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Checking out the Ingredient Label on Vaccines

Sunday, November 28, 2021

Dr. David Topham, PhD was featured in Bloomberg's Corona Virus daily.

Nearly a year into the rollout, when shot talk has become part of daily life, it can be easy to take for granted some of the most basic (and confusing) things about vaccines. Much like reading the ingredients on your favorite candy bar or soda, looking at the fine print can invite more questions than answers. 

“This is a boring way to answer, but I'd refer the reader to this CDC website,” says David Topham, an immunologist at the University of Rochester Medical Center, referring to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“The vaccines each have a number of components with the two mRNA vaccines being mostly lipid (fat) and mRNA coding for the spike protein of the virus,” says Topham. That’s right — mRNA, or messenger ribonucleic acid, is actually one of the ingredients in both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines. It’s what tells the body how to create a (harmless) piece of viral protein to build up an immune response against SARS-CoV-2. Otherwise, those vaccines are composed of fats that help the mRNA enter the body’s cells, and sugars and acid stabilizers to help keep the vaccine stable as it’s manufactured and shipped around the world. 

Read More: Checking out the Ingredient Label on Vaccines

Researchers Awarded Grant to Combat Vaccine Hesitancy in Adolescents

Tuesday, November 16, 2021

The Environmental Medicine team, including Dr. Danielle Alcéna-Stiner, IMV graduate and Assistant Professor at UR School of Nursing, received an NIH award to address hesitancy and improve health literacy among middle- and high-school students. The team will work with Rochester-area teachers and health professionals to teach students how COVID-19 spreads, how COVID testing works, what RNA is, and how the vaccine works.

Read More: Researchers Awarded Grant to Combat Vaccine Hesitancy in Adolescents

UR Graduate Women in Science (GWIS) 2021 Mentoring-Up Resolution Challenge CONTEST RESULTS

Monday, May 24, 2021

Congratulations, Mentoring-Up Resolution Challenge Winners!

Full-time UR grad students (gender-inclusive) in biomedical, biological, or chemical sciences took charge of their futures by setting and, through mentoring-up, achieving professional and personal goals for Spring 2021. Participants submitted their goals in a January write-up and progress reports on their professional goals in May. The anonymous faculty evaluation committee selected finalists to present on May 20th. All four presenters were selected to win $1500 ea. in technology-related (hardware, software, and/or peripherals) prizes. Of note, submissions for this contest were received from graduate students of 12 different programs!

Read More: UR Graduate Women in Science (GWIS) 2021 Mentoring-Up Resolution Challenge CONTEST RESULTS

You Got the COVID Vaccine. How Long Are You Protected?

Wednesday, April 14, 2021

As more states expand eligibility and vaccination rates continue to rise, pre-pandemic normalcy is on the horizon. The question now on many people's minds is how long vaccines will provide protection. While the short answer is it's too soon to know with certainty, experience with other infectious diseases can help scientists make an educated guess. And it is good news -- your immune system will probably be able to detect and quickly respond to the coronavirus for many years.

"Long-term data from vaccinated individuals will give us the definitive answer, but all signs point to the fact that a level of protection from vaccines should last for a significant period of time, potentially two to three years or longer," said David Topham, Ph.D., the director of the University of Rochester Medical Center Translational Immunology and Infectious Diseases Institute. Topham and his colleagues at URMC have decades of experience studying the immune response to respiratory infections. His work on this subject has been featured recently in The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal.

One of the sources of uncertainty is the simple fact that currently approved COVID vaccines are new, so researchers don't have hard data on the durability of immunity to the virus. While around 100 million Americans have received at least one dose, the bulk of these vaccinations have only occurred in the last couple of months. However, data from a smaller group who participated in clinical trials provide some evidence that vaccines are producing a long-lasting immune response. Both Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech recently announced that their vaccines remain 91% effective in preventing infection, and 100% effective in preventing severe disease six months after the second dose.

Read More: You Got the COVID Vaccine. How Long Are You Protected?

How Long Do Covid-19 Vaccines Provide Immunity?

Monday, April 12, 2021

How long does protection from Covid vaccines last? It's a question that's becoming more important as some of the first people to be vaccinated approach four months post-inoculation.

The short answer is: We don't fully know yet. But more data is coming in that provides clues. Here's what we know so far.

How long are we protected from getting Covid-19? Does the efficacy decline over time?

Recent data from Pfizer, the manufacturer of one of the three vaccines available in the U.S., indicates that protection lasts at least six months. The results showed minimal antibody decline. Recipients of the Moderna vaccine also had robust levels of antibodies more than six months later, according to a recent study published in NEJM.

Some people have incorrectly concluded that means that those vaccines offer only six months of protection, says Scott Hensley, a professor of microbiology at the University of Pennsylvania. "That's false," says Dr. Hensley. "We only have six months of data...Six months from now it's likely we'll learn we have one year of protection."

Boosters will likely be needed for at least a few years "out of an abundance of caution, knowing that immunity does wane in some individuals more than others," says David Topham, the Marie Curran Wilson and Joseph Chamberlain Wilson Professor in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology and the founding director of the Translational Immunology and Infectious Disease Institute. The article also appeared on MSN News.

Should I Take Tylenol After My COVID Shot? Can I Drink a Beer?

Friday, April 9, 2021

Here we are, finally on the cusp of our long-awaited Hot Vaxx Summer. About 112 million people in the U.S. have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, and if you haven't gotten one yet, chances are you will be able to soon: Starting April 19, the general public over 16 will become eligible. Among people who are enthusiastic about vaccination, there's a mix of excitement—after more than a year of living through the pandemic, some light at the end of the tunnel!—along with some nervousness about side effects. Some who have been lucky enough to be vaccinated already have reported chills, fevers, fatigue, or even vomiting after receiving a vaccine dose. (Side effects are more common after the second dose of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines.)

As a result, people are getting all sorts of advice about what to do—or not to do—in the hours leading up to and following a COVID-19 vaccination. Slate staffers report receiving general advice, like staying hydrated or avoiding alcohol. Meanwhile, my parents were advised to adhere to a very specific routine: Drink one glass of water before the shot with three days' worth of Vitamin C supplements, then one glass of water after.

Other advice, especially around taking over-the-counter painkillers like ibuprofen or acetaminophen has been contradictory.* One friend told me the nurse who administered her shot told her to take ibuprofen afterward; meanwhile, on social media, people have posted about taking pain meds even before their vaccination appointment, in hopes it could head off soreness at the injection site or muscle aches. But others tell me they've heard to specifically avoid ibuprofen and use acetaminophen instead, or advised to avoid pain killers entirely. What does the science say?

To understand that, it's worth reviewing what vaccines actually do. While the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines use a different method from Johnson & Johnson's vaccine, the result is the same: The vaccine teaches your immune system to recognize coronavirus. In that process, your body recruits specific types of cells to identify and clean up invader cells. One type of cell, called helper T-cells, aids another, called B-cells, which release antibodies that target coronavirus. Essentially, the vaccines serve as a rehearsal for your immune system to practice how to spot and clear coronavirus cells, so that if it encounters the real thing, it's ready.

But if you do end up taking over-the-counter painkillers with your vaccine—or already did—it's probably not a huge deal. The overall effect of NSAIDs is likely pretty small. Among the small body of existing studies looking at the effect of NSAIDs on post-vaccine antibody production in children, researchers did find some evidence of reduced antibody responses, but that did not affect the efficacy of vaccines. A 2009 paper examining the effect of OTC painkillers in mice and human cells in a lab found a similar result: Ibuprofen, but not acetaminophen, dampens antibody responses. But, of course, humans are not mice, and our cells may behave differently when they're actually inside of us rather than in a petri dish. "This is not an FDA-sanctioned clinical trial that shows [NSAIDs] have an effect on vaccinations, which is what you really need to do," says David Topham, a co-author of that study and a professor of microbiology and immunology at the University of Rochester. "I think if they did the trial, the effect would be modest." Still, based on his results, Topham says that if he had a choice, he'd take acetaminophen and not ibuprofen. And, if it makes you feel any better, Shresta told me she actually caved and took some ibuprofen the day after her second vaccine dose. "I had a major deadline the next day and with the headache, there was no way that was going to happen," she says. Life happens.

Read More: Should I Take Tylenol After My COVID Shot? Can I Drink a Beer?

In defence of Canada’s unprecedented decision for a four-month vaccine interval

Saturday, April 3, 2021

Seniors across the country are rightly enraged that they were promised a 21-day interval between vaccine doses only to have that appointment pushed into July due to new recommendations by the National Advisory Committee on Immunization prescribing a four-month interval between doses. Seniors, after all, were the most vulnerable to COVID-19.

Throwing thousands of Canadian seniors into three extra months of vaccine limbo was never going to be popular, particularly when Canada is the only jurisdiction on Earth to use a four-month interval between doses.

That controversy is not going to abate anytime soon, but below find the best arguments as to why Canada's decision to stretch its booster shot gap could end up saving lives.

In a pandemic that has been defined by near-constant government missteps, this may be one of the few times where Canada has prioritized science over political expediency.

The 21-day gap between doses was always somewhat arbitrary

There is no spreadsheet at Pfizer headquarters saying that 21 days is the optimum, experiment-tested gap to maximize the effectiveness of their vaccine. In fact, it's a number largely pulled out of thin air.

"I know this sounds crazy, but it's arbitrary. If you look for literature that documents why that's the best time point, there isn't any," David Topham, a University of Rochester immunologist, said in a February interview.

In fact, the typical rule of thumb is that booster shots have the best potency when administered at least two months after the initial dose. Vaccinations for HPV, Hepatitis A and Hepatitis B, among others, all have their boosters at five months or more . Boosters shots for avian flu, meanwhile, have been found to be more effective at six months than if given only 28 days after the first shot, according to a 2009 study .

Read More: In defence of Canada’s unprecedented decision for a four-month vaccine interval

How long will the coronavirus vaccines protect you? Experts weigh in.

Monday, March 29, 2021

You may be among the more than 95 million people in the United States who have taken at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine. Or you may still be awaiting your turn. Regardless, there's a crucial question on most of our minds: How long will the vaccine really protect us?

As with most aspects of the virus, the answer is not completely clear. Why? Because although we have been battling the pandemic for more than a year, the vaccines were granted emergency use authorization relatively recently. So experts have not had time to observe their long-term effectiveness.

However, that research is underway, and in the meantime, experts say we can make an educated guess.

Can we extrapolate from what we know about natural immunity?

In fact, much of this hypothesizing comes from extrapolating data examining immune responses in people who have had covid-19 and illnesses from other coronaviruses, rather than in people who have been vaccinated, said Dbeibo, who is director of vaccine initiatives for Indiana University.

"But vaccine responses should not be less reliable than in natural infection," she added.

Current research shows that people who have been infected with covid-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus, retained immunity that was robust after eight months. That gives researchers a starting point in predicting how long immunity may last after vaccination, Dbeibo explained.

But research also shows people who had more severe cases developed a stronger immune reaction than those with milder forms of the disease. And because vaccine-induced immunity appears to be more similar to natural immunity that is derived from severe covid-19 infections, researchers say they believe people who take a coronavirus vaccine will be protected better than most people with natural immunity, said David Topham, a professor of microbiology and immunology at the University of Rochester.

All of that said, antibodies will wane. And although it is a gradual process, once antibodies decline to a level that is no longer protective, reinfection is possible. Still, the infection is likely to be milder, experts said.

Topham, founding director of the Translational Immunology and Infectious Disease Institute at the University of Rochester, has been studying the coronavirus and the role of memory B cells — immune cells that persist for a lifetime and produce antibodies when re-exposed to a pathogen that they have been programmed to fight. He said some people who were hospitalized with severe covid-19 infections still had high frequencies of memory B cells, as well as antibodies, up to nine months after infection.

He said memory B cells can even adapt quickly to a new variant, usually within days.

Read More: How long will the coronavirus vaccines protect you? Experts weigh in.

Getting a COVID Vaccine? Try Tylenol but Skip the Advil for Mild Discomfort

Thursday, March 4, 2021

Female doctor wearing blue latex gloves injecting a child in her arm with a needle and syringe containing a dose of the COVID-19 vaccine cure by way of immunisation - 052

It's best to avoid some common pain relievers after the COVID shot, because they can dilute the power of the vaccine, according to research at the University of Rochester Medical Center.

Ibuprofen (Advil) and naproxen (Aleve) dampen the production of necessary antibodies that protect against illnesses such as COVID, scientists said.

Over-the-counter pain and fever-reducers that are classified as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs) are the ones to avoid. They act in part by blocking the cyclooxygenase-2 (cox-2) enzyme. But blocking the cox-2 enzyme is not a good idea in the context of vaccination, because the cox-2 enzyme is necessary for high production of B-lymphocytes. When people take medications like Advil for discomfort at the injection site they're also inadvertently reducing the ability of B cells to make antibodies that protect against COVID and other viruses.

"Unless your health care provider tells you otherwise, it's best not to take pain relievers one or two days before the coronavirus vaccine and for a week afterward," said David J. Topham, Ph.D., a professor in the Center for Vaccine Biology and Immunology at URMC. Abstaining from NSAIDs for 14 days afterward would be even better, he added.

Taking acetaminophen (Tylenol) is probably okay after the vaccine, Topham said, because it targets pain and fever in a different way.

Topham bases his opinion on peer-reviewed, published research he co-authored on this topic, including the first description of how NSAIDs and other pain relievers impact cox-2 and blunt the body's production of anti-viral antibodies.

The CDC also cautions against using pain relievers prior to vaccination for coronavirus — but states that individuals should talk to their doctors about using them afterward.

According to the CDC website: "If you have pain or discomfort, talk to your doctor about taking over-the-counter medicine, such as ibuprofen, aspirin, antihistamines, or acetaminophen, for any pain and discomfort you may experience after getting vaccinated. You can take these medications to relieve post-vaccination side effects if you have no other medical reasons that prevent you from taking these medications normally. It is not recommended you take these medicines before vaccination for the purpose of trying to prevent side effects, because it is not known how these medications may impact how well the vaccine works."

Individuals who take aspirin for cardiovascular or vascular disease should talk to their doctors before stopping even low-dose aspirin. And people who take medications such as Celebrex for arthritis or other chronic pain also should consult their physicians.

Medical Center faculty, Anthony Fauci to discuss coronaviruses on TV program

Thursday, February 4, 2021

Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, will join David Topham, the Marie Curran Wilson and Joseph Chamberlain Wilson Professor in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology, and Lou Papa, a professor of clinical medicine, for a discussion of coronaviruses, a family of viruses that cause illnesses such as the common cold and COVID-19. Tune in to the health care program "Second Opinion" at 8 p.m. tonight, February 4, on WXXI-TV.

Read More: Medical Center faculty, Anthony Fauci to discuss coronaviruses on TV program

"Experience Rochester: Rochester's Quest to Beat COVID-19" from January 28, 2021

Tuesday, February 2, 2021