with these infections been quite relaxed about them, and the future hope is that we aren’t relaxed about having the flu and infecting granny, we need to stop doing that. Those people who come into the office saying I’m toughing it up, like that’s great for you, I’m now getting that in a couple of days aren’t I, I’d rather you stayed home!
Anna: A positive outcome of this pandemic is that we’re all more aware of infectious diseases now and how not to spread them.
Henry: Yes it is a good thing. We’ve had a message on Facebook from Sarah: “I was fortunate to receive my first dose of the vaccine on Monday, and I have had no issues of yet”
Anna: That’s great news
Henry: It is great, and Melanie had Pfizer first shot last week no symptoms, Sarah – “Had my first Oxford jab on Monday this week, feeling fine”, Jill – “I’ve had mine on Friday, I felt a bit poorly over the weekend and was worried it would trigger a flare but I’m feeling much better today, short term pain for long term gain”.
Anna: Good news all round
Henry: And I think it’s important. The problem is people often get on and don’t talk about it, so I wanted to highlight that because actually we very much need to say that. Right we need to do some of these questions. We’ve had a couple of questions come in from Denise and Peter, one is “Is it correct that the different vaccines work in different ways in the cell?”
Anna: Yes and no, so with any vaccine we’re trying to train your immune system to recognise a protein without ever seeing that virus. For our first go-to, I’m sure you’ve heard of the now famous spike protein, which is the protein on the surface of the virus, so that’s our target for the vaccine, that’s what we’re trying to train your immune system to recognise. So there’s a number of different ways to do this, some of the options are the old way of making vaccines where we could just take a live virus and inactivate it and that would train the body to recognise it. Then we moved on to making protein vaccines, where we can actually make the protein in the lab, just the protein so it’s not that full viral particle and use that as a vaccine. The newest way to do this is with nucleic acids so RNA vaccines. Instead of making the protein in the lab, which actually takes a lot of time and resources to do because you have to use these huge vats, we can synthetically make the RNA then that just gives your cells the code to make that spike protein. So we’re actually using the patient as a bioreactor to manufacture the protein themselves. So all of the vaccines are trying to train your immune system to recognise that protein, they introduce the protein in different ways though. So obviously the RNA vaccines – the Pfizer and BioNTech and Moderna vaccines – use RNA to tell your cells to recognise that protein, whereas the Oxford and AstraZeneca is a slightly different approach. So they use what’s called a viral vector which sounds kind of scary I don’t know why we keep referring to it that way other than it’s the scientific term for it, but it’s essentially just a repurposed cold, it’s a virus that infects chimpanzees naturally and not humans, so they just repurposed that viral packaging to really get at the cells and actually that then contains the DNA code to make the same spike protein. So the short answer to your question is they’re all trying to train your immune system to recognise a protein, so that’s really the mechanism but yes they introduce the protein in different ways.
Henry: Thank you. And I keep reminding people the alternative is just catching it, and then your body is doing the same but with an infectious agent trying to use you and damaging you and potentially killing you in the process. This is the process that your body does many many many times. You meet infectious agents all the time, you get a cold that is a coronavirus as well, your body learns to defeat it. And so your body is doing this all the time, it’s not that different that it’s coming into your body via a more controlled way – the tiger’s in the cage. I’m working that analogy, so that’s the choice. This is something you’re doing all the time anyway, it’s not that big a deal and I think that’s a really important thing to say, you’re doing this anyway and otherwise are at big risk. Right some more questions, Carol – “I have an allergy to penicillin, does this mean I can’t have the Pfizer vaccine?”
Anna: So at this point in time a penicillin allergy is not a contraindication for the Pfizer vaccine, I think most of the questions about allergies stem from there were reports in the beginning when it was first implemented and there were specifically 2 healthcare workers in the UK who had anaphylactic reactions to the Pfizer vaccine, and since then they’ve said that if you have had any past reactions to vaccines don’t get these, but basically any other allergies are okay.
Henry: So there are some allergies you shouldn’t take the vaccine with?
Anna: So they haven’t published a report about what caused those anaphylactic reactions, so they just say if you’ve had a reaction to a vaccine in the past then don’t get this vaccine.
Henry: But that’s solely if you have a vaccine and anaphylactic shock not anything else. So Kevin wrote on Facebook “I’m allergic to nuts and remember seeing news that people with allergies were being told not to get the vaccine, with so much misinformation about, am I okay to get it?”
Anna: Yeah. My younger sister is actually also allergic to nuts but yes, there should not be any trace of nuts in these vaccines. If there are then they are doing something severely wrong in manufacturing, so yes a nut allergy is fine.
Henry: Yeah I think the challenge of people trying to match the knowledge they’ve got with what they’re learning so fast, this deep dive people are suddenly needing to take.
Anna: And there was basically new guidance every single day as we continue to learn more and more so yeah I know it’s difficult to keep up.
Henry: Now we’re getting quite a few questions which are pretty sarcoidosis specific and this session isn’t for that, but we are doing some of those, we’ll be doing one in 1-2 weeks and another in 3-4 weeks so those will be happening and we’ve already got the FAQ and our previous vaccine Q&A up which should answer a good chunk of those, but those that have come in that we can’t answer now we will be keeping back and answering as soon as we can. I think something that is coming up a lot though which I think we can answer is about immunosuppressed people. Are you happy to talk a little to that?
Anna: Yeah sure, so obviously I’m not a medical doctor so very specific drugs and internations, anything specific to you you should obviously consult your GP for, but you know big picture I can talk about in general. If you’re taking an immunosuppressant it’s currently fine to get these vaccines. Basically what we think will happen is that if you’re on an immunosuppressant it’s likely that you might develop a less immune response to the vaccine. So, there is an expectant antibody level that we would have in the general population if you’re on an immunosuppressant that might be slightly lower but we still envision that you will have some amount of protection from the vaccine, so from what I have seen, taking an immunosuppressant you are still able to get the COVID-19 vaccine.
Henry: And I think that’s a really good example of the difference between what people are thinking and the science. So when people are talking about immunosuppressants and the vaccine, they’re going oh my god does that mean my body will allow me to catch it, and it’s actually the exact reverse of that. What it means is that the vaccine does not contain live virus, there is 0 chance of catching COVID from it and it doesn’t even contain the whole virus, that’s a big part of the point. But because your immune system is reduced, what the evidence is currently saying is your immune response and therefore the antibodies you create is less than that of other people. And so that unfortunately means that the protection you get may well also be less, and that’s the thing that’s worrying people. So they’re not worried that you’re going to catch COVID from the vaccine or that you’re going to have any larger problem from it, the thing they are worried about is because your immune system is less, you won’t then react and create the antibodies that are needed. So that is all the more reason to my mind that you should take it, because if you catch the tiger in the wild the you’re much more at risk. That’s the main concern. More questions, we’ve got lots coming in online, I think this question is a variant of the one we’ve just done but Michael sent in a message via our website saying “If the immune system is suppressed by steroids, how will it wake up and recognise the vaccine?”
Anna: Depending on the vaccine, obviously if it’s suppressed by steroids it’s kind of similar mechanisms that you’ll still have some immunosuppression, but I guess in general the way that we wake up your immune system is by the adjuvantation aspect of vaccines, so for RNA vaccines they’re considered to be self-adjuvanting, so they wake up your immune system by their inherent properties so we don’t have to add anything else to them. And this, really big picture, has evolved from many of these viruses that infect us are RNA based viruses, so actually your immune system has evolved over time to recognise these foreign RNA’s and know that you need to wake up and make an immune response to that, so that’s kind of how they wake up your immune system, it’s an inherent part of all of the cells in your body but when you’re on steroids or some sort of immunosuppressant this is often just a weekend effect really, so it still works but you might just make as we said a lesser immune response.
Henry: Who knows, you might be getting more jabs not less that might be what’s going to happen. Ali via Facebook sent in what I thought was a really interesting question, and they said “I’ve heard that having an autoimmune condition will in itself reduce the efficacy of the vaccine. Is this true?” And I think that’s a very interesting consideration, about having an autoimmune condition. Do we have any understanding around that?
Anna: Yeah actually I’m not quite sure so it’s hard to say specifically for these vaccines as well because in the clinical trial which is where we have the most data so far, autoimmuntations aren’t usually included in those clinical trials, so it’s hard to make any sort of data driven conclusion about that. I think in general, typically the reason that autoimmune people develop a lesser immune response is that you’re usually on immunosuppressant drugs, so I don’t think it’s the autoimmune disease itself, I think it’s interactions of the drugs that you would be taking so kind of a similar question in that way.
Henry: Thank you. Paula sent in a question via Facebook – “If we assumed to say have 50% protection, what does 50% mean?” Actually I’m giving Paula points here because this is a very insightful question – “Does it mean it works for 50% of people, or does it mean I 50% could be immune, or does it mean something else?” Paula’s getting an A+ star for her statistical understanding.
Anna: So the answer is really none of the above. The way that they calculate this efficacy for the clinical trial is that in the 3rd phase of the clinical trial when there are tens of thousands of participants, and they have an arm of the clinical trial that’s the placebo arm and an arm of the clinical trial that gets the vaccine. So they both get injections, then they follow them over time to see who actually gets COVID-19. So they record the frequency of cases in the placebo arm and the frequency of cases in the vaccine arm, and then they compare this risk reduction based off of getting this intervention, which is getting the vaccine, and so it’s really your reduced risk when you get the vaccine versus a placebo. So it’s basically a statistical based approach, it doesn’t mean that 50% of people will be protected, when they record this data they also present the number of people that seroconverted, so how many people made antibodies to the vaccine, and that’s usually much much higher like over 90% or nearing 100% of people that get the vaccine. That’s the breakdown of it, it doesn’t mean that 90% of people will be protected from ever getting it, it’s really a risk reduction and actually for the clinical trials it’s to severe disease. Just recently Oxford and AstraZeneca had a pre-print of the most advanced data that we have on transmission actually where they saw in their phase 3 trail that it actually also reduces transmission, so prior to this all of the data we’ve seen has just been shown to reduce the severity of disease, but now we have some indication that these higher antibody levels will also reduce transmission, which is really really promising.
Henry: It is and that was very important. On the theme of the tests, JP has asked on Facebook in the livestream – “If vaccines require updates for variants, are they going to need to go through the same trials?”
Anna: Very good question, and everybody is wondering this. I will say that I think it will depend on where you are and the rate that regulatory bodies are approving these, obviously one of the real benefits of RNA vaccines is that we can make a new one so quickly which is the reason we were able to get the first two vaccines approved which were RNA vaccines. And so that’s great, because it means if there is a new strain we can easily just make those mutations, make a new vaccine. I think at this point from what I’ve heard, there will be some requirement for doing a clinical trial, obviously we need to test it on some people and make sure that we’re generating an immune response that’s functional and neutralises the new strain of the virus. But to put it into perspective, I don’t think we’re going to need to go through all 3 phases of clinical trial again, because if you think about it for flu every year they approve a new vaccine without doing all of those clinical trials, so the reason they can do this is specifically for flu they have a correlate of protections, so this is just a fancy way of saying they have some test that they can do to know if the vaccine is a good vaccine for the strains that are out there and a test they can do without running all those clinical trials. So we don’t yet have a correlate of protection for COVID-19, so we don’t know usually this would be like an antibody level in the blood that it needs to achieve to be able to approve it and say that it works equally as well as its predecessors, so we don’t have that yet, I think as we get more data from these clinical trials as well as following up epidemiological studies we’ll hone in on that, and I think that will make the regulatory process faster. But I think we will continue to need to test them, but I don’t think they’ll need to go through all 3 phases.
Henry: Thank you, do you know what they do with the flu vaccine? Because that gets new ones every year.
Anna: Yeah so for the flu vaccine the correlate of protection is all the HAI titers, the chemo gluten inhibition, and this is specifically how flu enters the cell and what you’re trying to target, so it’s like a HIA titer authority is what qualifies it to be the new flu vaccine.
Henry: Thank you. We’ve had a really sad question for Martin via the website – “I’ve received my first vaccination shot, when can my daughter who works in a nursery reasonably move back in with me?” We can assume Martin is shielding.
Anna: That’s a tough one. For now, as we don’t have that make data on transmission and how much other people around you are protected, unfortunately the guidance from the government is still that you need to continue to adhering to all the guidelines, wear a mask, maintain your physical distancing and keep washing your hands. So at this point nothing changes when you get the vaccine, I think this will change at some point in time, it’s hard to say, is it when everyone becomes vaccinated or is it when you have more data on what is actually safe to do, but the tough answer for now is that we have to maintain exactly what we’re doing unfortunately.
Henry: Yeah, so I’ve not been able to go see my parents, and I think a part of what they’re looking for is to see the overall amount of COVID in the population going down. In the summer the risk for everyone and what allowed us to go and do more things was not that there had been some great change, it was because with the summer our chances of bumping into someone with COVID was relatively low and that allowed us to be out, and then obviously that’s changed again with the winter, and what they’re looking to see is, I think obviously we don’t fully know, once that prevalence comes down then that overall lowers the risk regardless and we can then start to change the rules. We’re planning to celebrate Vax-imas, I’ve said that we have to have presents, it’s not any kind of ‘MAS’ without presents. We had a question from Helen which I don’t know if we know the answer to: “How do we know that the vaccine will not over stimulate the T-cells immune response in patients who have an autoimmune disease?” I think we touched on that before, are you able to talk to that?
Anna: I guess specifically for over-stimulation of T-cells, that with the vaccine and RNA vaccines specifically, it doesn’t target just T-cells so actually the main immunity we’re driving from it is from E-cells, so for those who are not familiar, E-cells are your humoral immunity so this is producing antibodies against a virus, whereas T-cells function to actually kill an infected cell. So I guess when people worry about the over stimulation of T-cells for autoimmune disease, yes you can occasionally get that from some viral infections but you shouldn’t have the same effect from RNA vaccines, specifically because we’re really targeting the humoral immunity with those. Not to say that it’s not a possibility, but I guess in the population that has gotten it so far it hasn’t been reported as a side effect or outcome. I’m sure we’ll get more data on this in the future as well.
Henry: Thank you. Elizabeth – “I have cardiac sarcoidosis I’m getting my vaccine on Sunday thank goodness” she says, Gena says “I had my vaccine today, just felt a bit sleepy but feel okay now, I have sarcoid of the lungs, lymph, chest and joints”. Enja had the Pfizer jab on 1st and woke up with a headache, “I slept a bit in the afternoon and am still feeling a bit weak and shaky but ok”. So everyone is doing well, I think my father he only complained of a sore arm and said he was a bit sleepy, but honestly if there’s an excuse for a nap, that one’s taking it.
Anna: The other thing to keep in mind is that the side effects can be kind of concerning, but actually from an immunologist perspective this is usually a good sign for us because it means you are generating some sort of immune response to the vaccine, so it’s kind of counterintuitive that the side effects are a good thing, but really from an immune response perspective they are.
Henry: I think that’s a really good point actually, they’re something to go this is good, this means something is happening and it’s working. Which doesn’t mean if you don’t get any that’s a bad thing, that’s also fine. Potentially your mum’s been writing in under the name of Natalie – “Are there any considerations to make if planning a future pregnancy considering the new technology of these vaccines?”
Anna: Yeah so this is a particularly sensitive subject always for pregnant women and doing clinical trials just because they are such a more vulnerable population. The recommendation as of now in the UK that I have seen is that the guidance is that you don’t get pregnant for 2 months after getting the vaccine and that if you are currently pregnant to consult with your GP depending on your clinical risk of getting the virus and any other safety precautions that there may be. But something that’s really interesting, so other than that there aren’t restrictions, so there should be no effects, if you recently had a child you should be okay as well, the really interesting thing is that often vaccines aren’t tested in pregnant women but actually I know specifically Moderna are doing a clinical trial that includes pregnant women as well as pediatrics, so children. So they are starting to look at testing these vaccines in these more vulnerable populations and I think that’s great because it’s so much better to be able to have really good data on how it affects certain populations as opposed to just basing it off after we’ve given it to them. So it’s great that they’re starting to incorporate those trials.
Henry: Yes it absolutely is, and to make sure we cover it, the idea that there’s any kind of long term impact and long term issue on someone’s ability to be pregnant and give birth to a healthy child, could you talk to that?
Anna: So in terms of the long term effects of the vaccine?
Anna: The really honest answer is that if we only made this vaccine 10 months ago, how can we know the long term side effects of it? And that’s absolutely true obviously we don’t have data specific for these vaccines, but we continue to follow people out of the clinical trials for years after they get it, so we will eventually have it specifically for these vaccines. But as scientists we know that, since this is a platform right, RNA vaccines have been used previously, they’re largely the same formulation, but just for different diseases. And so there is a lot of clinical data for both of these, actually something I think people don’t realise is the first RNA vaccine trial was done in 2013. So we do actually have years of safety data from those patients, and there’s no reason to expect that we would have any different long term effects from these very similar vaccines, but of course we don’t know yet. I think the thing to consider is what are the long term effects of getting COVID-19, that is much more unknown because it’s a brand new virus, sure it’s similar to some other coronaviruses but there are already symptoms that we haven’t seen before, like losing your taste and smell which is actually quite prevalent in that it is changing those cells and tissues. That’s kind of how I look at the long term risks and what you need to take into consideration.
Henry: Thank you so much, now I know we’ve come to the end of our time with you. I’ve learnt a huge amount, you’ve answered a lot of questions so thank you and you dealt with my tiger analogy with true professionalism. You’ve been fantastic. Do you have any wrap up words that you’d like to say?
Anna: Yeah I think we’ve covered a lot today, in general what I always say is I think it’s actually really good that people are skeptical about vaccines and what they’re putting into their body, I think it’s great to be asking questions, but I just urge everybody to consult really scientific sources, good sources of data to educate yourself and make a really good decision for yourself about whether to get a vaccine. Also thanks so much for having me today, it was a pleasure to be here.
Henry: It’s been very important and very valuable, we’ve had a lot of comments coming in from people saying thank you and how much they’ve appreciated it so thank you enormously. I have one last question, but I think everyone needs to know this: when it comes out I will take whatever vaccine they give me and what’s your answer to that as well?
Anna: Absolutely, I just saw a thing the other day that my expected vaccination schedule is in August or September of this year in British Columbia so it might be a while, but hopefully more vaccines become available before then it might get sped up.
Henry: Thank you very much again, thank you everyone for watching, I have to do the plug which is that we’re a small charity trying to do the most we can, if you’re able to donate that is very important to us too. Thank you for watching, thank you Anna and goodbye.