I have been hearing lots of concerns from people about the COVID-19 vaccines. These have mostly involve ideas that the vaccine is not nearly as good or as safe as people are being told. If anything, I have felt that the opposite was true; the vaccine is actually better than people are being told.
I was reassured today when I saw an article in the New York Times this morning entitled “Underselling the Vaccines” that expressed optimism and described similar conversations about the vaccines. While this article asserted that the vaccines were under rated from a reluctance to generate unrealistic expectations, I also think it’s from the extensive misinformation being spread around the vaccines. This misinformation comes from many sources including media reports and comments from scientist that are incorrect or highly speculative.
So let me make a single definitive statement: the Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines are some of the safest and most effective vaccines for an infectious disease that I have observed in my lifetime. These two vaccines are remarkable and will end this pandemic if they can get into every human around the world.
In order to reinforce this point in the rest of this post I will attempt to refute five misconceptions about these vaccines.
- The vaccines are not 100% effective, so why should I take them? These vaccines are a hundred percent effective against severe illness from COVID-19. Of the 32,000 people in the Pfizer trial, only one developed COVID-19 severe enough to require hospitalization. Beyond the 95% prevention of any clinical COVID-19 infection, the 5% that got the illness had very minimal illness. So these vaccines are essentially totally effective in preventing COVID-19 illness in all age groups!
- You can still spread disease after you’ve gotten these vaccines. These statements come from the fact that this idea of disease spread was not a specific endpoint in the clinical trials. However, if you reduce clinical illness by 95%, you should reduce the spread of the virus by 95%. Others have suggested the vaccines might be changing clinical illness into asymptomatic illness, and these people could still spread disease. While not a formal end point in the Moderna trial, it appeared that asymptomatic disease was reduced as significantly as symptomatic disease. This would suggest that the likelihood that people would spread this illness after the vaccine would have been reduced as much as their own infection. The NYT article reported that Dr. Paul Sax of Harvard has written in The New England Journal of Medicine that, “while no rigorous study has yet analyzed whether vaccinated people can spread the virus, it would be surprising if they did.“ If there is an example of a vaccine in widespread clinical use that has this selective effect — prevents disease but not infection — I can’t think of one!”
- These vaccines contain toxic chemicals that will harm you or cause you to have difficulties having children. There is absolutely no toxic chemical in this material. The lipid component which has been raised as a material of concern is actually in many foods and cosmetics. The amount of this material you are exposed to every day is hundreds of times what you would get in the vaccine. All these substances have been shown to be safe in large studies because they are in food and cosmetics. So it is unlikely that anything in the vaccine would cause a toxic affect.
- The immunity from the vaccines won’t last long. This concern began from poorly performed studies early in the pandemic that suggested the infected people did not have long-lasting immunity. This has been disproven, and if you look at either immunity from natural infection or the vaccine at six months, immunity hasn’t decreased at all. Studies from SARS have shown that immunity can last a very long time, up to 15 to 17 years. So while we are not going to say that these vaccines would last for 17 years, it is likely that the immunity will be long-lasting enough to end the current pandemic if everyone gets vaccinated.
- A large number of people are having allergic reactions to these vaccines. There have been a number of significant allergic reactions to these vaccines, and it is important to investigate what caused these reactions for both the recipients and the vaccine. Despite this, the reactions are relatively infrequent; roughly one in every hundred thousand injections — more than 100 times less common than allergic reactions to penicillin. We are seeing these reactions because we are immunizing so many people! More importantly, everyone who’s had a reaction has been effectively treated and stabilized without any long-term problems.
- So, if you are getting the vaccine, you can be assured it is a safe proposition for you.