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Weighing benefits, risks of COVID-19 vaccine

Joan Hatem-Roy, Chief Executive Officer

Question: My neighbors and I have been closely following news about the progress of a vaccine for COVID-19. We have differing viewpoints on whether we feel confident in getting vaccinated when it first becomes available. We are all in the “older adults” category, so we realize we are more at risk. How do we decide what to do?

Answer: In the words of Dr. Peter Hotez, director at the Center for Vaccine Development at Texas Children’s Hospital, a vaccine for COVID-19 is the number one global priority. Numerous potential vaccines for COVID-19 are in the development stage, and several large clinical trials are underway. The minimum requirement for the Food and Drug Administration to approve the release of a vaccine is a proven 50 percent effectiveness when compared to a placebo. The hopes are for results to be much higher. To put this in perspective, the annual flu vaccine is typically 40 to 60 percent effective.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) will eventually make recommendations for the vaccine based on input from medical and public health experts. It is important to understand widespread distribution will take some time. It is expected there will be a prioritization of which groups will initially be eligible to receive the vaccine, such as healthcare workers, people at high risk, and those 65 years of age or older. Odds are more than one vaccine may eventually be available some targeting specific populations.

It is understandable you and your neighbors may be skeptical questioning the safety and effectiveness of the vaccine. Some may be concerned about possible side effects how long the protection will last. There continue to be many unknowns and we all need to be patient for a while longer. More than 250,000 deaths have occurred in the U.S. and until a vaccine is ready, prevention is crucial. Everyone is encouraged to continue wearing face masks, practice social distancing, maintain good personal hygiene, and limit how the number of people you encounter.

While you may continue conversations with your neighbors, it is your personal physician that should be giving you the best advice. Your doctor can help you weigh the benefits versus the risks of getting vaccinated when your time arrives.

Are you struggling to care for an older adult or having difficulty locating resources? Our experienced staff is available to help. Visit us online at www.ESMV.org for more information. You can also call us at 1-800-892-0890 or email ageinfo@esmv.org. Joan Hatem-Roy is the Chief Executive Officer of Elder Services of Merrimack Valley and North Shore.