Local pharmacy professor seeks to shatter myths and misconceptions about COVID-19 vaccines

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Much of the population remains ‘uncertain’ about the vaccine, encouraged to seek information about their concerns

As the province exceeds 100,000 vaccines since the start of its priority deployment, some may still be reluctant to roll up their sleeve when it comes time to get vaccinated. And while our region’s Vaccine Working Group says it may be some time before this opportunity presents itself to the general public, Kelly Grindrod believes there will likely be a lot of attention paid to provide those who are unsure with the information they need to help make a choice.

Grindrod is Associate Professor in the School of Pharmacy at the University of Waterloo. Speaking as a guest on Kitchener Today with Brian Bourke on Monday, Grindrod spoke about common misconceptions and myths surrounding the two COVID-19 vaccines approved in Canada, as well as potential concerns about the rapid pace of development and the effectiveness of vaccines. These vaccines, according to Grindrod, are mRNA or messenger RNA vaccines – a type of vaccine that carries a piece of protein on COVID-19 to tell the body how to defend itself properly. Grindrod said there is a misconception that mRNA vaccines alter the genetic makeup of the body – as she said, this is by no means accurate.

“It’s kind of like a post-it for your body…” said Grindrod. “It’s a little bit of code for a little bit of protein on COVID – it’s not COVID, it’s a piece of COVID called the spike protein (…) your body makes it, learns to recognize the protein from points then throws the mRNA … ”

“These vaccines only take a tiny bit with a tiny bit of instruction, saying ‘hey body, here’s how to make spike protein. Remember – if it does come back, fight it. – it doesn’t change your DNA.

Speaking about some of the additional misunderstandings regarding mRNA vaccines, Grindrod said some are disputing the ingredients of the vaccines. According to Grindrod, most people can recognize a number of ingredients in the available COVID-19 vaccines – although some have misidentified polyethylene glycol (PEG), an ingredient that helps create a fatty layer to protect the protein from spike of mRNA such as ethylene glycol, a raw material used for antifreeze products.

“MRNA is very fragile…” said Grindrod. “… Scientists had to figure out how to protect it and do it so that it could actually go into your body and give instructions instead of just disintegrating in the vial, for example.”

“PEG helps build that oily protective bubble – almost like a little life jacket. ”

Grindrod said PEG is a compound familiar to pharmacists, typically used to treat constipation issues in products such as Lax-a-day or RestoraLAX and found in some cosmetics.

While some may dispute the speed of development of the COVID-19 vaccine, Grindrod said research on mRNA vaccines began in the late 1970s, the last few years spent trying to figure out how to keep mRNA stable. She said the development of an mRNA vaccine had been considered for Ebola virus, Zika virus and even cancer vaccines, although when COVID-19 hit, medical professionals around the world took to worked together to find a solution.

“In normal vaccine trials we are used to slowing down vaccine research – but that’s not good. The problem with vaccine research is that it is inefficient and poorly funded – and so there’s a lot of waiting between stages, it’s hard to recruit people… ”said Grindrod. “In this pandemic, unprecedented amounts of money have been spent – they have managed to eliminate inefficiencies – the wait between stages.”

“When we say it’s too fast, it’s because (…) we are used to it being really slow… which is not a good thing. This is how it should work. It is an incredible process in a significant amount of time. ”

Grindrod said questions still remained as medical professionals still didn’t know everything there was to know about COVID-19. She admits that the risk of the virus, however, continues to be very high, with potential complications from the infection, the possibility of long battles with the virus and what she calls a “fairly high death rate” compared to to something like the flu. Grindrod said that, from a safety perspective, clinical trials so far have shown the vaccines to be safe – with tens of thousands of people participating in trials and millions of people now receiving the vaccine across the country. world.

“In health, what we’re really interested in is how long this vaccine lasts – we want to know… will you need a booster in a year? In five years? And the variants? Said Grindrod. “These are some of the long term questions we ask. These are not reasons to avoid the vaccine, but they could influence whether you get a booster dose next year … kind of like getting a yearly flu shot.

Regarding the reluctance to vaccinate, Grindrod acknowledged that part of the population will probably never agree to receive the vaccine, although she said that this proportion was probably lower than one might think. looking online. She said large-scale research shows that a good number of people will receive the vaccine as soon as it becomes available, as well as many who are just uncertain.

“Most people who are a little worried, sometimes they’re painted with the same brush – called anti-vaxers… they’re not. They just need a little more information. Grindrod said. “So you’re going to see a lot of attention focused on providing this information to this group. ”

Grindrod encouraged people who are concerned about an available vaccine to seek answers from credible sources, as a family doctor may be able to highlight a potential risk or address a person’s concerns. in a way that had not been considered before.

“This is all a science experiment where we’re desperately trying to get ahead of this virus… so the vaccine is a science experiment of sorts… but it’s actually a scientific success – it’s probably the most reliable way we have to. make it out. pandemic right now.

You can find more information on common myths about mRNA vaccines in Grindrod’s recent Q&A with the University of Waterloo here.

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