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Dr. Charles Nolan on a mission to get more people vaccinated

August 26, 2021
12 minutes

Dr. Charles Nolan says misinformation shouldn’t stop you from protecting yourself, the community

Public health, not politics should guide your vaccination decision

Misinformation and politicization have largely gotten in the way of solving a public health crisis. Doctors, nurses, and other health care workers know what needs to be done to reverse the current COVID-19 surge in the community. They need people to listen to the advice of medical professionals, which means that they need more people to get vaccinated.

Dr. Charles Nolan heads up the LIFE Care program at GRMC.  LIFE stands for Lifelong Intensive Family Emotional care. It’s a palliative medicine program, which is a type of care that tries to improve the quality of life for patients and their families who are facing serious or life-threatening illnesses. Dr. Nolan says he’s been following closely some of the misinformation that exists when it comes to the vaccines, and he’s trying to do something to help educate the public on their safety. He says they are not only safe, but they also work.

Dr. Nolan says the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines are both mRNA vaccines. He says they are safe, but it’s a newer type of vaccine development.

“The traditional vaccines that all of us have gotten throughout our life span for smallpox or polio or measles, mumps, rubella and all that are a different vaccine technology but that’s akin to what the Johnson and Johnson vaccine is, and that’s where they grow up the virus in the laboratory and then they kill it and they inject whatever the bacteria that they are trying to prevent in the use that you develop an immune response.” 

“That’s the traditional vaccine strategy so that when you see the real disease (or) you get exposed to the real disease, your immune system sees it and your body forms antibodies, and it neutralizes it before it causes serious illness. That’s why we don’t see chickenpox anymore. We don’t even give smallpox vaccinations anymore because we eradicated smallpox by virtue of vaccines. That’s the traditional vaccine technology,” said Nolan.

The messenger RNA vaccines are relatively new, but scientists have been working on them for a long time. Dr. Nolan says prior to COVID-19, scientists had been looking at coming up with a vaccine for some other serious ailments.

“This new technology that Pfizer and Moderna came up with was always kind of on the shelf because this had been developed for five or six years. They were hoping that they could use it for immunizations against cancer and other diseases,” said Nolan.

These mRNA vaccines are considered medical marvels by most public health officials. Dr. Nolan says the scientists developed a safe and effective way to introduce the vaccine to your body, and then allow it to create the antibodies that you need to protect yourself.

“What this novel vaccine approach is — is that when the Coronavirus first broke out in China and the Chinese finally published the sequence, then the smart scientists in our country and elsewhere could look at the sequence of the virus and this is a messenger RNA virus and they knew what part of that virus code for just that spike protein that you see on those cartoons they show of COVID with the little red spikes, that’s how the virus binds to your cells and gets into it. So instead of injecting you with a kill whole virus, all they have done is make in the lab that little snippet of the virus that codes for the spike protein, wrap it in lipids so that it can get into your cells and then when you get the vaccination, that little mRNA goes into your cells and the shield of your cells makes the spike protein. The spike protein is in your blood and your immune system recognizes it so that now you have a neutralizing antibody to the virus, so when you get exposed to the virus, you are not going to get seriously ill because your body is going to arrest that,” said Nolan.

Dr. Nolan says he knows that some people are afraid to get the shot, but he says that should not be the case. Some vaccine hesitancy has been tied to people who have heard that there are major side effects from the vaccines. Dr. Nolan says the side effects are rare, which is why he is encouraging people to get vaccinated.

“The side effects are what you would expect of the vaccine especially with the second shot and remember people, when you get that second shot, the immune response is already getting wrapped up so you may feel aches and pains or like you’ve got a mild flu for a day or two and that’s great because you are getting immunized. The risks of the vaccine are minuscule compared to the risk of getting COVID and having a serious illness or dying,” said Nolan.

Dr. Nolan says the vaccines are safe, and the FDA’s full approval this week of the Pfizer vaccine shows just how much data and research has been collected on these vaccines. You can have some reaction to the vaccine, but he says it’s not likely to be significant.

“Any time a person gets an immunization, they can feel achy because your immune system is responding and, you know, preparing you for when you really get exposed. But major side effects are extremely rare. No deaths, no serious side effects that put people in the hospital. It’s a very safe and effective vaccine. The FDA has even said now pregnant women in all stages of pregnancy should be vaccinated because the benefits of vaccination far out weigh the risks. It can’t get in your DNA. It’s not a DNA virus. There’s no way this gets incorporated into your genome; that’s what people say. That’s impossible,” said Nolan.

Federal regulators track any potential side effects that are caused by the vaccines. They have a reporting system, VAERS, that allows any potential side effect to be reported. They encourage every report, and they are all reviewed, but it doesn’t mean that every issue included in the report was actually caused by the vaccine. Dr. Nolan says the data shows that actual side effects are not only rare, but they are often short-lived.  

“We get exposed to viruses all the time. That’s why we get the common cold all the time. The coronavirus is a variant of what causes the common cold in so many people. There are some very vanishingly rare side effects, like occasionally people get an inflammation of the heart muscle. It’s one in ten thousand where they get a reaction in their heart, but it’s very short-lived, and it’s not a serious concern. That’s probably the only thing that’s raised concern about the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines is that very vanishingly rare side effect. You know, every drug we use has risks and benefits. There’s not a single drug I know of, over the counter or otherwise, that doesn’t have some risk. The same is true of vaccines, but the vaccine risk is minuscule –– very small compared to the benefits,” said Nolan.

Some of the vaccine hesitant population has also talked about the vaccines being rushed and that they believe that the vaccines were not properly studied. Dr. Nolan also addressed this issue. He says those claims are untrue. He says vaccines went through a rigorous trial period and there is a great deal of data available, because the vaccines have been given to millions of people around the world. Dr. Nolan says he trusts the FDA and he believes in the safety of this drug 100 percent.

“Most studies that lead to an approval of a drug like you’re talking about –– a brand new drug to say, treat cancer or high blood pressure, they’re tested in very few people, and then the FDA approves them. You don’t see the side effects –– sometimes important side effects –– until they get released on the general population and millions of people take them. With the vaccines, millions of people worldwide have taken these vaccines, and if there were some alarming side effects, we would have seen it. And there’s not usually monitoring of drugs like the vaccines have been monitored. The safety monitoring of the typical drugs that doctors prescribe is nothing like the safety data that has been generated for the vaccine. Not even close,” said Nolan.

There was certainly a desire to get the vaccines to the market as quickly as possible, but Dr. Nolan says that doesn’t mean that the vaccines are unsafe. He says there’s been extensive testing done on each of these vaccines — far more than what you would normally see for other pharmaceuticals.

“This has been better tested than virtually any drug that I could prescribe –– by far. Let me give you an example. One of the most popular and widespread drugs used for high blood pressure is a group of medicines called ACE inhibitors. They work so well that people joke they should be in the drinking water. They’re great for high blood pressure, we treat congestive heart failure with them, and so forth. And the initials studies that led to their approval were done, and they never saw that a major side effect of the ACE inhibitors was cough until they were released on the general population. And when the general population saw it, after a few years, we figured out that up to 25% of people get this dry hacking cough that won’t go away until you stop the ACE inhibitor. That’s not going to be the case with these vaccines because they’ve tested and followed so many millions of people that if there were a rare side effect, it would be seen. That’s the comforting thing about these vaccines. Even though it undoubtedly is brand new technology, the technology was in development for decades, and then they put it to good use when COVID came around, and it’s safe. There is no question that it is safe,” said Nolan.

Another claim, being made by those opposed to the shot, comes from some people who have already had COVID-19. Many of them believe that they now have all the antibodies that they need to protect themselves from the disease. But Dr. Nolan says that is not true. He says even if you’ve already had COVID-19, you actually get a better antibody response by taking the vaccine.

“You would think, just predicting things, that a native infection would be just as good at you building an immune response so that you don’t get reinfected as the vaccine. But it turns out that people who had the native infection, you know, after a few months, they’re still at risk of getting it again, and if they get a booster vaccine, they’re less likely to get it. Now, that’s because the Delta variant is more infectious. So that’s why even people who have recovered from COVID successfully, have even mild illness, should get the vaccine starting after they’re out of quarantine –– 10 days out of quarantine –– if they want to protect themselves from getting reinfected with the virus,” said Nolan.

The vaccination issue has become less of a discussion about public health and more about politics. It’s made it harder for people, like Dr. Nolan, to do their jobs. He says it’s not easy, but they are there to help — even during these difficult times. He says it’s one of the reasons why he wanted to directly address some of the misinformation that exists in hopes that more people will choose to get vaccinated.

“That’s why we went into medicine. We are frustrated. We are very frustrated that people aren’t concerned enough about their own health and the health of their families and loved ones to do this simple thing. Of course, it has become political and that’s a tragedy and that’s like that in other countries. There are people in other countries that are clamoring to get the vaccine, who try to come to our country to get the vaccine and here’s half of our population that don’t want to take it because they don’t believe in it. I know it’s real and everyone here has seen it with their own eyes numerous of times and it’s tragic,” said Nolan.

Dr. Nolan says getting the shot is easy. It’s free and it’s widely available at doctors’ offices and pharmacies in the community. He says the hospital doesn’t need to continue to be overrun by COVID cases, and needless suffering.

“I can’t tell you about the suffering we see here. We’ve had in the hospital that I’ve consulted on, with the families for palliative care, side by side in the intensive care unit family members on vents dying one by one. And it’s so tragic because it’s so easily prevented. It’s easily prevented,” said Nolan.

Sources: Story and article written by KWED – 

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