Today@Sam Article

A Dose Of Truth: Busting Vaccine Myths

July 27, 2021
SHSU Media Contact: Emily Binetti

WalkleyVaccines are widely considered one of the greatest inventions of mankind. The World Health Organization estimates that vaccines prevented over 10 million deaths between 2010 and 2015, and many millions more were protected from illness.

As doses of the COVID-19 vaccine become more available, they bring the promise of global relief from the pandemic. Unfortunately, there has been a lot of misinformation surrounding the vaccine and its development.

Dr. Candace Walkley is an assistant professor with Sam Houston State University College of Osteopathic Medicine and a doctor at the SHSU Physicians Clinic. As an expert in internal medicine, pediatrics and adult infectious diseases, she spoke with Today@Sam on the facts behind common COVID-19 vaccine myths.

I already had COVID-19, so I do still need the vaccine?
We are still recommending that all adults become vaccinated, including those who have had COVID-19 because we do not know how long a patient’s immune system will be active against the virus after true infection—and whether reinfection is possible or after how long a period of time. Patients who have had COVID-19 and received monoclonal antibodies, however, should wait at least 90 days to get vaccinated so that the antibodies they received do not interfere with their own body responding to the vaccination. Also, patients who had natural infection may desire to wait until at least 90 days before they receive vaccine because we know that immunity lasts at least that long. Personally, I am really looking forward to seeing long-term data on natural infection. Our early information suggests that the antibody response to vaccination is more robust than to natural infection, which is interesting. 

VaccineCoverIf I am not at risk for severe complications due to COVID-19 do I still need get vaccinated?
Our 6-month follow up on vaccinated adults, and our real-time experience with clinical encounters and hospitalizations, shows that vaccination definitely protects against severe disease, hospitalizations, and fatalities. It also reduces symptomatic infection. An important principle of vaccination is that reducing the circulation of an infectious disease results in fewer vulnerable people becoming infected. So, the more immune individuals we have across our population, the less susceptible people there are, and the less the virus will circulate and change.

It is normal for rapidly-dividing RNA viruses to generate mutations, which we call “variants.” Sometimes the variants become the predominant virus circulating in the population, and if they do and also alter how the disease behaves, then we call it a “strain.” Currently, the Delta variant appears to be more infectious (more easily transmitted), but we don’t have definitive data that it is more virulent (causes more severe disease). Anecdotally, however, we are seeing more young people require hospitalization or emergency room visits once infected. 

Is the vaccine effective against the Delta variant?
Yes, it seems so. Most of the current hospitalizations and, definitely, the fatalities are occurring in patients who are either unvaccinated or in patients who may have responded poorly to the vaccine (e.g., elderly, co-morbid illnesses). While this Delta variant seems to be more infectious (more transmissible) than the wildtype virus, vaccinated patients can relax. We are not seeing severe disease in them.

Does the COVID-19 vaccine alter your DNA?
No. There are currently two types of vaccinations that have received Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) from the US federal government, and these are the messenger RNA (mRNA) vaccines (manufactured by Moderna and Pfizer) and the adenovirus vector vaccine (manufactured by Janssen/Johnson & Johnson). Both vaccines use new methods to deliver tiny pieces of viral genes to our cells. mRNA vaccines have specific SARS-CoV-2 genes encoded by lipids that are recognized by our body, fuse with our cell membranes, and insert the genetic material into the cell’s cytoplasm. With the adenoviral vector vaccines, the adenovirus vector is an inactivated form of a common cold virus that contains specific SARS-CoV-2 genes, which can fuse with our cell membranes and insert the SARS-CoV-2 genetic material into our cells’ nucleus. Once inside our cells, our cells translate the virus’s genetic material into a protein, which is expressed on the cell surface. These proteins then stimulate immune system cells against SARS-CoV-2. The genetic material is immediately degraded by the cell after the protein is created.

Does the COVID-19 cause infertility?
There is no data to support this claim. Early on, there was concern that the proteins, created and expressed on the cell surfaces to stimulate immune cells, looked similar to proteins that are created by a human placenta during pregnancy. Concern was that the vaccine would stimulate an immune response against the human placenta. But this has not occurred in any human trials. The concern always has been theoretical and was raised by a German doctor who petitioned a European regulatory agency to delay the approval of the Pfizer vaccine. There was never any data to support this concern.

IMG_2804Were there enough participants in the clinical trials to declare the vaccines safe?
The initial vaccine studies were powered to determine safety and reactogenicity of different vaccine doses with follow up visits on days 1, 2, and at 4 weeks post-each vaccination, as well as 3, 6, and 12 months post second vaccination day. So, those people who participated in the initial studies will be followed all the way out to a year, with reports released about their responses. The Janssen study participants will be followed through 104 weeks (2 years).

We have been vaccinating individuals for various infectious diseases for over 50 years, and we’ve been waiting to see if any vaccination causes long-term side effects, outside of the period of vaccination. And, we’ve yet to have any vaccination that causes any long-term consequences. There are a few vaccinations that rarely result in adverse events (such as Guillain-barre syndrome with the influence vaccine and intestinal blockage from rotavirus), but the events occur within 4 weeks of becoming immunized. So, while we don’t have 10 year data, we do not anticipate any long term effects based on vaccination history.  

Now that we have vaccines, will the pandemic be over soon?
We have seen a dramatic response to vaccination, even with the emergence of variant virus. While people still need to be vigilant about being around other sick people and washing their hands, we are seeing many less sick people, and those who are sick are often not as sick as a year ago. I really hope that a major result from this pandemic is that people are more attentive to keeping their fingers out of their nose and mouth and washing their hands.

Once fully vaccinated, how long does it take to be effective in protection?
Two weeks after the 2nd Pfizer/Moderna vaccines and two weeks after the Janssen single vaccine.

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