Do you need to sort real facts from misinformation on the COVID-19 vaccines? It seems that with more places requiring or heavily suggesting the vaccine, even more myths and fears are rising up.
Well, fear not. We have the straight skivvy, the righteous rundown, the real deal about COVID-19 vaccines for you.
Note: this is the latest information we have as of publishing date. We will continue to update this article when new information comes out.
How Safe Are Vaccines?
COVID vaccines are overall very safe, especially compared with the risk of NOT vaccinating. The CDC studied 6,587 serious breakthrough COVID cases that resulted in 6,239 hospitalizations and 1,263 deaths. There are 200 million fully or partially vaccinated Americans. This is about a 3 in 100,000 rate of hospitalization after vaccinating.
As far as serious side effects from the vaccines, which are about 1 or 2 in 100,000, these numbers are very small compared to the risk of serious infection and hospitalization when unvaccinated. The risk is just slightly greater than being struck by lightning. (The risks can be higher depending on age/gender, so do your research or talk to your health provider).
The Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS) takes self-reported data and is described as a “passive surveillance system.” However, the reports of deaths following someone receiving a vaccine are unverified. For example, a report could be for someone who drowned, had a heart attack, or got into a car accident. Therefore, the numbers are not accurate.
What About Those Vaccine Side Effects Though?
There have been plenty of myths about what the vaccines can cause, from the vaccine being a microchip for the government to track people, to turning people magnetic, which have been debunked).
But what about actual side effects? Many of the symptoms people feel from colds and flu are actually the result of our immune systems spinning up and producing antibodies. That feeling of exhaustion and the accompanying sore joints and headache: those are signs of your immune system doing its job.
So a lot of people will feel some flu-like symptoms from the COVID vaccines, just like getting a flu vaccine. Since most of us have had flu vaccines already, we react to that less than the new COVID vaccines. But this is how vaccines are supposed to work. Your body learns how to respond to the infection and builds a specific immunity to that virus or bacteria through the vaccine. For the Moderna vaccine, for example, about 10% of those 65 and up, and about 17% of young recipients reported low fevers of about 100 degrees after their second dose.
How Do Vaccines Actually Work?
Oakland Voices chatted with the Chief Medical Officer of the Native American Health Center, a federally-recognized community health clinic based in Oakland and SF’s Mission district. Dr. Gerard Jenkins breaks it down:
“Scientists are using this thing called mRNA, which is basically the genetic material that looks like the virus but is a broken down form. When you get the vaccine, it’s injected into your arm, and then your own body makes copies that look like the virus. Your body is making the antibodies, which is the ability to fight that virus. If or when you get exposed to it, your body is able to mount an immune response. Simplistically, it’s a different type of vaccine. The technology is well-known, it’s not something that’s been readily used before. From a science standpoint, it actually makes a lot of sense.”
Will the Vaccine Give Me COVID?
Some people may have confused getting a strong immune response from the vaccines with getting sick. That is not what’s happening. You may experience this heightened immune response for a day or two after vaccination, but you are not coming down with the COVID virus (unless you contracted COVID before or during this time period), and your body will be much more able to fight the virus when you come in contact with it.
How Did We Get a COVID Vaccine So Fast?
This is a product of vaccine research over the past decade which helped shorten vaccine development times, plus start-up funds from the U.S. and European nations sped up both the research and production.
Some of that research helped develop a vaccine for Ebola in about a year. Last month, the vaccine from Pfizer received full approval from the FDA, so it is no longer under an emergency authorization. It will be marketed as brand-name Comirnaty. The other vaccines are on track to receive full approval soon.
What About the J&J Vaccine?
About 8% of those who received vaccines in the U.S. got the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine. One shot of it has proven to have 66% efficacy in preventing moderate to severe cases of COVID. The vaccine was paused for a short time from reports of blood clots, and is now back in use. There are currently no recommendations on booster shots for those who received the J&J. Read more about how the J&J vaccine works.
What are Vaccination Rates Like in Oakland?
Currently, 86.2% of Oaklandlers 12 and up are vaccinated with at least one shot, and 71.8% are considered fully vaccinated. However, vaccine rates are lower in parts of Oakland’s flatlands, especially in East Oakland.
Zip code 94605, near Castlemont High School, is only at 64% fully vaccinated, according to the County COVID-19 site. This is the lowest vaccination rate in all of Oakland. West Oakland has the next lowest at 68% fully vaccinated.
By race, it appears that Africans and Latinx populations have the lowest vaccination rates, at 55% and 59%, respectively.
Boosters: What You Need to Know
Right now, it is time to think about boosters, particularly for those who are immunocompromised and the elderly. Pfizer came out with a recent study that shows that efficacy wanes after 5-6 months and wanes every month after that. For people who are elderly or immunocompromised, they may have received their shots earlier (in January, about 7+ months ago) so their immunity may have waned, and/or their antibody response to the vaccine may be weaker.
Those who received their second dose of Pfizer or Moderna 8 months or longer ago may be eligible to receive a third shot. There is also some discussion of shortening that to around 6 months after full vaccination.
People are already receiving booster shots or sometimes called “third shots,” which are not technically boosters. Booster shots have become somewhat controversial as other countries have limited supplies of the vaccine and because there are people in the U.S. who haven’t received one dose yet.
Speak with your primary care physician or local health clinic to inquire about vaccines.
Pregnancy and Vaccines
This has been studied over the past few months and a recent report shows that the vaccines do not cause problems, such as miscarriages, with pregnancy or childbirth. There’s currently no evidence that the vaccine causes infertility.
Should pregnant women get the vaccine? Nationally, only one in four pregnant women have received at least one dose of the vaccine. Actually, getting a serious case of COVID can cause dangerous complications for both the mother and the unborn child. There is some evidence that babies may receive some antibodies from their moms getting a vaccine.
From the CDC:
“Yes, COVID-19 vaccination is recommended for all people 12 years and older, including people who are pregnant, breastfeeding, trying to get pregnant now, or might become pregnant in the future.”
How Long Do You Have Immunity After Catching COVID?
Some studies suggest that protection from a case of COVID-19 can wane after about three months, but can last for up to 10 months. Doctors are advising people who had COVID to wait three months after infection before receiving their vaccine.
Some unvaccinated folks have been hospitalized after contracting COVID a second
time, so this is one reason to get vaccinated, even if you’ve already had COVID. People with weaker immune systems or comorbidities can not only catch COVID again, but they may have more serious symptoms. However, the latest study from Israel on the Pfizer vaccine shows that people who have had COVID (based on an antibodies test or positive PCR test) do have a strong natural immunity. Read more here.
Why Should I Get a Vaccine if I Can Get COVID Anyway?
COVID vaccines were designed to protect against severe illness, hospitalizations, and deaths. From the data we have so far, vaccines have proved to be achieving that.
Most of the “breakthrough” infections are milder and usually don’t require hospitalization. Making sure there are enough hospital beds available is the key to saving lives. In rough numbers, being unvaccinated means you are about 1,000 times more likely to contract serious illness and require hospitalization if you are not vaccinated. That’s why health professionals are calling the new surge “an epidemic of the unvaccinated” and headlines about hot zones talk about patients being housed in parking garages. There are just not enough ICU beds and staff in areas where the virus is surging.
Vaccines and the Delta Variant
The current three vaccines used in the U.S.: Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson have proven effectiveness to fight against the Delta variant.
Children, Vaccines, and Infections
Nationally, we’re seeing a surge in children infected with COVID and more hospitalized children. This is because kids under 12 are not yet eligible for a vaccine, plus with businesses and schools open 100 percent.
Locally, we are seeing an increase in COVID cases in Alameda County of children from ages 5-11, who are not eligible for a vaccine. The cases right now for that age group are higher than during the previous surge of cases last winter. Please watch this informative video, “The People’s Health Briefing 8/31/2021,” from Dr. Noha Aboelata of Roots Community Health Center in East Oakland.
In other areas of the country as well, the number and percentages of cases among children have been increasing. It’s unclear right now when the vaccine will be available for children under 12.
However, scientists in the U.K. are not recommending a COVID vaccine for those ages 12-15 (note that this is a somewhat controversial take).