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Updated Dec. 3, 2021
Vaccines are perhaps the best hope for ending the COVID-19 pandemic. In the U.S., one COVID-19 vaccine has received full Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval, and two more have emergency use authorization. Health care facilities and pharmacies have plenty of COVID-19 vaccine supply for everyone interested in this important protection.
It's likely you've heard false claims about these COVID-19 vaccines on social media or from the people in your life.
Let's set the record straight on some of the myths circulating about COVID-19 vaccines.
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 emergency situation warranted an emergency response but that does not mean that companies bypassed safety protocols or didn't perform adequate testing.
Currently, several COVID-19 vaccines are in clinical trials. The FDA continues to review the results of these trials before approving or authorizing COVID-19 vaccines for use. But because there is an urgent need for COVID-19 vaccines and the FDA's vaccine approval process can take months to years, the FDA first gave emergency use authorization to COVID-19 vaccines based on less data than is normally required. The data must show that the vaccines are safe and effective before the FDA can give emergency use authorization or approval.
According to Gregory Poland, M.D., an infectious diseases expert and head of Mayo Clinic’s Vaccine Research Group., the vaccines are saving lives, preserving health and preventing more infections. "This is a spectacular human accomplishment. Think of this from 18 months ago or so when this was identified to having hundreds of millions, billions when you look worldwide that have received a vaccine and the speed at which the science has been able to move. Amazing."
Vaccines with FDA emergency use authorization or approval include:
- Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine
The FDA has approved the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine, now called Comirnaty, to prevent COVID-19 in people age 16 and older. The FDA approved Comirnaty after data found the vaccine is safe and effective. The Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine is 91% effective in preventing the COVID-19 virus with symptoms in people age 16 and older.
The vaccine is still under an emergency use authorization for children ages 12–15. The vaccine is 100% effective in preventing COVID-19 in children ages 12–15. It requires two injections given 21 days apart. The second dose can be given up to six weeks after the first dose, if needed.
Under an emergency use authorization, for patients with moderate to severe immunosuppression, a third dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccination is recommended 28 days following the second dose as immunocompromised patients may not generate an adequate immune response to a two-dose vaccination series.
The vaccine is now also available under an emergency use authorization for children ages 5–11. This vaccine is about 91% effective in preventing COVID-19 in children ages 5–11. It requires two injections, given 21 days apart. It also contains a lower dose than the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine used for people age 12 and older.
- Moderna COVID-19 vaccine
The Moderna COVID-19 vaccine is 94% effective in preventing the COVID-19 virus with symptoms. This vaccine is authorized for people age 18 and older. It requires two injections given 28 days apart. The second dose can be given up to six weeks after the first dose, if needed.
Under an emergency use authorization, for patients with moderate to severe immunosuppression, a third dose of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccination is recommended 28 days following the second dose as immunocompromised patients may not generate an adequate immune response to a two dose vaccination series.
- Janssen/Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine
In clinical trials, this vaccine was 66% effective in preventing the COVID-19 virus with symptoms — as of 14 days after vaccination. The vaccine also was 85% effective at preventing severe disease with the COVID-19 virus — at least 28 days after vaccination. This vaccine is authorized for people age 18 and older. It requires one injection. The FDA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have recommended that use of this vaccine continue in the U.S. because the benefits outweigh the risks. If you are given this vaccine, you should be educated about the possible risks and symptoms of a blood clotting problem.
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: Getting COVID-19 might offer some natural protection or immunity from reinfection with the virus that causes COVID-19. But it's not clear how long this protection lasts. Because reinfection is possible and COVID-19 can cause severe medical complications, it’s recommended that people who have already had COVID-19 get a COVID-19 vaccine. If you were treated for COVID-19 with monoclonal antibodies or convalescent plasma, wait 90 days before getting a COVID-19 vaccine.
Myth: There are severe side effects of the COVID-19 vaccines.
Fact: Reports of serious side effects are exceedingly rare. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 363 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines were administered in the U.S. from December 14, 2020 through August 23, 2021. During this time, the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS) received 6,968 reports of death (0.0019%) among people who received a COVID-19 vaccine. FDA requires health care providers to report any death after COVID-19 vaccination to VAERS, even if it’s unclear whether the vaccine was the cause. Reports of adverse events to VAERS following vaccination, including deaths, do not necessarily mean that a vaccine caused a health problem.
For the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines, you may experience some mild side effects, primarily injection site pain, fatigue and chills. These symptoms get better without medical care, and usually within 24 to 48 hours. Second doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna vaccines should still be given, even if you had one of these reactions after the first dose. While many people do not have reactions after vaccination, it is normal if you do. It does not mean you have the COVID-19 infection. It is an indicator that your immune system is responding to the vaccine. If you have a reaction, take some time to rest and allow your body to recover.
Myth: The COVID-19 vaccines don't work because you can still get COVID after vaccination.
Fact: COVID-19 vaccination will protect most people from getting sick with COVID-19, ranging from 66% to 100% effective.
A very small percentage of fully vaccinated people will still get COVID-19 if they are exposed to the COVID-19 virus. These are called vaccine breakthrough cases. Some people might not experience any symptoms and some people could become sick due to COVID-19.
However, vaccination might make illness less severe. If you are fully vaccinated, the overall risk of hospitalization and death due to COVID-19 is much lower than among unvaccinated people with similar risk factors.
Myth: The current COVID-19 vaccines don't protect against the COVID-19 variants.
Fact: In the U.S., the delta (B.1.617.2) variant is now the most common COVID-19 variant. It is nearly twice as contagious as earlier variants and might cause more severe illness. While research suggests that COVID-19 vaccines are slightly less effective against the variants, the vaccines still appear to provide protection against severe COVID-19.
- Early research from the U.K. suggests that, after full vaccination, the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine is 88% effective at preventing symptomatic COVID-19 virus. The vaccine is also 96% effective at preventing severe disease with the COVID-19 virus caused by the delta variant.
- Early research from Canada suggests that, after one dose, the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine is 72% effective at preventing symptomatic COVID-19 virus caused by the delta variant. One dose of the vaccine is also 96% effective at preventing severe disease with the COVID-19 virus caused by the delta variant.
- The Janssen/Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine is 85% effective at preventing severe disease with the COVID-19 virus caused by the delta variant, according to data released by Johnson & Johnson.
To strengthen protection against COVID-19 and the delta variant, the CDC recommends additional doses and booster doses of COVID-19 vaccines in specific instances:
- Additional dose
The CDC recommends a third dose of an mRNA COVID-19 vaccine for some people with weakened immune systems, such as those who have had an organ transplant. People with weakened immune systems might not develop enough immunity after vaccination with two doses of an mRNA COVID-19 vaccine. An additional dose might improve their protection against COVID-19.
- Third dose should be given at least 28 days after a second dose of an mRNA COVID-19 vaccine
The additional dose should be the same brand as the other two mRNA COVID-19 vaccine doses you were given. If the brand given isn't known, either brand of mRNA COVID-19 vaccine can be given as a third dose.
- Booster dose
The Food and Drug Administration has updated the emergency use authorizations for Moderna and Pfizer COVID-19 vaccines to allow for booster vaccinations for adults six months following completion of an initial vaccination series. Adults can get a booster six months after completing the initial Moderna or Pfizer vaccination series, including those who are moderately to severely immunocompromised and have completed a three-dose initial series; or two months after completing the primary Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccination.
Myth: Children can't get severely sick with COVID-19, so they don't need a COVID-19 vaccine.
Fact: A COVID-19 vaccine can prevent your child from getting and spreading the virus that causes COVID-19.
If your child gets COVID-19, a COVID-19 vaccine could prevent him or her from becoming severely ill or experiencing short-term or long-term complications. Children with other health conditions, such as obesity, diabetes and asthma, might be at higher risk of serious illness with COVID-19.
Getting a COVID-19 vaccine can also help keep your child in school and more safely have playdates and participate in sports and other group activities.
Myth: I won't need to wear a mask after I get vaccinated for COVID-19.
Fact: You are considered fully vaccinated two weeks after you get a second dose of an mRNA COVID-19 vaccine or two weeks after you get a single dose of the Janssen/Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine. After you are fully vaccinated, you can return to doing activities that you might not have been able to do because of the pandemic. You can also stop wearing a mask or social distancing in any setting, except where required by a rule or law.
However, if you are in an area with a high number of new COVID-19 cases in the last week, the CDC recommends wearing a mask indoors in public and outdoors in crowded areas or when you are in close contact with unvaccinated people. If you are fully vaccinated and have a condition or are taking medications that weaken your immune system, you may need to keep wearing a mask.
You also will still be required to wear a mask on planes, buses, trains and other public transportation traveling to, within, or out of the U.S., as well as in places such as airports and train stations.
Myth: The COVID-19 vaccine was developed to control the general population either through microchip tracking or "nanotransducers" in our brains.
Fact: There is no vaccine microchip, and the vaccine will not track people or gather personal information into a database.
This myth started after comments made by Bill Gates from The Gates Foundation about a digital certificate of vaccine records. The technology he was referencing is not a microchip, has not been implemented in any manner and is not tied to the development, testing or distribution of COVID-19 vaccines.
Myth: COVID-19 vaccines will alter my DNA.
Fact: The first COVID-19 vaccines to reach the market were 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. Human cells break down and get rid of the mRNA soon after they have finished using the instructions.
Myth: COVID-19 vaccines were manufactured using fetal tissue.
Fact: Neither the Pfizer/BioNTech nor Moderna vaccines for COVID-19 contain fetal cells, and fetal cells were not used in their development or production.
In two animal studies, researchers performed laboratory testing of the vaccines using historically harvested fetal cell lines. However, both animal studies were conducted after these vaccines were already in phase 3 clinical trials.
Myth: COVID-19 vaccines cause infertility or miscarriage.
Fact: It's recommended that you get a COVID-19 vaccine if you are trying to get pregnant or might become pregnant in the future. There is currently no evidence that any COVID-19 vaccines cause fertility problems.
A small number of women have reported experiencing temporary menstrual changes after getting a COVID-19 vaccine. A small study has also shown that some women experienced temporary menstrual changes after getting COVID-19. It’s not clear if getting COVID-19 or a COVID-19 vaccine causes these changes. Further research is needed.
Keep in mind that many things can affect menstrual cycles, including infections, stress, sleep problems and changes in diet or exercise.
Myth: Pregnant and breastfeeding women should not get the COVID-19 vaccine.
Fact: If you are pregnant or breastfeeding, it's recommended that you get a COVID-19 vaccine. Getting a COVID-19 vaccine can protect you from severe illness due to COVID-19. Vaccination can also help pregnant women build antibodies that might protect their babies.
COVID-19 vaccines don't cause infection with the COVID-19 virus, including in pregnant women or their babies. None of the COVID-19 vaccines contain the live virus that causes COVID-19.
While further research is needed, early findings suggests that getting an mRNA COVID-19 vaccine during pregnancy poses no serious risks for pregnant women who were vaccinated or their babies. The findings are based on data from the CDC's coronavirus vaccine safety monitoring system. Also, keep in mind that mRNA COVID-19 vaccines don't alter your DNA or cause genetic changes.
In addition, vaccines that use the same viral vector as the Janssen/Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine have been given to pregnant women in each trimester of pregnancy in clinical trials. No harmful effects were found.
If you have concerns, talk to your health care provider about the risks and benefits of getting a COVID-19 vaccine.
Myth: I am allergic to eggs so I shouldn't get the COVID-19 vaccine
Fact: Neither the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine nor the Moderna COVID-19 vaccines contain egg nor were eggs used the development or production of either vaccine. However, those with severe allergic reactions to eggs or any other substance (i.e., anaphylaxis) are encouraged to remain after vaccination for 30 minutes for observation.
Myth: COVID-19 vaccines must be stored at extremely low temperatures because of preservatives in the vaccines.
Fact: Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna have reported that their vaccines contain no preservatives.
Different vaccines have different storage requirements. For instance, the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine must be stored at minus 94 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 70 degrees Celsius), while Moderna has said that its vaccine needs to be stored at minus 4 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 20 degrees Celsius). Both of these vaccines use messenger RNA, or mRNA, to teach your cells how to make a protein that will trigger an immune response to COVID-19. However, messenger RNA is fragile and can break down easily. Storing messenger RNA vaccines, like these COVID-19 vaccines, in an ultracold environment keeps them stable and safe.
You should not worry about these temperatures. Vaccines are thawed before injection.
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Information in this post was accurate at the time of its posting. Due to the fluid nature of the COVID-19 pandemic, scientific understanding, along with guidelines and recommendations, may have changed since the original publication date.