Paul's Heart

Life As A Dad, And A Survivor

Studying After The Test

We have all been waiting for the encouraging news when it comes to vaccines and availability against Covid19.  Now to be clear, the three vaccines that we do have, that were discovered in record time, are not clinically proven.  They have not gone through the entire study process that science normally takes.  Our country simply did not have the time wait to get these shots into arms.  And because of that, these vaccines, research “not completed” yet, have been given “emergency use authorization,” allowing the well-hedged bet, a great risk to take.

At least for many.  Those in that group, based on the limited studies, were normal, and healthy individuals.  So, as long as you were in good shape health wise, you will be good to go.  As for the rest, well, we should be okay too.  That will be figured out eventually, but in the meantime, everyone is being encouraged to get the vaccine.  How important is this vaccine?  The last time, we dealt with something so tragic, without a vaccine, this is an image those in generations before me will never forget:

Polio was a virus that attacked the spinal cord, causing paralysis, transmissible from person to person.  Not really known for its lethality, the images of the twisted bodies of survivors from polio, are those that witnesses will never forget.  The last transmissible case occurred back in 1979 due to the fact that we have a vaccine for it (this according to the CDC).

So, with a rapidly contagious and lethal virus, which killed over two million people world wide, over 500,000 Americans, understandably, treatments and vaccines were needed sooner than later.  We are at the “sooner” now.

Here is what we know.  Two of the vaccines have 95% success or higher in preventing hospitalizations and death, and the third though having a lower percentage, still, when compared to other vaccines, is still very successful.  But here comes the bad news.

First, the studies have not shown whether the vaccine will prevent anyone from “carrying” the virus.  In other words, you might not get it, but you could get someone else near you sick.  The other factor, the length of time that the vaccine is only “known” to work for, is three months.  After those three months are gone, there is no study for showing how much longer the vaccine will last.  That is based on the data right now.  Right now, the signs are promising.  But we just don’t know.

This is assuming you are one of the healthy people like those studied so far.  But what about those who have compromised immune systems or pre-existing conditions like several issues that I have.  There are no studies done… yet.

Here is the good news.  An article released last month by the University of Birmingham (in England, not the US dammit), has begun the OCTAVE trial, funded by the Medical Research Council, to study immune responses to the Covid19 vaccines by those with compromised immune systems, including those with cancer.

I stated a few weeks ago, the difficult decision that I made not to currently get vaccinated.  After speaking with several of my most trusted doctors, who were conflicted among themselves what I should do, and would I benefit, that I was left with my gut instinct, based on what I knew about my health history.

Historically, because I have no spleen, I have a difficult time building antibodies without having booster shots of vaccines.  And it does not appear to make a difference which vaccines.  Some that I have had, once thought to be lifetime, I end up with multiple boosters.  And here lies the problem.

With no studies done yet, there is no data on my ability to get a booster, let alone be able to tolerate one (or more).  There is no protocol to test for the antibodies to get a booster.  And finally, there is no protocol to actually get a booster if you were to indeed need one.  What I do know, is I am likely to be in this situation, and it needs to be studied before vaccination becomes an option.  For that, I will say “thank you England.”  At least you are doing something.

The US is not standing by idle.  Those studies that have not been completed so that the vaccines can be officially approved?  They are still on going, either in the 2nd or 3rd stages.  Data will come producing important information like “how long will immunity actually last?”  Another important piece of information needed, that has not been discussed, and trust someone who knows because he has been there, being experimented on, data needs to come out on potential long term side effects from the vaccines.  Sure my treatments 31 years ago cured my cancer, but they knew nothing about the side effects I would deal with decades later.

Clearly, I am not a scientist, so my decision, I am not an anti-vaxxer at all, is based on a hunch.  That is, until the American Society of Hematology published a paper toward the end of the year, addressing questions about the Covid19 vaccine.  For those unfamiliar, hematology is the study of blood, but to those of us who have a history of cancer, we know this study very well.

This is the link to the actual article.  But in summary, there were two questions that stood out to me.  What vaccines are approved for immunocompromised patients?  Why might some patients not respond?  The entire paper is quite interesting to read.  But in the end, until the data is conclusive, the advice is still the same.  It is up to the individual to decide based on their need.

Some need the vaccine to be at work.  Of course there is the need to get kids back in school.  There is a strong desire to get back to some sort of normalcy socially.  And some, will need the vaccine simply not to die.

It is not an easy decision for me, and not one I have made lightly.  And yes, while some still like to argue, “but they can’t seem to get their answers right or straight.”  Yes, that is what happens when we are dealing with an unknown.  There will be mistakes along the way medicine looks for the perfect way to deal with Covid19.  Until then, just as success came with prevention for Polio, measles, and others, science will find a way out of this for us.  But it has only been a year.

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