Dr. Melissa E. Clarke is the co-founder of the Black Coalition against COVID, a principal on D.C. Health Department’s Committee for Safe and Equitable Vaccine Distribution, serves as medical adviser to the Leadership Council on Healthy Communities, and is an originator of their Virtual Health Ministry.
Recently, Clarke spoke to rolling out about the COVID-19 pandemic and the importance of vaccines.
What is the role of vaccines in keeping the public healthy?
Excellent question. Vaccinations overall are the safest way to expose your body to a germ whether that’s a bad bacteria or a virus so that your body can build an immune response.
What does that mean? An immune response means that your body has soldiers now that are designed to specifically take out that particular germ that virus or that bacteria as soon as your body might be exposed to it. When you have an effective immune response, the virus doesn’t have a chance to take hold and multiply in your body. There are only two ways to get antibodies: to get the infection or to get vaccinated. So, getting vaccinated is the safer of those two ways to build immunity and to get protected from a particular virus or bacteria.
In the setting of a pandemic, where we’ve never been exposed to this particular virus, vaccination was the safest way to make sure the majority of the population could get protected to slow the spread of the coronavirus throughout the population and decrease hospitalizations and deaths from COVID.
So, if I get COVID and the vaccination, am I doubled protected?
Yes. Studies have shown that if you had an infection your immunity wanes, so your body’s ability to produce those antibodies goes away eventually over time, after about three months. Getting vaccinated actually re-ups you, if you will, to make sure that your immune response and your ability to produce antibodies, immediately when needed, is in its prime.
With a second booster recently released, can you anticipate how many more boosters are planned to be unveiled?
There’s no way to anticipate that. We’ve been following the science. That’s one thing I think has not been emphasized enough in this pandemic, this is a once-in-a-lifetime event.
We, unfortunately, have had to learn as we’ve gone along.
There has been a waning of immunity. The vaccine still works to prevent hospitalization or death, but over time doesn’t work as well to prevent infection and that’s the need for the booster. As we keep going forward, we’re saying, “Well, how long is this going to last?” We’re getting more and more effective vaccinations coming down the pike. There’s one in development that’s just going to be sort of like a nasal inhalation. That will protect you more against infection because that’s where the virus enters your body 9 times out of 10, is through inhaling it through your nose.