COVID-19 Vaccine, Food for Thought

Baby with Mask

In the age of readily available news, whether from word of mouth, social media, an email, or a google search, it is important to check out claims that you hear with a reputable source of information. We’ve collected some of the most widespread rumors, claims, myths and worries about the COVID-19 vaccines, and checked them out to help you find the truth for yourself. If lies and myths about the vaccines continue to spread, many people may decide not to get vaccinated, in turn causing more people to die and the pandemic to last longer.

FACT: Science and health experts responded swiftly to a deadly public health crisis which allows for vaccines to be readily available.

Myth: Many people have voiced concerns about how quickly the vaccines have become available and how short the testing process was. There are claims that it was rushed, or “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 normal but still followed the usual steps for testing and review. Speed was of the essence for a vaccine and modern scientific tools and the  worldwide effort to reduce or remove the usual barriers and delays in vaccine research, production and distribution allowed for not one but two vaccines, Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna, to be readily approved by the FDA. 

Clinical trials were completed for the new vaccines and many people volunteered, which meant questions in regards to safety and efficacy were readily available. The vaccines were also required to receive independent reviews and approval.

More detail: Scientists and vaccine makers have been working for years to develop a “platform” approach to making vaccines against new viruses. This “platform” uses messenger RNA (mRNA) as the delivery agent to teach the body how to recognize and fight a new virus. Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna utilized the “platform” strategy to reach the market quicker. The vaccines that are still being studied are based on past vaccine strategies, but take longer.

Normal delay in studying a new vaccine is the time it takes to design a high quality and safe clinical trial, however for COVID-19, international organizations came together to agree on a study design and outcomes.

Another big difference for the vaccines that have made it to market, is that governments have agreed to pay companies to produce large amounts of their vaccines in advance, even while trials were still ongoing. This meant that if those clinical trials showed a vaccine didn’t work, or had unacceptable side effects, it would be thrown out, and the company wouldn’t lose money. On the other hand, if the trials showed favorable, the companies would be ready to ship it out – which is what’s happening now.

The approval process through the FDA had an independent panel of experts look at the data from the studies, and ask tough questions of the vaccine makers before voting to approve it on an emergency basis. The FDA is also requiring the companies to track what happens to people who took part in its studies, and the CDC will monitor what happens to people who get the vaccine outside the studies.

FACT: The COVID-19 vaccines have the ability to cause a fever, headache, fatigue, sore arm or chills, especially after the second dose. Other reactions have been noted, but are extremely rare.

Myths and fears: Some people claim 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 have received the vaccines in clinical trials, and every day thousands more are continuing to get it, now that the first two vaccines are approved. Anyone receiving one of the vaccines are being asked to track and report any symptoms they experience. 

Just as with other vaccines, the COVID-19 vaccines can cause temporary side effects soon after they enter the body and your immune system begins to recognize coronavirus. The most common reactions are headaches, arm pain, body aches, chills or fever lasting a few hours to a few days, similar to the annual flu vaccine. 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.

It is not anticipated that the vaccines will have different of more serious side effects for neuromuscular disease patients, but this has not yet been tested in clinical trials.

More detail:  

What causes these side effects: Vaccines work by teaching the immune system to fight an unknown virus. 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: prepare the immune system to fight off a future infection if you are exposed to COVID-19.

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 a severe allergic reaction should mention this when they receive the vaccine as it will warrant additional monitoring for your safety.

Long-term problems: 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, that’s why everyone who is vaccinated is encouraged to track and report any symptoms they may feel in the short and long term, and to tell their health provider. 

FACT: People who have health conditions that affect their immune system, or take medication that reduce their immune response, should talk to their doctor about vaccination.

Myths and fears: People who have autoimmune disorders or who take medications that change their immune response, such as steroids, 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 medication, you and your doctor should discuss whether or not to get vaccinated when it’s your turn. 

Additional Resources