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Answering viewers’ questions about COVID-19 vaccines

Although the U.S. should have enough vaccines on hand for all adults by the end of May, it may take longer to inoculate enough Americans to provide adequate protection. There are many reasons for that, but key among them, lingering concerns and skepticism about the vaccine. Dr. Kimberly Manning of the Emory University School of Medicine joins Amna Nawaz to discuss and answer viewers’ questions.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Although the U.S. should have enough vaccine for all adults by the end of May, it may take longer to inoculate enough Americans to provide adequate protection. There are many reasons for that, but key among them, lingering concerns and skepticism about the vaccine.

    Amna Nawaz picks the story up from here.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    That's right, Judy.

    We put out a call out to our viewers asking what questions they have about the COVID-19 vaccine. We're going to try to get to as many of them as possible.

    And to help us do that, we're joined by Dr. Kimberly Manning. She's a professor of medicine at Emory University, where she's also associate vice chair of diversity, equity and inclusion. And she's based at Grady Hospital in Atlanta, Georgia.

    Dr. Manning, thank you so much for being here.

  • Dr. Kimberly Manning:

    Thanks for having me.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    So, let's jump to some of these questions.

    Before we do, there has been news in the last day I want to get your reaction to. This was a decision just yesterday by the Texas governor, Greg Abbott, to lift the statewide mask mandate and also reopen businesses 100 percent.

    What's your reaction to that?

  • Kimberly Manning:

    Well, I think my reaction to that is, of course, in the context of who I am, as a physician who works at a safety net hospital in an urban area, also a person who's Black and who is among the group that has been most disproportionately impacted or among the groups that have been most disproportionately impacted by COVID-19, and it makes me feel sad to imagine that, with the new variants that are now circulating and how much more contagious they can be, I'm concerned that more people will become sick and people need to get back to work.

    But people need to live. And it is really a tough space to be in, but I think the hard right is to continue to protect people's health, and that is through wearing masks.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    And, of course, we will be following the news out of Texas in the weeks to come.

    But let's get to some of these questions, because I'm sure you won't be surprised to learn there were a lot.

    A lot of them centered around this issue of trust. We're hearing this question, and more than any other. Why should I trust a vaccine that was produced so quickly? A lot of people are saying, look, there's other viruses, things like HIV that we don't have a vaccine to. Why should I trust this one?

    What do you say to that?

  • Kimberly Manning:

    The first thing I do is acknowledge that. People have every right to be concerned about sort of the big system, if you will.

    If the concern is about how fast the vaccine was developed, I think we should first say, you're right. Most vaccines are developed much more slowly than this.

    However, we have to recognize that, in this pandemic, this virus was moving quickly and a lot of the technology, or, say, the mRNA vaccines was already under way, it was already happening, and this pandemic presented an opportunity to move things along.

    No important scientific steps were skipped. But people are right. It was quick. But asking your questions from reputable sources I think is a good place to start.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    You mentioned that mRNA technology. We're getting a lot of questions about some of these details. So, let's unpack those.

    A lot of people are asking about the side effects, some of the questions about what the vaccine actually does to your body.

    Michael from Chicago is 62 years old. And he asks: "Does the vaccine for COVID-19 trigger the likelihood of any other autoimmune disease?"

    Another related question, people are wondering if the vaccine actually changes your DNA. What do we know about these.

  • Kimberly Manning:

    There are different types of antibodies. And it does not trigger an autoimmune sort of uptick, if you will.

    But I can understand the concern. And I do think it's important to start by acknowledging people's real, true concerns.

    Let me tell you a little bit about how the vaccine works. The vaccine is developed to create an antibody response to the spike protein. So, the mRNA is just a little snippet of the genetic code on the mRNA code for that spike protein.

    And so what does that mean? It means that, when you get the vaccine, and it's kind of wrapped up in this lipid layer, it comes into your cell. And when that little piece of mRNA comes into your cell, it doesn't go in your nucleus. It doesn't rewrite your genetic information.

    But, when it gets in there, it's like a little contractor that comes out and says, OK, let me give some instructions. And the instructions I'm going to give say, let's make spike protein.

    So, your body actually starts to make the spike protein, not the whole virus, just the spike protein. And then your body then recognizes that as foreign, and you develop an immune response. And that immune response gets saved up and stored, and just kind of hangs out and waits for — so that if you get actual COVID infection, it recognizes that spike protein on the outside. And that's what allows your body to kind of swarm in and take care of it.

    So, it's not rewriting your DNA. I can certainly see how someone thinks that. But the mRNA vaccines come in at the RNA level. And it does not rewrite who you are.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    So, a lot of people also have questions about how effective the vaccine is. There's a few different questions related to this.

    Liz from Colorado wants to know, "How long is it effective for?"

    Saleem from Michigan is wondering: Will I need a booster every year?

    Do we have answers to these questions yet?

  • Kimberly Manning:

    I wish we did.

    The truth is that we don't know. One of our experts, I just heard say in a news bite today really talking about how we're really in a race between these variants and getting people vaccinated.

    So, as an example, when you think about how people need to get a flu vaccine every year, that is because the flu, it mutates every year. The only way that a virus can mutate is if it has a live host. And so, as this infection continues to spread, that creates more opportunities for it to mutate.

    So, if the — if we find that the COVID virus has mutated so much, such that our vaccines are not effective, then, yes, you would — we would need to develop a new vaccine, and you would have to get revaccinated.

    As far as boosters go, we really don't have that data yet. As we know, these were developed fairly recently.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    One of the things we do know, of course, is that the pandemic has disproportionately affected a number of communities, black, Latino, and Native Americans in particular, and we have a number of questions about the inequitable distribution of vaccines.

    Kay (ph) in Kansas wants to know when that will change. Beth in California is saying: "If our library bookmobile can bring books to our area, why can't we have vaccine mobiles to get vaccines where they need to go."

    What do you say to that, Dr. Manning?

  • Kimberly Manning:

    I say that we are all public health people. And I love these ideas and these concerns that are being raised. I think they're absolutely right. And I'm in full agreement.

    I think that one of the exciting pieces to bring to this is that vaccine development and storage has been a real speed-breaker, if you will, for vaccine distribution. I do think that's one piece of it. And, as we know, we now have emergency use authorization for the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which will be easier to store, easier to make, and will likely — we will have larger numbers of that vaccine.

    So, I do think things will start to swing upward from that standpoint.

    But, yes, as far as this disease goes and vaccine distribution, it just really uncovers and brings into relief the health disparities that we have been talking about for years now, right? COVID really brought that to light. And I think this vaccine distribution process does that as well.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Well, folks certainly have a lot of questions and a lot of concerns.

    Dr. Kimberly Manning, cannot thank you enough for taking the time to address some of them. We hope you will come back and take some more soon.

    Thank you for your time.

  • Kimberly Manning:

    Thank you.

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