COVID-19 vaccines are now widely available and are beginning to bring about an end to this year-long pandemic. We are fortunate to have a generous supply of vaccines here in the United States and I encourage everyone to take advantage of this. If you have not been vaccinated yet, go for it! Any minor side effects you experience are much less risky than contracting COVID-19 itself.
Clinical trials showed that all three vaccines authorized for emergency use for COVID are safe and effective.
The Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines are mRNA vaccines that work by introducing mRNA into our cells, which instructs the cell to create a COVID-19 spike protein. When this protein is introduced to the immune system, it trains the human immune system to react against the protein, protecting us from COVID-19. After the cell produces the COVID protein, the mRNA is broken down and destroyed, so it does not remain in our systems. In these clinical trials, both of the mRNA vaccines were found to be 94 to 95 percent effective and, incredibly, they were 100 percent effective against severe disease that led to hospitalization and death. Side effects include fever, chills, fatigue and headache. Contrary to some of the circulating myths, these vaccines are not made with live viruses, they do not cause infertility, and they do not change human DNA. They don't contain microchips or any other tracking devices. They are safe, effective and prevent a terrible life-threatening disease.
The Johnson & Johnson's Jannsen COVID vaccine is a viral vector vaccine that uses a harmless virus to carry DNA into cells where it causes the cell to manufacture the COVID spike protein. This protein, in turn, triggers our immune system to recognize and fight off the COVID virus. This vaccine did produce one rare but serious side effect in women: low platelets and abnormal blood clots occurred in about seven out of 1 million recipients. Although grave, this side effect is incredibly rare and treatable if caught early. Minor side effects included fainting, soreness, fever, headache, fatigue, chills and nausea. Again, contrary to circulating misconceptions, this vaccine cannot give you COVID nor can it change your DNA.
National Public Radio reported that more Republicans plan to refuse the COVID vaccine than Democrats. Has it become part of the Republican identity to reject vaccines? It's ironic that one of Trump's great accomplishments, "Operation Warp Speed," succeeded in producing safe, effective, free vaccines that many of his supporters will refuse. I hope Trump will encourage his vaccine-hesitant followers to change their stance and vaccinate.
The physicians I work with were thrilled to be able to get vaccinated and lined up to receive their shots as soon as they were available. I had a sore arm for a day after my first shot, and some fatigue for a day after the second one. Some of my colleagues got side effects, while others did not. There does not seem to be any good way to predict who will get them and who won't. However, we all felt that these minor inconveniences paled in comparison to the suffering undergone by patients with severe COVID infections.
Currently, people in Humboldt County are still dying and being hospitalized regularly with COVID infections. One of the best reasons to vaccinate is to protect your friends, family and other people around you. Currently, children under the age of 12 cannot get the vaccine, so if the rest of us vaccinate, we can protect these vulnerable children. What better reason can you find to roll up your sleeve?
Editor's note: This column was updated from a previous version to more accurately reflect the vaccines' current emergency authorization.
Emily Dalton (she/her) is a pediatrician at the Eureka Community Health Center with the Open Door Clinic System. A graduate of the pediatric training program at Massachusetts General Hospital, she has been practicing pediatrics in Northern California and Oregon since 1993.