Dr. Sheryl Henderson on the COVID-19 Vaccine and Variants
The Ultimate Preventative
|Dr. Sheryl Henderson (l) receives the first of two COVID-19
until that time, compliance with other preventative measures is crucial to reducing COVID-19’s spread.
“Even with vaccines, the most effective means of controlling it is physical distancing,” Henderson emphasized. “The masks really do cut down on transmission. If
there is universal masking, it can be as much as 80 percent effective. And I think more recently, there are studies showing even higher. But that has to be universal
masking where everyone is masked. Continuous handwashing and hand sanitizing is important. And avoiding large gatherings and trying to stick to small groups —
households or a well-defined COVID-19 pod — is important.”
There has been much controversy surrounding the COVID-19 vaccines, from their quick development and roll out, attempted political manipulation and historic
mistrust of vaccines to concerns about severe reactions to the vaccine.
Henderson believes in being transparent in providing information about COVID-19. She has received both vaccination shots. And while she had little reaction to the
first shot, she did have a physical reaction to the second shot.
“I took my vaccine on Saturday afternoon,” Henderson said. “By Sunday morning, I had a headache, general body aches and was very tired. So I was able to sleep
most of the day and took acetaminophen (Tylenol) which helped a lot. By Monday morning, I was doing much, much better and only had a mild headache. This fits the
pattern expected from the vaccine, and I prefer having this day of "flu like" symptoms over having COVID. I know there is a lot here, but I hope it helps for people to
realize that reactions that occur within the first two days of these vaccines are expected, and an indication that the body is building up its immune system.”
People having physical reactions when they are administered a vaccine is not new with the COVID-19 vaccine. Reactions will occur due to the response of the
individual’s immune system.
“The thing to realize is that people do have immediate allergic reactions to vaccines and medications overall,” Henderson said. “That is why even in the studies,
when we get a vaccine, we’re observed for 15 minutes. We’re talking about this immediate anaphylaxis reaction. It is rare to have anaphylaxis. But I think the
spotlight is so bright on COVID that any reaction is being observed. The other thing with COVID was even though there were 35,000 people who had received the
vaccine in the study, all of a sudden, we’re moving up to millions of people, so you can identify those who would have an allergic reaction. We see that with
penicillin injections. Some people, rarely, may have a severe, immediate reaction. I haven’t heard of too many severe reactions. What is important in terms of
thinking about safety, in general when a vaccine comes to market or emergency use, information continues to be gathered about safety even afterwards. The CDC
has an app that you can enroll in. They are trying to collect information on whether there have been side effects or reactions after the vaccine. Every day, I get a little
notice saying it is time to check in. And I say, ‘I feel fine.’ The app part is new in terms of the scale. Even years after vaccines are used, if there are side effects, you
can report them to the vaccine makers. There is data that continues to be collected. Other than those immediate allergic reactions, I haven’t heard of any major
Since late spring 2020 when Operation Warp Speed was put into effect, a number of different pharmaceutical companies have come up with COVID-19 vaccines,
each of them slightly different than the other, but also each very effective against the virus. It’s almost like having several different routes to get you to your
destination. Each is different, but all of them are built with the same technology to ensure durability and safety.
“The vaccines are similar in how they are constructed,” Henderson said. “They are both mRNA vaccines. They both take the genetic material that’s been
manufactured that would produce the spike protein, which is a protein from the virus. It’s just a protein. That gets packaged with fat molecules that then go into the
vaccine. The technology is similar, but there are differences in the way that it is packaged. There are differences just because they are different companies that
came up with different designs. They are not identical, but the technology is similar.”
One big noticeable difference is the required storage temperature.
“The difference in temperatures required to preserve the vaccines is the way it was structured,” Henderson said. “It’s not just the mRNA. When you create the
vaccine, you also have to put it in solutions that help stabilize it. Those can be different from company to company. Different research labs will come up with
different ways to do that. One of them created it where they could stabilize it at a warmer temperature than the other. MRNA itself is very unstable. I used to use it in
the lab all the time. You would have to use different solutions to make sure that it didn’t fall apart on you. Obviously in a research setting, they wanted to come up
with something that worked and they were able to get one and it required a minus 70 degrees to stay stable.”
Part 1 of 2
By Jonathan Gramling
While the COVID-19 infection rates have been going down in Dane County and Wisconsin as of
late, this is no time to relax and feel that you can continue life as normal. COVID-19 is still out
there lurking silently and invisibly looking for its next host victim.
“Being constantly aware that it is out there is tiring,” admitted Dr. Sheryl Henderson, a
pediatric infectious disease specialist at UW Health. “I think some people are getting COVID
fatigued. It’s absolutely necessary to be aware and on guard all the time until we can get it
While a vaccine is now starting to get rolled out in the United States, its true effectiveness will
depend on enough of the population becoming immune through vaccination so that the
coronavirus will find it difficult — if not impossible — to find a vulnerable human host. And