With SMH Infectious Disease specialist Manuel Gordillo, MD
State and federal agencies continue to expand eligibility requirements for COVID-19 vaccination, making it possible for millions more people to get effective protection against novel coronavirus.
The challenge now is getting shots in those eligible arms, so that we can safely reach herd immunity, return to “normal” living and put an end the global pandemic.
Yet many in our community are still reluctant to roll up their sleeves and get the shot.
Some are hesitant because they don’t trust the vaccine science or medical community in general. Others worry about its effects on fertility or about having an allergic reaction. Some believe the vaccines are unsafe, or they simply don’t feel vaccination is necessary.
Why? Misinformation and fear.
Separating Vaccine Fact from Fiction
Here, Infectious Disease specialist Manuel Gordillo, MD, breaks down some of the myths behind vaccine hesitancy.
MYTH: I’m young (or I’m healthy), so I don't need to get vaccinated.
FACT: “Unless they want to get sick, everybody needs the vaccine,” says Dr. Gordillo, who leads Sarasota Memorial’s Infection Prevention and Control Unit. “We also need everyone vaccinated to end this pandemic. The faster we vaccinate the vast majority of the population, the faster we're going to return to normalcy.”
While younger adults are less likely than the elderly to die of COVID-19, the disease can still be dangerous for them. Similarly, healthy individuals may be less likely to die from COVID-19 infection, but there have been numerous cases of previously healthy adults hospitalized with severe cases, even dying.
Studies indicate that among adults age 18 to 39 who developed COVID-19, 30% now suffer from “long-hauler” symptoms, including fatigue, brain fog and loss of taste or smell. Many of these young adults had only a mild case of COVID-19 when they were first infected.
The claim that only those older than 65 are likely to die of COVID-19 also is false: Among non-White and Hispanic populations, about 30% of the deaths occur in those younger than 65.
MYTH: The vaccines don’t really prevent COVID-19, so I’m not going to bother.
FACT: The COVID-19 vaccines have been shown to be very effective, in both clinical trials and in studies of those who’ve been vaccinated since the public rollout began.
The mRNA vaccines (Moderna and Pfizer) are 90% effective in preventing COVID-19 infections in real-life conditions, according a recently released federal study of healthcare workers vaccinated outside of clinical trials.
The report, from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), showed that of the study’s 2,479 fully vaccinated participants, only 3 developed confirmed infections; in comparison, 161 developed COVID-19 infection among the 994 people who were not vaccinated.
MYTH: The vaccine may prevent pregnancy or harm an unborn baby.
FACT: There is currently no evidence that COVID-19 vaccination causes any problems with pregnancy, including the development of the placenta. In addition, there is no evidence that fertility problems are a side effect of any vaccine, including COVID-19 vaccines.
COVID-19 vaccines do not alter the recipients' DNA; as a result, they cannot cause any genetic changes to mom or the unborn baby.
Sadly, the pregnancy prevention myth was the result of a sophisticated disinformation campaign that falsely claimed that antibodies to the vaccines’ COVID-19 spike protein will bind to placental proteins and prevent pregnancy.
“This is a classic example of a well-orchestrated campaign intended to purposefully mislead the public for nefarious reasons,” Dr. Gordillo says. “On the surface, it may seem logical and based on science, but it’s just not true.”
The best evidence comes from women who were sick with COVID-19 while pregnant. The current data clearly indicate that pregnant women are at higher risk of hospitalization due to COVID-19 infection, but there is no evidence of increased miscarriage rates, Dr. Gordillo explains. Antibodies created by the immune system after vaccination are the same as those the body generates during a COVID-19 infection. So, if COVID-19 affected fertility, we would already see an increase in miscarriage rates among women infected with COVID-19.
MYTH: I might get COVID-19 from the vaccine.
FACT: You cannot get COVID from a vaccine.
None of the authorized and recommended vaccines in the U.S. contain live virus. This means that the vaccine cannot make you sick with COVID-19.
“All they're giving you is a genetic code for your body to make one of 25 different proteins that the virus has,” says Dr. Gordillo. “One protein doesn't make any virus. You need the other 24 working together to give you the disease.”
Short-term symptoms that may follow a vaccination are normal and show that your body is building protection against the virus.
MYTH: COVID-19 vaccines were developed too fast to be safe.
FACT: Both the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines are mRNA vaccines, which are not new.
Scientists have been working on mRNA vaccines for decades for a variety of illnesses — SARS, MERS, Zika, Ebola, newer influenza vaccines and even some seasonal coronaviruses — and that thankfully, gave them a huge head start when it was time to work on COVID-19 vaccines.
The other type of authorized COVID-19 vaccine (Johnson & Johnson) employs a weakened adenovirus, which also has been studied extensively in developing other vaccines.
The clinical trials for the authorized COVID-19 vaccines were all done with the same rigor applied to all vaccine trials, and the results were reviewed and approved by multiple independent advisory panels. Increased collaboration globally, use of new technology and more available funding meant that COVID-19 vaccine developers could work more quickly during the pandemic.
“They did not cut corners or miss any steps,” says Dr. Gordillo. “The extra resources and funding simply accelerated the process.”
MYTH: Possible long-term side effects are too risky since we don’t know what they are yet.
FACT: With any vaccine, side effects typically show up within 6 weeks after the injection.
“Vaccines do not have delayed or long-term side effects,” Dr. Gordillo explains. “Vaccines have been studied over decades. Some, like the smallpox vaccine, are very, very old, and none of them have really had long-term side effects that are seen 10 or 20 years later.
“Conversely, we don't know what the long-term effects of getting the virus are — and those are more likely to be problematic.”
MYTH: The current vaccines don’t protect against the COVID-19 variants.
FACT: “In South Africa, clinical trials with 2 vaccines — Johnson & Johnson and Novavax, which is not yet approved in the U.S. — have found both to be working very well against the South Africa variant, the most concerning variant,” he says.
As more people are vaccinated, Dr. Gordillo says, transmission of the virus will go down, which in turn will control mutations and reduce the chance of new variants.
MYTH: I have allergies, so it’s not worth the risk.
FACT: Severe allergic reaction (anaphylaxis) to the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines have been rare, averaging just 2 per 1 million vaccinations with the Moderna vaccine and 5 per 1 million vaccinations with the Pfizer vaccine. To put that in perspective, anaphylaxis to penicillin occurs in 1 in 25,000 recipients.
But if you have concerns, certainly talk to your doctor and plan to wait 30 minutes after getting your shots for observation.
If you are severely allergic to any of the vaccine’s ingredients, you should not be vaccinated. People with allergies to certain foods, insects, latex and other common allergens, however, can get a COVID-19 vaccine.
MYTH: The vaccines contain unsafe toxins and microchips.
FACT: COVID-19 vaccines contain none of these.
“Microchips are not injected into anyone. That is physically impossible,” says Dr. Gordillo.
Microchips are, however, located on the vaccine packaging so that pharmacists and physicians can track doses and ensure they’re not expired or counterfeit.
The vaccines’ ingredient list includes mRNA (which is destroyed by the body in a day or two), cholesterol (in amounts much lower than is already consumed by people) and non-toxic fatty molecules.
MYTH: The vaccine will alter my DNA.
FACT: No, it won’t.
“The current vaccines and those in the works are not going to alter your DNA,” Dr. Gordillo says, noting that in both vaccine platforms, the messenger molecule is destroyed in a day or two.
The mRNA, lipids (fat bubble), salts and other stabilizing agents are routinely used in other medicines. The mRNA vaccines work in the cell’s cytoplasm and never enter the cell nucleus, where the DNA, your genetic material, lives. It’s broken down quickly once it enters the cell and delivers the needed vaccine “message” to the cell’s machinery. The virus spike protein is also rapidly broken down once there is no longer any mRNA.
The adenovirus platform uses DNA to deliver the message, but does not alter the cell’s DNA in any way.
Get the Facts, Get the Shot
Be selective in where you get your COVID-19 vaccine information. In addition to our blog posts and videos, we recommend using the following sources for reliable facts related to the virus and vaccines.
Florida Dept. of Health
Sarasota Dept. of Health
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
US Food and Drug Administration
We can only achieve herd immunity — and return to “normal” living — once enough people have gotten vaccinated or actually gotten the disease. Widespread vaccination is the safest way to do this. Click here to find a vaccination site near you.
“This is our opportunity to end this pandemic,” Dr. Gordillo says. “If we vaccinate at the maximum rate, we'll achieve this. But everybody needs to be vaccinated.”
** NOTE: This content was originally posted March 31, 2021. Information related to the COVID-19 virus and vaccines is continually evolving. For the most up to date info, we recommend visiting the above resources.