The groundbreaking cooperation between medical experts across the globe has made a return to normal possible thanks to the COVID-19 vaccines. The speed of development was due to the sharing of research on a scale never attempted before, and every study was carefully reviewed and approved by a safety board and the FDA. The process was transparent and rigorous throughout, with oversight continuing for two years after each vaccine is first administered to ensure that the long-term effects are safe.
Many people are skeptical or concerned about side effects, and we hear you. Good, evidence-based information about the vaccine has been hard to come by, so we've put together the following FAQs to cut through the uncertainty.
Returning to this page? New topics from the last update on July 26, 2021 are marked with a plus sign.
Short Answer: In a vaccine study, half the people are given the vaccine, and half are not. If the people given the vaccine get sick less than half as much as those who got the vaccine, we consider that the vaccine worked.
The FDA's standard of efficacy is 50% – people who received the vaccine need to get sick no more than half as often as those who did not receive the vaccine for it to be considered effective. Among the 43,448 participants in the Pfizer trial, the first COVID-19 vaccine trial to be completed, the half who received the vaccine experienced only nine infections. Those who did not receive the vaccine suffered 169 infections, showing a vaccine effectiveness rate of 95%. The FDA would have considered the vaccine effective if as many as 84 vaccinated participants became infected, but only nine of them actually did.
Short Answer: The vaccine helps us make our own antibodies against what's called the 'spike' protein of the virus, which makes it much harder for us to get infected.
Short Answer: We use the term variants to describe new strains of the virus with altered spike proteins, which might make the vaccine less effective.
Short Answer: This is a newer vaccine technology that uses the genetic material for a virus's most crucial protein. A considerable advantage of this technology includes producing the vaccine directly and rapidly in the lab, rather than first cultivating large amounts of the actual virus as starting material. It is harder to distribute the vaccine because the genetic material has to be frozen, but the advantage is that there is no need to add any antibiotics or preservatives. Thus, mRNA vaccines are safer for people who are allergic to these things in other medications or vaccines. The mRNA breaks down in a few days, so there are no traces of the vaccine other than the antibodies we used it to produce.
Short Answer: Absolutely not. That is not what mRNA does, and the claims we hear about mRNA vaccines changing our DNA are nothing more than an uninformed scare tactic.
Recent studies have examined people in whom the PCR test remains positive long after the infection, and it has been shown that this is due to small pieces of viral genetic material getting incorporated into the patient's DNA. The evidence indicates this is due to current infection with other viruses that do have the machinery to do this, and with the widespread replication of virus RNA throughout the body during an infection, some of that RNA gets accidentally reverse translated into the human genome. Of course, reverse transcription can only occur with RNA, which is what comprises the genome of the intact virus – messenger RNA, the genetic material in the vaccines, cannot undergo what would have to be a two-step process, reverse transcribing it first into RNA and then again into the patient's DNA. There is no cellular mechanism for translating mRNA back into RNA. So the risk of viral RNA showing up in a person's DNA is only after an actual infection, not a vaccination, adding to the reasons for getting vaccinated.
Short Answer: It is true that there are no other mRNA vaccines previously manufactured, but the technology is not new. mRNA technology has been used for fifty years, and efforts to use mRNA specifically for vaccines have been ongoing for the past twenty years.
Short Answer: The time it takes to develop a vaccine depends on the population who needs it and how common the disease is. These vaccines are intended for all adults (initially) for a disease striking 60,000 to 100,000 people per day (in summer and fall 2020). That makes it easy to generate a lot of important information very quickly.
Short Answer: Adverse reactions to the vaccine are rare because of the way the vaccine is prepared. The only people advised to be cautious about getting the vaccine are those who have had severe reactions to injectable medications in the past. If you have had a severe reaction to an injectable medication that required treatment, talk to your doctor or allergist/immunologist about whether to get the vaccine.
Short Answer: This refers to VAERS, the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System. All of these reports have been or are being investigated, and to date none of these deaths have been shown to have actually been caused by a COVID-19 mRNA vaccine. There have, however, been 4 reports of death due to cerebral venous sinus thrombosis after the Janssen vaccine.
The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices continued to recommend that the benefits of vaccination outweigh the risks as of August 13, 2021. Additional information about adverse events is also available from the CDC.
Short Answer: No. The vaccine is not made from live virus particles, so there is no possible way to get infected by the vaccine. Many people have some symptoms of a robust immune response to the vaccine, but this is expected, is typically mild, and lasts only one or two days.
Short Answer: Absolutely not. This is nothing more than an uninformed scare tactic.
Short Answer: If you have the opportunity to get vaccinated or have significant potential risk such as exposure to the public with your job, go ahead and get the vaccine. But if you have low exposure and it is reasonable for you to wait, then it'll be best to wait until you're over the infection.
Short Answer: No. The mRNA in the vaccine helps us make antibodies against the spike protein, just like we do with COVID-19 infection. But with infection, the virus forces us to make ALL of its proteins and make more copies of the virus itself. That's what triggers the severe illness many people get with COVID-19, and the risk of long-term complications. None of that happens from the vaccine.
Short Answer: This question really boils down to the mother's risk of infection. If she is able to avoid public exposure and have minimal risk of getting COVID-19 for the entire pregnancy, it could be reasonable to wait. But if mom is not able to minimize her risk of getting infected, it would be best to get vaccinated. Both the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology (ACOG) and the Society for Maternal and Fetal Medicine (SMFM) recommend that pregnant women be vaccinated.
Short Answer: Both the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology (ACOG) and the Society for Maternal and Fetal Medicine (SMFM) find there is no suggestion of any effect of the vaccine on fertility.
Short Answer: Variants are new strains of a virus that come about when mistakes are made while copying the genetic information. The importance of the variants to the COVID-19 pandemic is that the ability to infect human cells may change if the spike protein is altered.
Short Answer: It is more contagious than the original strain, and symptoms are more likely to be headache and fever than the loss of smell and taste with the original strain. Importantly, it is twice as likely to cause hospitalization in unvaccinated people, and in just three months is the predominant strain in the UK and is causing well over 50% of all new infections in the US.
Short Answer: Viruses mutate by moving through people. The more we do to limit the spread, including vaccination, the more we decrease the ability of the virus to mutate, keeping our vaccines more effective.
Short Answer: No vaccine can be 100% effective. Because the vaccine makes illness less severe, it is possible for vaccinated people to get an asymptomatic infection and spread the disease to others. Limited data we have suggests this risk is very low, but not zero.
Short Answer: No, the pandemic is far from over, with only about half of the world's population not vaccinated yet. Vaccination protects against infection, protects against severe disease, and protects our children. No vaccine is yet approved for under age 12, so the more people age 12 and over get vaccinated, the less likely children under 12 will get infected.
Short Answer: Likely, but we don't have enough information yet to know how often we might need boosters and whether we will need to change the vaccines from time to time.
Short Answer: There is no such thing as "boosting" the immune system. And although these supplements might be helping the immune system to work at peak performance, they do nothing about preventing infection in the first place, as the antibodies produced by the vaccine do.
But if a well-functioning immune system were enough, we wouldn't see appreciable case fatality rates. That's because once an infection starts, our immune system is often not powerful enough to stop it. So we have to prevent the infection in the first place. That starts with distancing and masking to reduce the chances of getting exposed to the virus and getting vaccinated to generate enough antibodies so that when we do get exposed, these antibodies latch on to the virus and prevent it from infecting us, which is something that only antibodies can do – vitamins and immune supplements cannot do this.
Short Answer: Yes. Between March 1, 2020 and January 2, 2021, there were 2.8 million deaths in the US, about 23% more than expected. Most of these were due to COVID-19.
Short Answer: Not really. Now more than a year into the pandemic, we're starting to see studies done in people with prior infection, and the protection from that natural immunity is not as strong as the protection we get from the vaccines.