Why is getting vaccinated against COVID-19 important?
The COVID-19 pandemic has already caused the deaths of over 380,000 Americans, and we still have some of the most dangerous days ahead of us. The vaccines give us the chance to end the pandemic sooner and with hundreds of thousands fewer deaths than we could otherwise.
Like all vaccines, the COVID-19 vaccines teach your body’s own immune system how to fight the virus before you have even been exposed to it. Later when you are exposed to the virus, your immune system already has the antibodies it needs to fight the infection quickly and efficiently; often without even getting symptoms. The vaccines are 90%-95% effective at preventing illness from COVID-19!
The vaccines are an important part of our path out of this pandemic and our best hope of getting life back to normal while protecting ourselves, our families, and our communities. That’s why it is so important to Family Health Center that our patients have good, reliable, and true information about the COVID-19 vaccines.
These vaccines are new and were made so quickly, how do we really know if they are safe?
Many people feel nervous or unsure about the COVID-19 vaccines because they were made so quickly. How can we know they are actually safe? I point my patients to three ways we can know the COVID-19 vaccines really are safe.
First, while it seems like the technology for making these vaccines is new, it has actually been around for over 30 years; the first successful uses of this technology were in 1990. Since then scientists have devoted entire careers to finding the best ways to use this technology to protect people from diseases, including how to use it to make safe and effective vaccines.
Second, most of the time spent creating the COVID-19 vaccines last year was devoted to making sure they were safe and effective, including large scale clinical trials on volunteers. These studies were much larger than normal. Usually safety trials of new vaccines include about 3,000 to 6,000 people; the COVID-19 trials had 30,000 to 60,000 volunteers, ten times as many as usual!
Third, over 2 million people in the US have already been vaccinated against COVID-19. When a new treatment or vaccine comes out, it is normal for people to worry about being a “guinea pig” and wanting to wait a while to see what happens. This is very understandable given the history of medical research abuses, especially against people of color and other groups. One of the reasons that doctors and healthcare workers at Family Health Center have already received the COVID-19 vaccine is because it is very, very important to us that our patients know we would never recommend any medical treatment for them that we wouldn’t trust for ourselves and our own families.
Will the vaccines give you COVID-19?
While all vaccines work by teaching your immune system how to fight an infection before you are even exposed to it, they do not all do this the same way. Some vaccines such as the one against Polio trigger this response with a living but weakened version of the virus; these can sometimes mutate and cause an infection. Others, such as the flu shot, use a killed virus and cannot cause an infection.
The COVID-19 vaccines available now are actually different. They don’t use any virus particles at all, but instead a messenger called mRNA that sends instructions to cells in your body. The body uses these instructions to teach your immune system how to recognize and destroy the COVID-19 virus if you are ever exposed to it.
These vaccines have zero possibility of giving you COVID-19, but a 95% chance of protecting you from it.
Will the COVID-19 vaccine cause infertility?
There is a conspiracy theory going around the internet that says the vaccines cause fertility problems or even “sterilization” in women. It is important that we realize these are intentional lies being spread. The claims say they come from the head of research at one of the vaccine manufacturers, but that’s a lie; they are actually from someone who is against vaccination in general and has spent years spreading conspiracy theories about vaccines.
The claim says that the part of COVID-19 (the spike protein) targeted by antibodies is similar to a protein in humans (Syncytin-1) that helps build the placenta. They say that antibodies against COVID-19 will attack the placenta and prevent a healthy pregnancy. There is no evidence for this whatsoever.
There are also several ways that we already know the vaccines don’t cause infertility:
1. Multiple women became pregnant during the vaccine trials in 2020, even though they were on birth control. The rate of pregnancy was the same in those who received the vaccine and in those who received a placebo instead. We already have examples of women who became pregnant after getting the vaccines!
2. 92 million people have already had COVID-19, and they all have antibodies against the virus just like you would if you get the vaccine. There is no evidence that infertility is a side effect of COVID-19. If this claim were right, we would see people struggling with infertility after they have the virus because their antibodies would attack the Syncytin-1 protein; but that is not the case. Antibodies against COVID-19 do not cause infertility.
3. The area of similarity between the COVID-19 protein and the protein in humans is very small. The technical part: All proteins are made out of building blocks called Amino Acids. The COVID-19 protein is 1,273 amino acids long, while the protein that helps build the placenta is 538 amino acids long. The area where they are similar is just 5 amino acids long. The area of similarity is too small to be significant.
4. The COVID-19 virus is not the only coronavirus; not by a long shot! While some coronaviruses are very dangerous like COVID-19 or SARS, many just cause the common cold. We all have antibodies against many different coronaviruses from the colds we have had over the years, and many of those viruses are more similar to the placental protein than COVID-19 is. We have never seen any link between catching a cold and infertility, and the COVID-19 vaccine will not cause infertility either.
Will the COVID-19 vaccine rewrite your DNA?
This myth comes from the fact that some of the COVID-19 vaccines, including the two that have been approved by the FDA, use a cellular messenger called “mRNA”. This is a set of instructions for your cells to make a protein, and that protein teaches your immune system how to fight the COVID-19 virus.
The area where all of this happens is inside the cell but outside of the nucleus where DNA lives. The mRNA from the vaccine never interacts with your DNA.
In fact, when scientists first began to investigate using different types of codes that could carry messages between cells to make vaccines, they decided that mRNA would be a choice specifically because it doesn’t interact with our DNA.
I saw a video where a nurse got Bell’s Palsy after getting vaccinated. Is that true?
The video is of a nurse in Nashville, Tennessee who is understandably distraught from getting Bell’s Palsy after a COVID-19 vaccine. Unfortunately we don’t know if it’s actually true or not. There is no nurse by her name registered in Tennessee, and nobody by her name has received the COVID-19 vaccine in the US. But she may have given an assumed name in the video, and there are other possible reasons why her story can’t be verified.
But that doesn’t mean the vaccines will give you Bell’s Palsy. Bell’s Palsy is a sudden and usually temporary condition that causes weakness of one side of the face. Though the cause is not fully understood, it has been most strongly linked to infection from certain viruses, including the COVID-19 virus. It is very distressing, but it only rarely leaves any lasting side effects. It can also happen apparently at random, and about 40,000 Americans get Bell’s Palsy every year.
The COVID-19 vaccine safety trials were extremely large, with about ten times as many volunteers as most vaccine trials in the past. Some volunteers did get Bell’s Palsy at some point after they got the vaccine; but the rate of people who got Bell’s Palsy was actually lower than the normal rate of getting Bell’s Palsy in the US.
Our chances of getting Bell’s Palsy are very low, and they are just the same whether we get the COVID-19 vaccine or not. Our chances of getting COVID-19 are unfortunately high right now; but they are 95% lower if we get the COVID-19 vaccine.
Will the vaccines protect us against new strains of COVID-19?
You may have heard about “new strains” of COVID-19 from the UK or South Africa that are more contagious. New strains occur in any virus because of mutations in their genetic code; this is why we need a new flu shot every year, to protect against the new strains of influenza. Fortunately, the virus that causes COVID-19 mutates very slowly compared to the flu.
Scientists are concerned about the new strains and have already begun studying them in detail. The good news is, their research so far shows that the vaccines should still work against the new strains! It is possible that the vaccines will not be as highly effective against new strains, or that additional COVID-19 vaccines will be needed in the future, but right now that is not the case.
Are the vaccines made from aborted fetal cells?
This myth refers to human cell lines that are sometimes used in medical research; these are copies of copies of cells taken from aborted fetuses in the 1970’s, and are an ethical concern for many people.
The Moderna and Pfizer vaccines that are available now were not developed using these types of cells, and have been found to be ethical by international groups that are concerned about this issue, including major pro-life groups and the Pope.
Do I still need the vaccine if I’ve already had COVID?
Most people with a healthy immune system who get COVID-19 will be immune to the virus once they recover. However, there are several reasons to consider getting the vaccine even if you’ve already been diagnosed COVID-19.
First, some medical conditions and some medicines weaken the immune system, making it difficult to build the antibodies we need to fight infections. It is possible to get COVID-19 again if your immune system doesn’t adapt strongly enough the first time, and a vaccine is a safe way to help boost your immune response.
Second, the COVID-19 tests are not 100% accurate. It is possible to have a test come back positive even when you don’t have the virus, although it is very rare. In those situations, the person who had this “false positive” test result is not protected against COVID-19.
Third, we still don’t know everything about the COVID-19 virus, including how long our immunity lasts. Scientists believe immunity will last for years, but there have been rare cases of people getting COVID-19 a second time. Your body getting a second chance to make antibodies from a vaccine is a safe way to make sure your immune system really knows how to fight COVID-19.
If you have already had COVID-19, we recommend you talk to your doctor about getting vaccinated; while it’s usually a good idea, they can help decide how important vaccination is in keeping you protected based on your medical history.
Are there government microchips in the vaccines?
No, there are no microchips in the vaccines.
There is a lot of information about the vaccines out there, and a lot of it comes from reliable resources like the CDC, doctors’ offices and hospitals, and scientists. But there is also some dangerous, fake information out there too. The problem is, sometimes it is hard to know the difference!
If you have any questions or hear something about the virus or the vaccines that you aren’t sure is true, we recommend you just ask! Your doctors are spending a lot of their time staying up to date on all of this new information, and part of our job is to pass that knowledge on to you so you can make the most informed choice possible.