7 COVID-19 Vaccine Myths You Definitely Shouldn't Believe, According to Infectious Disease Doctors
Study up before you get the shot. (Spoiler: Yes, they're all safe!)
Six in 10 Americans have already had or would readily get the coronavirus vaccine when it's their turn, up from 51% in September 2020, according to December 2020 Pew Research data. Those who fall on the "maybe" or "nah" side cite several reasons why, from distrust in vaccines as a whole to lack of confidence in the research and development process, to the belief that COVID-19 isn't that big of a deal anyway.
Still, nearly half of those on team "I'll pass" report that they may be swayed if they get more information about the available COVID-19 vaccines or notice others having safe experiences with them. With that in mind, we tapped two infectious disease doctors on the front lines to dispel some of the most common coronavirus vaccine myths they hear from patients and the general public.
"As more people receive the vaccine, we will be able to do more. Getting the vaccine gives you peace of mind, which is a great thing after a year of extreme precaution and uncertainty. Having 95% immunity from the mRNA vaccines is a pretty terrific feeling," says Sandra Kesh, M.D., an infectious disease specialist and the deputy medical director at Westmed Medical Group in Westchester, New York.
COVID-19 Vaccine Myths You Shouldn't Believe
1. Myth: The COVID-19 vaccine will give you coronavirus.
Fact: The vaccine does not and cannot cause a COVID-19 infection.
"It is biologically impossible to get COVID-19 from the vaccines based upon the way they are developed," explains Prathit Kulkarni, M.D., an assistant professor of infectious diseases at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas.
Normal vaccine reactions such as fever, aches and fatigue are common in the first few days after each dose, and all are signs that your immune system is working as it should, Kesh adds. A cough, breathing difficulties and loss of smell or taste are not common vaccine reactions, and may indicate infection with either COVID-19 or another infection. Connect with your doctor if you experience any of the latter symptoms post-vaccination.
2. Myth: The COVID-19 vaccine causes infertility.
Fact: It's important for women who are pregnant or planning to become pregnant to discuss the risks and benefits of vaccination with their doctor, Kesh says, but there's zero evidence that the vaccine causes infertility.
"We do know, however, that pregnant women who become infected with the virus are at increased risk for more severe infection and poor pregnancy outcomes," Kesh says, so basic safety practices (such as physical distancing, wearing a face mask, avoiding infected individuals and washing hands) are vital if you do not receive the vaccine during pregnancy.
3. Myth: The vaccine is not safe and hasn't been tested as well as other vaccines.
Fact: Although the approved COVID-19 vaccines were developed and tested relatively quickly compared to other vaccines historically, the same phases of testing were used for all of them prior to authorization from the Food and Drug Administration, Kulkarni says.
"All of the authorized vaccines went through large clinical trials involving tens of thousands of patients who were closely monitored for adverse effects or issues with the vaccine. No strong adverse safety signals have been observed, hence why the vaccines have received authorization," he says.
While it seems speedy since this was just declared a global pandemic by the World Health Organization on March 11, 2020, the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines are actually both cases of "what's old is new," Kesh says.
She explains, "The mRNA technology used in these two vaccines has been studied for over a decade. All data we have from the clinical trials—which included more than 40,000 people in the Pfizer trial, and more than 30,000 people in the Moderna trial—indicate that the vaccines are safe. No severe side effects were seen, and the mild or moderate side effects nearly always resolved within a few days." Kesh adds, "We have also seen no clear link between the mRNA vaccines and severe adverse events, despite millions of vaccines given to date."
COVID-19 vaccine-related anaphylactic allergic reactions remain very rare, with only about two or three cases per 1 million individuals vaccinated.
"Those odds are pretty good, when you're talking about a highly infectious and potentially deadly disease," Kesh says.
4. Myth: As soon as the vaccine is administered, masks and physical distancing are no longer necessary.
Fact: After you get the vaccine, you should still continue to wear face masks and keep 6 or more feet of distance from people outside of your household.
"Although it's counterintuitive, a vaccine can protect you against getting infection, but vaccinated individuals may still carry and spread the virus," Kesh says. So while you're unlikely to fall ill from the COVID-19, you can still catch it and pass it along. "There are good studies being done now on how effective current vaccines are in preventing spread, and we should have the answers in the next few months. Until then, vaccinated individuals should continue to mask up!"
5. Myth: Those who have already had COVID-19 don't need to get vaccinated.
Fact: If someone has had COVID-19, they can—and should—still get vaccinated. Guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggests they can consider delaying the vaccination for 90 days, but they should ultimately receive it, and this delay is not an absolute requirement, Kulkarni says. It's just mainly designed as a way to prioritize those without antibodies (i.e., people who have not been infected and thus haven't built up some natural immunity to the virus) at this time when vaccine demand exceeds supply.
"If someone received antibody-based treatment of some kind, either convalescent plasma or a monoclonal antibody, then they are specifically recommended to wait 90 days until getting vaccinated," Kulkarni says.
After those 90 days, those who have recovered from a COVID-19 infection should get the vaccine to protect them from reinfection.
"We have seen that the vaccine triggers levels of neutralizing antibodies significantly higher than the actual infection. Until we know more about how long immunity from the actual infection lasts, we recommend vaccination for everyone, regardless of past infection," Kesh adds.
6. Myth: One vaccination will protect you from COVID-19 for life.
Fact: Scientists are currently researching the duration of immunity of each of the COVID-19 vaccines, Kulkarni says. We may need repeat vaccinations in the future, similar to the yearly flu shot either annually or on some other schedule, or we may not.
"The FDA has said they anticipate at least one year of immunity. As of yet, studies have not shown how long immunity from the vaccine will last. Because this is a new vaccine, immunity has to be measured over time and it's going to be hard to answer that question at this point," Kesh says.
One thing we know for sure, Kesh continues: "The longer it takes for us to reach herd immunity, the greater the chance the virus has to mutate, and the more likely we are to need repeated vaccination."
As a bonus, getting vaccinated means you no longer have to quarantine if you're exposed to someone who might be infected. This doesn't give you a green light to kiss strangers and have people cough in your face, but as long as you've been vaccinated, the chance of you getting infected by someone with COVID-19 is incredibly low (less than 5% with the mRNA vaccines), so you can be more flexible regarding the CDC rules for quarantining due to exposure.
7. Myth: You should wait until you can choose which vaccine is administered so you can have the "best" one.
Fact: Get the first vaccine that is available to you, whether it's the Pfizer, Moderna or the newly approved Johnson & Johnson vaccine (or one that's approved down the line). All of these vaccines were approved for emergency use by the FDA because they do the job and do it well.
"They have all been tested extensively and are extremely effective at preventing severe disease and hospitalization. This is the most important thing we want from the vaccines and they are all very good at accomplishing this," Kulkarni says.