The ProspectiveDoctor Podcast

COVID Vaccines Explained with Dr. David Banach

Dr. David Banach, an infectious diseases physician and assistant professor at UConn Health, discuss his work as an epidemiologist and COVID-19 vaccines.

  • [02:16] How Dr. Banach Entered the Field of Epidemiology
  • [06:04] Patient and Healthcare Worker Safety During COVID-19
  • [09:33] COVID-19 Vaccine Development
  • [14:36] Differences Between the Moderna and Pfizer Vaccines
  • [16:49] Why Do the COVID-19 Vaccines Require Two Shots?
  • [17:55] When Does Immunity Start After COVID-19 Vaccination?
  • [18:59] Do I Need to Wear a Mask After Vaccination?
  • [20:32] Addressing Patient Concerns About Vaccination
  • [25:16] Dr. Banach’s Advice to Pre-Meds and Medical Students

Dr. Erkeda DeRouen chats with Dr. David Banach, an infectious diseases physician and assistant professor at UConn Health. He is also the head of Infection Prevention, a role that focuses on patient safety, employee health, and infection prevention. Erkeda and Dr. Banach discuss his work as an epidemiologist and the COVID-19 vaccines.

How Dr. Banach Entered the Field of Epidemiology

There are multiple pathways to get into epidemiology. For Dr. Banach, he simultaneously finished his medical school training and master’s degree in public health. Afterwards, he did an internal medicine residency and infectious disease fellowship. He also took 1 year residency in preventive medicine.

As a practicing physician, Dr. Banach focuses on patient interaction in his clinical work. But as the hospital epidemiologist at UConn Health, he works on patient safety from a macro perspective. To become an epidemiologist, Dr. Banach recommends clinical training and additional hands-on experience in infection prevention and control. Earning a masters or doctorate degree in epidemiology is another alternative.

Patient and Healthcare Worker Safety During COVID-19

In the time of COVID-19, standard principles for patient and worker safety still apply. However, since the coronavirus is easily transmitted, hospitals and clinics must intensify safety measures. Patients and healthcare providers are at high risk of getting infected from other patients and staff. Maintaining worker health and safety has become a big challenge because of the many areas of concern.

COVID-19 Vaccine Development

Upon discovery of the coronavirus, its genetic sequence was identified within weeks. The sequencing allowed vaccine research and development to begin right away. Modern technology for creating mRNA vaccines played a great role in the development. Research and production were accelerated the most during vaccine development. Despite contrary belief, the phase 3 clinical trials were not rushed because of the strict guidelines in place. The availability of more resources has allowed the development of a vaccine in such a short time.

Moderna Vaccine VS Pfizer Vaccine

Both the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines are mRNA vaccines¾meaning they essentially work in the same way. A small bit of mRNA is introduced into the body’s cells that codes for the spike protein found in COVID-19. This triggers the body’s immune response and sends antibodies to help destroy the spike protein. In the future, the body will recognize the same spike protein and can fight against COVID-19 infection.

Moderna has an efficacy rate of 94%. Meanwhile, Pfizer’s efficacy rate is at 95%. Both vaccines require two dosages but their schedules are slightly different. After the first shot of a Moderna vaccine, the next shot should be taken after 4 weeks. Pfizer requires a 3-week interval in between dosages. Currently, there is no significant differences in their side effects. Pfizer vaccines must be stored in very low freezing temperature while Moderna vaccines do not have any strict storage and transport instructions.

The vaccine effectivity for Moderna and Pfizer is similar. However, you may not interchange the two. Once you have started your vaccination, you must continue with the same brand to reap the vaccine’s full protection.

Why You Need Two Doses of the COVID-19 Vaccine

The first injection is for priming the immune system to produce antibodies. At this point, you already have a low level of immunity from the coronavirus. The duration of the immunity is short. Depending on the vaccine brand you chose, you should receive the second dose after several weeks. The second shot boosts the production of antibodies. Immunization schedule should be followed in order to receive the full benefits of vaccination. You are at your peak immunity level two weeks after your second dose.

Wearing a Mask after Vaccination

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that preventive measures be followed even after completing vaccination. You must still wear a mask and practice social distancing. Vaccinated individuals can be asymptomatic carriers of COVID-19. The coronavirus vaccines are not foolproof, so there is still a chance that you may get infected.

As of now, there are not enough people vaccinated. There is no community level of protection yet. In time, it is possible to relax restrictions once more people gain immunity over the virus.

Addressing Patient Concerns About Vaccination

Patients may be apprehensive about the COVID-19 vaccine. It is part of a doctor’s job to hear out their concerns. Physicians should explain the science behind the vaccine in a way that patients can understand. Emphasize the vaccine’s purpose which is to protect the patient and the people around him/her. Continue to build trust and discuss your patients’ worries during each visit. With more people getting vaccinated, others may be encouraged to do the same.

Dr. Banach’s Advice to Pre-Meds and Medical Students

Ask yourself what it is about medicine that you enjoy. Figure out what tasks or experiences you find most rewarding. From there, go after the career you want in medicine. There are many ways on how you can become a physician. Keep in mind that as you go through your medical journey, your interests may change. Take every opportunity as a learning experience. Building your career in medicine will never be as straightforward as you think. Be open to change and evolve with new experiences.

Erkeda DeRouen

Dr. Erkeda DeRouen is a graduate of Hampton University with a B.S. in Biological Sciences, followed by completing medical school at the Boston University School of Medicine. She then completed residency at The University of Maryland Family and Community Medicine Program. After that, she worked at an underserved community health center, and currently is an Associate Medical Director of a telemedicine company. She recently became one of the first 1,000 lifestyle medicine certified physicians in the world! Her areas of interest include: health equity and eliminating health disparities, service of underserved populations, HIV management, transgender care, mentorship, and lifestyle medicine.

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