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Vaccine is good news, but pandemic is not over

Help is here, but it is only the beginning.

Oregon received its first shipment of the Pfizer vaccine against COVID-19 on Monday, with more doses scheduled to arrive over the next two weeks. While that is undeniably good news, it does not mean the pandemic is over. Far from it.

The first doses of the vaccine are reserved for front-line health care workers and residents of long-term care facilities. After that, essential workers are next in line, followed by those with underlying health conditions and people 65 and older.

That means it will be months before everyone who wants a vaccine can get one. And that means we all need to continue wearing masks, social distancing and washing our hands for some time to come.

A second vaccine, produced by Moderna, is scheduled for possible authorization by the FDA this week, and could be available beginning next week.

There will of course be those who declare the vaccines unsafe or ineffective — that misinformation is already out there, spreading like a virus across the internet, infecting vulnerable minds with unfounded conspiracy theories unsupported by any science.

Some facts about the vaccine:

Unlike previous vaccines, which introduce a weakened or inactivated virus to produce an immune response, this technology uses a “messenger RNA,” which prompts the body to manufacture a harmless protein unique to the novel coronavirus. The body’s defense mechanisms see this protein as an intruder, and manufacture antibodies to attack it. Because no portion of the virus itself is used, there is no chance of contracting the virus from the vaccine.

Despite claims to the contrary, there is also no chance that the vaccine will alter the recipient’s genetic material in any way. The messenger RNA is destroyed and discarded by the body. One researcher described the vaccine’s function as “leaving a recipe card” for the body to create the specific protein that triggers the immune response, and then throwing the card away.

This is the first approved vaccine to use this technique, but researchers have studied it for decades. One advantage is the ability to manufacture it quickly, which explains why it was produced much faster than traditional vaccines.

The vaccine was rigorously tested for safety, with more than 40,000 people participating.

Just as researchers continue to learn more about the novel coronavirus, they will learn more about the vaccine as well. For instance, it is not yet clear how long immunity may last, and whether it will be necessary to get the vaccine every year, like a flu shot.

The Pfizer vaccine has been shown to be more than 90% effective in preventing infection, and the Moderna vaccine achieved similar results. But it will take months to vaccinate most adults.

So take this news for the encouraging sign that it is, but don’t let down your guard.