Interview with Dr. Katarena Ford
Q: Some people think there is no need to get vaccinated now, because the Omicron variant is not as "deadly" as the Delta variant? And having it provides immunity for a short period. Can we expect other variants to come up as Omicron wanes if people remain unvaccinated?
A: Yes, we already have evidence of new variants! Mutations cause variants. Mutations in ANY virus are neither new nor unexpected. All RNA viruses mutate over time, some more than others. For example, flu viruses often change, which is why doctors recommend that you get a new flu vaccine every year. Look at it like this, the more people infected with the coronavirus, the more replication there will be, creating the potential for more mutations that lead to new variants of the virus. If we want to slow down the number of variants, we need to decrease the number of people getting infected. To slow down the number of people infected, we need more people vaccinated.
Q: What about herd immunity as a reason not to still need a vaccination?
A: To be near herd immunity, a large portion of the entire population needs to be vaccinated, not just here in the U.S. Herd immunity protects the most vulnerable members of our population. COVID-19 is a very contagious disease. A large percentage of the population will need to be immune against the disease (through infection or vaccination) before herd immunity is achieved. It is unknown when that will happen, but it will depend on how many people get vaccinated. Until herd immunity is achieved throughout this period, it is imperative to continue to wear masks in public and social distance to slow the spread of COVID-19.
Q: Do you think the resistance to Covid-19 vaccines – and mandates – is based on misinformation about how vaccines (and mandates) have been used in the U.S. historically?
We've been living with certain vaccine mandates regarding public health since 1809. And other mandates for the public good as long as any living person knows (no smoking in public places, wearing seatbelts, no throwing trash out of the car window, no speeding, etc.). Why is the resistance to protections against Covid so strong?
A: Mandates are not uncommon; for most public school systems, children are required to have certain vaccinations to attend. The differences come into play when talking about mass media and social media because those outlets have every right to the 1st amendment.
However, misinformation about a virus or disease is dangerous. Many users in today's society rely on the media to give them the "FACTS," but we should be relying on scientific evidence. Scientists continue to learn new information about this disease and update their recommendations. That is no reason to reject science.
Q: Politicians and parents in many jurisdictions around the country are resisting requirements for schoolchildren to be vaccinated against Covid-19. How would you compare a mandate to vaccinate against Covid to other mandated vaccinations in schools?
A: They are the same! I can understand the parents' concerns about the lack of data within their child's age group; however, Pfizer has thoroughly tested its vaccine and lowered the original dose amount for children to be safe and effective. The data have shown that the vaccine is safe in younger individuals. Visit your local pediatrician or family physician to discuss your concerns and questions.
Q: People would not likely want unvaccinated foreign travelers coming to the US. Do you think such a comparison would be helpful to vaccine resisters to accept the use of vaccines to protect others? Or a look at vaccines people willingly take to travel abroad?
A: In my scientific opinion, the unvaccinated should NOT be allowed to travel, and this is not just internationally; it should also be a domestic requirement to be vaccinated. For example, Ebola was contained due to quick and effective travel mandates. Although not as deadly as Ebola would have been, COVID-19 should have been treated the same way. Also, consider that when we travel to specific countries, we must have vaccinations such as hepatitis A, hepatitis B, typhoid, cholera, yellow fever, rabies, anthrax, and meningitis. You do not see a huge uproar from travelers when these vaccinations are required.
Q: Is there any easily digestible information you can think of that might help ease lingering vaccine hesitancy in the Black community? Have you personally heard someone explain a change of heart?
A: There is no easy way to change someone's mind. The unvaccinated individual needs to be open to the idea of change. My most considerable success comes from sitting down with people to understand why they might be hesitant. Everyone has the right to be concerned about their health. Being empathetic and understanding is the key. Offer to take them to get vaccinated and wait with them. Recommend Black physicians or pharmacists who administer the shot. The Black community wants to be HEARD, and if we continue to push information without listening to the resistance, we are a part of the problem.
Katarena Ford is a doctoral graduate of Auburn University. Research concentration in Bio-Analytical chemistry with a focus on small-volume hormone assays with the assistance of electrochemical detection for the advancement of immunoassays, which contributes and influences metabolic conditions such as diabetes, obesity, and Alzheimer’s disease. Experienced in LC-MS instrumentation techniques to focus on post-translational modifications and their effects on aging. She works as a scientist at Waters Corporation.
Questions for Dr. Ford? She can be reached at Katarena205@gmail.com
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