UCI School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences hosts a two part COVID-19 vaccine panel

The School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences’ Community Information Session and Q&A provided a unique opportunity for attendees to hear from expert scientists and clinical pharmacists about the why, what, where and when of COVID-19 vaccines. During this informative session, moderated by Founding Dean Jan Hirsch, panelists presented an overview of how the vaccines work while discussing efficacy, safety, administration, and distribution. An update was held on March 1st at 12pm PST, click here to view the recording.

As an expert in RNA structure and function, Robert Spitale, Ph.D., Founding Associate Dean of Research, delivered a breakdown of how the vaccines work and discussed the different types of vaccines under development for COVID-19. He described how mRNA (messenger RNA) vaccines are currently being administered to patients in an effort to suppress viral infection. According to Spitale, here’s how it works: a piece of mRNA (the genetic material that codes for a protein) is encapsulated into a lipid capsule which is then injected into the muscle of your arm. It goes into your muscle because muscle cells are easily accessible through injection and highly metabolically active (which means that when the RNA enters the cell it will undergo mRNA translation very rapidly) producing a lot of, in this case, a spike protein which is secreted out of the muscle cell. Your body will now recognize the spike protein as being foreign and will build up an antibody response to that. So if you are infected, your body will recognize the spike protein and your immune system will fight off the virus.

Afterwards, Alexandre Chan, PharmD, MPH and Founding Chair of Clinical Pharmacy Practice, dove into the details of vaccine efficacy and safety. He described how no significant safety concerns have been identified in the clinical trials. Common side effects of the vaccine include pain at the injection site and non-infectious flu-like symptoms which indicates that the body is mounting an immune response. He encouraged the audience members to consult a pharmacist or health care provider if they have any questions or concerns about using over the counter medications to alleviate symptoms associated with the vaccine. Chan also mentioned an important take home message about vaccine efficacy — “the currently approved COVID-19 vaccines are very effective at preventing the most severe cases.” 

Leveraging her expertise in public health, Keri Hurley-Kim, PharmD, MPH and Health Sciences Assistant Clinical Professor discussed administration, distribution, and allocation of the COVID-19 vaccine. She described key factors prioritized for vaccine allocation– maximizing benefit and minimizing harm while ensuring equity and efficiency. “Vaccinating everyone in the world is a complex endeavor, but we are trying to do it as quickly, safely, and equitably as possible,” said Hurley-Kim. Hurley-Kim is currently involved with the LA County Department of Public Health’s COVID vaccine work group and projects focused on improving vaccine access and equity. 

For those who may have questions or are hesitant about getting the COVID-19 vaccine, it is important to rely on trusted sources of information. Hurley-Kim encouraged the audience to reach out to health care providers or visit the CDC website. 

To register for the upcoming panel and for further information visit the following sites: 

By: Nedda Bozorgmehri / UC

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