COVID-19 has claimed the lives of about 675,000 people in the United States, according to the CDC.
This outbreak has surpassed the 1918 influenza pandemic in terms of mortality, making it the deadliest in recent American history.
Vaccines are our most powerful weapon in the fight against the new coronavirus.
In the United States, three vaccinations against COVID-19 are currently available.
In August, the Food and Drug Administration gave the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine its final approval for people aged 16 and up (the shots also have emergency use authorization for 12- to 15-year-olds and may soon become available for younger kids).
Moderna and Johnson & Johnson developed vaccines that have been approved for emergency use.
More than 77 percent of adults in the United States had had at least one dose of these vaccines as of this week.
Some Americans, though, are still hesitant to be vaccinated. We asked vaccine experts to respond to some frequently asked questions about how vaccines work and how safe they are. Here’s what they’ve got to say about it.
SHOULD I BE CONCERNED ABOUT THE RAPIDITY WITH WHICH THESE VACCINES WERE CREATED?
In the United States, there are two varieties of COVID-19 vaccinations. Pfizer and Moderna’s vaccines are mRNA vaccines.
may train the immune system using fragments of genetic material from the new coronavirus SARS-CoV-2
A viral vector vaccination is what the Johnson & Johnson jab is. It employs a different virus (the “vector”) that has been genetically modified to carry coronavirus genes.
Both of these technologies have been in the works for many years.
“The world community came together and said, ‘We need to have means to create vaccines for new viruses quickly,’” says Kawsar Talaat, an associate professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health who studies pandemic influenza, COVID-19, and other illnesses vaccine candidates.
“The coronavirus epidemic only accelerated the process by injecting it with a massive amount of money, but they didn’t appear out of nowhere.”
Within the last 20 years, two other members of the coronavirus family—the original SARS virus and the virus that causes Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS)—have caused alarming epidemics.
When the COVID-19 pandemic broke out, several research groups were already working on coronavirus vaccines, according to Talaat.
and were able to immediately apply this knowledge to generating and testing SARS-CoV-2 vaccine candidates.
Moderna and the University of Oxford, for example, collaborated with AstraZeneca to develop a vector-based COVID-19 vaccine, which is now used in several countries.
WAS THE VACCINE TESTED AS THOROUGHLY AS PREVIOUS VACCINES?
When COVID-19 struck, scientists all over the world put their other projects on hold to focus on producing a vaccine.
According to Talaat, “no corners were cut; all of the standard stages of vaccine development were followed.”
“The main difference is that because there was so much money available, things moved much more quickly than they could have with less money.”
As a result, vaccine scientists could begin designing later-phase clinical studies while the first ones were still underway.
Additionally, COVID-19 vaccine candidates were moved to the front of the line for FDA assessment, avoiding months of waiting.
Because of the novel coronavirus’s rapid dissemination, researchers didn’t have to wait long to find out which of the vaccine candidates in clinical trials could protect against COVID-19.
Megan Ranney, an emergency physician and associate dean of strategy and innovation at Brown University School of Public Health, says, “It was incredibly straightforward to test to determine if they worked or not since so many people who weren’t vaccinated were becoming sick.”
WHERE DO WE FIND OUT IF VACCINES ARE SAFE, AND HOW DO WE KNOW?
Researchers test vaccination candidates in animals to see how effective and safe they are.
If the vaccine performs well, it will be pushed onto three rounds of increasingly large clinical trials in people, with groups ranging from a few dozen to thousands of participants.
According to Kate Hopkins, head of Research, Vaccine Acceptance & Demand at the Sabin Vaccine Institute in Washington, D.C., independent data and safety monitoring committees review the entire process.
Even after a vaccination has been approved, health officials continue to monitor its safety.
“We can find unusual side effects early and handle them,” Talaat adds. “We can also identify who is potentially at higher risk and warn people about that.”
The majority of side effects appear within a few days of vaccination.
This can include short-term symptoms including fever, chills, or discomfort in the arm that received the injection with COVID-19 vaccinations.
Serious adverse reactions to COVID-19 vaccinations are uncommon and manageable; in the United States, anaphylaxis has happened in about two to five people per million who have been vaccinated.
There have also been relatively few reports of a blood-clotting disease linked to the J&J vaccine within a few weeks of immunization, especially in adult women under 50, and inflammation of the heart muscle or surrounding tissue, mostly in male teens and young adults.
Since mid-December last year, more than 183 million people in the United States have been properly vaccinated against COVID-19, with no long-term negative effects, according to Ranney.
“Some medicines have adverse effects that don’t appear for months or years since you’re taking them every day,” she explains.
“You inject a vaccine into your body, it helps your body produce an immunological response, and then it’s gone; it doesn’t change anything.”
ISN’T THE mRNA VACCINE GOING TO CHANGE MY DNA?
Nope. All of the COVID-19 vaccines on the market are designed to help our immune systems target the virus’s spike-shaped protein on its surface, which aids the virus’s attachment to and invasion of our cells.
The mRNA vaccines include the spike protein’s genetic code in the form of messenger RNA (hence the name mRNA vaccine).
According to Talaat, mRNA is coated in small fat bubbles called lipid nanoparticles that help it reach our cells.
Once inside the cells, the ribosomes, or “protein-making factories,” employ these instructions to duplicate the spike protein.
These little surges activate the immune system, but they aren’t the entire virus and can’t make us sick.
The mRNA molecule is extremely fragile and degrades rapidly in the body. “mRNA is a very short-lived molecule; it vanishes in a very short time,” Talaat explains. “It doesn’t touch our DNA in any way, and it can’t change it in any way.”
COVID-19 is something I’ve already had. Isn’t my body supposed to be immune at this point?
People who have already been infected with COVID-19 gain some resistance to the virus.
However, they aren’t as effectively protected as those who have been vaccinated, according to Talaat.
COVID-19 survivors in Kentucky who were not vaccinated were more than twice as likely to re-infect than vaccinated survivors, according to a study published last month.
COVID-19 survivors who later receive the vaccine may produce an especially strong immune response.
Another thing to remember is that some persons have a higher immunological response to COVID-19 than others.
It’s difficult to predict who will fall into which category.
Furthermore, Talaat says that receiving monoclonal antibodies or convalescent plasma as a COVID-19 treatment may have hampered your body’s ability to mount a long-term immune response.
“It’s best to be vaccinated,” she says, “to be safe and to ensure that you have a solid immune response to the virus.”
CAN THE VACCINE CAUSE INFERTILITY IN MEN OR WOMEN?
There is no evidence that immunizations affect fertility in any way.
“We’ve done studies of the COVID vaccine in pregnant women, women of childbearing age, and men, and found that it does not affect fertility, sperm counts, or pregnancy outcomes,” says Ranney.
Meanwhile, she points out that COVID-19 infection increases the risk of severe sickness in pregnant women, and the infection has been associated with lower sperm counts and a higher risk of preterm birth.
I’VE NEVER HAD THE FLU AND NEVER RECEIVED A FLU SHOT. CAN I AVOID THE VACCINE BECAUSE I’M HEALTHY ENOUGH?
According to Talaat, your odds of contracting COVID-19 are substantially higher than those of contracting the flu.
“Given the way the epidemic is spreading, I believe we will all be sick or vaccinated at some point,” she says.
COVID-19, like the flu, is more likely to cause serious illness and death, as well as spread more quickly, according to Hopkins.
Vaccines, on the other hand, lessen the risk of becoming seriously ill or dying in both circumstances.
“Our healthcare system is on the verge of collapsing, and everything we can do to stay healthy and avoid going to the doctor or ending up in the hospital is a good thing,” Talaat adds.
DO YOUNG PEOPLE GET COVID-19 SEVERE?
Unfortunately, the answer is yes. Hopkins states that while the risk of severe COVID-19 increases with age, young people can also become seriously ill.
COVID-19 is particularly vulnerable in persons with certain illnesses like diabetes and cancer, so age isn’t the only risk factor.
The majority of children who contract COVID-19 do not become very ill. COVID-19 hospitalizations in children aged 11 and under, on the other hand, are increasing every week.
Young people can also develop long-term COVID, with symptoms like exhaustion and breathing difficulties lasting weeks or months.
IS IT A BIG DEAL IF I GET SICK NOW THAT THEY HAVE MEDICATIONS TO TREAT COVID-19?
Monoclonal antibodies and the antiviral medication remdesivir are among the medicines being utilized to attack COVID-19.
But, as Hopkins points out, these drugs aren’t ideal. They’re also most effective if given early in the disease, and they’re not widely available.
“While certain medications have improved outcomes,” Hopkins writes, “they are not universally helpful in managing COVID-19 and preventing severe disease or death.”
WHY DO I REQUIRE A BOOSTER SHOT IF THE VACCINES ARE SUPPOSED TO BE EFFECTIVE?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have advised that select groups receive booster doses of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine.
including those 65 and older, who are more sensitive to COVID-19-related illness,
and people who live or work in areas where they are at high risk of contracting the new coronavirus.
However, there is no compelling evidence that booster shots are required for the general public at this time.
According to Ranney, breakthrough infections appear to be more common in the elderly.
“Those are the patients we’re recommending a booster dose for since their immune systems aren’t as robust as they should be,” she explains.
“However, thanks to the immunizations, their chances of becoming really ill or even dying from those breakthrough infections are still significantly lower than they were before the vaccines.”
INFECTIONS ARE BREAKING THROUGH, SO DOES THE VACCINE EVEN WORK?
According to Hopkins, no vaccine is 100 percent successful in avoiding every sickness.
Social distance and disguising up will continue to be essential tools in the fight against COVID-19’s proliferation.
That isn’t to say, though, that the shots aren’t performing their job.
Even with the increase of the virus’s extremely contagious delta version, breakthrough infections are still rare, according to The New York Times.
When those who have been vaccinated catch COVID-19, their cases are generally milder and less likely to progress to a long COVID than those who have not been immunized.
Vaccinated persons were nearly five times less likely to be infected and more than ten times less likely to be ahospitalized or die from COVID-19 than unvaccinated people, according to a recent report from the CDC.
“My ER used to be full with old folks with COVID and a few young people,” adds Ranney.
“Now, practically everyone who comes into my ER with COVID is someone who hasn’t gotten the vaccine.”
Even in the presence of the delta variation, there is evidence that COVID-19 vaccinations reduce asymptomatic infections and transmission.
This suggests that getting vaccinated can protect individuals around you as well, according to Talaat.
“Even if you don’t think your own COVID risk is that high, consider the individuals in your life who are important to you. Are any of them at higher risk for COVID?” she asks.
“Wouldn’t you want to do everything in your power to keep them safe?”
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