Your COVID Vaccine Questions Answered
UPDATED BLOG POST:
Dr. Hancock has answered some of the frequent questions we have received about the vaccines for COVID-19. If you have other questions, please contact our office, your primary care doctor or your local health department.
1. Will I get COVID from the vaccine?
No. None of the COVID vaccines contain the live virus that causes COVID, so you cannot get COVID from the vaccine.
2. Can I stop wearing my mask after I get the vaccine?
No. You should continue to practice the 3 W’s (wear a mask, wash your hands, watch your distance) because the vaccine is not 100% effective in preventing COVID infection.
3. How is it that they have a vaccine for COVID so quickly and they don’t have vaccines for other illnesses like AIDS or Cancer?
The discovery of the COVID vaccine is unique in modern medicine. Because COVID caused a global pandemic, many more people and resources were dedicated to helping slow the spread. The collaboration between governments, scientists, and vaccine manufacturers has never happened. In addition, years of previous research on coronavirus, more knowledge about how to make vaccines, and people working together instead of independently allowed the process to happen faster. Because we know coronavirus causes COVID, research wasn’t needed to determine the cause of COVID. For many cancers, like ovarian cancer, we can make the diagnosis, but we still don’t know what causes the cancer. That makes it more difficult to find a treatment or cure. Other viruses are more sophisticated than coronavirus, which makes it difficult to figure out how to treat or cure. For example, HIV mutates quickly and frequently and can hide in cells, which makes it harder to determine how best to develop a vaccine.
4. Is it true that the vaccine is just too new and there is not enough research?
The vaccine is new because the COVID pandemic is new. However, the coronavirus and the research behind the vaccine basics are not new. In fact, the basic research on DNA vaccines began more than 25 years ago, and similar research on RNA vaccines started about 15 years ago. Research towards a coronavirus vaccine started with the SARS outbreak in 2003. More money and more collaboration allowed for a quicker timeline from development to approval. But, the same Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval process that is required was completed. The multi-phase process must meet established standards, and the various COVID vaccines completed that process. For the Pfizer vaccine, more than 21,000 people received both vaccine doses, and patients receiving the vaccine were monitored for side effects for 2 months. In terms of research, additional information about potential long-term side effects from the vaccine will become available, but because the vaccine is not live, the potential for long-term side effects is low. It is important to ask yourself what additional information you need to make an informed decision, and then seek out that information from a trusted source as it may be available now. It can be hard to know what sources of information to trust. The CDC has a website to help guide you: https://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/vac-gen/evalwebs.htm
5. If the survival rate is high, for those that can fight it off, what's the need for a vaccine?
Preventing disease is the ultimate solution in medicine. If you can avoid a medical problem altogether, it’s basically a miracle: the most powerful ‘medicine’ we have is avoiding a disease completely because you will avoid most any associated significant health problems. Not getting measles is way better than getting measles; having the flu after getting the vaccine typically means you won’t get as sick compared to those who did not get the vaccine.
The impact of COVID on individuals is unknown such that some will have severe acute disease causing a need for mechanical ventilation and others will have mild immediate disease. Because the impact varies, and is unpredictable, the vaccine is a good idea for everyone. But, with limited availability, certain individuals are deemed higher risk of exposure (i.e. healthcare workers) or higher risk of significant infection (i.e. people over age 75) such that they are being offered the vaccine first.
Also, there are potential significant long term effects of diseases, and if you avoid getting COVID, you avoid those potential long term effects such as microvascular disease/blood clots, mental illness, and poor respiratory function.
In addition to preventing disease, vaccines save clinical resources and money; people who get the vaccine are much less likely to be hospitalized, which makes clinical resources available for other patients/illness and prevents all costs associated with an infection.
6. The three W's were guidelines put in place to limit COVID exposure, however it also helped with reducing the number of Flu cases. How come these guidelines worked for the Flu when they were put in place to help COVID but it didn't work for COVID?
The flu and COVID are different, caused by different viruses. COVID seems to spread more easily than flu and causes more serious illness in some people. COVID can also take longer before people show symptoms and people can be contagious for longer, compared to flu. To me, the biggest difference is many, many people are infected with COVID and asymptomatic, which typically doesn’t happen with the flu. If you have the flu, you typically have some symptoms. The CDC has a great website that reviews the similarities and differences between COVID and flu: https://www.cdc.gov/flu/symptoms/flu-vs-covid19.htm#:~:text=COVID%2D19%20is%20caused,illnesses%20in%20some%20people.
7. As a healthy person, who doesn't fall under any of the high risk categories, is it REALLY NECESSARY to still get vaccinated? (I understand it protects me from passing it others)
The answer to this question is personal. The most important thing for you is to feel informed to make a decision that makes sense to you. Yes, I think it is really necessary because I want you to do everything you can to protect yourself from COVID, which will in turn protect your family, and everyone else you come in contact with once vaccinated. And while an individual may be in good health, healthcare workers are considered high risk in that the potential for infection is high due to the number of patient interactions. More exposures, more risk of infection.
8. Studies show that the vaccine protects one from COVID for "at least 2 months" and other research says the length of protections is "unknown". What's the benefit of this versus NOT getting vaccinated?
The duration of protection is unknown. At present, infection rates are at their highest in our community since the start the pandemic. Being vaccinated now will protect you at this time of great risk, which is only likely to increase as winter forces people to stay inside and be in close contact more frequently with those who may be asymptomatic carriers. Protecting yourself now will also likely prevent you from becoming very sick even if you are infected. The other benefit is contributing to the concept of herd immunity, which will only happen if 70 – 90% of a population has antibodies, either from being infected or vaccinated.
9. Per CDC, recommendations are that one is NOT pregnant or plans to become pregnant. What are the recommendations for one to wait AFTER being vaccinated to become pregnant? Does the vaccine affect future pregnancies?
The CDC commentary on COVID vaccination for people who are pregnant can be found here: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/vaccines/recommendations/pregnancy.html. The language is non-specific because the vaccine has not been studied in a huge population of pregnant women. The CDC statement is, ‘Getting vaccinated is a personal choice for people who are pregnant,’ and then they go on to list a variety of considerations, including the probability of exposure. At present, there are no recommendations regarding when to conceive after receiving the vaccine. With live virus vaccines such as measles, the recommendation is to wait 3 months. COVID is NOT a live vaccine, but it would seem reasonable that if you wanted to wait, 3 months would be the recommendation. Because the COVID vaccine only stimulates an antibody response, just like the Tdap, no impact on future pregnancies is to be expected.
10. "Rumors" are that the vaccine causes infertility in the long run. How accurate are these studies? Does it happen to certain groups/age/race? Or is this truly a "rumor"?
Rumor. The vaccine has not been available for long enough, in a large enough population, to determine if there is an impact on fertility. You also have to remember that a significant number of other factors affect fertility, including obesity, smoking, and prior STDs, such that it would be very difficult to pinpoint the COVID vaccine specifically as the cause of infertility.
11. We've done all the necessary precautions to lessen exposure/risk for COVID for this long. Why is the risk higher (now) for those who won't get vaccinated? What's the reason to "assume" the ones who don't get vaccinated will get COVID (now)?
The proportion of people infected with COVID is the highest now such that anyone’s risk of infection is higher now compared to even one month ago. There are more known COVID infected individuals, thus there are also more asymptomatic carriers. We are all at increased risk of infection. Previous to now, a vaccination was not available so we all had the same risk. Now, those who are vaccinated are better protected from infection compared to those who are not vaccinated.
Photo Credit: iStock