COVID vaccines: Fact v Fiction

In mid-January, authorities estimated more than 2 million people worldwide had died from COVID-19, including more than 400,000 in the United States.

And, although a vaccine — which some Allegheny Health Network (AHN) healthcare workers have called “a beacon of light” — is now available, some people are hesitant to receive it.

“There seems to be a sense of fear of the unknown, despite all the scientific data available that speaks to the vaccine’s safety and effectiveness,” says Sarah Kauffman, Pharm.D, BCPS, Director of Pharmacy for AHN Grove City.

Dr. Brian Parker, Chief Quality and Learning Officer for AHN, agrees with Kauffman, and believes there is a general lack of understanding and awareness among the public about the vaccine. This, he says, could be addressed through more education.

“I think many people do not have a good understanding about the vaccines, what they are and how safe they are,” he says. “Both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines were tested on tens of thousands of people, and have very good safety profiles and effective rates.”

They are effective at 95% and 94% respectively, and for the remaining 5% who may still get the virus, the severity of the illness will be lessened by the vaccine.

Among the more common concerns expressed by people who are on the fence about getting the vaccine are that you can get COVID from it, and that it can alter DNA.

“There is no live virus in the vaccines, so it’s impossible to become infected from it; and the mRNA from the vaccine never enters the nucleus of the cell and does not affect or interact with a person’s DNA,” Dr. Parker explains.

Side effects are not uncommon with the vaccine, and may include soreness at the site of the injection, as well as body aches, low-grade fever and fatigue.

“Nearly every participant who got the vaccine in the clinical trials experienced some side effects,” Dr. Parker says. “That means the vaccine is powerful and is doing its job, and your body is reacting to something new being introduced.”

The goal is to get to a 70% vaccination rate in order to achieve herd immunity across the population.

“If enough people are resistant to the cause of a disease, such as a virus, it has nowhere to go,” Dr. Parker says. “We’re asking everyone to keep rolling up their sleeves and continue to work against this virus with masking and social distancing, and then roll up your sleeve and get the vaccine.”

COVID Vaccine Myths

As with anything new, misinformation and myths abound surrounding the COVID vaccine. Here are several that have been circulating:

People with suppressed immune systems shouldn’t get vaccinated. False. The vaccine does not contain a live virus, so it is safe for those with compromised immune systems.

The vaccines can lead to long-term effects. False. If there is going to be a complication or side effect, like an allergic reaction, it will occur with minutes to hours of receiving the vaccine.

People with underlying conditions shouldn’t get vaccinated. False. People who have health conditions like diabetes and heart disease are at higher risk for getting complications from COVID-19, so it even more important for them to get the vaccine.

The vaccine can make you infertile. False. There is neither clinical trial data nor theoretical reason why the vaccine can lead to infertility. In fact, there is reason to believe the virus attacks the reproductive organs in men, which could cause fertility issues.