As states start to lift pandemic restrictions and reopen, there is still a need to provide information to all people so they can make informed decisions about their health and wellbeing. In Minnesota, 53% have received at least one dose. In neighboring states, approximately 55% of South Dakota, about 49% of North Dakota and Wisconsin is around 48% have received at least one dose.

The University of Minnesota’s Louis Mansky discusses the need for people to understand the basics of vaccines, address vaccine myths and overcome vaccine hesitancy as states reopen.

There has been confusion about what is the vaccine formulas — traditional versus mRNA. Can you give us the basics of what these vaccines are?

Dr. Mansky: The mRNA vaccines (used by both Pfizer/BioNTech) represent a new vaccine approach. Basically, this approach uses a mRNA that encodes for the spike protein gene of the SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19). The mRNA is encapsulated in a lipid (fat) nanoparticle, which helps to protect the mRNA until it enters a cell, where the spike protein can then be made. As has been shown by the clinical trial data, as well as additional data collected this year, these vaccines are highly effective and safe in protecting against serious disease. More traditional vaccine approaches (e.g., the Johnson & Johnson/Janssen vaccine) uses a non-infectious virus to deliver the spike protein gene to cells. This approach is also very effective and safe in protecting against serious disease.

From microchips to unsafe chemicals (e.g., SM-102), this year has been abound with myths about vaccines. What do people need to know about the vaccine process and about how to identify myths?

Dr. Mansky: The ingredients in each of the available COVID-19 vaccines that have received emergency use authorization by the FDA are readily available to the public. There is no scientific evidence to indicate that any of the ingredients is unsafe for human application in these vaccines. Some of the individual components are used for other purposes (i.e., not for human or animal use), and when manufactured for other purposes, may not be prepared in a manner that is consistent with use in animals or humans. One analogy to help make this point clear is sodium chloride, which can be manufactured for use as table salt — human use — and as rock salt — for use on icy roads and sidewalks. Each has been prepared for a particular purpose, and are not intended to be used for other indications due to the way the product was prepared/manufactured.

People are still hesitant to receive the vaccine or have institutional barriers. What would the “new normal” look like if more of our population is not vaccinated?

Dr. Mansky: Reducing barriers to vaccine access, as well as overcoming vaccine hesitancy, are both important barriers where there is a clear need to address and work to overcome. As more vaccine doses become available, this should aid in helping to address the current institutional barriers. Improving the access to the scientific data that demonstrates the efficacy and safety of the vaccines is a key strategy to helping to address vaccine hesitancy. Listening to the concerns of those who are hesitant is essential to understand the various concerns and using scientific data to help address and alleviate these concerns. Educating the public to the efficacy and safety of the vaccines will also help to communicate the science regarding the vaccines.

Louis Mansky, director of the Institute for Molecular Virology and a professor in the School of Dentistry, is an expert in human virology, virus particle assembly and transmission; antiviral drug target identification; and AIDS research.

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