The COVID-19 vaccines are safe, effective for all ages and should be taken by Long Islanders as soon as they are made available to them, two leading health care officials said Thursday.
Dr. Sharon Nachman, chief of the division of pediatric infectious diseases at Stony Brook Children’s Hospital, and Dr. Aaron E. Glatt, chair of medicine and chief of infectious diseases at Mount Sinai South Nassau hospital, answered questions from Newsday readers during an online discussion about the vaccine and its efficacy.
The discussion, which comes as Long Island faces a striking increase in COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths, was moderated by Newsday Associate Editor Joye Brown.
Glatt said more than 5 million doses of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines have been administered nationwide — including more than 934,000 in New York — and less than two dozen people have had allergic reactions, including four who were hospitalized but recovered.
He added that vaccinations are the only way for the nation to reach herd immunity and to return to a sense of normalcy.
"If we ever want to get rid of masks and social distancing we are going to need a huge percentage of the country vaccinated — maybe 90%," Glatt said. "We want to encourage every single person to get vaccinated. We would like to get high risk people [vaccinated] as soon as possible. But as soon as you are eligible to get the vaccine please … sign up and get it."
During the 30-minute discussion, the doctors debunked concerns that the vaccine would be dangerous to expectant mothers, seniors, individuals who have had allergic reactions to the influenza vaccine and would not be effective against mutated strains of COVID-19.
"I see absolutely no reason why a pregnant women should not take this vaccine," Glatt said, adding that the vaccine could potentially provide the baby with antibodies late in the pregnancy. "I strongly recommend it because pregnancy and COVID is far more dangerous than a theoretical concern that has no real basis in science for a women to not take this vaccine."
Nachman said the people who had recovered from COVID-19 should still get vaccinated, noting that antibody levels — and the protection they provided — were likely short-term.
"We absolutely want you to get vaccinated because there's a lot of data that the vaccine response is not only short term, but long-term a whole lot better than you have with major disease," she said.
The doctors said there was no evidence that a mutated and more contagious strain of the virus, first detected in Great Britain and now found in the U.S., could be resistant to the vaccine.
The best approach to addressing the mutated strain, Nachman said, is to stay healthy, avoid large crowds and to get vaccinated.
"It's sort of a seesaw approach," Nachman said. "If everybody gets disease we are going to have lots of mutations. If everybody gets vaccines there will be less chance for the virus to mutate because no one really has it and therefore the vaccine will be more effective."
Many population groups, particularly those 75 and older, are anxious to get inoculated, Glatt said. But the time frame and order for vaccinating these individuals is set by the state, he said. Any hospital that fails to follow the rules could be fined and lose their right to administer vaccines.
"I feel terrible for the 75-year-old with multiple risk factors who can't get their vaccine right now," he said. "But we … can only vaccinate the people that the Department of Health allows us. As soon as we can, … we will be thrilled to vaccinate every single person that we possibly can."