The CDC considers vaccinations to be one of the top 10 public health achievements of the 20th century.1-3 Thanks to vaccines, the incidence, morbidity, mortality, and prevalence of vaccine-preventable diseases have considerably diminished since vaccinations became available. However, now that the COVID-19 vaccine has finally arrived, consumers are wondering whether it will be safe.
If you are having COVID-19 vaccine hesitation, know that the FDA has considered the vaccine adequately safe and effective. The Pfizer and Moderna vaccine have both received Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) from the FDA for public use. To further ease any vaccine fears, below is information about vaccine safety, facts and myths about the COVID-19 vaccine and the benefit vaccines have on your health.
How the COVID-19 Vaccine works
This new vaccine works unlike any previous vaccinations, using a molecule called messenger RNA (mRNA) in a mechanism researchers have been developing for over 30 years. When infected with COVID-19, the virus uses a “spike protein” to attach and enter human cells. The vaccine uses mRNA to provide the body with a blueprint which stimulates human cells to make their own version of a spike protein (not the real virus) that triggers the immune system to make antibodies against it. Once the body makes antibodies against this synthetic spike protein, the body will be able to recognize the actual COVID-19 viral protein and quickly fight the real virus before it attaches to human cells and causes harm.
Herd immunity is when a large portion of a community (herd) becomes immune to a disease, lessening the spread of the disease from person to person. Current research shows that the development of natural immunity in people who have previously built-up antibodies from COVID-19 is not going to be enough to cause herd immunity within the community. Not everyone with a previous COVID-19 diagnosis is developing natural antibodies which protect against the spread of the virus, and those who do develop antibodies may begin to lose them over time. Therefore, routine vaccination against COVID-19 is essential to prevent living through another pandemic a year full of face masks and social distancing. Vaccines will first be prioritized to high-risk populations, including healthcare personnel and long-term care facilities. Recommendations suggest 2 shots into the muscle of the upper arm 3-4 weeks apart depending on the manufacturer (Pfizer vs Moderna). Per the FDA, available data currently shows receiving 2 doses of the vaccine is between 90.3% to 97.6% effective at preventing COVID-19.
The benefits vaccines have on health
There are two main benefits for vaccination:
- You can help lower your chance of getting certain disease
- Hepatitis B vaccine lowers your risk of liver cancer.
- HPV vaccine lowers your risk of cervical cancer.
- Flu vaccine lowers your risk of flu-related heart attacks or other flu-related complications from existing health conditions like diabetes and chronic lung disease.
- You can lower your chance of spreading disease.
- Some people in your family or community may not be able to get certain vaccines due to their age or health condition. They rely on you to help prevent the spread of disease.
- Infants, older adults, and people with weakened immune systems (like those undergoing cancer treatment) are especially vulnerable to infectious disease.10
Facts surrounding the COVID-19 vaccine
There is now an authorized and recommended COVID-19 vaccination in the Unites States and many people are concerned about its safety. It is crucial to make sure you are getting accurate information about the vaccination. Below are FACTS from the CDC about COVID-19 vaccines:
- The COVID-19 vaccine will not give you COVID-19. It is not a traditional vaccination, currently none of the COVID-19 vaccines use the live virus that causes COVID-19. This vaccination helps our bodies fight the virus without us having to get the illness.
- Even if you have gotten sick with COVID-19, you may benefit from getting vaccinated. Re-infection is possible; therefore, it is advised to get a vaccination even if you have had COVID-19 before.
- Right now, there is a limited supply of the vaccine in the United States, but more will come in the following weeks and months.
- Getting a vaccine that uses mRNA will not change your DNA. The COVID-19 vaccine contains mRNA or messenger ribonucleic acid which is best described as instructions for how to make a protein. It is important to know that that mRNA is not able to alter a person’s DNA. The mRNA from the COVID-19 vaccine will not enter the nucleus of the cell, where our DNA is found.
Myths surrounding the COVID-19 vaccine
There is a lot of misinformation about the COVID-19 vaccination. Below are MYTHS about the vaccine:
- Other immunizations such as the flu shot will prevent COVID-19.
- Infertility or other serious medical problems will occur if you get the COVID-19 vaccine.
- You will get a positive COVID-19 viral test if you get the COVID-19 vaccine.
- There will not be enough vaccinations for everyone.
If you are struggling to find credible vaccine information, use this link for recommendations of trustworthy sources: https://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/vac-gen/evalwebs.htm.
Stats on the safety and effectiveness of vaccines
Vaccines are both safe and effective. They go through years of testing before the FDA licenses them for use. Both the CDC and FDA continue to track the safety of all licensed vaccines.6 The CDC tracks the safety of vaccinations through The Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS). VAERS was created in 1990 to detect any potential safety issues with U.S. vaccines. If anyone experiences problems after an immunization, they can submit a report to VAERS. This monitoring system makes it possible to spot any unusual side effects from vaccinations as well as identify any risks for health issues related to vaccinations. If you are ever concerned about the safety of immunizations, you can have peace of mind knowing they are constantly being monitored.9
Below are the facts and figures that show the safety and effectiveness of vaccinations:
- According to the World Health Organization, immunizations prevent 2-3 million deaths every year from vaccine-preventable diseases.5
- Most childhood vaccinations are 90% to 99% effective in preventing diseases.7
- The flu vaccination can reduce the risk of flu illness by between 40% and 60%.6
- The CDC estimates that immunizations will prevent more than 21 million hospitalizations and 732,000 deaths among children born in the last 20 years.8
- About 85-90% of vaccine side effects are mild and not serious.9
How Pharmacists can Help
Pharmacists are also in a unique position to identify those patients who are in target groups for certain vaccinations. They may also be able to ease the fears of many patients by providing them with facts such as clinical data and by dispelling common misconceptions and myths about vaccinations; they can also stress the significant risks associated with not being vaccinated.4
Tria Health was founded on the belief that pharmacists play a vital role in the management of high-risk patients. With Tria, you have the option of receiving a one-on-one private consultation with one of Tria Health’s pharmacists over the phone. During your consultation, your pharmacist will review all your current medications, including vitamins, supplements and lifestyle habits. Your pharmacist will be able to answer any questions you may have regarding vaccinations.
- Oldfield BJ, Stewart RW. Common misconceptions, advancements, and updates in pediatric vaccine administration. South Med J. 2016;109(1):38-41. doi: 10.14423/SMJ.0000000000000399.
- Ventola CL. Immunization in the United States: recommendations, barriers, and measures to improve compliance: part 2: adult vaccinations. P T. 2016;41(8):492-506.
- Temoka E. Becoming a vaccine champion: evidence-based interventions to address the challenges of vaccination. S D Med. 2013;(theme issue): 68-72.
- Reasons for Adults to be Vaccinated | CDC
- Herd immunity and COVID-19 (coronavirus): What you need to know – Mayo Clinic