By Dr. Stephan Evans and Dr. Beth Hodges
In December 2020, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the release of the first COVID-19 vaccines, and since that time we’ve seen dizzying numbers of vaccines and anti-viral treatments become available. I suspect that many of you, like all of us trying to keep it all straight, have lots of questions, so here is our attempt at Health Team Advantage to address the common ones.
- Are the vaccines safe? Yes, they appear to be extremely safe, and, most importantly, WAY safer than rolling the dice with the disease itself. The Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna mRNA vaccines has shown minimal effects after hundreds of millions of doses worldwide. The Johnson and Johnson (J and J) vaccine, the other vaccine available widely in the US, has been associated with small numbers of clotting complications and as a result is not considered a primary vaccine in the US at this time. Results from another vaccine under development in the US, from Novavax, also look promising with likely approval later in 2022, and yet another, from a start-up company, Corbevax will focus on inexpensive and effective vaccines for poorer countries.
- Will they continue to work against Delta and Omicron variants of COVID? How do boosters relate to all of this? Yes, all of them work, but the CDC is recommending a booster shot at six months after the second shot of the two-shot Pfizer or Moderna series or two months after the J and J single shot. This information is all fairly new and will likely continue to evolve as the virus mutates, so please ask your provider’s office staff, or Health Team Advantage’s health care concierges for additional information.
- Can the COVID-19 vaccines give me COVID-19? No. The vaccines do not contain live viruses, so they can’t give you COVID-19.
- How do the vaccines work? The vaccines are messenger ribonucleic acid, or mRNA for short, vaccines. Messenger RNA teaches the body to mount an immediate immune defense against any of the live viruses it sees.
- Does the vaccine change my DNA? No, it absolutely does not change your DNA, contrary to many posts on the internet.
- Are there side effects to the vaccine, whether primary shot(s) or booster? Yes, side effects range from mild discomfort at the injection site, reported low-grade fever, fatigue, headache, or muscle aches to higher fevers with fatigue. Side effects were mild and very short, one to two days at most and most have reported no symptoms at all. Those who receive the vaccine will receive complete information on potential side effects before receiving the vaccine.
- I’ve heard you can get COVID-19 more than once. The answer is clearly yes, you can get COVID-19 more than one time; multiple studies show that previously-infect but unimmunized people are susceptible to re-infections. You can also get a break-through infection with COVID-19 following any of the vaccinations; COVID-19 is a serious disease and is learning to evade both natural and vaccine immunity. In general, vaccine immunity protects more and better than just normal immunity after infection.
- How long will it take after getting the vaccine to be protected? The good news is studies show that you start developing immunity within 10 days of the first dose (you will need two doses about a month apart). After both doses, patients reach more than 90% immunity, though this decreases over time (and is the reason for the booster recommendation).
- Will I need to continue to wear my mask after I receive the vaccine? Masks remain a hot-button topic for many people, and the decision to wear one is largely a recommendation that each of us must weigh individually. The CDC continues to recommend wearing a mask (and practicing social distancing and handwashing), and of course in some settings, like interstate travel, the Federal Government requires a mask at all times. Masks made of cloth, or surgical types, have been shown to reduce infections and to save lives.
- When can I get the vaccine? The CDC recommends a primary immunization for everyone over the age of 5 at this time, and boosters on a timeframe as noted in question/answer number 2 above. Please check with your provider, though, as these recommendations are changing quickly. If you’ve just recovered from a COVID-19 infection, you can get your immunization right away, and doing so has been shown to reduce your risks going forward. If you had the so-called “Monoclonal Antibody” treatment for a COVID-19 infection, however, you need to delay about three months before getting your COVID vaccine.
- What about the Monoclonal Antibody drugs for COVID? Are they as good as the vaccine? These medications have shown great effect for patients in the very early stages of the disease, when given either via IV, or, more recently as a shot, and soon, as pills that have been approved but are not widely available yet. They’re not as good as the vaccine, however, so please take the vaccine.
- Is the COVID vaccine grown on, or made from fetal cells from an abortion? The answer is no, but it’s complicated. Cells, grown from other cells from an abortion in the 1970’s were used in the testing of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines. They were also used during the production of the J and J vaccine.
- From the “abortion perspective” is there a difference in the vaccines? Or taking the Monoclonal Antibody Treatments? No, in fact all of these anti-viral treatments, whether the vaccines or the Monoclonal Antibody treatments were developed using the offspring of fetal cells grown over the years from an abortion back in 1974. Also, monoclonal antibodies, the treatment for severe COVID-19 was tested on those same cell copies
Dr. Stephen Evans, MD is HealthTeam Advantage’s Medical Director. Dr. Beth Hodges, MD is a part-time Medical Director for HealthTeam Advantage.