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Ask the Physician: COVID-19 Vaccine Myths Debunked

Oswaldo Grenardo, MD

Oswaldo “Ozzie” Grenardo, MD, Centura Health’s Senior Vice President & Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer delineates fact from fiction regarding COVID-19 vaccines in a Q&A session as supported by recent recommendations and guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Myth: The COVID-19 vaccine is not safe because it was rapidly developed and tested.

Fact: Many pharmaceutical companies invested significant resources into quickly developing a vaccine for COVID-19 because of the world-wide impact of the pandemic. The situation warranted an emergency response but that does not mean that companies bypassed safety protocols or didn't perform adequate testing.

Centura Health recommends the use of those vaccines that we are confident are safe. While there are many COVID-19 vaccine candidates in development, current vaccines being used include Pfizer/BioNTecH and Moderna. These were created using a novel technology based on the molecular structure of the virus. The novel methodology to develop a COVID-19 vaccine allows it to be free from materials of animal origin and synthesized by an efficient, cell-free process without preservatives. The vaccines developed by Pfizer/BioNTecH and Moderna have been studied in approximately 70,000 people and more than 54 million doses have been given to people in the US as of February 15, 2021.

To receive emergency use authorization, the biopharmaceutical manufacturer must have followed at least half of the study participants for at least two months after completing the vaccination series, and the vaccine must be proven safe and effective in that population. In addition to the safety review by the FDA, the Advisory Committee on Immunization has convened a panel of vaccine safety experts to independently evaluate the safety data from the clinical trial. The safety of COVID-19 vaccine will continue to be closely monitored by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the FDA.

Myth: I already had COVID-19 and I have recovered, so I don't need to get a COVID-19 vaccine when it's available.

Fact: There is not enough information currently available to say if or for how long after infection someone is protected from getting COVID-19 again. This is called natural immunity. Early evidence suggests natural immunity from COVID-19 can last up to eight months, but more studies are needed to better understand this. Centura recommends getting the COVID-19 vaccine, even if you’ve had COVID-19 previously. However, those that had COVID-19 should delay vaccination until about 90 days from diagnosis. People should not get vaccinated if in quarantine after exposure or if they have COVID-19 symptoms.

Myth: I won't need to wear a mask after I get vaccinated for COVID-19.

Fact: It may take time for everyone who wants a COVID-19 vaccination to get one. Also, while the vaccine may prevent you from getting sick, it is unknown at this time if you can still carry and transmit the virus to others.

Until more is understood about how well the vaccine works, continuing with precautions, such as wearing a mask and practicing physical distancing, will be important.

Myth: COVID-19 vaccines will alter my DNA.

Fact: The first COVID-19 vaccines to reach the market are the messenger RNA (mRNA) vaccines. According to the CDC, mRNA vaccines work by instructing cells in the body how to make a protein that triggers an immune response. Injecting mRNA into your body will not interact or do anything to the DNA of your cells as the mRNA does not get into the nucleus where the DNA is located. Human cells break down and get rid of the mRNA soon after they have finished using the instructions.