As COVID-19 vaccines continue to be administered across the country, false information about the vaccine can also spread. When it comes to COVID-19 vaccines, it is important to be able to differentiate between common misconceptions and facts. Getting the vaccine is one of the best ways to protect against COVID-19, bringing our communities one step closer to putting an end to this pandemic. Angelina Crans Yoon, MD, an allergist and immunologist at Woodland Clinic, offers her medical expertise to shed some light on lingering questions around the safety of COVID-19 vaccines.
How are the current COVID-19 vaccines administered?
The vaccines are administered as a shot into the muscle on your arm. The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines require two doses, administered three or four weeks apart respectively. Most COVID-19 vaccines will require two shots for them to work, so please commit to receiving the second shot even if you have side effects after the first one.
What are the short-term side effects of the COVID-19 vaccine? What are the long-term side effects?
Several mild or moderate short-term vaccine reactions are common and will resolve on their own, including headache, chills, fatigue, muscle pain and fever lasting up to two days. About 36% of people who receive the Pfizer vaccine will have side effects and about 46% of people who receive the Moderna vaccine will have side effects. Keep in mind that these symptoms are indicators that your immune system is responding to the vaccine as it should and are common when receiving vaccines. Currently there are no long-term safety concerns with over 6 months of follow-up. In general, long-term side effects are not seen more than 2 months after getting vaccines.
Are there any mental side effects of the COVID-19 vaccine?
There are no known mental health side effects to the vaccine, except significant relief reported by health care workers after being vaccinated. However, there are certainly long-term mental health side effects from the prolonged period of isolation and societal disruption. If you feel your mental health is affected, please reach out to a mental health professional.
Has the COVID-19 vaccine been approved too quickly? Is the scientific community certain of the long term effects?
No. The vaccine approval went through all the same steps as is usually required by the FDA. Researchers used existing clinical trial networks to begin conducting COVID-19 vaccine trials as soon as possible, and these organizations were given many resources from the government and other charitable organizations. Vaccines in general don’t cause side effects more than two months after vaccination. This is why these vaccines were given Emergency Use Authorization after having two months of data on average. To date, some patients have been followed for up to 8 months without any safety concerns.
Do people who receive the COVID-19 vaccine still need to wear a mask and socially distance themselves from others?
Yes. While the vaccine will offer protection to the vaccinated person, we’re not sure if you can still spread the virus to others, so it’s important to continue to wear a mask, wash your hands often and stay at least six feet away from others to avoid transmission.
Do people who have already contracted and recovered from COVID-19 need the vaccine?
Yes. There are severe health risks associated with COVID-19 and experts do not yet know how long natural immunity lasts after recovering from COVID-19. Re-infection is still possible after getting sick. The vaccine gives your body a strong and predictable immune response which we don’t see with actual infection.
Can the COVID-19 vaccine alter your DNA?
No, mRNA vaccines work with the body’s natural defenses to safely develop immunity to disease. They do not enter a cell’s nucleus where DNA is stored.