Countries one after another are approving the first COVID-19 vaccines for emergency authorization use by the public. These vaccines are the fastest to be developed and approved in medical history, and that’s given some people concerns about their safety and efficacy, as well as potential COVID vaccine side effects.
Here are some of the most common concerns about the COVID-19 vaccines, why they’re as safe as other vaccines, and how they work.
The Vaccine Was Made Too Quickly
It’s well known that the COVID-19 vaccines have been the fastest ever developed and approved. That’s made many people concerned that the companies and the government have cut corners and ignored problems to rush approval.
Each vaccine candidate has to go through the same rigorous development and clinical trial process as any other vaccine before it. However, there are several reasons why this vaccine was developed faster than others:
- The companies leading the vaccine race all have experience either making vaccines or working with the technology to do so.
- SARS-CoV-2, the virus behind the vaccine, didn’t mutate too quickly or noticeably, so it was easier to isolate the virus proteins to base the vaccines on.
- It was easier to swiftly get the tens of thousands of volunteers necessary for the clinical trials.
- The companies were also able to rapidly get the funding needed for development and trials.
- Companies began manufacturing the vaccines months before they were approved in the gamble that the clinical trial data would show positive results. This meant that millions of doses would be available in case the vaccines were approved rather than having to wait months after approval for the first doses.
Many of the steps in the vaccine development process can take months or years to complete. But because COVID-19 is a worldwide concern, many steps were able to get the resources they need to be completed quickly as a result.
We’ve Never Had an mRNA Vaccine Before, So It Isn’t Safe
It’s true that the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines are mRNA-based vaccines, and we’ve never approved a vaccine using that technology.
However, this isn’t a new technology. The companies behind these new vaccines have been using mRNA technology for years to develop treatments for cancer and other health conditions.
The mRNA will Change My DNA
Think of mRNA, or messenger ribonucleic acid, as an assembly instruction manual, like what you’d get when you’re putting together furniture.
Except instead of instructions on how to put together a chair or table, this instruction manual tells your cells how to put together a specific protein. In this case, the specific protein is what you see on the outside of the coronavirus that forms its spikes.
The mRNA in the vaccine goes to your cells and tells the cell how to make that protein. Once the cell’s done making the protein as instructed, it gets rid of the mRNA, just like how you’d probably throw away the assembly instructions after you’re done assembling your furniture.
That protein is then identified by your body as an invader. That triggers an immune response, and the body remembers that response later the next time it comes across that protein.
In the case of the vaccine, the mRNA tells your cells to make the viral protein associated with the coronavirus, and your body uses that protein to learn how to respond safely and effectively.
Your DNA is stored in the nucleus of your cells, but the mRNA only ever makes it to the outside of the cell. It’ll never go into the cell and into the nucleus, so your DNA is untouched and safe.
The Vaccine Will Give Me COVID-19
When it comes to the mRNA-based vaccines, the protein that the mRNA tells your cells to make is just a protein. It can’t form into the virus itself, so you won’t get COVID-19 from an mRNA vaccine.
The other vaccines in development use either live or inactivated viruses as their basis, but the vaccines have been developed specifically so they won’t give you COVID-19.
For example, the vaccine being developed by AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford uses a live virus as its base. The virus is an adenovirus that causes colds in chimpanzees but is harmless to humans.
AstraZeneca-Oxford modified that virus to have the signature spike protein of the COVID-19 virus. Because the virus itself doesn’t infect humans, it simply serves as a vehicle to deliver the SARS-CoV-2 protein to your immune system to trigger a response and help you build immunity to the coronavirus.
Neither of these types of vaccines will give you COVID-19.
The Vaccine Will Make Me Sick
Vaccines work by triggering an immune response in your body. When that happens, your body will respond in certain ways that you’ll probably recognize as sicknesses, such as a fever, chills, body aches, or redness and soreness at the injection site.
These symptoms are simply the result of your immune system working correctly and are normal and expected.
I Will Get COVID Vaccine Side Effects such as an Allergic Reaction
However, as you’ve probably seen on the news, there have been several cases of people who got the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine and got a severe allergic reaction. In at least two of the cases, the health care workers who had the reactions had a history of severe allergic reactions. They were quickly treated for anaphylaxis and recovered.
Allergic reactions to vaccines are not new. For example, you might have heard that if you’ve had a severe allergic reaction to eggs before, then you should get the flu shot under inpatient or outpatient medical supervision. That’s because the flu shot is made using egg-based technology and could potentially trigger an allergic reaction in those who are very sensitive to eggs.
Concerning COVID-19 vaccines, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend that those who have had a severe allergic reaction to any ingredient in the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine should be very careful in getting the vaccine and seek medical advice before doing so.
As more and more people get the COVID-19 vaccine, we’ll likely see more instances of these rare side effects. However, your chances of having a severe reaction to a COVID-19 vaccine are much less likely than having a severe outcome from the disease itself.
I Can’t Get the Vaccine if I’ve Already Had COVID-19
Even if you’ve been sick from COVID-19, you can still benefit from getting the vaccine. There are documented cases of people getting infected with COVID-19 for a second time, weeks or months after their first infection.
From what we can tell, getting sick with the disease does not guarantee you’re immune to it. Getting the vaccine can help prevent you from getting the disease again.