There is some good news, despite the setback from the pausing of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine that may increase hesitancy among some Americans to get vaccinated.
“Quick actions by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) in pausing the vaccine to investigate the formation of rare blood clots in several persons after getting the vaccine shows the nation’s safety monitoring system is working,” said Dr. Armando Paez, chief of the Infectious Disease Division at Baystate Health.
However, while figures from the CDC indicated that providers were administering nearly 3.4 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine per day on average, a report on April 20 noted only 1.8 million vaccinations were given, the lowest one-day number in two weeks. And about 1 in 4 Americans say they might decline vaccination, with hesitancy greatest among Black Americans and Latinx, two populations who have been hit the hardest by the coronavirus.
Worries over side effects
Among the many reasons cited by those hesitant to get vaccinated are worries over possible side effects, concerns over safety, questions about how effective they are, fear the vaccine will give them COVID-19, and lack of trust in the government.
Dr. Paez agrees with other public health officials around the country who have concerns that the pause, which has now been lifted on Johnson & Johnson, may still heighten vaccine hesitancy and fuel conspiracy theorists and says “only time will tell.”
“Don’t let worries over the Johnson & Johnson vaccine deter you from getting vaccinated to protect yourself, loved ones around you, and the community. And we know it to be true that the vaccines are safe and effective in preventing severe COVID-19 and death,” said Dr. Paez.
“Don’t put the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines in the same category as Johnson & Johnson. At this time, there are no concerns of blood clots associated with those vaccines which are actually different from Johnson & Johnson,” he added.
He noted the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines use a new technique to prime the body to fight off COVID-19 called messenger RNA (mRNA) packaged in fatty particles that provide instructions to produce the spike protein to stimulate immunity. This differs from Johnson & Johnson vaccine that relies on a known technique already used in some vaccines involving non-replicating viral vectors like adenovirus to deliver the instructions.
“We cannot let anything deter us from the important path we are on to vaccinate all Americans in order to reach the level of herd immunity we need to end the pandemic,” said Dr. Paez.
Herd immunity means that enough people in a community are protected from getting a disease because they have already had the disease or they have been vaccinated. Herd immunity makes it hard for a virus to spread from person to person, and it even protects those who cannot be vaccinated, such as newborns.
Reaching herd immunity
Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) and the chief medical advisor to the president, estimates that 75-80% of the American population needs to be vaccinated before the country reaches herd immunity. However, the circulating variants which are more transmissible push the threshold higher and some variants are also resistant to vaccines.
As of late April, more than 232 million doses have been given, fully vaccinating over 96.6 million people or 29.1% of the total U.S. population.
“We are in the race of our lifetime to vaccinate as many people as possible so as to reduce the spread of the virus and decrease the chances of forming variants,” said Dr. Paez.
Answers to your questions
With so much misinformation out there, the following Q&A is designed to help you make an informed decision about getting the vaccine:
Q: Can the vaccine give me COVID-19?
A: No. None of the COVID-19 vaccines contain the live virus.
Q: Will I experience side effects after receiving the vaccine?
A: Not everyone will have side effects from the vaccine, but you may experience some. Typical symptoms following the vaccination include mild pain to the touch on the arm where the vaccine was given. You may also feel tired, develop a headache, muscle aches, and other symptoms that some have described as similar to having a mild flu. These symptoms, however, will typically go away within 36 to 48 hours. And this is an indication that your immune system is being stimulated and the vaccine is doing its job.
Q: Is the vaccine unsafe because it was rushed?
A: Vaccine researchers did not take shortcuts in studying the vaccines to show that they are safe and effective. There is already real-world data on safety and efficacy on the currently authorized vaccines in addition to the clinical trials that led to their authorization for use by the FDA. The new COVID-19 vaccines have undergone one of the most intensive safety monitoring in U.S. history.
Q: Can the vaccines make women infertile and is it safe if you are pregnant?
A: According to the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology (ACOG) and the Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine (SMFM), the COVID-19 vaccine should not be withheld from pregnant individuals who choose to receive the vaccine. There is no evidence that the vaccine makes women infertile. A recent report of more than 35,000 individuals either pregnant during vaccination or found to be pregnant shortly thereafter did not show obvious safety signals after receiving the mRNA COVID-19 vaccines (Pfizer or Moderna).
Q: Do the vaccines contain microchips or tracking devices denying me of my privacy?
A: No, the vaccine nor the syringe includes microchips that will be injected into you. Such technology simply does not exist.
Q: Does the vaccine cause cancer?
A: There is no evidence or case studies that the COVID-19 vaccine causes cancer.
Q: Will my DNA be altered as a result of the vaccine?
A: No. There is no alteration of our DNA. Currently authorized COVID-19 vaccines are molecular vaccines that provide instructions to make a protein i.e. spike protein that our immune system will recognize as “foreign.” This will trigger an immune response after a short time that will eventually provide immunity, starting about 2 weeks after the 2nd shot of 2 dose-series vaccine (Moderna and Pfizer) or after the first and only dose vaccine (Johnson & Johnson).
Q: Do I still need to get the vaccine even though I’ve already been infected with COVID-19?
A: Vaccination is still recommended even after a COVID-19 infection. One who has recovered from COVID-19 can still get re-infected, but it is rare. Vaccination should be deferred until you have recovered from the acute illness and met isolation requirements.
The CDC states that there is no single tool that is going to stop the pandemic. As suggested on their website: “Your best protection from COVID-19 will be a combination of getting a COVID-19 vaccine, wearing a mask, continuing to social distance, avoiding crowds, poorly ventilated spaces, and washing your hands often.”
Hear from Baystate Health team members about why they got the vaccine.