Last week VHAN hosted a virtual town hall to address the safety and efficacy of the new COVID-19 vaccines. Panelists were Vanderbilt University Medical Center experts in vaccine research, epidemiology and infectious disease:

  • Buddy Creech, MD, MPH – Director, Vanderbilt Vaccine Research Program; Associate Professor of Pediatrics, Pediatric Infectious Diseases
  • Bryan Harris, MD – VUMC Co-Medical Director for Medicine Patient Care Center; Assistant Professor of Medicine, Infectious Diseases
  • Todd Rice, MD, MSCI – VUMC Vice President for Clinical Trial Innovation and Operations; Associate Professor of Medicine, Allergy, Pulmonary and Critical Care
  • Tom Talbot, MD, MPH – VUMC Chief Hospital Epidemiologist; Professor of Medicine, Infectious Diseases

During the hour-long session panelists discussed the latest news in COVID-19 treatments and vaccines during a week when Tennessee hit record coronavirus cases, hospitalizations soared and medical centers all over the state began to administer vaccines.

            Dr. Rice, fresh off his COVID-19 vaccination just two hours before, and the other speakers also addressed questions from the audience. Here are some key takeaways:

  • How can we address patient concerns and myths? VUMC has scheduled numerous virtual town halls to explain how the vaccines work and address any concerns and dispel any myths. Dr. Harris suggests that practices should develop a communication plan to help clinicians, nurses and administrators provide patients with accurate, myth-busting information about the vaccine. To aid in these communications, consider this article on common questions about COVID-19 vaccines.
  • What side effects can patients expect from the vaccine? Mild side effects from the vaccines such as fatigue, headache and muscle soreness at the vaccination site are fairly common, and typically symptoms tied to immune activation. However, Dr. Harris urged attendees to communicate to their patients that the vaccine can’t give individuals COVID-19 and that symptoms such as loss of taste or sense of smell or respiratory issues are not caused by the vaccine. Keep in mind that many individuals have more serious side effects from the second dose of the Pfizer vaccine, including fever, fatigue and chills.
  • Has the vaccine caused any serious or long-term side effects? Dr. Creech separates vaccine side effects into three groups:
    • Anaphylaxis or hyper-sensitivity. Patients who have an allergic reaction to bowel prep solutions, such as polyethylene glycols, may need to be evaluated differently or wait longer after receiving the vaccine before going home.
    • Auto-immune symptoms or inflammation, such as Bell’s palsy. Both the Moderna and Pfizer studies included some patients who experienced Bell’s palsy, but Dr. Creech notes that the rates were consistent with national averages of facial palsies.
    • Immune activation that would put someone at risk for severe COVID-19. Out of more than 125,000 people who participated in the Pfizer and Moderna clinical trials, only one person developed severe COVID-19 after being vaccinated. There is no evidence at this time of increased risk of developing vaccine-enhanced disease.

The speakers also discussed which patient populations should be vaccinated, including patients with autoimmune diseases and women who are pregnant or plan to become pregnant. To learn more, watch the full town hall presentation here. For additional COVID-19 resources, including vaccine explainer videos, commonly asked questions and latest treatments for COVID-19, visit the VHAN Hub.