Sharing recipes, kid trials and other things you need to know about the COVID-19 vaccine

March 31, 2021
Grid of four pictures, two of happy faces and two of people smacking their heads
When it comes to this pandemic, it seems like for every bit of good news there's the accompanying bad. Images by Adobe stock

Do you want the good news or the bad news first?

No question has been more pervasive during the past year’s pandemic than this one. It’s almost as if it’s left all of us hesitant to celebrate any victories, even big ones (like, we have three really amazing vaccines) in the war on COVID because we know there’s always going to be a “yeah, but …” right after it. For the past year it seems like for every step forward, there’s been an accompanying step back. With each victory, a demoralizing caveat. 

Vaccinated people can hang out with more people now. (Yay!) But they still have to wear masks. (Dang it.)

Social distancing and masking are really making a difference. (Sweet!) Texas is open for business! (D’Oh!)

Almost a quarter of the United States population has now been vaccinated. (*Pats self on back*) Social inequities have never been more apparent. (*Face palm*)

So just as this pharmaceutical freight train is starting to pick up steam and crank out massive quantities of vaccine, here comes the inevitable next wave. 

And here we go again. Or do we?

Headshot of Scheurer 
Danielle Scheurer, M.D.

“We are not out of the woods yet,” said Danielle Scheurer, M.D., MUSC Health System chief quality officer. “It’s up to us as to whether we’re going to remain vigilant – by continuing to wear masks and practice social distancing – or relax too soon. We can do this. We just have to be smart. Nobody wants to lose all the ground we’ve gained.”

Maybe it’s another “but the bad news is” scenario all over again. But maybe, just maybe, this time we get to have a say in what the future holds. 

With the vaccine landscape changing almost daily, each week we are checking in with Scheurer to ask her the most pertinent questions that are hanging in the balance.

Q. How were things last week? How are they looking this week in terms of number of vaccines we’re receiving? Are we seeing that uptick yet?

A. You know what? It’s actually getting better. Last week, we got 20,000 doses and we’re expecting 24,000 this week. Our waitlist is gone. Our scheduling links are open. We’re into second doses with schools. It’s all good. We’re only scheduling like a week or two in advance, just to be safe. We’ve learned a lot from how things have gone in the past. We don’t want to get out over our skis. Going forward, I only expect our shipment numbers to go up. 

Q. Is the demand for vaccine appointments dropping? 

A. Yes and no. Some sites are slower to schedule than others. For fixed sites, like Florence at the Civic Center, people should come. I’m not afraid to put that out there. That’s a good spot to get a vaccine. If you’re willing to travel, it’s worth a look. On March 31, anyone over 16 will be eligible for a vaccine, so I don’t think we’re going to see a lull in in demand. 

Q. What a seesaw the AstraZeneca story has been. In light of all the recent news do you see it getting an Emergency Use Authorization (EUA)?

A. It’s pretty close to the other viral vector vaccines (specifically, Johnson & Johnson), so I don’t see why it wouldn’t. The only thing I can’t figure out is the efficacy against the South African variant was extremely low. It’s weird to even say this, but we might not even need it, given how much of the existing three vaccines are expected to be delivered in the U.S.

Q. I have heard some people are asking these companies (Pfizer, J&J, Moderna) to make their recipes public so other companies can make these things. What do you think about that?

A. I don’t know why they would. I think there’s more than one way to accomplish the goal. Like the Merck deal is a good example. (Merck partnered with Johnson & Johnson to help to manufacture its single-dose vaccine.) So forcing these companies to publish their recipes doesn’t make sense. I mean, who says, “That great new breakthrough drug you just made? Yeah, now it’s generic.” We’ve got enough vaccine that that just isn’t necessary.

Q. What are you seeing as far as long COVID symptoms go? Are we getting patients with lingering symptoms, like fevers, breathing trouble, cognitive/psychiatric problems, stuff like that? 

A. We are in the process of setting up a long-hauler clinic – you know, for people dealing with lingering and long-term aftereffects of COVID. It’s desperately needed. These people need to be able to seek care and advice. I think some of them are made to feel like they’re crazy. We know it’s a really complicated virus. We can detect it in almost every organ in the body, so it’s not that big of a stretch that you would have prolonged symptoms.

Q. The U.S. government is committing $10 billion to expanding screening to students returning to in-person schooling. Does screening really help or is that just one of those things that makes us feel better because at least we’re doing something?

A. It depends on the type of tests they use. If they use an antigen test, it’s not really that helpful. But if it’s a PCR (polymerase chain reaction) test – what we refer to as the “gold standard” – then it might be actually helpful. At MUSC, we’re switching almost exclusively to deep nasal, which might sound bad, but believe me, it is so much better than the nasopharyngeal test. It basically just goes midway up your nose. It might tickle but it doesn’t hurt. And it works just as well as nasopharyngeal swabbing.

Q. Is MUSC involved in any vaccine trials for children?

A. We are getting close, but right now we don’t have any up and running.

Q. Once that happens, how hard is it to get enrollees? Seems like a bit of a leap of faith for parents to put their kid in a trial, isn’t it?

A. Well, you’re asking a doctor, so I’m going to say no. (*Laughs*) But you’re right. It can often be hard to do a pediatric trial. Sometimes they have to offer incentives to give families compensation. What helps sometimes is, with a lot of these trials geared to younger people, there is a 2 to 1 enrollment, meaning there’s a 67% chance their children will get the vaccine. For me as a parent – and both my kids are in a trial, by the way – knowing there’s that good of a chance versus, say, 50%, is what swayed me. 

Q. How do the vaccines they are using in these kids’ trials differ? Are they the same? A diluted version? Completely different?

A. That’s a good question. It’s the exact same vaccine, but they typically adjust the dose, just like you would with any medicine. The smaller the person, the less of it they need. 

Q. Right now COVID cases in Britain are down 90% from its peak versus 79% in the U.S. From a vaccine standpoint, Britain has given nearly 45% of its population at least one dose versus 25% here. Do these numbers, looked at together, show that Britain’s approach (give as many people as possible at least one dose) is a better than ours (give people both first)? If so, do you think it’s worth changing course – and is that even possible at this point – in this country?

A. I don’t think so. I think we’ll have enough vaccine going forward that it won’t be an issue. I think we are too far along to change course now. The U.K. took a huge gamble there – thank God it worked. 

Q. I know I’ve asked this before, but what if, say, a new variant pops up that renders current vaccines ineffective. Do these researchers – the same ones that came up with the current batch of vaccines – feel confident that they can solve the new riddle fairly quickly?

A. I think the two mRNA ones (Pfizer and Moderna) have expressed confidence that they could adapt to that. The logistics would be a giant headache – like distribution, scheduling, etc. – but as far as making it goes? Yeah, they could make it, no problem. 

**Have a question you'd like answered? Email it to donovanb@musc.edu with the subject line “Vaccine Q.”

 

About the Author

Bryce Donovan

Keywords: COVID-19, Features, Trending Topics