In this COVID-19 vaccine Q&A, three West Virginia University experts answer common questions about the impact of the virus, the safety of the vaccine, and how to best protect yourself and others.

Q: How is COVID-19 impacting the health care system?

How COVID-19 Impacts Health Care

Q: If I’m young and healthy, why should I get this vaccine?

A: “This virus is not discriminatory. It's not deciding whether it's going to just pick old people. It's been more severe in some of the older populations up until now, until recently and this Delta variant has made it a little bit more active in the younger population. So just because you're young, doesn't mean that you're immune to getting this.

“We're seeing younger and younger people, like in the 30s, in the teens that are hospitalized and dying from this, just because they weren't vaccinated or because they thought that it couldn't get to them. And it's easy for all of us to say — that we're safe until we're not. And until it hits home and it happens to somebody you know, or somebody close to you or yourself, and you realize how sick you are, even if you're not hospitalized, then it becomes more real. And I think that people just aren't aware of how real it is.”

Joanne Watson, MSN, RN, Clinical Educator, WVU School of Nursing

Q: Is the vaccine recommended for people who are pregnant or who want to become pregnant?

A: “I definitely recommend getting vaccinated, no matter if you're pregnant or you are planning to be pregnant. And this is why: During the clinical trials, for the Pfizer and the Moderna RNA vaccines, there were actually some people in the trial who got pregnant, and the scientists followed them to see what happened, and it turns out they were safe. The baby was safe. The pregnant woman was safe. It was actually a very good outcome showing that if you’re pregnant, or trying to become pregnant, it is good to be vaccinated.”

Ivan Martinez, PhD, Associate Professor, WVU School of Medicine

Also, check out this video with responses from all three WVU experts:

COVID-19 Vaccines and Pregnancy

Q: How does getting vaccinated help others around me?

A: “Right now we have vaccines available for those who are 12 and above. So if you're under 12, there's not yet a vaccine available, so the best way to protect those who are not yet able to be vaccinated is to choose vaccination. If we get vaccinated ourselves, we can protect those around us who are not yet able to get vaccinated and also those people who have a higher risk of getting severe disease.

“My mom has an auto-immune condition. She chose to be vaccinated as soon as she could, but all of us around her want to get protected so that we can make sure that we're doing all that we can to protect her from getting COVID-19, where she might get it really, really bad. It could really be detrimental to her, land her in the hospital or even worse. So we want to do all that we can to protect ourselves, but also protect the people that we love around us.”

Lisa Costello, MD, MPH, Pediatrician, WVU School of Medicine

Q: Can you talk about the Delta variant? How is it different from the original virus?

A: “Viruses, over time, they change or they form new strains. So right now we're seeing the Delta variant, or a new strain of the virus, and it's actually showing up particularly in younger people — children, who I care for, and people who are around my age. With the first type of the virus that we saw, it was really impacting older individuals. But now with this new strain, we're seeing it really impact younger individuals. They're getting sicker, they're ending up in the hospital.

“Data that shows that these vaccines work against this strain and the more people that choose to be vaccinated, the better we're able to kind of reduce the spread of the virus and hopefully prevent new strains from forming. But this is something that we're going to have to keep monitoring and keep using all those tools we have in our toolbox to really try to turn the tide on this pandemic.”

Lisa Costello, MD, MPH, Pediatrician, WVU School of Medicine

Q: How will someone fare when exposed to COVID if they are vaccinated versus if they are unvaccinated?

A: “In the hospital now, we're seeing people who are vaccinated are faring far better. The virus is unpredictable. The vaccine at least gives us some predictability and tells us that it's going to be a lot less severe than if you haven't gotten the vaccine.”

Joanne Watson, MSN, RN, Clinical Educator, WVU School of Nursing

Q: Why is this vaccine being strongly encouraged or required for healthcare workers?

A: “Vaccines are a way to help prevent us from getting severe disease and ending up in the hospital. In healthcare, we work around people who are more at risk to get severe disease. So we really want to do all that we can to prevent ourselves from getting disease. Every year, I roll up my sleeve and I get a flu shot. And that's why when I was eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, I rolled up my sleeve and I chose to be vaccinated.

“It's really important that as healthcare workers, we learn about the vaccine and that we choose to be vaccinated. There are many times that to work in healthcare, we have requirements because we really want to do all that we can to keep the people we're caring for as safe as we possibly can.”

Lisa Costello, MD, MPH, Pediatrician, WVU School of Medicine

Q: What does a breakthrough case mean? What’s the likelihood of getting a breakthrough case after vaccination?

A: “These vaccines are some of the most effective vaccines that we have seen, over 90% effective, but that still means that some individuals may get COVID. If you do get COVID, you're much more likely to have a mild course. So you'll have a cold, which most of us have had in our life, but you're not going to end up in the hospital or worse. And so that's why it's important that we choose to be vaccinated.”

Lisa Costello, MD, MPH, Pediatrician, WVU School of Medicine

Q: How did the development of the vaccine happen?

A: “Scientists have been working with developing RNA vaccines since the 1980s. About 20 to 30 years ago, people came up with the idea of using RNA as a potential vaccine. Several companies and several scientists were working with RNA vaccines in probably 2018, 2019, thinking about developing RNA vaccines against the flu and other bacterial infections, and then suddenly COVID-19 showed up. So they were actually ready with all this technology they've been developing for many, many decades.”

Ivan Martinez, PhD, Associate Professor, WVU School of Medicine

Meet the Experts

A photo of Lisa Costello.
Lisa Marie Costello, MD, MPH
West Virginia University
Assistant Professor General Pediatrics, Pediatrics
A photo of Ivan Martinez.
Ivan Martinez, PhD
West Virginia University
Associate Professor, WVU Cancer Institute Research Laboratories
Associate Professor, Microbiology, Immunology & Cell Biology
Member, WVU Cancer Institute Research Programs
A photo of Joanne Watson.
Joanne Elizabeth Watson, MSN, RN, CNE
West Virginia University
Assistant Professor, Adult Health Department
Director of BSN Programs, Office of Academics