On December 27th In Germany, vaccinations started initially for residents in old people’s and nursing homes aged 80 and over and for medical professionals.Prof. Dr. Martin Siepmann, specialist in neurology and psychiatry as well as clinical pharmacology, explains the new active ingredient of the Covid-19 vaccination and the benefits of a vaccination.
The approval of the new COVID-19 vaccine was eagerly awaited. Now he is there. As a clinical pharmacologist, how do you rate the vaccine?
The approval study for the corona vaccine by the Mainz-based pharmaceutical company BioNTech and its US partner Pfizer has clearly demonstrated the effectiveness of the vaccine. The European Medicines Agency EMA as well as the British Medicines Agency MHRA and the US Medicines Agency FDA then approved the active ingredient.
The vaccine was tested in a study with around 43,500 participants. The participants were between 16 and 91 years old and roughly corresponded to the normal population. In addition to healthy people, people with minor illnesses or chronic illnesses also took part,
z. B. People with conditions like diabetes who are at increased risk of developing severe COVID-19. Half of the participants received the new vaccine, the other half a dummy drug called a placebo. People with very serious illnesses, such as severe immune disorders, as well as children and pregnant women were excluded.
The study, which has just been published in the renowned New England Journal of Medcine, shows that vaccination can significantly reduce the risk of developing COVID-19 by around 95 percent. That is a comparatively high effectiveness compared to the flu vaccinations. The vaccination protects the different age groups equally well, including people with previous illnesses.
It is not yet scientifically supported whether a vaccinated person can still transmit the virus. Also how long the effectiveness and the vaccination protection last or whether a vaccination makes sense for people who suffer from severe immune diseases. This is data that must be collected in the next step. This process is no different from that of approving our flu vaccines.
So you believe in the vaccine’s safety?
The authorities have been just as careful in approving the new vaccine as they normally do. This strict safety standard corresponds to that of a newly approved drug, only this time approval was achieved faster.
As with other vaccinations, certain side effects may occur. This shows that our body is reacting to the vaccine and building antibodies. With the COVID-19 vaccine, there has so far been no evidence of severe impairment. The side effects are usually mild to moderate and subside within a few days. There may be slight pain or redness at the injection site, including fever, chills, headache, muscle or joint pain. Lymph node swellings were seen 0.3 percent of the time; allergic reactions occurred in 0.1 percent of the participants. It is unclear whether this is directly related to the vaccination, as similar reactions occurred under placebo conditions. Possible information on very rare side effects, i.e. side effects that affect less than 1 in 10,000 people who have been vaccinated, can only be obtained when the vaccine is now available to millions. The authorities will continue to examine and clarify whether and to what extent there is a connection to the vaccination and reassess the benefit and risk. This is also common with other drugs.
Concerns about the type of vaccine, a so-called mRNA-based vaccine (mRNA = messenger ribonucleic acid), are raised again and again. One can say that this is not built into our genome and therefore does not represent an associated cancer risk. This is an insight that was gained at the beginning of the development in the early 1990s and which has been confirmed in the following two decades.
You yourself get vaccinated. The willingness to vaccinate among the population, especially among medical staff, is still hesitant. Do you have an explanation for this?
Well, fears certainly play a role here, but they have to do with the current general fear itself. For the first time, the corona pandemic is something we cannot control very well – an extremely complex situation, the outcome of which we do not know. In addition, people are made insecure by fear and scaremongering and conspiracy theories, also via social media. This basic fear prevents us from thinking and acting more rationally. My appeal to everyone: We have to rely more on what is secure and verifiable.
In your opinion, what can be done to increase vaccination readiness?
Factual information and transparent clarification are the be-all and end-all. It is important not to gloss over anything, but also not to speak badly.
It must be clearly stated that vaccination is an important milestone. With it and in compliance with the hygiene measures that continue to apply, we can prevent further spread and possible mutations of the virus and overcome the pandemic.
Prof. Dr. Martin Siepmann
Medical Director of the Psychosomatic Clinic
Specialist in neurology and psychiatry as well as clinical pharmacology
Corona in numbers:
- Worldwide until the end of December 2020 79 million COVID-19 cases and 1.7 million deaths reported. (As of December 27, 2020. Source WHO)
- Alone in Germany are so far over 1.6 million people sick with COVID-19 and more than 30,000 people died from it (As of December 28, 2020. Source: RKI)
- Only with the help of corona vaccination can nationwide immunization of the population be achieved and the pandemic under control.
If approx 70 percent of the population are immune, the transmission of SARS-CoV-2 will be reduced so much that the corona crisis will pass.
- One thing is clear: the more people are vaccinated, the fewer hosts the virus will find. And the more difficult are the conditions for the virus to spread.
You can find more information about Covid-19 and the new vaccine HERE.