Pharmacist says COVID-19 vaccine safe, effective… necessary to stop pandemic
by Mark Dewey
Pharm. D. BCGP FASCP NDSU
A year ago, the idea of a COVID-19 vaccine soon becoming available to the general population seemed like wishful thinking. Fast forward to today, and the United States has provided emergency use authorizations for not one, but three different COVID-19 vaccines. While the idea is exciting to some, many Americans find the decision of getting the vaccine daunting. There is influence coming from so many different sources that make it difficult to decipher what is fact and what is fiction. I will discuss common myths and misinformation with hopes to provide clarity and relieve the stress and hesitancy surrounding the COVID-19 vaccines. I think it is important to keep in mind three facts about the COVID-19 vaccines: the vaccine is free; the vaccine is safe; and the vaccine is effective.
There are three different vaccines available. Pfizer is a two dose series that has been shown to be 95 percent effective at preventing COVID-19. Moderna is a two dose series proven to be 94.1 percent effective at preventing COVID-19. Johnson and Johnson (J&J) is a one dose vaccine proven to be 66.3 percent effective at preventing COVID-19 and 85 percent effective at preventing severe/critical illness. The J & J vaccine had a pause in administration recently. It was found to have an extremely low risk of a specific type of clots. Patients with a prior history of an episode of an immune-mediated syndrome characterized by thrombocytopenia and thrombosis, such as heparin-induced thrombocytopenia, should avoid the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine. Women under the age of 50 may be more likely to be affected and could consider the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines to avoid this rare side effect.
Many people believe that the vaccine will give them COVID-19. This is not possible because the vaccines do not contain a live virus able to cause an infection. You may experience side effects (fever, muscle aches, etc) after the vaccine, but this is a sign that your body is building an immune response and the vaccine is working. Many people also doubt the safety of the vaccine due to its rapid approval. This does not mean the vaccine is not safe. The vaccine still had to meet all safety protocols before being issued an emergency use authorization. Since the pandemic elicited an emergency response, this process was able to be conducted more efficiently. Another myth is that people who have had COVID-19 do not need to get the vaccine. This is false as we do not have strong information available to determine how long natural immunity lasts. The information we do have estimates natural immunity to last about 90 days. There are many concerns regarding pregnancy and infertility related to the vaccine. There is no evidence that the vaccine causes problems with conceiving or interruption with placental development. There are currently studies being conducted regarding the use of the vaccine in pregnant mothers. So far, there is no evidence of harm to the mother or fetus. Lastly, many people believe that the COVID-19 vaccine will alter their DNA. The COVID-19 vaccines will not alter or interact with your DNA. Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are mRNA vaccines that teach our cells how to make a protein. The mRNA never enters the nucleus of the cell where our DNA is found. J & J is a viral vector vaccine that delivers instructions (via genetic material) to our cells to protect against the virus. This genetic material also never enters the nucleus of the cell where the DNA is stored.
There are several reasons why it is important to get vaccinated, not only for your own health, but for the health and safety of those around you. The risk of hospitalization and death increases exponentially with age in those infected with COVID-19. Compared to 5-17 year olds, people age 50-64 are 25 times more likely to be hospitalized with COVID-19 and 400 times more likely to die from it. Everyone has a different situation and different experiences with vaccines in the past. If you have concerns or specific questions regarding the vaccine, I strongly encourage you to reach out to your health care provider or one of the pharmacists at Prairie Ridge Healthcare or Lake Region Healthcare to discuss your specific situation.
My feelings are that the vaccines are the best weapons we have against COVID-19. We are all scared of potential side effects of vaccines and medications, but we must also recognize the potential short and long-term effects of having COVID-19. In most people, and for our whole population, the risks of COVID-19 far out-weigh the risks of our current vaccines. We also need to remember that all the “participants”, that have been a part of vaccine trials, are real people that took a big “leap of faith” in getting us to the point we are. It is our time to “pay it forward” and take the vaccine (unless it is contraindicated). In the future, we will have better medications and therapeutics to treat COVID-19, but this will not decrease our need for vaccines anytime soon. Also, the less that COVID-19 circulates in the population, the less likely it is to mutate and evade our current vaccines and therapeutics.
Mark Dewey, who lives outside of Elbow Lake, is an Associate Professor of Practice, Pharmacy Practice, North Dakota State University and Clinical Pharmacist for Lake Region Healthcare & Consultant Pharmacist Inc.