As of the end of July, more than 350 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccines had been administered in the United States. Still, a significant percentage of the population is missing out on this valuable protection and many people remain concerned about whether it’s safe to take the vaccine.
If those concerns are keeping you or someone you care about from getting a COVID vaccine, it’s important to know the vaccines are considered very safe for most people and highly effective according to the Centers for Disease Prevention and Control (CDC). In fact, the global medical consensus is that COVID-19 vaccines are your best shot at preventing severe COVID illness.
Safety Has Always Been a Priority
Currently, there are three COVID-19 vaccines that have received emergency use authorization (EUA) from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The vaccines are manufactured by Moderna, Pfizer-BioNTech and Johnson & Johnson/Janssen.
EUAs may be granted by the FDA in public health emergencies like the current pandemic. They allow for the use of medical products to prevent, diagnose or treat medical conditions before the product is fully approved if there are no reliable alternatives.
But it’s important to note this doesn’t mean the products aren’t carefully studied before receiving EUA status — they are. Clinical trials involving tens of thousands of people evaluated the safety and effectiveness of the vaccines before the FDA authorized their use. Then, an independent group of health and science experts reviewed information about the vaccines and recommended their use before the FDA granted the EUA, as well.
It’s true the vaccines made it to the public quickly, but that was a result of many factors, including a great sense of urgency, knowledge gained from previous research and unprecedented cooperation between those involved in the efforts. Manufacturers also began making the vaccines prior to receiving the EUA, so they’d be on hand if authorization were granted. However, no steps were skipped in the safety evaluation process.
Officials continue to monitor the effects of the vaccines, and thus far, real world data has confirmed their safety and effectiveness. What’s more, as the CDC reports, “These vaccines have undergone — and will continue to undergo — the most intensive safety monitoring in U.S. history.”
How COVID Vaccines Work
Vaccines work by helping the body’s immune system respond when there’s a threat, such as a virus. The Moderna and Pfizer vaccines are messenger RNA — or mRNA — vaccines. These are a new type of vaccine, although scientists have been studying them for decades. For years, mRNA technology has also had a role in certain cancer treatments.
Messenger RNA is genetic material. It tells your body how to make certain proteins, like those found on the virus that causes COVID. When cells display these proteins, your immune system identifies them as invaders and creates antibodies. So, if you get the virus that causes COVID later, your body will recognize it and be better equipped to fight it off. Getting two doses of these vaccines is more effective than getting one dose.
The Johnson & Johnson vaccine is a one-dose vaccine. It uses a weakened virus unrelated to the one that causes COVID to deliver genetic material from the virus that does cause COVID-19. In a way that’s like the mRNA vaccine, this vaccine also causes the body to make the proteins associated with COVID virus. When the immune system recognizes them, it will create antibodies. The antibodies will help you fight COVID if you encounter the real virus later.
None of the vaccines can give you COVID. However, they may cause temporary, usually mild, side effects, such as swelling or redness at the injection site, fever, tiredness and headache. A severe allergic reaction known as anaphylaxis, which can happen after any vaccine, is possible, too. But it’s rare. And those who offer vaccinations are prepared to quickly treat it, should it happen.
The Johnson & Johnson vaccine has been linked to blood clots, particularly in women, however, they are exceedingly rare. More recently, a potential link between COVID vaccines and heart inflammation has been identified. But again, this is not common and according to the CDC, the benefits of vaccination outweigh these potential risks.
Get the Facts
What is often most frightening for many people about the COVID vaccine is information they hear that’s simply false. Rest assured, there are no microchips in the vaccines, there is no evidence that they impact fertility, and they cannot change your DNA.
What the COVID-19 vaccine can do is protect you from a devastating illness that has claimed more than half a million American lives and many more worldwide. Even if the vaccine doesn’t prevent you from getting COVID (no vaccine is 100% effective), it may lower your risk of severe illness and dying from the virus.
For more information about the COVID-19 vaccines, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s website or the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s website. If you have concerns or questions about your health and the vaccines, your healthcare provider can give you reliable information.
To find a vaccination site near you, call 1-800-232-0233.