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Why You Can Trust the Safety of the COVID-19 Vaccines

By June 25, 2021September 8th, 2023Expert Advice Featured Well-being

In an earlier post about the COVID-19 vaccines, I talked about the importance of getting vaccinated and the health measures you should take until you can receive your vaccination.

Now I want to reassure you about the vaccines’ safety and effectiveness.

There has been some misinformation shared about this, so I’d like to take you through the facts.

The Safety of mRNA Vaccines

Most vaccines you’ve received in your lifetime used samples of either live or inactivated viruses to stimulate an immune response in your body. But the Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines don’t contain any coronavirus at all; they work in a completely different way. They use messenger RNA (mRNA) to teach our bodies how to fight the COVID-19 virus.

Decades of research have gone into the use of mRNA vaccines, and this technology has already been successfully used against specific types of cancer. The CDC has published a very clear explanation of how and why these vaccines work.

As for the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, it uses a different strategy to provide immunity against the coronavirus. It contains a modified, disabled adenovirus as a vehicle to deliver genetic material into your body. That genetic material teaches your immune system to recognize and attack the coronavirus’s spike proteins.

Like the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines, the Johnson & Johnson vaccine contains no actual coronavirus. It can’t even infect you with adenovirus because the adenovirus has been inactivated.

You can’t get COVID-19 from any of these vaccines. Some people may experience flu-like symptoms after being vaccinated, but that is only because their bodies are generating an immune response, which is exactly what the vaccines are there to achieve.

 An Appropriate Response To An Incredibly Devastating Health Crisis

There is some misperception that the manufacturers and the FDA somehow cut corners in order to get these vaccines authorized. It is true that no vaccine has ever gotten through the developmental, clinical trial, and FDA authorization pipeline in such a short timeframe. But there are good reasons for this.

Due to the severity and catastrophic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, countries around the world invested a lot of money to help expedite this process.

Without such a heavy investment, this whole process would have taken much longer…at the cost of countless more lives and an even more devastating economic impact.

It’s also worth pointing out that the researchers who developed the vaccines were not starting from scratch. While COVID-19 has been more devastating than other coronaviruses, the virus itself is not so different from the others. Researchers were able to use what they knew about those other viruses to kick-start the process of developing these new vaccines.

Rigorous Regulatory Review Process

The FDA reviewed the clinical trial data for the COVID-19 vaccines meticulously, and voted to grant them authorizations based on that data. The FDA was no less rigorous in making that decision than they are in granting authorizations to any medicine or vaccine. The COVID-19 vaccines had to go through all of the steps that any product of this type would be required to undergo. You can read more about the stages of vaccine development here.

The vaccines have been tested in people 12 years old and above, and the FDA authorizations don’t allow vaccination of anyone below that age — because the vaccines’ safety and efficacy have not been established in this group yet. This, too, should reassure you that these authorizations were granted entirely “by the book.”

There are now clinical trials underway to evaluate the vaccines’ safety and efficacy in children under 12 years old. Once the FDA views the data from these trials, it will likely authorize using the vaccines in these children as well — possibly by September or October.

Statistically Huge Benefits

In clinical studies involving tens of thousands of people, the vaccines were found to be about 95 percent effective! That’s an incredible rate of efficacy, and it’s tremendously encouraging.

By contrast, the flu vaccine is typically between 40 and 60 percent effective…and yet it still makes an enormous difference in reducing influenza transmission, decreasing disease severity, and saving lives.

Statistically Tiny Rates of Adverse Reactions

The clinical trials also assessed the safety of the vaccines. While a certain number of participants experienced symptoms like headaches, mild fever, and soreness at the injection site, there were very few severe reactions.

You are much more likely to have serious health problems if you get COVID-19 than if you get the vaccine.

If you’ve ever had a serious reaction to other vaccines in the past, or are immunocompromised in some way, ask your doctor if it’s appropriate for you to get vaccinated. I would say the same thing to you about any vaccine.

Real-World Evidence About the Vaccines’ Effectiveness

Now that we are seeing how well the vaccines are working in the general population, the results are very encouraging. The vaccines are all continuing to prove that they are extremely safe and effective, including against the newer variants of the coronavirus that are circulating there is strong evidence that they may provide lasting immunity — possibly a year or more.

In fact, the data is quite dramatic. In states where more people are vaccinated, COVID-19 infections have plummeted. In areas where vaccination rates are lower, infections are still occurring at higher levels.

Hopefully all this will help convince people that the vaccines can be trusted and are making a huge difference.

If you have any doubts about whether you ought to get vaccinated, please talk to your health care provider.

If you have already been vaccinated, please encourage everyone you know to get vaccinated too.

If you need pointers on how to approach those conversations, read this post by my colleague, Stephen Higgins, MD, FAAP.

Bottom line, the vaccines work. And if we want to end this pandemic at home and around the world, vaccinations must continue.

Dr. Reetika Kumar

Dr. Reetika Kumar has served as medical director and vice president of Clinical Services at Independence Health Group since 2017. Her expertise and commitment to improving the health of our members is focused on proven practices, evidenced-based medicine, and cost-effective health care delivery. Reetika is a mom of two amazing kids and stays active during the pandemic with the Peloton Female Physicians group.