Morgan Griffith: COVID vaccines

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On July 9, I joined some of my House colleagues in sending a letter to President Biden expressing concerns about his plans to send government workers door-to-door in an attempt to speak with Americans not yet vaccinated against COVID-19.

I do not approve of government policy that involves invading Americans’ personal information. Their vaccination status is none of the government’s business. This is a personal medical decision.

Nor should the government mandate individuals to take the vaccine.

That said, I believe in the safety and efficacy of the COVID-19 vaccines authorized by the FDA, and I am fully vaccinated.

It’s important to me that Southwest Virginians have answers to the questions that may be causing them uncertainty regarding the vaccine.

In May, my Oversight & Investigations (O&I) Subcommittee of Energy & Commerce held a hearing to investigate vaccine hesitancy and how to build up better confidence in the COVID-19 vaccine.

Dr. Karen Shelton, who was the Health Director of the Mount Rogers Health District and Interim Director of both the Lenowisco and Cumberland Plateau Districts, testified in my hearing to help answer our questions.

The committee was pleased to hear from her about efforts being made to get the vaccines to rural areas and what is being done to educate the public about the history and safeness of the vaccines.

I am particularly intrigued about the two vaccines utilizing messenger ribonucleic acid (mRNA) technology, because they represent a major step forward for the vaccine community as a whole. Rather than exposing the body to a weakened form of coronavirus, mRNA vaccines teach cells to respond in a protective manner if they encounter the virus.

Scholars have been researching and experimenting with mRNA vaccines for decades. I initially learned about mRNA technology in the context of combatting influenza. Over the last decade, I have asked Dr. Anthony Fauci numerous times about several new vaccine technologies under evaluation, including mRNA.

My interest was piqued because of the potential to produce mRNA vaccines without eggs.

Traditional influenza vaccines are made using eggs. Vaccine manufacturers use eggs and influenza virus strains in a process that takes weeks. The simplicity and affordability of this process has caused it to be used for more than 70 years. But those with allergies to eggs often cannot receive such vaccines.

mRNA technology works without eggs and it allows vaccines to be manufactured in half the time.

This technology was being developed for traditional flu viruses. As research continues, it is believed this technology will be used to provide a flu vaccine that is effective between 50 and 80% of the time. This is a major improvement. Over the last 10 years, traditional flu vaccines have roughly been effective between 14 and 40% of the time.

I look forward to a time when flu vaccines for Americans—which are currently developed based on hypotheses after looking at the flu strains Australia experiences each year—can be tailored to specific strains after flu season begins.  mRNA technology should allow for that.  It could also allow for boosters to be offered during particularly virulent flu seasons.

Thanks to this well-established foundation of mRNA research, COVID-19 vaccine developers were able to finalize a product quickly and efficiently. These many years of research are why I am comfortable with the safety and security of COVID-19 vaccines.

However, the decision to get a COVID-19 vaccine is not simple for everyone, nor should it be.  I know of several medical considerations that require particularly careful vaccine evaluation, including pregnancy, certain kidney conditions, and pharmaceutical interactions.

Folks should consult with their healthcare provider on whether to get a vaccine, and which is best for their situation.  What’s right for me might not be right for you. I chose one of the mRNA vaccines, but Johnson & Johnson does not use mRNA and data indicates its vaccine is also safe.

The recent surge of the Delta variant cases has triggered alarm for some. However, vaccines are still the best way to reduce the likelihood of contracting the virus. But if you get the virus, vaccines dramatically reduce the likelihood of hospitalization or death.

In February, in my first column encouraging folks to be vaccinated, I said I hoped we would be facing an excess of vaccine doses by the end of June.  Here we are, well into July, and we do have an excess of doses.  If you haven’t yet received one, I urge you to speak with your healthcare provider to determine what is right for you.

If you have questions, concerns, or comments, feel free to contact my office.  You can call my Abingdon office at 276-525-1405 or my Christiansburg office at 540-381-5671. To reach my office via email, please visit my website at www.morgangriffith.house.gov.

Morgan Griffith represents Virginia’s Ninth District in the U.S. House of Representatives.


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