I wanted to address questions around the safety of the COVID-19 vaccine. While I have received the vaccine, my intent is not to convince you to get it but to ensure that you have the latest information regarding safety and effectiveness.
One of the most common concerns is the speed at which the vaccines have been developed. Given it usually takes several years of development and research for most vaccine before they’re approved, I do understand this concern. There are a couple of important factors at play that make development of COVID-19 vaccines unique.
First, the type of vaccine is different from others. It’s not the whole virus but parts of the virus’ genetic makeup. With advances in genetic research today, scientists were able to sequence the genetic material of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 very quickly – in January 2020. They were then able to quickly identify the parts of the virus to which our immune systems would likely mount a response.
Another reason scientists were able to develop the vaccines so quickly is funding. An important factor that determine the speed of research and development is often funding. With the COVID-19 vaccines, funding was expedited through government agencies and private companies and individuals. The government funding also allowed companies to mass produce the vaccines even before the final clinical trials were completed, helping to ensure the vaccines would be available to millions very soon after approval.
In clinical trials, the vaccines were tested on tens of thousands of people, who were observed for 2 months after the final dose to make sure there were no uncommon side effects.
Any serious side effects thus far have been extremely rare. The primary one is an allergic reaction to the shot. After administering nearly 2 million doses of the vaccines by late December, there have been 21 cases of a severe allergic reaction (anaphylaxis). For that reason, health professionals who administer the vaccine are prepared to provide effective treatment to counter any serious allergic reaction.
Another potential side effect you may have heard about is the risk of a condition called Bell’s palsy, which causes temporary facial paralysis. There were a handful of cases during testing of the vaccine. However, the rate of Bell’s palsy in those who received the vaccine was actually lower than the rate we see regularly in the general public. It could have been chance and not an actual side effect of the vaccine itself. However, vaccine manufacturers and the FDA are keeping an eye on the risk of this side effect and any others.
Another side effect you may have heard about is the risk of the vaccine causing an autoimmune disease or an immune system disorder. There is no scientific evidence to support this.
Some people are afraid of being one of the first to receive the vaccine. As of today Jan. 20, 2021, 52 million people across the globe and over 11 million in the US, have received the vaccine. As millions more are vaccinated, any side effects will be reported through the FDA’s Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS).
The most common side effects are pain where you get the shot, fatigue, headache, chills, fever, and joint and muscle pain. This is your immune system’s response to the vaccine – a sign your body is developing immunity to the virus. Up to half of people may experience these side effects but they are short-lived, usually disappearing in a few days.
The vaccines have been shown to be 95% effective at preventing COVID-19. This is a rate far greater than what we typically see with the flu vaccine, which is typically around 40%.
Over 400,000 people in the US alone have died from COVID-19, making it by far the leading killer of Americans. Without the vaccine, experts, including me, don’t see a way out of this pandemic without losing hundreds of thousands more. That’s why we so strongly believe that the vaccine is right for us and our families.
I hope this information has answered questions about the safety and efficacy as you make a decision on what’s best for you and your family.
Dr. Michael W. Smith
Chief Medical Officer
MIT News. Explained: Why RNA vaccines for COVID-19 raced to the front of the pack
HHS.gov. Fact Sheet: Explaining Operation Warp Speed
CDC. What to Expect After Getting a COVID-19 Vaccine
CDC. COVID-19 Vaccines and Allergic Reactions
WebMD. FDA: Track Vaccine Recipients for Facial Paralysis
JAMA: COVID-19 as the Leading Cause of Death in the United States