COVID-19 Vaccine Information
It is important to gather the facts regarding the COVID-19 vaccine in order to make an informed decision when it is your turn.
To learn more about the vacinnation plan and when you will be eligible, click here.
Myths and fears: Many people have voiced concerns about how quickly the vaccines have become available, how short the testing process was, or how political the whole vaccine production effort has gotten because of the national election.
There are claims that it was rushed, or that “corners were cut” in the clinical trials or the government’s safety review and approval process.
The bottom line: The entire process went faster than usual for explainable reasons, but still followed the usual steps for testing and review. The most important reasons for speed: modern scientific tools are faster than old ones, and there was a worldwide effort to reduce or remove the usual barriers and delays in vaccine research, production and distribution. A large number of ordinary people volunteered for clinical trials of the vaccines, which meant we got the answers to key questions about safety and protection quickly.
The vaccines still received independent review and approval, under emergency rules in put in place before this pandemic for situations where the public’s health is at serious and immediate risk, as it is now.
Myths and fears: Because the mRNA approach to vaccines is new, you might have seen claims and worries about what might happen after it’s injected into the body. These include the claim that the genetic material in the vaccine will find its way into your DNA permanently.
Some have even claimed that a person who gets vaccinated becomes a “chimera” or a “transhuman,” or that because the vaccine’s mRNA was made in cells of a male, a woman receiving it will become partly male.
The bottom line: The first two COVID-19 vaccines contain a specific kind of genetic material called mRNA. The mRNA in the vaccines doesn’t need to go into the nucleus of a cell, where DNA is stored, in order to accomplish its mission of teaching the immune system how to recognize coronavirus.
In order to become part of your DNA, the mRNA would have to go through an extremely unlikely, though hypothetically possible, process to be converted from mRNA to DNA, reach the nucleus of the cell, and get “stitched” into your DNA. Even if this did happen, it’s extremely unlikely to cause problems.
Myths and fears: Some people have seen claims that large numbers of people are getting seriously ill from the vaccine, that the risks of the vaccine aren’t being reported, or that officials know there are long-term risks but are keeping them secret.
The bottom line: Tens of thousands of people have received the vaccines in clinical trials, and every day thousands more are getting it, now that the first two vaccines are approved. They are all being asked to track and report any symptoms they experience.
Just as with other vaccines, the COVID-19 vaccines can cause temporary effects soon after they enter the body and start teaching the immune system to go after the coronavirus. The most common reactions are headaches, arm pain, body aches, chills or fever lasting a few hours to a few days. Taking an over-the-counter painkiller can help ease these.
Health authorities have also reported a few cases of severe allergic reactions or a face-nerve condition called Bell’s palsy among the hundreds of thousands of people vaccinated so far. These were extremely rare, but they have received a lot of attention.
Why these temporary effects happen: Vaccines work by getting the immune system to fight. So it is common for highly effective vaccines, like the tetanus shot, to give people some symptoms. This is a sign the vaccine is doing what it was meant to do: Wake up the immune system and prepare it to fight off an infection in the future. The COVID-19 vaccines tend to cause these same sorts of symptoms: Soreness in the muscle where the shot went in, some fatigue, and perhaps feverish. All of these symptoms are good news because they indicate the vaccine is working. And all can be made better with common over-the-counter painkillers like acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil or Motrin.)
Coincidental infections: The COVID-19 vaccines do not contain coronavirus, so the vaccinated person can’t get COVID-19 from the vaccine. But they or someone they live with might get sick from a virus or bacteria that they picked up around the time they got vaccinated.
Coronavirus is widespread right now, so a vaccinated person may have been exposed to it in the days before they got vaccinated. If post-vaccination symptoms last more than a day or two, or if they include a cough, shortness of breath, diarrhea, or loss of taste or smell, the vaccinated person should talk to their health provider and stay home in isolation (away from others) until they can get tested for the coronavirus.
We also do not know yet if a person who got the vaccine can still spread coronavirus if they come in contact with it. That’s why vaccinated people still need to wear masks until researchers can study this more.
The flu and common cold viruses are also circulating now, so a person could have been exposed to these before they were vaccinated, and get symptoms from one of those viruses. If so, they should stay home, get rest, drink fluids and take basic painkillers to ease their symptoms. They should seek medical attention for high fever or prolonged symptoms.
Rare but more serious issues: There have been several cases of anaphylaxis, or severe allergic reaction, among people with a history of such reactions who received the COVID-19 vaccine.
Anyone who carries an Epi-Pen or has experienced an allergic reaction so serious that it made them unconscious or faint should mention this when they receive the vaccine. Right now, people who have had a serious allergic reaction (like anaphylaxis) to anything are being asked to stay in the vaccination location for about a half an hour after receiving the vaccine, with someone trained to care for serious allergic reactions watching them.
The reports of Bell’s palsy (which affects the nerves of the face and is not the same as cerebral palsy) are being investigated. But the number of cases among vaccinated people was about what might occur naturally in the general population.
Long-term problems: No one has had the vaccine in their body for more than eight months (as of late December 2020), so the honest answer is we don’t know yet if these vaccines cause long-term problems. Only time and accurate tracking will tell for sure; scientists have to look for unusual patterns of disease in groups of vaccinated people.
That’s why everyone who gets vaccinated is being encouraged to track and report any symptoms they may feel in the short and long term, and to tell their health provider.
Health officials are already watching out for any patterns of problems that are out of the ordinary. So far, they have not seen any. But the scrutiny on these vaccines, and the fact that there are many more varieties of the COVID-19 vaccine now being tested, mean that we would have an early warning and alternatives.
Meanwhile, the threat of COVID-19 is very real right now. It is killing thousands of Americans every day, and leaving many others with lasting symptoms and disability from the disease.
Myth and fears: All of these things, and more, have been mentioned in claims that we’ve seen on the internet, or heard about from people who contacted us. People who hear these claims may be worried about health effects, being tracked wherever they go, or even faith-related problems.
The bottom line: The first two vaccines to reach the market contain only snippets of genetic material, salt, sugar and fat. The other vaccines being developed will contain weakened or inactive forms of “common cold” viruses, and substances commonly found in many vaccines.
Myths and fears: You might see claims that the COVID-19 vaccine can make someone infertile or impotent, harm a developing fetus in the womb, make the immune system attack the placenta, or hurt a baby who is breastfeeding from a recently vaccinated mother.
The bottom line: There’s no evidence for any of these claims, and no scientific reason to think that any of them are true. But there is an urgent need to protect pregnant women from COVID-19, including through vaccination, because we now know they face a high risk of getting seriously ill if they catch the coronavirus. The virus also increases their risk of miscarriage or stillbirth.
Impotence (also called erectile dysfunction) and infertility have many causes, but no vaccine has been linked to them.
There is no evidence that vaccines can be transmitted through breast milk, though there is a theoretical possibility that this could happen with the live viruses used in the smallpox and yellow fever vaccines, which are not commonly given in the U.S. No COVID-19 vaccines use live viruses.
It’s true that pregnant women weren’t allowed to join the first clinical trials of COVID-19 vaccines, though they will be included in upcoming studies. A few women had unplanned pregnancies during the mRNA vaccine trials, but too few to study separately.
For women in frontline jobs in health care, retail or other fields who are currently pregnant, want to become pregnant, or are breastfeeding, the decision about getting vaccinated should be made together with their physician or nurse practitioner.
The CDC does not recemmend against vaccination for such women and the national group for obstetricians has developed guidance for health providers to use when they talk to their patients about deciding on vaccination. So has the national group for specialists in high risk pregnancies.
Myths and fears: Rumors have been circulating that the vaccine is designed to control or eliminate certain groups within our society, to allow for “mind control” of vaccinated people, or to allow certain “elite” members of society to rule the rest of us.
The bottom line: All of these are false. The vaccine will be available to everyone in the United States, in an order that’s determined by two things: each person’s risk of being exposed to COVID-19 at work or where they live, and their risk of getting seriously ill or dying from COVID-19 because of their age and underlying health conditions.
Myths and fears: New mutations in the coronavirus have been reported, which may change the exact nature of the proteins on its surface. This has led to fears that the vaccines developed so far might not work against these new “mutants” because vaccines are based on teaching the body to recognize those proteins and attack them in future.
The bottom line: So far, COVID-19 vaccine makers say that the new mutations seen in the novel coronavirus have not “outsmarted” the vaccines.
Myths and fears: People who have autoimmune disorders such as rheumatoid arthritis or lupus, or who have received treatments that change their immune response, such as bone marrow transplants, chemotherapy, steroids or drugs that work against HIV, may be worried that they could react to the vaccine, or not get protected by it.
The bottom line: People with these conditions were generally not included in the clinical trials of COVID-19 vaccines, so we don’t have strong information about how much of an immune response the vaccine will produce in them.
Depending on your individual risk of getting exposed to coronavirus, and your precise condition or treatment, you and your doctor should discuss whether or not to get vaccinated when it’s your turn.