The coronavirus pandemic has certainly caused 2020 to become one of the most challenging years many of us have ever experienced. We, in the Tourette community, have had to deal with many stresses and challenges related to quarantine, closures and social distancing; from remote school, to lost jobs, isolation, anxiety and depression. Finally, hope has arrived! In December, the FDA approved two new vaccines for emergency use for COVID-19, one developed and manufactured by Pfizer and another by Moderna. Widespread inoculation of the population with these vaccines, and others in the pipeline, hopefully in time will end the pandemic and facilitate a return to a new normal. However, members of the TS community have been asking: what exactly are these vaccines? Are they safe for people living with Tourette? And will they exacerbate my tics?
Claude Schofield, PhD, Vice President of Research and Medical Programs at the Tourette Association of America, believes that the Tourette community has reason to be hopeful. “There are three things that are quite remarkable about these two new vaccines. First, the speed at which they were developed. To go from identification of a new virus to a working vaccine in under 12 months has to be some type of medical world-record. Second, a few of these vaccines represent an entirely new class of therapeutics that contain RNA and use the body’s own cells to generate immunity; and third, the vaccines appear to be highly effective in preventing COVID-19, successful beyond all expectations”.
To Michael S Okun, MD, a neurologist, Professor and Chairman of the Department of Neurology at the University of Florida Health (and TAA Medical Advisory Board Member) this new class of RNA-vaccines is a milestone in medical history. “More standard vaccines such as the one used for the flu, commonly contain inactive fragments of the actual virus. mRNA vaccines in contrast harness the body’s own cells to make small, synthetic copies of the COVID-19 spike protein. By showing the immune system the spike protein, it stimulates the generation of antibodies to the virus. It’s the antibodies that will help people fight off a potential infection. It is a brilliant translation of science into medicine.” Still, Dr. Okun cautioned not to let your guard down. “Although these mRNA vaccines strongly suppress illness, it is possible for someone who has been vaccinated to be a carrier of the virus and to infect others.” Therefore, he is a strong advocate of continued vigilant masking and social distancing.