What will become of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19? While it’s currently not possible to completely eliminate this highly transmissible global virus, it can be largely suppressed. But nearly a quarter of U.S. adults under 65 are hesitant to get the remarkably effective COVID vaccines, even though the nation has rigorous standards for ensuring safe vaccines and public health agencies are carefully monitoring the shots to ensure they’re safe over time (that’s why the FDA temporarily paused the Johnson & Johnson vaccine).
“Vaccination is the way out of this.”
“Vaccination is the way out of this,” emphasized Dr. Thomas Russo, the chief of infectious disease at the University of Buffalo’s Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences. “It’s going to drive cases down, keep people out of the hospital, and minimize deaths.”
COVID killed over half a million Americans in the space of about a year (and that was with major disruptions to society, like closures of bars, restaurants, concerts, and NBA games, among others). That’s much worse than the flu, which kills between 12,000 to 61,000 Americans each year. You can see stories about the dead, their faces, and their lives, on the FacesOFCOVID Twitter page.
Indeed, some folks may never choose to get vaccinated for COVID. Yet for those still on the fence about vaccination, infectious disease experts address and debunk myths and misinformation about the FDA-authorized vaccines below.
Myth 1: Young people don’t need to be vaccinated
“That’s just plain wrong,” said Dr. Vince Silenzio, an M.D. and professor in the Rutgers School of Public Health.
“You don’t want to be that person [spreading disease].”
Though people over 65 are much more likely to get severely ill from a coronavirus infection, young people (in their 20s, 30s, 40s, and 50s) are still getting hospitalized.
Young people can experience “long-haul” COVID symptoms, meaning “a range of symptoms that can last weeks or months” after infection, according to the CDC. The symptoms include brain fog, fatigue, headache, dizziness, heart palpitations, chest pain, depression, anxiety, and beyond.
Unvaccinated people, without protection from the virus, can easily get infected and spread it to someone, perhaps someone vulnerable, who could become severely ill and potentially die. “You don’t want to be that person [spreading disease],” said Dr. Silenzio.
People with compromised immune symptoms, such as folks with a kidney transplant or who are taking certain medications that (as a side effect) suppress their immune system, will be more susceptible to a COVID infection. Your vaccination, then, protects more vulnerable people. “We need to protect them by minimizing infections in our community,” said Dr. Russo.
Myth 2: We don’t know the long-term side effects of vaccines and they might be too much of a risk
In recent decades, dozens of vaccines approved in the U.S. have The doctors and independent panels who vet vaccines in the U.S. would not authorize or approve a vaccine if there was anything known that might have long-term, harmful side effects. Yes, it’s technically true that nobody on Earth knows what will literally happen in a year, but adverse effects appear relatively early on after vaccination (like the low potential for blood clots in certain demographics for those who have taken the Johnson & Johnson vaccine).
“Historically, adverse reactions from vaccines almost always come in the first two months.”
“Historically, adverse reactions from vaccines almost always come in the first two months,” said Dr. Russo.
The known long-term health consequences from COVID, which we’re still learning about, are certainly a much bigger future risk than a hypothetical long-term vaccine side effect that hasn’t yet been identified, emphasized Russo.
“You know what really does kill people and has long-term side effects? COVID,” said Dr. Silenzio.
Myth 3: Even some vaccinated people can still get infected so what’s the point?
Yes, an extreme minority of vaccinated people can still be infected with the coronavirus and get COVID, and a much smaller minority have died. According to the CDC, as of April 26, over 95 million Americans had been fully vaccinated, with 9,245 reported “breakthrough infections,” or 0.0000097 percent of those infected (though there are certainly some unreported breakthrough infections). These breakthroughs might be related to how much virus one was exposed to, the medications the individuals were taking, or a slew of still unknown factors.
“Nothing is ever 100 percent,” said Dr. Silenzio. “But these vaccines are astonishingly good at preventing infections.”
The risks of Covid infection are clear—when you get infected, the virus replicates all over your body and could cause long-term health problems, even for people not sick enough to be hospitalized. The vaccine teaches your body to fight the virus, then disappears.
— Dr. Tom Frieden (@DrTomFrieden) May 4, 2021
Groups or communities with mostly vaccinated people will make infections recede, Dr. Silenzio explained. The virus may infect some people, but overall has nowhere to spread if it meets a wall of protected people. This is called “herd immunity,” which limits or eliminates disease breakouts in populations. Yet, with vaccine hesitancy, reaching herd immunity may be hard to achieve in the U.S., meaning there may continue to be outbreaks in certain areas with low vaccination rates.
Myth 4: I heard a rumor that “vaccine shedding” can have bad effects
An absurd myth, born from a private school in Miami, has spread online: that vaccinated people can somehow “shed” the vaccine, in some way resulting in adverse effects for pregnant women.
This myth is particularly egregious: “It’s just theater of the absurd,” said Dr. Russo.
The tiny proteins produced by the vaccine to trigger an immune response (none of the FDA-authorized vaccines contain the coronavirus) can’t somehow “shed” outside of one’s body, miraculously remain intact and stable, and then somehow negatively affect other people. “It’s biologically impossible,” said Dr. Russo.
NEW: We’re launching our “Shot and a Beer” program to encourage eligible New Jerseyans ages 21+ to get vaccinated.
Any New Jerseyan who gets their first vaccine dose in the month of May and takes their vaccination card to a participating brewery will receive a free beer. 🍻 pic.twitter.com/REiHTEa6mi
— Governor Phil Murphy (@GovMurphy) May 3, 2021
Myth 5: It’s better to just let my immune system take care of this virus
Vaccines are incalculably better than experiencing, and potentially fighting for your life because of, virulent diseases. Our immune systems are impressive at identifying disease and building up protection — but diseases like COVID can still do extreme or irreparable harm to organs like the lungs and others long before some immunity is gained.
“It’s unpredictable, in terms of what can happen, if you get infected,” said Dr. Russo.
“I don’t think you can dodge this … It’s too infectious, it’s too efficient, and it’s spread by asymptomatic people.”
What’s more, COVID inevitably makes some people severely ill. Inside sickened bodies, the virus flourishes and multiplies, allowing it to potentially mutate into new, more transmissible variants. Vaccines may be less effective against these variants. “The longer we drag this out, the more likely it is that variants will be resistant to what we have as vaccines,” said Dr. Silenzio.
Big groups of unvaccinated people will only prolong the pandemic. “Then the virus still has a large swath of our population to infect and further evolve mutations, causing a vicious cycle of new variants undermining our immunity and path to ending this pandemic,” said Mark Cameron, an immunologist at Case Western Reserve University who helped contain the outbreak of another deadly coronavirus, , in 2003.
For those that choose not to get vaccinated, it’s likely the coronavirus, specifically a mutated, dominant, more contagious COVID variant like B.1.1.7, eventually finds you.
“I don’t think you can dodge this,” said Dr. Russo. “If you don’t get vaccinated you’ll get COVID unless you’re some sort of hermit north of the Arctic circle. It’s too infectious, it’s too efficient, and it’s spread by asymptomatic people.
“It might not get you this summer, but it’s only a matter of time,” Dr. Russo added.