Patients, Caregivers Urged to Get COVID-19 Vaccines ASAP

Marisa Wexler, MS avatar

by Marisa Wexler, MS |

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People with Alzheimer’s disease, as well as their caregivers, are being urged — on social media and via press releases — to get COVID-19 vaccines as soon as possible.

That’s the recommendation of the Medical, Scientific and Memory Screening Advisory Board of the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America (AFA).

“Getting vaccinated is one of the most important steps families affected by Alzheimer’s disease can take to protect themselves and their loved ones,” J. Wesson Ashford, MD, PhD, chair of the AFA’s advisory board, said in a press release.

“Individuals living with Alzheimer’s disease are often older and at higher risk of developing serious complications from COVID-19, and family caregivers cannot provide proper care to their loved one if their own health is compromised,” Ashford said.

The AFA press release calling for the vaccinations was posted on the foundation’s website, and on its Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram accounts.

COVID-19 is the disease caused by the novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2. Over the past year, the virus has spread across the globe, causing a pandemic.

The disease itself has taken a substantial toll — according to the World Health Organization, nearly 100 million people around the world have been infected, and over 2 million have died.

In the U.S. alone, there have been more than 25 million COVID-19 cases and nearly 420,000 deaths, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. About four in every five COVID-19 deaths in the U.S. have occurred in adults ages 65 and older.

Additionally, measures put in place in an effort to slow the spread of the pandemic have substantially disrupted many aspects of life. People with underlying health conditions, such as those with Alzheimer’s, have been among the hardest hit by the pandemic and its effects. Many have been unable to maintain regular care and therapy due to the COVID-19 lockdowns.

In recent months, vaccines to protect against COVID-19 have been given regulatory allowance for their use. In the U.S., two vaccines — one made by Moderna, the other by Pfizer and BioNTech — have been granted emergency use authorization. Such authorization allows the use of a drug prior to full regulatory approval in cases where the need is deemed urgent.

These vaccines require two injections, given a few weeks apart, in order to be maximally effective.

Conceptually, these vaccines work by introducing a small piece of mRNA — the intermediate molecule that serves as a blueprint for protein production — that codes for certain proteins like those present in the virus. The immune system is then “taught” how to mount an immunological response to the virus. Thus, if the actual virus enters the body of a person who has been vaccinated, their immune system is able to more effectively fight it off, preventing serious disease.

The efficacy of these vaccines has been demonstrated in rigorous Phase 3 clinical trials, which broadly showed that the vaccinations significantly reduced the risk of COVID-19 infections that led to noticeable symptoms.

Most trials have not directly tested whether asymptomatic infections (infections without symptoms) are prevented, which is why health authorities have stressed the importance of continuing to follow safety guidelines — like wearing a mask, social distancing, and frequent hand-washing — even after vaccination, to prevent further spread of the virus.

Of note, although these trials were conducted as quickly as possible given the urgency necessitated by the pandemic, researchers did not shorten any aspects of the trials that would have compromised the studies’ ability to confirm the safety of the vaccines.

Importantly, since there is no live virus in any of the approved vaccines, it is not possible to become infected with SARS-CoV-2 from getting the vaccine. Some people who get the vaccine will experience side-effects; common ones include fever, fatigue, and swelling or pain at the injection site. These side-effects are similar to what occurs with any vaccine — they indicate that the immune system is getting activated.

The AFA’s release notes that the side-effects from the vaccine “pale in comparison to the dangers of contracting COVID-19.”

“We all long for the day when this pandemic is behind us. Every vaccination brings that day a little bit closer,” the release concludes. “We highly encourage families affected by Alzheimer’s disease to get the COVID-19 vaccination as soon as they are able to and continue practicing adequate social distancing, proper masking, and all other recommended safety protocols — for their own health, their loved ones’ health, and for all of us.”