MIAMI – A Greek doctor at Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami is one of the first U.S. health care workers to receive the Pfizer vaccine against COVID-19.
The 38-year-old cardiologist, Dr. Vasilis Karantalis, first conducted his own research on the new vaccine and mRNA technology, and decided to take the vaccine since the risk of possible future side effects was not as terrible as the deadly toll the pandemic has taken on the planet, and what he has seen in his own experience at the hospital.
"I studied the scientific article on the Pfizer vaccine and was convinced that the risk of taking this vaccine is clearly less than that of exposure to the coronavirus itself. This also applies to me, at 38 years old, without an underlying health condition. For my age group, mortality in symptomatic COVID-19 patients is 0.4%. It sounds small, but do you know what that means? That one in 200 patients my age who develop COVID symptoms die. I consider this risk to be too high in relation to the vaccine," said Dr. Karantalis.
According to the Greek-American doctor, he is aware of possible immediate side effects when he receives the second dose of the vaccine, which includes a headache or the development of a fever for a short period of time, usually not longer than one day.
"Undoubtedly, the issue of long-term consequences also arises. Nobody knows them. On the other hand, I was informed about mRNA technology and I have to remind you that this is not a new technology. The first treatment with mRNA technology was approved by the FDA 22 years ago, in 1998. There are a total of five therapies based on it, but as a vaccine it is indeed the first. But we must be properly informed. MRNA does not change your DNA. This is a rule of biology that we have already been taught since… high school,” he emphasized, adding that the speed with which the vaccine was developed was due to a number of factors.
"First, mRNA technology, as I said, was pre-existing. Second, this virus does not mutate like, for example, HIV. It had some mutations, but the basic protein did not change. So the researchers knew where to look. There were also patients available for testing, as the virus had high transmissibility rates. Another important element is funding: there was a large amount of funding invested in this vaccine, because this disease has plagued humanity. The regulators also checked the results live, every two weeks. At the same time, we should not make comparisons with the polio vaccine development. The technology today is completely different in the 21st century. Vaccines have controlled, but also eradicated diseases," he added.
However, Dr. Karantalis, who was born and raised in Patras, noted that, in addition to the advice he will give, every citizen should be responsibly informed about the vaccine, in order to make a conscious and correct decision about his own health.
"I will advise my patients to take the vaccine. The same goes for my parents, when the vaccination starts in Greece. On the other hand, the vaccine should not be mandatory. Let everyone choose what to do, as long as they first seek responsible information from the right sources. They cannot consider a random person on YouTube, who has nothing to do with medicine, more reliable, for example, than Dr. Anthony Fauci. In conclusion, my advice is the following: Inform yourself and make the decision yourself, so that you do not have the slightest doubt. I did just that,” he said.
"The second and third waves are nightmarish"
One of the reasons that Dr. Karantalis wanted to be vaccinated was his own experience in the hospital during the outbreak of the pandemic in Florida. As he emphasized, the difficulties were not so much in the first wave, in the spring, but mainly in the second and third – which is in progress – when doctors of every specialty were called in to help.
"It is alleged that the virus came to Florida from visitors from New York and Italy. The first patient at our hospital was a TSA employee from the airport. At that time, in the spring, we did not have a mechanism for testing. He had symptoms, but we sent his sample to a central lab and it took a week to find out he was positive. The fact that we did not have a strong first wave, gave us time to prepare. We owe a great thank you to the doctors and nurses in New York, who taught us a lot, through how they dealt with the very difficult situation in New York last spring," Dr. Karantalis said.
In conclusion, Dr. Karantalis sounded the alarm, expressing the fear that the cases will increase even more, given that the public is already tired and is not following the measures as strictly as they were earlier in the pandemic.
"I see, for example, that some people plan to spend the holidays at their friends' houses. They think they will not get infected because they know them. Surely people are tired. However, we must keep in mind that, even with the vaccine, we must be careful and follow the measures at least until the beginning of the summer. I'm afraid that in January we will see even worse situations, especially in States with fewer ICU beds."