Doctor: COVID-19 vaccine 'most likely' will be yearly

QUICK AND EFFICIENT: A Guam Army National Guard member administers a COVID-19 vaccine shot during a vaccination outreach clinic held at the University of Guam Calvo Field House recently as residents 40 years old and over became eligible to be vaccinated. Dontana Keraskes/The Guam Daily Post

COVID-19 is a virus just like the flu and, like influenza, the virus tends to mutate as time goes by.

"That’s why you see the new variants that are out there. The good part about the current vaccine … most likely, it will be the annual vaccination for the COVID-19, just like the influenza, as the CDC collect the variants, it will probably need to do a modification to the vaccine and probably give it once a year, just like the flu," said Dr. Hoa Nguyen, member of the Governor's Physicians Advisory Group.

Getting the vaccine doesn’t mean that you can’t become infected with coronavirus.

“We will have some positives but it decreases the severity, the risk of dying in hospitalization. That’s the sole reason why this vaccine has been pushed out,” Nguyen said.

There are currently three types of vaccines being provided to Guam residents.

“There’s a difference. Both the Pfizer and Moderna (vaccines) are called mRNA. It's created through new technology basically going through the mapping of the gene of the virus that’s how they're made," he said. The one-dose Johnson and Johnson vaccine is made “the typical old-fashioned way” by growing the virus from a disabled virus that’s not infectious, Nguyen said.

The vaccines differ in how they are made, but they accomplish the same goal, he reiterated.

“Common goal is to decrease the severity of the infection if you happen to get the infection and also decrease hospitalization and death,” Nguyen said.

But how long does the vaccine stay in your system?

"That’s the million-dollar question," he said, adding, “In theory, it’s supposed to last over a year, so more than likely it will be an annual vaccination."

The annual shots allow for the vaccine to be modified in line with variants of the virus collected the previous year.

“If we are going to have the COVID shot annually, it's because CDC did some tests of strains to see if there’s changes in the gene. Right now the gene they are testing for is the spike protein in the virus. If they see a change, then more than likely they will modify the vaccine next year,” Nguyen said.

The doctor pointed out the vaccines are so new and that means data must be collected for a better understanding.

He said a study on the J&J vaccine showed an efficacy of 70%, while Pfizer and Moderna showed 95% efficacy.

Data will continue to be collected, he said, adding the question of how long the vaccine will last will depend on the data.

With the aggressive campaign to reach herd immunity, clinics are seeing a decline in cases.

He attributed the lower COVID-19 Area Risk Score to several factors, including the vaccine.

"There’s a lot of mitigation action that we do regarding the three W’s, people more aware of the symptoms, with isolation and quarantine so, along with the vaccine, you can see a decrease in the positive rate,” Nguyen said, adding that American Medical Center – the clinic where he practices – has not seen a positive case in 25 days.

He pointed out the latest study from Israel, from which the data indicates that a fully vaccinated person is "97% protected even from asymptomatic carriers."

He said this means that the transmission rate from the asymptomatic fully vaccinated person is almost down to zero.

However, the possibility of infection is still there even after being fully vaccinated, Nguyen said, indicating a case in Saipan and in Guam.

“But again, if you’re asymptomatic, you’re fully vaccinated, the chance of you transmitting the virus to someone else is really small."

Those who are fully vaccinated and end up contracting the virus will not need to be tested, instead testing for COVID-19 should be done if symptoms are present, he said.

Nguyen pointed out that those who get the vaccine may have a reaction which can present flu-like symptoms associated with COVID-19, but he stressed that the reaction will not show up as a false positive.

“You don’t test positive because of the vaccine, you don’t ... period,” he said.

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