COVID vaccine safety with Gennev CMO Dr. Rebecca Dunsmoor-Su
Our telemedicine doctors and coaches have been getting a lot of questions about the COVID vaccine, so Gennev CEO Jill Angelo asked me to share my thoughts on the safety and efficacy of the vaccines which are rolling out.
Normally, vaccines take years to develop; this one took a matter of months, and I know many of you have questions, given how fast these have become available. Let me give you some reassurance on that front.
Are the COVID vaccines safe?
Yes. For the vast majority of us, the vaccines are perfectly safe, and certainly a great deal safer than risking catching the COVID 19 coronavirus. Here are the facts, to help ease your concerns:
- The mRNA technology used has been in development and testing for many years. This is just the first commercially viable vaccine made from it.
- If you think about it, we make a new flu shot each year, in less time, with less testing, and these are very safe.
- Rumors of widespread severe allergic reactions (there have been only a few) and infertility (this is COMPLETELY false) are part of what seems to be a large disinformation campaign. If you see information on the Internet about the vaccine, check the source — is it coming from a respected medical professional or magazine? Or is it coming from a click baity popular magazine? It’s highly unlikely that a qualified medical journal will have a sensational headline with lots of exclamation points, for example.
Do the COVID vaccines work?
In terms of efficacy (how well it does the job), we have data on the two mRNA vaccines already, the one from Pfizer and the other from Moderna:
- The Pfizer vaccine was tested in a blinded, randomized controlled trial with 43,000 participants. They saw 162 COVID cases in the placebo group and eight cases in the vaccine group. The notes show that there was 95% effectiveness by day 28 after the first shot. They also did a sub-analysis showing 94% efficacy in adults greater than age 65.
- NOTE: just because the vaccine is highly effective after one dose, DO NOT skip the second shot. The series is intended to lengthen the time the vaccine is protective, and one jab may not be sufficient. For the Pfizer vaccine, the second shot should come within 17-21 days after the first.
- The Moderna vaccine was tested in 30,000 individuals, and they reported 185 COVID cases in the placebo group and 11 in the vaccine group. They report 94.1% efficacy, and again two shots are required.
- Both vaccines will reduce the severity of disease, even if you still contract it. Neither has data yet on “passive transmission,” which is to say, if you are vaccinated can you silently pass the virus if you are exposed. The thought is no, but studies continue on this (all 73,000 of these participants get weekly swabs; they deserve a medal!) So when you do get vaccinated, continue wearing your mask, and of course, wash your hands regularly!
Do the COVID vaccines cause side effects?
Regarding side effects, some that have been reported include arm pain, fatigue, and headache. Apparently the second dose hits some people a little harder, with more reporting flu-like symptoms of muscle aches and feeling a bit feverish. This generally lasts 24-48 hours.
Note that these side effects are mild, much more tolerable and short-term than the disease itself, and are actually evidence that the vaccine is working! Your body has recognized a foreign invader and raised its defenses to fight it. That way, if and when it ever sees the “real thing,” it’ll be ready.
I’ve had COVID. Do I still need the shot?
If you’ve had COVID or got passive antibodies in the last 90 days, it is not recommended that you get the vaccine. Studies are showing that having contracted the disease provides protection against reinfection for three months. However, after 90 days have passed, yes, get in line. Having had COVID does not guarantee immunity; there are cases of people who’ve survived COVID contracting it a second time.
Is the COVID vaccine expensive?
The vaccine itself is free, here in the United States, even for those who have no insurance. However, vaccination providers are allowed to charge a fee for administering the shots, so it might be worthwhile to “comparison shop” administrators. You can find more information on costs and reimbursement on the US government’s Health and Human Services website.
What about drug interactions and allergies?
There are no known interactions with other medications, though it’s always good to check with your doctor to be sure no new information has come to light. If you are immune-compromised, your body may not have as robust a response from the vaccine, but you’ll still get some protection and you should definitely take the opportunity to get the shots.
One thing to understand is this vaccine is not “attenuated,” meaning there is NO live, weakened virus in it. This virus cannot give you COVID, only the antibodies to fight it. There is NO live virus in either the Pfizer or the Moderna vaccines.
For those with allergies, if you have severe anaphylactic responses to multiple things (medications or other), tell the doctor when you get the shot. You should be observed for at least 15 minutes after the administration of the vaccine.
Once I get the COVID vaccine, can I visit my grandparents?
Having the vaccine isn’t a get-out-of-quarantine-free card. We still don’t know if those who have been vaccinated can be passive carriers of the disease, we just don’t have enough data yet. So continue to exercise safe practices, and wave at grandma through the window or over Zoom. It’s not ideal, but it does keep you both safer.
Would you get the COVID vaccine, Dr. Rebecca?
YES! In fact, I stood in a very long line of medical health professionals to get my first shot on Friday. This vaccine, plus continuing to wash hands and wear masks, is how we defeat this terrible and deadly virus and get back to normal life.
And it IS deadly; we are losing over 3000 Americans EVERY DAY currently. I HIGHLY recommend getting the vaccine and have no qualms about that recommendation.
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