Since librarians are all about credible sources of information (and seriously cool boots), I have scoured the interwebs to get the real scoop on COVID vaccines for all of you. Here are FAQs and links to deeper answers and source materials. They may help you talk with anti-vaxxers or inform yourself if you have questions.
Are COVID-19 vaccines safe and effective?
Yes, research indicates that they are safe and effective. The vaccines were tested in large clinical trials that included people with various medical conditions, and different ages, races, and ethnicities.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has reviewed all of the data gathered in these trials and authorized vaccine use only when sure that the benefits outweigh the risks. The CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) also reviews all safety data before recommending any vaccine.
Millions of people in the United States have received COVID-19 vaccines, and these vaccines are undergoing the most intensive safety monitoring in U.S. history.
Was safety sacrificed in developing the vaccines so quickly?
No. The accelerated timeline was created by having steps in the testing process proceed simultaneously, like manufacturing at industrial scale before safety and efficacy has been fully reviewed. That increased financial risk, but did not sacrifice standards of safety and efficacy.
Where can I get more information about the specific vaccine types?
What can I do once I am vaccinated?
Your vaccine will be fully activated in 2 weeks after your final dose. At that time, you will still have to maintain social distance and wear a mask in public places. But you will be able to:
- Take off your mask and be in close contact with other fully vaccinated people, even indoors.
- Do the same with unvaccinated people, if they are not at risk of severe illness.
- Travel within the U.S. without COVID-19 testing or post-travel self-quarantine
- Get and give HUGS!
Have people died from the COVID-19 vaccine?
You may have seen reports on social media or elsewhere about deaths after the vaccine. No deaths have been linked to the vaccine.
Between 12/14/20 and 3/22/21, .0018% of people who received a vaccine died. (For comparison’s sake, you are over 3 times more likely to be struck by lightning in your lifetime). CDC and FDA physicians reviewed death certificates, autopsy, and medical records related to each death; the vaccine was not found to cause any of those incidents.
Does the vaccine create any problems with having children or getting pregnant? What if I’m pregnant now?
If you are trying to become pregnant now or want to get pregnant in the future, the vaccine should not be a factor.
The American Society for Reproductive Medicine created a team of medical specialists in areas related to fertility and infectious disease to study COVID-19 and make recommendations. They continue to recommend that all people be vaccinated, including women who are pregnant or who contemplate becoming pregnant in the future. More about pregnancy and the COVID-19 vaccines.
Does a COVID-19 vaccine give me COVID-19?
No, because none of the current vaccines use the live virus that causes COVID-19.
Am I going to get sick after I get the vaccine?
The vaccines teach the immune systems about the virus that causes COVID-19 and how to fight it. That process can sometimes cause side effects such as fever or body aches. These symptoms are a normal sign that your immune system is building protection against the virus.
Personal experience & how it maps to the data:
I had the J&J vaccine on the same day as two of my colleagues. Within 24 hours after the vaccine, one of us had a mild fever; one had a headache; and I felt achy and tired. Each of us had a sore arm from the shot. Anecdotally, it seems like about half of the people we know who got the J&J vaccine had a spike of fever and chills. (That comes from our librarian friends at the public library who are helping people schedule vaccines around the county).
The J&J clinical trial data on reactogenicity (there’s my new word for the day) shows that 61.5% of people under 60 and 45.3% of those over 60 had some sort of systemic response (fatigue, headache, muscle aches, nausea, fever). Less than 2% had to restrict daily activities or take a pain reliever because of the side effects. My local sample came close to the 61% but we did know at least one person who was totally down with fever and illness the day following their vaccination.
Many people who work on my campus are getting their second Moderna vaccine today. The rumor mill in our little town says that people have a stronger immune response after the second shot of Moderna, often with fever and chills. My husband, however, was more lethargic after his first dose than the second.
Moderna’s clinical trial data says that approximately 57% of younger people have a systemic response (fatigue, headache, muscle and joint aches, nausea, fever) after the first shot and 82% after the second. So it sounds like my colleagues are right to expect some discomfort after this one. The percentage of people who have to restrict daily activities after the second shot is also higher than J&J, ranging from 3–17%, with younger people having the hardest time after the second shot (that’s the 17%).
Arm pain, swelling, redness. Before I started writing up this data, I just assumed that nearly everyone has some pain at the shot site. I expected it, and mine felt a lot like getting a flu shot. Interestingly, though, there’s a big difference in those percentages between the different vaccines. For J&J’s single shot, only about half of subjects reported arm pain (with less pain for those over age 60). But Moderna reported around 90% of all subjects had pain at the injection site with little difference between shot 1 and shot 2 in the series. Interestingly, for those over 65, there was more variation between shots, and fewer arm symptoms — 74% had issues after the first shot, and 84% after the second shot.
How do the COVID vaccines work?
mRNA vaccines: (Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna) mRNA vaccines teach our cells how to make a protein (or part of a protein) that triggers an immune response. That immune response produces antibodies that protect us from getting infected from the real virus. Since mRNA never enters the nucleus of the cell where DNA resides, it will not mess with your DNA.
Researchers have been working with mRNA vaccines for decades, looking at applications for flu, Zika, and rabies. Cancer mRNA research uses the same process to trigger immune responses to target specific cancer cells. More about mRNA vaccines.
Viral Vector vaccines: The Janssen Johnson & Johnson vaccine is a viral vector vaccine. In this type of vaccine, genetic information is delivered to your cells by a vector (a harmless piece of the cold virus). The vector gives your cells instructions to make spike proteins on the cell surface, triggering an immune response.
With both vaccines, our bodies learn how to protect us against future infection from the virus that causes COVID-19. The benefit is that we get this protection from a vaccine, without ever having to risk the serious consequences of getting sick with COVID-19. More about viral vector vaccines.
Author’s note: In my day job, I’m a librarian in a small college library. I don’t often write on Medium as my librarian self, but I gathered this information to be distributed on my campus because the J&J vaccine was given on campus this week for the first time. You can find more about my non-library work at www.messydeskconsulting.com.