The development of several vaccines to help combat the spread of COVID-19 is welcome news. However, the remarkable speed with which these vaccines were developed has led to skepticism and misconceptions among some Americans. A recent article on AARP’s website discusses the myths, and the truth, behind coronavirus vaccines. Here are some of the highlights.
There is still considerable debate about how long a person is protected from COVID-19 if he or she has already been infected. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, early evidence suggests natural immunity from COVID-19 may not last very long. The CDC adds that people may be advised to get a COVID-19 vaccine even if they have been sick with COVID-19 before.
How long a coronavirus vaccine will provide immunity to COVID-19, and whether a vaccine will need to be administered more than once, are also unknown at this point. “We should think about this as maybe in the same zone as a tetanus shot, where you might need a booster every few years,” said National Institutes of Health Director Francis Collins, M.D. “If we’re lucky, it would be like measles, where once you’re immune, you’re immune for life, but that would be really lucky,” he added.
While a vaccine can help slow the spread of the coronavirus, other steps will be necessary to bring the pandemic to a close. These steps include wearing a mask, frequent handwashing, social distancing, and testing. Why? One reason is that it will probably take several months for the majority of Americans to get vaccinated. In addition, when a person gets vaccinated, protection against the coronavirus will not be instantaneous. According to experts, it generally takes a few weeks for the body to develop memory cells for the virus after vaccination.
According to the CDC, none of the vaccines developed in the United States use the live virus that causes COVID-19. Rather, the leading vaccine candidates train the human body to recognize and fight the coronavirus by introducing a harmless piece of the virus to the body or by giving the body instructions to create its own coronavirus-like protein. The body is then able to recognize that these proteins should not be there and produces antibodies to fight them off. After that, the immune system establishes memory to protect against future infections.
Although coronavirus vaccines will not make you sick with COVID-19, they can cause side effects in some people. A small number of participants in the Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna/NIH clinical trials reported temporary side effects, including injection site pain, fatigue, headaches, chills, and muscle aches. Also, some people who received the BioNTech vaccine have experienced allergic reactions. Of course, initial vaccine recipients will be closely monitored for long-term side effects.
The Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine and the Moderna/NIH vaccine use a new type of medical technology involving messenger RNA. (The Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine was the first to receive emergency use authorization and be distributed in the United States.) A widely circulated story on social media makes the claim that messenger RNA (mRNA) vaccines can alter human DNA. According to the CDC, however, this is not true.
Several vaccines require two doses, which are given a few weeks apart. Medical experts are not yet certain that one dose of these vaccines will be effective enough to prevent COVID-19 (or a severe case of the illness), so skipping the second shot is not a good idea.
Although COVID-19 and the flu share similar symptoms, they are different illnesses, caused by different viruses. According to Anthony Fauci, M.D., director of the National Institutes of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, this is not an either/or situation. “You want to be doubly protected from the flu and from coronavirus,” said Fauci. He added that it is possible to become infected by both viruses at the same time, or one right after another, which can be taxing on the lungs and other organs.
If you would like to read the entire AARP article, go to https://www.aarp.org/health/drugs-supplements/info-2020/covid-vaccine-myths.html?intcmp=AE-HP-BB-LL1.