OU hosts virtual COVID-19 vaccination panel, spreading awareness

Lauren Reid, Content Editor

Oakland University’s Centers of Civic Engagement, Public Humanities and Religious Understanding hosted a virtual panel via Zoom — COVID-19 Vaccination: Access, Awareness, Acceptance — on Monday, Jan. 25. to discuss the science behind the COVID-19 vaccine, various concerns and distribution, among other topics. 

Moderated by professor and Chair of the OU philosophy department, Mark Navin PhD the panel included: Dr. Natasha Bagdasarian, senior public health physician at the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, Dr. Russell Faust, medical director for Oakland County, Dr. Nicholas Gilpin, chief medical officer at Beaumont Hospital, Grosse Pointe and Rev. Derrick McDonald, Pastor of Prospect Missionary Baptist Church. 

To begin the panel, Bagdasarian dove into the scientific makeup behind both the Moderna and the Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccines — messenger RNA (mRNA).

“[Both COVID-19 vaccines] utilize the same technology — they’re both mRNA vaccines,” Bagdasarian said. “It is a spectacular technology where we are not injecting whole particles of the [COVID-19] virus, whether dead or inactivated into people. These are just little pieces of genomic material that allow [one’s] own body to produce proteins, and then have an immune response to those proteins.”

According to Faust, the COVID-19 vaccines and trials were developed and run “under a microscope.”

“[Experts and researchers] have been unusually transparent in reporting and publishing their data throughout this entire process,” Faust said.

Bagdasarian said [the COVID-19 vaccine] was not developed solely for COVID-19, but has been in the making for years.

“I don’t want people to think this was a rushed process [and was] made just within the last 12 months,” Bagdasarian said. “The technology was already being created and the intended purpose was to use it for other viruses [but] here we are in a beautiful situation where we can use [the technology] for this particular pandemic.” 

Faust agreed with Bagdasarian, mentioning several companies had already been working on an mRNA vaccine for SARS and MERS, before the COVID-19 pandemic began.

“They had already worked out the other technical aspects, so that allowed them to just swap in the sequence for this spike protein and move forward into clinical trials,” Faust said. “We saved three or four years right there.”

In regard to potential side effects of the COVID-19 vaccine, Gilpin said “that is your body ramping up to fight the fight, that’s a good thing.”

“The fact that [you’re] having some soreness in your arm, or some discomfort, you’re turning on that immune system, building those antibodies and getting ready to fight the fight — so that if you are one day face-down with the real [thing], you will have an immune system that’s ready for action,” Gilpin said.

Rev. McDonald mentioned the best way to mitigate concerns is to ensure accurate information.

“There is so much misinformation floating out there relative to these [COVID-19] vaccines,” McDonald said. “We have to let people understand the development of the vaccine — they have to have a better understanding and trust.”

In regard to potential new COVID-19 strains, the panel mentioned as the virus mutates, modifications can be made to the mRNA vaccines. The COVID-19 vaccines will provide protection against the various strains, as mentioned by Gilpin.

“A high priority remains on ensuring that we educate people on the value, need and urgency of vaccinations,” Oakland University President Ora Hirsch Pescovitz said.

For more information, or to “save your spot” in line for the vaccine (still in Phase 1A of distribution), check out the Oakland County Vaccine website.