Fisher professor, nursing student share insight and experience on COVID-19 vaccine

By Madison Weber ’23, Staff Writer

The Health & Wellness Center on the St. John Fisher College Campus. (Photo by Madison Weber)

It seems that the saga known as COVID-19 may finally have an end in sight.

As Dr. Fernando Ontiveros, microbiology professor and immunologist tells his students, vaccines are one of the three most important things to have happened in medicine, along with hand-washing and antibiotics. “The ultimate purpose of medicine is to prevent disease,” Dr. Ontiveros said.

There are currently two vaccines approved for emergency use by the FDA: Pfizer and Moderna — both are mRNA vaccines.

He clarifies that vaccines will not be injecting the coronavirus into the body, but rather something called mRNA — “a nanoparticle similar to the fats in cell membranes, that codes for our cells to make proteins for the virus.”

These proteins allow those vaccinated to gain immunity to the virus. Fat vesicles or liposomes found in the vaccine are similar to the fats found in the production of cosmetics. While some people are worried about the unique vaccine changing their DNA according to Ontiveros, the injected mRNA and DNA do not interact. MRNA has been studied for the past 60 years, and the lipids and mRNA inside the vaccine will be destroyed within a few days of injection. When asked if he personally felt comfortable with this type of vaccine he agrees. “It is such a common sense approach to a vaccine, that many of us are surprised we didn’t do it sooner.”

After receiving one or two doses of the vaccine, individuals may experience muscle soreness, fatigue, headache, or other immune responses. This is normal and is a sign that your body is learning to fight off the virus, although if you don’t feel soreness that is also normal. 

Regarding long term effects of the vaccine, Ontiveros says that himself and other scientists see no potential scenario in which there are long term effects — something that he feels makes the vaccine a good decision, as COVID-19 can have serious long term risks. 

Fisher Nursing Student Annabel Phillips works as a hospital technician and had the opportunity to receive her vaccination. She received the Pfizer vaccine and had some muscle aches and slight chills but was otherwise fine. 

Phillips elected to receive the vaccine in an effort to protect her vulnerable patients. “I love my job and I love what I do… and I’d do anything to protect the people I care for,” She said. “Protecting myself, and my family, and other people’s families,” is how she knew vaccination was the right choice for her.  

New York State is distributing vaccines using a series of phases that when opening, allow more and more people to become vaccinated. As of now, this includes many public workers (police, educators, fire, sworn-in-officials, and public health workers), frontline healthcare workers, and nursing home and long term care facility residents. The timeline of more groups becoming eligible is contingent upon vaccine availability, and how much of the group before has been vaccinated. 

Fisher is still making vaccinated students and staff adhere to all college campus covid policies, a decision Ontiveros believes is due to practicality and the fact that the vaccine is close to but not 100% effective. It would be difficult to allow select students to go maskless, not social distance, and live life as “normal.” Additionally, it may open the door for students to lie about whether or not they were truly vaccinated, which could worsen the pandemic.

According to the latest update from New York State, 1,602,686 New Yorkers have received their first dose of the vaccine. 461,497 New Yorkers have received the second.

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