COVID-19 Vaccines: Fact Vs. Fiction

Here are some claims you may have heard about COVID-19 vaccines—and the facts about them from sources such as the CDC.  

Claim: Only a few thousand people have received the COVID-19 vaccine, so it’s hard to know if it’s truly safe.

Fact: Any new medical treatments or procedures in the U.S., including vaccines, must go through a set process of clinical trials. Even though COVID-19 is considered a public health emergency, the vaccines in development for this virus are no exception. Phase 1 of a clinical trial typically involves 20-100 volunteers; Phase 2 has several hundred; and Phase 3 must involve at least 1,000. The Pfizer vaccine authorized for emergency use on Dec. 11 currently has more than 44,000 enrolled participants. The Moderna vaccine authorized for emergency use on Dec. 18 has 30,000 participants enrolled.

Claim: The vaccine hasn’t been around long enough to know the full scope of potential side effects.

Fact: Before any vaccine receives authorization, the FDA requires two months of safety data, which includes information on side effects. This is because it’s unusual for side effects to show up after eight weeks. Any COVID-19 vaccine authorized for emergency use has collected eight weeks of data.

Claim: I’ve already had COVID-19 so I don’t need the vaccine.

Fact: We don’t know enough about natural immunity, which you get from having a virus versus being immunized. The length and quality of protection it provides against contracting the virus again can vary from person to person, and there are documented cases of people being re-infected with COVID-19. The CDC is recommending recovered individuals get immunized, since current evidence suggests you may become susceptible to reinfection around 90 days after onset of infection. You may defer the vaccine until closer to 90-day point after your onset of infection, if desired. 

Claim: The COVID-19 vaccine development and authorization process has been rushed and skipped important steps.

Fact: First of all, it’s important to understand that while COVID-19 didn’t begin to affect most Americans’ day-to-day lives until March, work on vaccines started as early as January 2020.

Second, while COVID-19 vaccines were brought to market more quickly than usual, that’s primarily due to taking advantage of efficiencies. Researchers tapped into existing clinical trial networks to speed the process, rather than assembling new ones, and manufacturing production was expedited thanks to government grants and other fundraising efforts.

Claim: The COVID-19 vaccine permanently alters your DNA.

Fact: This is not accurate. Because mRNA (or messenger RNA) vaccines like the one currently authorized for emergency use are relatively new, there are some misconceptions surrounding them. Here’s what you need to know: Like other vaccines, mRNA vaccines work by triggering your body to produce an immune response to a virus, creating antibodies that can fight it off. But while the seasonal flu vaccine does this by giving you a weakened or inactivated strain of the virus, mRNA vaccines work instead by delivering generic information that “teaches” your cells to make antibodies. But because the vaccine does not penetrate the cell nucleus, it does not affect DNA.

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