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A Covid Q&A with Dr. Miriam Laufer: All about the vaccine, Covid precautions, and viruses

After months of whipped coffee, Tiger King, and TikTok in quarantine, the Covid19 vaccine has been perfected and released to the public. Despite teens’ usual lack of skepticism towards what they put in their bodies, a lot of people are unsure about being vaccinated. I interviewed Dr. Miriam Laufer, Professor of Pediatrics, Medicine, Epidemiology and Public Health. Dr. Laufer’s work mostly surrounds malaria, and hydroxychloroquine is used as a vaccine for this disease. She helped in the earlier stages of testing vaccines by providing expertise on the drug hydroxychloroquine.

 In March, she worked with kids diagnosed with Covid19 in hospital. Explaining this process to me, she noted “I evaluated suspicious symptoms of Covid. In spring and summer this year I worked on managing covid in a kids hospital. This involved participating in a big clinical trial testing the effectiveness of hydroxychloroquine against Covid. There was some anecdotal evidence regarding its effectiveness, but no one had done a rigorous trial until this pandemic. Still, we found It doesn’t prevent infection for people who already have been exposed and health care workers.” 

Dr. Laufer has some pretty expressive reactions to the vaccine rollout: “Well yay!” She reminded me the importance of acknowledging that we did not go from zero to 2 approved vaccines. There are vaccine platforms they’ve been working on for years, this research even started with SARS which is another form of the Coronavirus. These platforms were always ready to go, they just needed the virus sequence. Still, it took us a long time to get here–lots of political motivation was necessary.

But how do the new vaccines actually work? Viruses have genetic codes.

mRNA vaccines originate from spike proteins of the SARS disease. Once the body is exposed to these proteins, it creates antibodies against it. So when you’re exposed to Covid19, you’re body already has antibodies to protect against it. Dr. Laufer refers to this process as “Plug and play,” because to create these vaccines we just need the genetic code of a virus.

Still, I think everyone is wondering how is the vaccine tested on young people and what is the testing protocol for this. What are the ages that are being tested? Dr. Laufer informed me that for the Moderna vaccine, it’s over 18 years of age. “Typically vaccines are not given to children because they’re higher risk. There are three phases for vaccine testing. Phase 1 is for healthy volunteers. Phase 2 is to test at-risk people, making sure that we are testing people who are really at risk (demographically or who have bad side effects.) Phase 3 are the large trials (first round only includes adolescents 16-18) to see side effects, typically we see things like aches, pains, temperature, sometimes allergic reactions.” 

Before we worry about being vaccinated, we need to take personal precautions against Covid19. Dr. Laufer notes, “It’s worse now because everyone is inside, and there are  not as many opportunities to be outside and do what you want to. People are tired of this- not being able to be with family and being isolated. We had more energy and enthusiasm in March and April but we need to continue to follow CDC guidelines, which are to mask up, maintain social distance, avoid gatherings, and wash hands. There has been no scientific intervention to help Covid until now. Everything up to now has been behavioral, through public health intervention.”

Here at The Collegian, we advise everyone to look beyond themselves. There are small chances of infection if you’re entering someone’s house, but if everyone does this, the spread will happen! We’ll continue to provide updates as information about the Covid19 vaccine is released. For now, stay safe and take necessary precautions.

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