As the coronavirus pandemic has raged on, the only real light at the end of the tunnel has been the development of a working vaccine. Now, we have it. And there’s not just one, but two vaccines that have been approved by the FDA–one by Pfizer in collaboration with BioNTEch and another by Moderna.
Based on clinical trials that involved tens of thousands of people, these vaccines are 90-95% effective at preventing the full-blown development of COVID-19.
These statistics and the subsequent approval by the FDA have given millions of people hope, especially as the first members of the public start to get vaccinated. But for others, doubts linger about the safety of these vaccines.
Read on to see the answers to some of the most common vaccine questions:
How Were These Vaccines Developed So Quickly?
This is probably the main thing that has so many people skeptical of the safety of COVID-19 vaccines. Considering most vaccines can take years to develop, how did multiple COVID-19 vaccines get through the process in just a few months?
They had the advantage of being able to piggyback off of vaccine research that has been going on for years. Starting as early as 1990, drug researchers have experimented with messenger RNA, or mRNA, as a delivery device for vaccines. This research directly impacted the speed of COVID-19 vaccine development.
Billions of dollars of government funding and pushing these vaccines to the front of the approval line certainly also helped. Such efforts were designed to streamline the bureaucratic processes involved in developing a vaccine. They don’t say anything about the overall safety of vaccine development processes, clinical trials, or the subsequent approval process by the FDA.
In short, things needed to move fast. And so they did. However, streamlining the process should not imply that shortcuts were taken at any point. For FDA vaccine approval to take place, basic safety and efficacy requirements must always be met.
Can the Vaccines Mess with a Person’s DNA?
No. The mRNA delivery system is purposefully short-lived. It works by delivering mRNA into a person’s cells, supplying genetic instructions that prompt the cells to produce the specific “spike” protein that the novel coronavirus uses to bind with and enter cells. The immune system recognizes the protein as a potential threat and stimulates a response, creating antibodies that would ward off any subsequent attack by the actual coronavirus.
After it has done its job of delivering the protein, mRNA is quickly broken down and carried out of the body via normal enzymic processes. There is no evidence that suggests that the nucleus of a person’s DNA is ever penetrated, let alone manipulated.
What About the Side Effects?
Every vaccine out there can potentially create side effects in at least some of its recipients. Those who had side effects after receiving the Pfizer vaccine most often reported mild to moderate pain at the injection site. Other reported side effects include headaches, fatigue, chills, muscle pain and joint paint and, to a lesser extent, vomiting, fever, and diarrhea. Sounds icky, but the majority of these issues resolved themselves within two days.
This is the most that the majority of vaccine recipients could expect. The possibility of an allergic reaction exists. But that is currently being well-controlled by observing recipients for 15-30 minutes after the administration of the vaccine. Any allergic reactions tend to happen rather immediately, if they happen at all. Anaphylactic reactions reported by a couple of British health care workers were treated quickly; they have been released, so far with no lingering effects.
Is There Anyone Who Shouldn’t Get One of These Vaccines?
Clinical trials did not include children younger than 16, pregnant or breast-feeding women, or people with compromised immune systems. As such, researchers are performing ongoing studies to confirm the safety of the vaccines for these demographics.
And you should probably talk to your doctor about the safety of the vaccine if you have ever had a severe allergic reaction to anything in the past.
How Do We Know What Will Happen Long-Term?
Yes, some rare long-term effect could come up somewhere down the line. But we won’t know what that effect could be until “long-term” actually arrives. (Researchers put this at about 2-3 years out.) So far, clinical trial subjects who received what are now the approved vaccines have enabled scientists to gather 2-3 months of data about any lingering or new effects. To date, things continue to look promising.
It also remains to be seen how long these vaccines will be effective at slowing down COVID-19 symptoms. Will it be enough to stop the pandemic? Will we need to have one every year, like a flu shot? We will have to wait for answers to these questions.
But for right now, the most important answer is that the vaccines seem to work. And they are currently our best shot (pun intended) for eventually getting back to normal.
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