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With all of the information out there about the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) vaccines, it can be tough to figure out what’s fact and what’s fiction.
Everyone has an opinion about the vaccine—friends, family members, healthcare providers, social media, and the list goes on. You’ve also probably heard that even if you get the vaccine, you still need to wear a face make and practice social distancing.
So why bother? Why should you get the COVID-19 vaccine?
The short answer is that the COVID-19 vaccine can protect you from getting sick with COVID-19—and will help stop the spread of this pandemic. Vaccines are a useful tool to help us all get back to normal. Let’s dive a little deeper into the benefits of the COVID-19 vaccine.
- Getting the COVID-19 vaccine can protect you from getting sick and help stop its spread. COVID-19 vaccines are very safe, with mild side effects that resolve in a few days.
- Once a significant portion of the community gets the vaccine, “herd immunity” boosts the protection.
- The data so far also suggests the vaccines are beneficial against new virus strains.
- COVID-19 has become the leading cause of death in the United States, surpassing cancer and heart disease.
How do vaccines keep you safe from COVID-19?
In late 2020, the Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech clinical trials showed that their vaccines were 94-95% effective at preventing people from getting COVID-19. Since then, millions of people have received these vaccines with very few serious side effects.
So, how exactly does the COVID-19 vaccine work?
It works by priming your immune system so it’s armed and ready the next time you’re exposed to SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. Vaccines teach your immune system to create antibodies, which are proteins that recognize invaders, like viruses. In the case of the COVID-19 vaccine, these antibodies are taught to recognize the characteristic crown of spike proteins seen on the coronavirus.
Once made, the antibodies are stored for future use in case of a viral infection. Your body is now able to effectively and efficiently fight off COVID-19 without you getting sick.
Vaccines offer greater community protection
Giving a vaccine to someone protects more than just that person. Vaccinating entire communities protects those who received vaccines, as well as people who did not (or could not). This concept is called herd immunity.
In herd immunity, a significant portion of the population is vaccinated, and therefore, immune to the virus. With so many immunized people, the virus has fewer people in that community to infect, limiting the spread. While this is definitely a good thing, the benefits go even further. Since the virus doesn’t spread as freely, people who can’t get the vaccine—like newborns, for example—are also covered. Essentially, the “herd” of immunized people protects everyone else.
Around one in six people carrying COVID-19 never develop symptoms, yet they can pass it along to others without even realizing it. These asymptomatic carriers are one reason the virus spreads so easily (Byambasuren, 2020).
But it takes a large percentage of a population to pitch in and get vaccinated in order to reach herd immunity. Experts don’t know the exact number, but estimates are that around 90% of us need to get vaccinated for herd immunity to be reached, according to a New York Times interview with Dr Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID). That’s why experts like Fauci are reinforcing why it’s so important for those who are able to get the vaccine to not sit this one out.
Is the COVID-19 vaccine safe? Are there any side effects?
Millions of people worldwide have received the COVID-19 vaccine, which has given scientists a lot of safety data to work with. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) extensively reviewed the clinical trial data and deemed the vaccines safe enough to allow for Emergency Use Authorization (EUA).
Most side effects of the vaccine are mild and usually resolve after a few days. Some common side effects include pain at the injection site, fatigue, headaches, muscle aches, and chills. Rarely, some people have a severe allergic reaction. To monitor any side effects from the vaccine, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is using a voluntary tracker called v-safe (CDC, 2021a).
There is also a lot of misinformation floating around about the COVID-19 vaccine and its potential effects. Here are some popular misconceptions to watch out for:
- The COVID-19 vaccine cannot change your DNA. They contain viral genetic material that does not mix or even enter the same part of the cell as your DNA.
- You cannot get COVID-19 from the vaccine. The genetic material only codes for a harmless protein on the virus’s outer surface and nothing else. The vaccine teaches your cells how to make this protein, but is missing all of the other components of the virus needed to make it infectious.
- The vaccine does not cause infertility. There is no evidence to support claims that the vaccines can cause infertility or prevent women from having children (Pfizer, 2021).
- There are no microchips in the COVID-19 vaccine. A conspiracy theory has been floating around that the COVID-19 vaccine contains a microchip used for tracking you. The vaccine does not contain any type of microchip or tracers.
What about the new virus variants?
You may be wondering if it is worthwhile to get the vaccine with the appearance of new coronavirus strains. The answer is: absolutely.
Viruses in general are notorious for mutating and changing, and data gathered so far shows the COVID-19 vaccine also works against new variants of the coronavirus. As we learn more about these evolved strains, we may need boosters or yearly injections like the flu shot. Right now, we just don’t know yet and research in this area is ongoing. But we do know that getting the COVID-19 vaccine offers you more protection from COVID-19 as you’re much more vulnerable to infection if you’re unvaccinated (CDC, 2021b).
For most people, the benefits of getting the vaccine far outweigh the risks. If you are vaccinated, it’s still crucial to continue social distancing and wearing a mask. Masks help prevent the virus from spreading by physically stopping particles from entering your body. The vaccine works against the virus from within the body. With the combination of vaccines and face masks, we can work together to end this pandemic faster and move towards life getting back to normal.
Where we stand with COVID-19 today
Millions of people in the United States have been affected by COVID-19. It has beat out cancer and heart disease as the leading cause of death among Americans over 35 (Woolf, 2021). People with diabetes, obesity, heart disease, lung problems, and those who are age 65 and older are more likely to suffer severe illness and even death from COVID-19.
Until recently, the main option for fighting this disease was prevention—wearing masks, avoiding large gatherings, and social distancing. Now we have another tool in our arsenal: vaccines.