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UNG to host town halls on science behind COVID-19 vaccine
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University of North Georgia Director of Student Health Services Karen Tomlinson gives a student a COVID-19 vaccination Monday, April 5, 2021, inside the school gymnasium that served as a vaccination site for the public. - photo by Scott Rogers

The study of vaccines and viruses routinely comes up in Dr. Amy Anderson’s work as a biology lecturer at the University of North Georgia.

“This year, (students) had so many more questions because they didn’t understand how an mRNA vaccine was different than a regular vaccine,” she said. “They didn’t understand how it could be made so much faster, or it seemed faster to them.”

Anderson developed the lecture in March that ended up going far beyond the university’s students.

“A lot of students told me that they then talked to their parents about it, and they decided to get the vaccine, and then their parents even decided to get the vaccine,” she said.

Drs. Carly Redding and Sarah Young, the respective director and assistant director of academic engagement at UNG, said there was an opportunity to scale up Anderson’s work to provide valuable information on the COVID-19 vaccine to the community at large.

“A lot of the information that we get comes from social media or little blurbs on the news, and a lot of that information leaves people with questions and they don’t necessarily know where to go to ask them,” Redding said.

UNG Town Halls on Vaccine

When: 5:30-6:30 p.m. Monday, April 19

5:30-6:30 p.m. and 6:30-7:30 p.m. Thursday, April 22.(The first will be in Spanish)

Where: For April 19, Hoag Student Center Room 342, 82 College Circle, Dahlonega 

For April 22, Professional Continuing Education and Performing Arts Building Room 108, 3820 Mundy Mill Road, Oakwood.

Zoom registrations are online for April 19 and April 22.

Only 42 people can attend in person April 19, and only 50 people can attend in person April 22. There is no limit on registrations for the Zoom.

Face coverings and social distancing are required.

The university will be hosting hybrid in-person and virtual town halls on three separate evenings next week across the different campuses. One is scheduled Monday, April 19, at the Dahlonega campus, and another will be Tuesday at the Blue Ridge campus.

The final two town halls — one in Spanish and one in English — will be Thursday, April 22, at the Gainesville campus.

The university said the events were part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ COVID-19 public education campaign.

Anderson said she hoped to provide information about the vaccine to the public in a comprehensible, digestible format, including details about the immune system’s response, the side effects and the science behind the vaccine’s development.

“Even if you yourself are not worried about getting COVID-19 because you think, ‘Oh, I’ve already had it or it’s not a big deal,’ it’s still important for you to consider getting the vaccine for herd immunity to protect all the people who can’t get a vaccine like people who are immunocompromised or newborns or people like that,” Anderson said.

A common concern raised by Anderson’s students was the speed at which the vaccine was developed.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an egg-based process is the most common way for a typical flu vaccine. 

“The egg-based production process begins with CDC or another laboratory partner in the (World Health Organization) Global Influenza Surveillance and Response System providing private sector manufacturers with candidate vaccine viruses grown in eggs per current (Food and Drug Administration) regulatory requirements,” according to the CDC. “These (candidate vaccine viruses) are then injected into fertilized hen’s eggs and incubated for several days to allow the viruses to replicate. The fluid containing virus is harvested from the eggs. For inactivated influenza vaccines (i.e., flu shots), the vaccine viruses are then inactivated (killed), and the virus antigen is purified.”

The CDC said manufacturing takes “at least six months to produce large quantities of influenza vaccine.”” 

“This production method requires large numbers of chicken eggs to produce vaccine and may take longer than other production methods,” the CDC said.

Anderson said the work on mRNA vaccines goes back roughly 50 years, adding she believes the discovery will “revolutionize the whole vaccine world.”

“Someone can literally email you or send you on the computer the DNA sequence, and you can in the lab, not even having the virus at all physically in your possession … you can make the mRNA vaccine just from having the DNA sequence sent to you,” she said.

Anderson said she planned to discuss the recent pause announced by U.S. and Georgia officials on administering the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

The CDC and FDA said they were investigating unusual clots in six women that occurred six to 13 days after vaccination. The clots occurred in veins that drain blood from the brain and occurred together with low platelets. All six cases were in women between the ages of 18 and 48, but none of them occurred in Georgia, according to the Georgia Department of Public Health.

Anderson said it was a“great testament to science in general and this process of vaccines” for the safety protocols in place.

“That’s exactly what you should with any new medicine, any new vaccine, anything new in general in the science world is when you see some sort of pattern, you take a pause and you research that before moving forward,” she said.