Information about COVID-19 is constantly evolving. As information is shared online and on social media, some of it is misleading and influencing the decision whether to get vaccinated or not. Sankar Swaminathan, MD, chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases at University of Utah Health, sets the record straight about COVID-19 vaccines.
Development of COVID-19 vaccines were NOT rushed
While it was done quickly, the vaccines were not rushed. The term "rushed" suggests something was done differently than normal or that corners were cut. In fact, tens of thousands of participants were studied in the safety and efficacy trials. In a normal vaccine trial, enough people have to get the disease to know whether it works or not. This often means waiting for a long time. With COVID-19, because the virus was so widespread, and disease occurs soon after infection, it was possible to complete the studies much sooner. The development of these vaccines was also based on a wealth of scientific work that had been done previously in the laboratory and in animals.
Two doses are needed for the best protection
The two available mRNA vaccines, Pfizer-BioNtech and Moderna, require two doses for full protection. For better protection against more contagious and transmissible variants, booster shots are recommended five months following the second dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine and six months after the Moderna vaccine. While a person can still get infected after getting a COVID-19 vaccine and booster shot, the vaccines still help prevent a person from becoming severely ill or hospitalized from the virus.
mRNA vaccines DO NOT change your DNA
Messenger RNA is a small molecule that is made by cells in your body and by bacteria and viruses. It's a blueprint for how to make a protein. The Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines consist of mRNA that's been made in the lab. When it gets in your cells, the mRNA instructs them to make a version of the spike protein that SARS-CoV-2 makes. This small, harmless piece of the virus cannot cause COVID-19, and mRNA vaccines do not change your DNA in any way. This is just a clever way of introducing the spike protein into your body so the body can learn how to fight it off. It's similar in that way to a tetanus shot, where instead of mRNA you actually inject the tetanus protein.
COVID-19 vaccines help protect against COVID-19 variants
Data on the efficacy of COVID-19 vaccines shows they help prevent severe illness, hospitalization, and death against all variants. It is normal for viruses to mutate. As they do, vaccine efficacy could lessen as more variants emerge over time. This is why we are seeing more breakthrough infections with the Omicron variant. Booster shots are available for people ages 12 and older to help their body maintain a higher level of immunity and protection against emerging variants.
Older adults should get the vaccine
It is even more important for older adults to get vaccinated. This group is at higher risk of hospitalization, experiencing complications from the virus, and even death. Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech trials (~10,000 people between the ages of 65-90 participated) showed the vaccines were safe and just as effective in this age group.
A COVID-19 vaccine will lower the risk of getting sick if you are exposed to the virus. It's possible to still contract COVID-19 after receiving the vaccine, but evidence suggests the vaccine may keep you from getting seriously ill if you get infected. Getting the vaccine may also help protect the people you're around, especially those who are at increased risk of becoming seriously ill from COVID-19.
The majority of people can get a COVID-19 vaccine
Out of the tens of thousands of people who were tested in the initial COVID-19 vaccine trial, there were no serious adverse effects. Now that 548 million people doses of the vaccine have been given to more than 213 million people in the U.S., there has been a very small number of adverse effects.
If you've had previous severe allergic reaction such as face swelling, difficulty breathing, or treatment with an EpiPen after a vaccination, then you should discuss with your doctor whether it's safe to get the COVID-19 vaccine. Common allergies like hay fever or food allergies are not a reason to avoid the vaccine. You have a greater chance of experiencing long-term side effects or dying from COVID-19 than experiencing an adverse reaction to the vaccine.
You should still get vaccinated if you've had COVID-19
Those who already had COVID-19 should get vaccinated. While a person gets natural immunity from the virus, the strength and duration of immunity can vary. Vaccines are recommended to enhance protection.
COVID-19 vaccines DO NOT harm fertility or pregnancy
There is no data to support the claim that COVID-19 vaccines harm fertility or pregnancy. However, there is data that shows pregnant people have an increased risk of experiencing complications from COVID-19. People who are pregnant, breastfeeding, or planning to become pregnant are recommended to get vaccinated.
You can't get COVID-19 from the vaccines
COVID-19 vaccines cannot make you sick with COVID-19, but it is common to experience side effects after getting vaccinated. Some symptoms include injection site pain, muscle aches, chills, fatigue, and fever. These side effects can be treated with over-the-counter medication.
While COVID-19 vaccines offer great protection from getting severely sick and hospitalized from the virus, it's still possible to experience a breakthrough infection after getting vaccinated. Breakthrough infections are typically much milder than COVID-19 infections in people who are unvaccinated.
Face masks are still important after vaccination
Due to highly transmissible and contagious variants of SARS-CoV-2, masks are recommended indoors in public for both unvaccinated and vaccinated individuals. It's important to wear a well-fitting mask over your nose and mouth to help reduce spreading the virus to others.
This information was accurate at the time of publication on January 2021. Due to the changing nature of the COVID-19 pandemic, some information may have changed since the original publication date.