COVID-19 vaccine: Separating myths from facts

Top Sanford physicians debunk myths about vaccine safety, expected immunity

A closeup hand holds a vial of COVID-19 vaccine while an older Sanford Health nurse stands ready in the background.

As a massive vaccine distribution is underway and a nationwide campaign begins, Sanford Health and Good Samaritan Society physician leaders are helping us separate myths from facts.

In a recent Facebook Live Q&A to address the big questions related to the COVID-19 vaccines, chief physician Jeremy Cauwels, M.D., called the vaccine a “game changer.” Gregory Johnson, M.D., chief medical officer of Good Samaritan Society, said the entire process is a win.

The following myths and facts address some of the top questions related to the new coronavirus vaccine.

Myth: This vaccine was developed in record time, which means safety and efficacy are in question

Dr. Cauwels says we know more about this virus and vaccine, scientifically, than any other vaccine in history. From both a science and safety standpoint, experts believe this is going to be exceptionally safe.

Learn more: COVID-19 vaccine at Sanford Health

“The regulatory process in the United States is unrivaled,” Dr. Johnson said. “Sometimes we’re not glad of that but, in this case, I feel a great deal of confidence. It’s a pivot and a focus on that virus. I don’t feel like it’s rushed any more than we’d expect when all eyes are on this pandemic. In a heavily regulated process with lots of bureaucracy, the urgency helped.”

Pfizer has run tests that include more than 44,000 people. An FDA analysis of the vaccine’s safety and effectiveness on people age 16 and older found “no specific safety concerns” that would preclude the vaccine’s use.

Fact: I will need more than one shot

The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine contains two doses that are to be administered 21 days apart for individuals who are at least 16 years old.

We are waiting to learn more information regarding Moderna and other vaccine companies.

Myth: This vaccine changes your DNA

The first COVID-19 vaccine uses messenger RNA to trigger an immune response. According to medical experts, this vaccine does nothing to alter or impact your DNA.

“This vaccine is a way to code for a protein, just as you would if you get any other infection. Naturally, we’re just tricking the body into doing it without getting the infection,” Dr. Cauwels said.

He adds, “This is absolutely as close to anything we could make to what your body would naturally expect.”

Fact: I will not get COVID-19 from this vaccine

“For this vaccine in particular, we’re talking about a vaccine that’s not a live vaccine. It’s not a dead vaccine. There’s not virus in it. It’s a message to your immune system about what to look out for,” Dr. Johnson said.

“When we get sick, some of you feeling sick is from the virus or bacteria and the other part of it is just your body doing its job. When you get a vaccine and you feel achy, that means your immune system works. It’s doing what it does when it’s threatened.”

Myth: This vaccine contains egg protein

While most conventional vaccines — including the flu shot — are made with egg protein, the coronavirus vaccine has no trace of nuts, eggs or any food.

Fact: The most common reaction is pain at the injection site

According to the FDA’s report, 84% of any adverse reactions among participants included pain at the injection site. Additionally, 62% of participant reactions were fatigue, 55% included a headache and less than 40% included muscle pain, chills, joint pain and fever.

Severe adverse reactions occurred in less than 4.6% of participants more frequently after the second dose than the first.

Myth: This vaccine could make women infertile

According to Dr. Cauwels, there is no indication whatsoever that this vaccine would affect the fertility of females or that it would have other long-term effects.

Fact: We don’t know how long this vaccine will protect us

“The vaccine has only been around for three or four months since it came off the line,” Dr. Cauwels said. “Since the virus has been around for just under one year, what we don’t know yet is how durable that effect is.”

“Coronavirus doesn’t change rapidly like some of the other viruses, like influenza, that we redo every year,” Dr. Johnson explained. “So we don’t anticipate this being a recurrent vaccination. Is there a booster after the initial? Yes, but we’re not looking at recurrence right now.”

Science has built coronavirus vaccines already. Dr. Cauwels says when veterinarians administer coronavirus vaccines in animals, like pigs, the vaccine protection is considered to be durable and last the animal’s lifetime. While he doesn’t anticipate this to be a yearly or even every other year vaccine, he says there’s more to come as research continues.

Myth: I’ve already had COVID-19 so I don’t need the vaccine

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Dr. Johnson and Dr. Cauwels encourage vaccination even if you’ve already had the virus.

“There were participants in the trial who had already had COVID. They were vaccinated. We don’t have the greatest confidence that just getting it will keep you immune. We grew up with chicken pox parties. That’s not working on this one,” Dr. Johnson says.

“Some people don’t develop a durable immune response when they get the virus, and we don’t know if the immunity after getting the virus is going to decrease over time,” Dr. Cauwels said. “Getting the vaccine is one way we can make sure somebody is walking around knowing they’re immune, rather than thinking they’re immune and could possibly get sick again.”

Myth: I don’t need to wear a face mask once I’ve been vaccinated

Physician leaders still recommend wearing a mask after getting the vaccine.

In an effort to decrease overall spread into 2021, wearing a face mask along with social distancing are some ways to avoid virus droplets from entering the body. As more of the population gets vaccinated in 2021, Dr. Cauwels said the level of immunity will increase and spread of the virus will begin to decrease.

“This vaccine is the best way to protect you and the ones that you love and it’s the best option that we have right now to avoid repeating 2020.”

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Posted In Coronavirus, Expert Q&A, Immunizations

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