A booster shot for the greater good

Booster shot
Waiting to receive COVID-19 ‘booster shot’ this week at Mercy OKC.

When I was a kid, it seemed my mom took me to the doctor every six months or so to get a “booster shot” of some vaccine or another. We never questioned the validity or effectiveness of the vaccines in the early 1960s that I can remember.

Earlier this week, I received the COVID-19 “booster shot” at Mercy Hospital in keeping with recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control that people my age (65-plus) get a third dose when six months have elapsed from their original shots.

I was fully vaccinated with both doses of the Pfizer vaccine back in January.

My friend Steve asked me recently if I hesitated or had any second thoughts before taking the vaccine. I told him “absolutely not,’ and here’s why:

Although I have no scientific training in my background, I’ve had the opportunity over the past 20 years as a newspaper reporter and writer to visit with dozens of scientific researchers and their labs at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center and the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation.

I’ve learned about the incredible documentation that scientific findings are required to have and how experiments must be repeatable with the same results to be declared valid. Therapeutics designed for humans go through multiple stages of trials for safety and efficacy.

In short, I’ve learned to trust the science.  It is developed in highly controlled processes by people with high intelligence and credibility. These folks have undergone the most rigorous education and training before they tackle their own scientific exploration.

Mercy sign
‘Walk Ins Welcome’

So, I had no second thoughts about walking in to the Mercy vaccination clinic this week and getting the booster. In fact, their sign now reads “walk-ins welcome,” as opposed to January when it was a madhouse of thousands of people turning up to get vaccinated.

I know, I was there.

This time, I was in and out in about 20 minutes, including the 15-minute wait period after I received the dose. I woke up on the day after the booster with a sore arm, but that’s been about the only real impact.

Why did I get the booster so readily? For one, I hope to protect myself from infection of a virus that keeps mutating and making the rounds. But I did it also to be a good citizen who’s helping to put an end to this plague.

I call it doing something for the greater good.

But the decision to get the vaccine or the booster shot isn’t so easy for significant minority of my fellow Oklahomans. They read conspiracy theories about the vaccine or that it was “rushed” or that we don’t know what’s in it.

Can anyone tell me everything that’s in the flu vaccine?

You can read my thoughts on the reasons behind the COVID-19 vaccine resistance in an earlier blog post from a couple of months ago. I stand behind what I wrote.

Times have changed since my mom took me to get my booster shots as a kid in the ’60s. Trust the science.

OU showcases Stephenson Cancer Center at End2Cancer conference

A scientists presents his findings at the End2Cancer conference at the Samis Education Center on the OU Health Center campus

By Jim Stafford

The University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center and the NCI-Designated Stephenson Cancer Center delivered an academic doubleheader for about 200 cancer research scientists at the recent 2019 END2Cancer conference at the Samis Education Center on the Health Center campus.

For the main event, scientists came to share their research or hear presentations given by counterparts from across the country who are pursuing breakthrough discoveries in the area of cancer treatment. At the two-day conference, the scientists focused on emerging nanotechnology and cancer drug delivery applications.

At the same time, OU showcased its renowned Stephenson Cancer Center on the Health Sciences Center campus, said Rajagopal Ramesh, Ph.D., conference chair and professor, Department of Pathology at the University of Oklahoma College of Medicine.

“The whole idea in organizing this conference for the third consecutive year – beyond the science – was to put Oklahoma on the map and have the Stephenson Cancer Center recognized for the great science that we do in the diagnosis and treatment of cancer,” Ramesh said. “We have eminent speakers coming in from all over the country, and the majority of them have never been to the state of Oklahoma or to the Stephenson Cancer Center.”

The NCI-Designated Stephenson Cancer Center ranks in the top 50 in the nation for cancer care in the 2019-2010 U.S. News & World Report ranking and currently ranks No. 1 among all cancer centers in the nation for the number of patients participating in clinical trials.

“They were highly impressed,” Ramesh said. “The first thing I hear when they come in is ‘Wow, I never knew such an outstanding cancer center with top-notch research infrastructure exists.’ We wanted them to come in and have the opportunity to go to the Stephenson Cancer Center and look at some of the cutting-edge clinical trials we are doing at the center.”

Ramesh pursues his own cutting-edge research at the Stephenson Cancer Center, developing nanoparticles that can deliver drugs specifically to tumors and minimize the toxicity that is often a cancer treatment side effect. He specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of lung cancer.

Ramesh recently received a grant from the U.S. Department of Defense to explore a means by which tumor cells may be avoiding immunotherapy in lung cancer. The study is unique in that it is being conducted on lung cancer patients in real time while they are on a clinical trial receiving an immunotherapy medication.

The Oklahoma Center for the Advancement of Science and Technology (OCAST) also supports Ramesh’s lung cancer research with a $135,000 Health Research grant.

“OCAST has been beneficial not only to my lab but across the entire state of Oklahoma,” Ramesh said. “The whole idea of OCAST is to bridge the transition from academic research to an industry setting in the state of Oklahoma. By receiving funds from OCAST, we are able to generate new ideas and test them first in the lab.”

Wei Chen, Ph.D., professor and dean of the College of Mathematics and Sciences at the University of Central Oklahoma, is another OCAST-supported scientist who moderated an END2Cancer panel discussion and presented findings from his own nanotech-based research at the conference.

“Ending cancer is everybody’s dream,” Chen said. “So everybody in this conference and many researchers around the world are contributing to the fight against cancer. We are making good inroads both in terms of nanotechnology and other methodologies. But cancer is a very tough enemy, as we know. Therefore, we still have a long way to go.”

Jim Stafford writes about Oklahoma innovation and research and development topics on behalf of the Oklahoma Center for the Advancement of Science & Technology (OCAST).