And I started educating, I guess you could say the public when my class, I teach every spring, a class called applied data analysis and my students and my staff at my research lab were interested with what was going on and it's history from there.
I'm a data geek and so I was scrambling for all sorts of data. I got some testing data from my dean. I got WHO data. And I honestly just started looking at numbers and looking at trends.
I remember Italy and Iran were about a month ahead of us, so I was tracking their numbers, their fatality rates really closely and seeing how our predictions were going to play out right after theirs.
I found a lot by posting posting this blog, essentially the, the main thing I found, which I guess I didn't really expect, but I should have was the big disconnect between science and the lay community. Scientists like myself were never trained on how to talk about our science or our findings in normal language. And at the same time, community members aren't necessarily trained in scientific knowledge or communication. And so there's this huge gap that I noticed right away. And I really think that gap contributed to why it took the United States so long to gain traction with this pandemic compared to other countries.
You know, the majority of people, I would say 95% are absolutely fantastic. Really just want to know the knowledge and be able to explain it to their family or their friends. My colleagues are amazingly supportive and fantastic as well. They can't believe I take the time to do this, but I keep telling them this is my service to the community. You know but then there's a 5% that don't agree with science or I've gotten death threats or name calling or any of that, you know, that I think naturally come through social media anyways. We've noticed as epidemiologists that we're now really targeted this year because of the fear and anxiety as well.
So in the past, we, we've not had a pandemic per se. We've had lots of epidemics, not in the United States, but across the globe. And you know, I think that is one reason why the United States had the response it had and had a slow response at first, because we've never really dealt with something like this compared to SARS or MERS where South Korea learned a lot of lessons. They created an entire infrastructure after SARS, but they really were able just to turn on for the COVID pandemic. You know, same with Vietnam, same with - you know a lot of the.
Asian countries. United States really hasn't and we also have a history and unfortunate history of underfunding, public health as well.
The Pfizer and Moderna vaccine is actually fairly new biotechnology. And I think that’s what's. creating or at least contributing to some hesitancy right now. What a lot of people don't realize is we've been working on the MRNA vaccine for about a decade since SARS. So 2003, so longer than - 17 years.
And so this didn't just, Oh, let's try something this year and let's get it approved. It's been tested a lot in the past. In fact, we have randomized control trials for it to help cure cancer or allergies. We're testing it a lot. You know, this is going to be the future of medicine is this type of biotechnology.
And so it's really important that we have that baseline knowledge that no, we didn't just pull this out of the air. We've been working on it. The reason we were able to be so quick is because we were working on this with SARS, which is the cousin of COVID. And so we really just needed to tweak it a little and then go for it. And you know, it worked.
In the past, MRNA vaccines, they have not been approved by FDA. So this is the first time that the MRNA vaccine was approved and it's not because it hasn't been safe. It's because past vaccines haven't been effective because MRNA breaks down really quickly once it enters the body.
And so what the challenge has been in the past is that scientists needed something to transport that vaccine to where it needed to go in the body. And so they've been trying and lots of different things. This time with COVID, they tried these little fat bubbles and these fat bubbles they're called lipid nanoparticles, literally just fat bubbles, transport the MRNA fantastically.
So once the fat bubble reaches the cell, it needs to go to the - the MRNA goes from the fat bubble into the cell. And then once the MRNA is in the cell, there's this thing called a ribosome, which basically decodes what the MRNA is supposed to do. And it's basically reading the manual. And then after the ribosome, it reads the manual, and it starts building the antibody.
The downside is we're seeing a little bit more side effects than the flu vaccine because of these fat bubbles, but nothing very severe, you know, side effects are even less than the shingles vaccine. But once you get the vaccine, you're literally getting injected with these fat bubbles and then the MRNA within the fat bubbles and the MRNA is basically an instruction manual for yourselves. It's not part the virus whatsoever. So it actually makes it safer for humans than, for example, a flu vaccine or that kind. It doesn't have the pathogen at all. It has instructions for yourself and once those instructions get to your cells, they, now they then understand how to make the antibody.
And so those cells then start making your antibodies and then, you know, 14 days later you have protection against coronavirus disease. So that means you won't get the symptoms. You won't get the fever. You won't have to go to the ICU because of COVID. It really protects you against the symptoms of the disease.
What we don't know yet, actually some data this morning came out pretty positive about this, we don't know if you can still transfer the disease. So say you got the vaccine and you go to a restaurant and someone there has COVID. Well, you'll get COVID, you'll get infected. You won't get the symptoms, but that doesn't mean then if you leave from the restaurant to grandma's house, that then you can't give it to grandma there.
There's two different pathways. You and we don't know which way it goes. We don't know if this vaccine and antibodies are sterilizing immunity. So that would mean you're protected by symptoms as well as you don't transfer it, or it's just a non-sterilizing immunity so you just protect yourself.
I think a lot of people are hesitant because of this new biotechnology. RNA sounds like DNA. We've all seen lots of zombie movies and zombie TV shows. You know, it's scary. It's a trust jump, right? It's a trust fall that we're trusting the scientists and the decade of research and kind of going for it. And, you know, I empathize, I too am scared. I'm not gonna lie. You know, it is scary, but I do trust the science and I trust our understanding of the human body.
And so when I tell myself that, you know, I'm up for the vaccine very soon and I'm going to be going and getting it, and I'm taking that trust jump. And I know that my colleagues all around the world who have been working on this, are in it to hope that our community as well.
As a social epidemiologist, we've been doing polls like this throughout. We knew vaccine was going to be our endgame. And so it's been about 65% this entire time. I hope that increases the more education we start pouring out there as well as seeing people get vaccinated. I would love to get a picture taking the vaccine, just to normalize it and also talk about side effects. You know, we, we have to be transparent about side effects. It is more side effects than the flu shot, and it's very important at least with Pfizer and Moderna, that you get both shots. So even if you get a fever for the first shot, you need to power through and get that second shot. So, you know, I think it's gonna be a combination of a lot of things that we really do need to get it more than 60% in order to reach herd immunity.
If we don't reach herd humidity, there's really no point to the vaccines. So it's really an important next public health step that we all need to take.
Herd immunity is important because we need to reach a certain amount of population in order to stop the disease from transmitting. A certain population won't even be able to take the vaccine. We still don't know about immunocompromised people like HIV positive or, you know, lupus or some other co-morbidities that some people just can't take the vaccine period. And so we need to protect them as well as you know, we don't know about kids yet getting the vaccine. We don't know about pregnant women getting the vaccine. So typically more vulnerable populations we need to protect. And in order to protect them, the rest of us need a vaccine so we can stop the disease transmission in its steps. And that's really the most important. Same with measles. It's the same story with measles, MMR and all of them, it's the same kind of idea that we need to get as many people covered to stop that transmission to the most vulnerable populations. But it really is a teamwork effort. And it's going to, I think, really bring to light Americans' morals and values for lack of a better sense.
One silver lining I tell everyone this of the pandemic is people now know what an epidemiologist is. And I hope people don't forget. It's really brought to light public health and the value of public health. And I hope that at least in the United States, we remember that value and invest in it for the future, because we will have more pandemics and we will have more epidemics. It's just a matter of being prepared or not for the future.
The type of society I want to see is one where there's a direct line of communication between scientists and the community. The community funds all of our research, honestly, and it's our duty as scientists to communicate what we're finding to them. I think that for their general knowledge, the community wants to know this as well as their investment and that they'll you investing in this type of research. We specify specifically need to train, you know, the next level of epidemiologists, next level of scientists overall, in order to know how to communicate. That's my hopes and dreams of what will come out of this.
And. We'll see, I don't know. You know, unfortunately we have a tendency as Americans to kind of go back into our little bubbles after events happen. And I really hope that I can help work towards not doing that. .