Health Matters

Are the COVID-19 Vaccines Safe?

In spite of the many rumors, unfounded claims and myths you may have heard or read, the COVID-19 vaccines are indeed safe. 

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has rigorous standards and procedures in place to ensure the safety of any vaccine, and clinical trials must show COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effective before they are used. People of different ages, races and ethnicities, as well as those with different medical conditions, have participated in these large-scale trials. 

The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines were studied in placebo-controlled trails in nearly 90,000 patients to establish their safety and efficacy. Thousands of healthcare workers have been vaccinated in the weeks since these vaccines were launched, and there have been few adverse effects. The FDA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) continue to monitor the safety of all COVID-19 vaccines.

Too Quick?

Concern has been raised about how quickly the COVID-19 vaccines were developed. The COVID-19 vaccines are based on messenger RNA (mRNA) vaccine technology, which has been studied for more than a decade. Although this technology was perfected with the SARS-1 and MERS virus outbreaks starting in the early 2000s, those coronaviruses were short-lived and had limited spread, so there was no opportunity to test or implement the associated vaccines. Since then, pharmaceutical companies have had the vaccine technology ready to apply to any new virus outbreaks, such as COVID-19. 

Although profitability and financial risk are often deterrents for pharmaceutical companies to developing new vaccines, those factors weren’t relevant in the case of the COVID-19 vaccines. In 2020, the U.S. government actually prepaid multiple pharmaceutical companies to manufacture potential COVID-19 vaccine candidates, removing any financial risk to the companies and accelerating the development process.

How are the Vaccines Administered?

Both the Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines are delivered via injection into the arm, just like a flu shot. Both vaccines require two doses: an initial dose and then a repeat vaccination 3-4 weeks later.

Are There Side Effects?

Some people may experience mild symptoms, including muscle pain at the injection site, fever, headache or fatigue. These symptoms, which actually signal that your immune system is responding properly to the vaccines, usually go away on their own within a few days. Very few serious side effects have been reported.

Myths vs. Facts:

MYTH: “I don’t have to wear a mask if I get the vaccine.” 

FACT: You must still wear a mask. It is still not clear if one can carry the virus and spread it to others, even if vaccinated. 

MYTH: “There is a microchip in the vaccine.” 

FACT: There is no “tagging” or any metal in the vaccine—a microchip is too large to be embedded in the vaccine. 

MYTH: “My DNA will be changed.” 

FACT: The mRNA vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna have no impact on human DNA. 

MYTH: “I will contract COVID-19 if I get the vaccine.” 

FACT: These vaccines are not made from live or attenuated virus. Instead, they “teach” the immune system to find and destroy the virus “spike protein,” which is how the virus attaches to human cells and infects the host. The mRNA is rapidly destroyed by the cell, leaving no permanent trace. 

MYTH: “The vaccine uses fetal tissue.” 

FACT: The mRNA COVID-19 vaccines produced by Pfizer and Moderna do not require the use of any fetal cell cultures as part of the manufacturing process. 

MYTH: “The virus has mutated, so what is the point of getting the vaccine?” 

FACT: Most viruses mutate over time. Even with mutations, the spike protein used to attach to human cells is the same. Scientists are confident that the COVID-19 vaccines will be effective against virus mutations. 

MYTH: “I already had COVID, so I don’t need the vaccine.” 

FACT: It is unclear how long your natural immunity will last after having COVID-19, so you still need to receive the vaccine to prevent future infection. 

MYTH: “Once I get the vaccine, I’ll have lifelong immunity.” 

FACT: It’s too early in the use and study of the COVID-19 vaccines to know how long they will be effective.

MYTH: “The vaccine will give me Bell’s palsy.” 

FACT: Four patients who received the vaccine in clinical trials developed Bell’s palsy. There is no evidence this was related to the vaccine, and because the trials were so large, the occurrence rate was similar to what would be expected in the general population.

Can I get the vaccine if Im pregnant or want to become pregnant, or if Im breastfeeding?

A now-blocked Facebook post that went viral claimed the coronavirus vaccine could cause infertility, incorrectly suggesting that the vaccine teaches the body to attack a protein involved in placental development. In reality, the protein the vaccine spurs the body to make and attack bears little resemblance to the one in the placenta. 

Both American College of Gynecology and Society for Maternal Fetal Medicine recommend the mRNA vaccine during pregnancy, after a discussion between the doctor and the patient on its benefits. Researchers believe there is minimal risk to a fetus, or to a breastfeeding infant.

Should I Get the Vaccine?

Experts believe getting a COVID-19 vaccine may keep you from getting seriously ill, even if you do get COVID-19. Vaccinations protect you by creating an antibody response without your having to experience illness. The vaccine also may protect people around you—particularly those at increased risk for severe illness from COVID-19.

Only you can decide if you should get the COVID-19 vaccine. If you have concerns or questions, talk to your healthcare provider. You can also review the vaccine information provided at Sentara.com.

This information was compiled by Sentara clinical experts through a thorough review of trusted medical sources, including the New England Journal of Medicine, the Society of Maternal Fetal Medicine, the National Center for Biotechnology Information, the CDC and others. 

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