Message from Brian L. Harper M.D., M.P.H.
Dear New York Tech Students, Faculty, and Staff:

As of January 28, 2021, more than 25.767 million cases of COVID-19 have been reported in the United States by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Tragically, there have been over 433,206 cumulative total deaths in the U.S. since the start of the pandemic—including 33,000 deaths nationwide since my previous message just one week ago. Governor Cuomo announced this week that Long Island now has the highest testing positivity in New York State at 6.92 percent (versus 5.47 percent statewide).

Given that vaccination is the focal point of our ultimate strategy to prevent this disease, it may be appropriate to share some of the science behind the current vaccines. The general principle of a vaccination is to expose an individual to a non-harmful replica of the harmful “real” virus so when the individual comes in contact with the “real” virus, the body is prepared to mount a full-fledged immune response. The result deters any illness or reduces the severity of the illness caused by the “real” virus. Historically, these replicas or antigens have included weakened live virus, dead or attenuated virus, or viral parts to which protective antibodies would be produced.

In response to the coronavirus, there are a number of strategies being employed to develop these viral replicas:
  • The first vaccines approved for emergency use, from Pfizer and Moderna, use strands of messenger RNA to make coronavirus spike proteins for the individual to mount an immune response. The process for the human body to create proteins goes from DNA to RNA to the final protein. Both vaccines provide the RNA from which an individual creates the protein antigen. The New York Times published an article with great schematics to explain this process.
  • Another strategy is the use of viral vectors. The DNA of different viruses, such as the adenovirus, is modified to include the DNA of the coronavirus that has the genetic instructions on how to create the spike protein. The modified adenovirus is included in the vaccine which, when injected, will ultimately make the spike protein replicas in the human body. Janssen Pharmaceutica, a division of Johnson & Johnson, is employing this strategy in its vaccine, clearly described in another New York Times article.
  • As mentioned earlier, an inactivated virus can also be used as a source to create an immune response in the human body. Coronavac, created by the company Sinovac in China, uses this methodology by using an inactivated coronavirus that is unable to replicate. Again, a New York Times article explains this process.
  • The final strategy is to simply create the actual spike protein replicas in the laboratory and use this as the vaccine to be injected. These protein subunit vaccines include Novavax, as described here.
Until large numbers of the population (approximately 70%) are vaccinated or have natural immunity from previous infection such that we develop herd immunity, the importance of community mitigation activities (wearing masks, maintaining physical distancing, washing hands thoroughly and frequently, and remaining at home if ill or symptomatic) in preventing infection cannot be overstated. When on campus, we must all remain vigilant and follow these preventive guidelines. As demonstrated by ongoing infections, hospitalizations, and deaths, the coronavirus still continues to circulate.

As always, the New York Tech community is welcome to make an appointment for a COVID test at the Academic Health Care Center in Long Island by calling 516.686.1300. Those who may continue to feel anxious or uneasy can reach out to Counseling and Wellness Services at our campuses in Long Island (516.686.7683) or New York City (212.261.1773) to talk or make a virtual appointment.


Brian L. Harper, M.D., M.P.H.
Chief Medical Officer, NYIT College of Osteopathic Medicine
Vice President, Equity and Inclusion

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