With approval by the Food and Drug Administration for the first emergency use of a COVID-19 vaccine, we have the potential to reach a turning point in the fight to end the pandemic. Health care workers are among the first Iowans to be vaccinated, including the dedicated nurses, doctors and others who have provided care throughout the pandemic.
The development and deployment of this vaccine is being called the largest public health mobilization in the history of the world, and Iowans have been leading the way. All of us can take pride that part of the evidence to support FDA approval came from right here in Iowa, thanks to volunteers who participated in the Pfizer-BioNTech clinical trial conducted at the University of Iowa.
Led by Patricia Winokur, MD, the Executive Dean of our Carver College of Medicine, our team enrolled 270 Iowans in the clinical trial. It took courage for our friends and neighbors to step into the unknown and test a new vaccine to help protect all of us. It also takes courage for frontline health care workers to take the leap and be among the first to take a newly approved vaccine.
But for the vaccine to be a true turning point in the fight against COVID-19, it will also take courage by all Iowans to follow the lead of health care workers once the vaccine becomes available to the general public. We believe that you will. We will continue to do our part to provide you with information so you too can have the courage to be vaccinated.
For those who are uncertain about getting the vaccine, it is important to understand the vaccine meets the highest standards of safety. Scientists and physicians from around the globe trained their effort, expertise and resources on a single virus to produce the vaccine. Yes, the speed of development is unprecedented, but it is based on almost two decades of foundational work by scientists who have been studying other coronaviruses and mRNA vaccines.
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In fact, the Pfizer-BioNTech study included nearly ten times more volunteers than normal for a clinical trial of this type to reinforce its safety and effectiveness.
As with any medication, that there will be some individuals who experience side effects such as fever and fatigue. The positives far outweigh any temporary effect. Part of what has made it easier for many of our staff to take the leap is that they have seen firsthand the devastating effects of COVID-19. They desperately want to put a stop to the suffering this disease has caused by stopping the spread once and for all.
While the introduction of a safe and effective vaccine is a cause for celebration, it is important to remember it should not allow for complacency. It will be months before everyone is able to be vaccinated, so please continue to take the steps necessary to protect yourself, your loved ones and the most vulnerable within our community. Keep wearing a mask, avoid large gatherings, maintain social distance and wash your hands frequently. We know making difficult decisions this Christmas season to avoid family gatherings will be critical to flattening the curve.
When the time comes, please know that you are not only taking the vaccine for your own health, but the health of our whole community and state. You are taking the vaccine so that we can re-open our schools and businesses. It will take courage to “take the leap,” but one thing I know about Iowans is that we have an abundance of courage.
Suresh Gunasekaran is chief executive officer of University of Iowa Hospitals & Clinics and associate vice president of University of Iowa Health Care.