6 things people should know about the COVID-19 vaccines

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Two COVID-19 vaccines (Pfizer and Moderna) have received emergency use authorization (EUA) from the FDA so far, and many health care workers and first responders are already receiving the vaccine. As the general public waits their turn, there are many questions and even more misinformation and disinformation about the vaccine.

1. The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are mRNA vaccines – they do not contain the live virus. The COVID-19 vaccine is a “messenger RNA vaccine” (also known as mRNA vaccine). Unlike many other vaccines that use a weakened or inactivated version of the virus to trigger an immune response, mRNA vaccines do not. COVID-19 mRNA vaccines provide the instructions for our body to make a piece of protein, the “spike” protein found on the surface of the virus, which causes COVID-19. Immediately after making this protein, the instructions are broken down and removed from the body. This “spike” protein is recognized as foreign and triggers our immune system to build antibodies, just like a natural infection.

2. The vaccines have undergone strict scientific studies and clinical trials to evaluate their safety and efficacy. These vaccines have undergone the same strict scientific process and met the same rigorous safety and efficacy standards set by the FDA like other drugs and vaccines. This process was just expedited and completed at a faster rate than previous vaccines. Enormous amounts of resources, including scientists and funding, were poured into the COVID-19 vaccines, allowing it to be developed quickly. The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines have been tested on thousands of people to determine safety and efficacy in Phase 1 and 2 trials and randomized controlled Phase 3 clinical trials. Over 70,000 people had already received these vaccines before they received EUAs. Furthermore, mRNA vaccines are not new – researchers have been studying mRNA vaccines for decades already.

3. The COVID-19 vaccine is safe, and severe adverse events are rare. Just like any other vaccine, many individuals experience local (redness and soreness at the injection site) and systemic (fatigue and fever) reactions that are short-lived and subside within a day or two. A few cases of anaphylaxis have been reported, but it is rare. It is important to note however, there is always a risk of anaphylaxis with any vaccine, as there is always a possibility of an allergic reaction to a component of the vaccine. However, the COVID-19 vaccines contain relatively few ingredients compared to other vaccines, of which allergic reactions to each are rare. Individuals with known severe allergies may still receive the vaccine. Still, it is recommended that they consult with their physician before receiving the vaccine and be monitored for 30 minutes after receiving the vaccine. Anaphylaxis after a vaccine is rare and easily treatable, much easier to manage than a severe case of COVID-19. There is a risk of adverse events with any drug or vaccine, and it is a balance of the risks and benefits – after extensive research by scientists and review by the FDA, the benefits of these COVID-19 vaccines have been deemed to outweigh the risks.

4. People who have had COVID-19 in the past should still get the vaccine. People who have had COVID-19 in the past can, and should, still receive the vaccine. Whether symptomatic or asymptomatic, it is unsure how long immunity from natural infection lasts. And the COVID-19 vaccines have been shown to prevent reinfection.

5. The vaccines do not guarantee you will never get COVID-19 in the future – it is still important to take safety precautions. The Pfizer and Moderna vaccine both require two doses, and studies have shown these vaccines to be over 90% effective shortly after the second dose. It takes time for the immune system to respond and build up. That being said, the vaccine does not guarantee that you will not get COVID-19 in the future. It is unsure how long the vaccine immunity and protection will last. It is also unknown whether or not you can still carry the virus and transmit it to others. Therefore, it is still important to follow safety precautions of masking and social distancing.

6. Research is ongoing, and these COVID-19 vaccines are continuously being monitored and studied. There are still questions about these COVID-19 vaccines. Although no current studies evaluate these vaccines in people who are pregnant or immunocompromised, these individuals may still receive the vaccine after consulting with their physician. Ongoing studies is evaluating these vaccines in these groups of people. By the time the general public can get these vaccines, there will be much more data available. Research is an ongoing process, and the safety, efficacy, and long-term effects of these vaccines are continuously being monitored and studied.

Christine Lau is a physician.

Image credit: Shutterstock.com

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