Over 100 million Americans have been vaccinated. Joe Biden has promised that vaccines will be made readily available for all Americans by the end of May (The New York Times). Ultimately, it’s your choice to be vaccinated. You have the right to refuse. However, getting vaccinated just might mean getting back to normal as soon as next year.
Why should you get vaccinated?
First and foremost, getting vaccinated protects yourself from serious COVID-19 infection. Vaccination may also protect others. Scientists have not yet proven that vaccinated individuals can act as carriers for the virus and, until they know for sure, vaccination is an important part of protecting at-risk individuals (CDC). Healthy individuals can get vaccinated to protect those who cannot receive the vaccine, such as infants and children under 16 and individuals with a history of severe allergic reactions.
Getting vaccinated is the new step to getting back to the “normal”. If over 70% of the population is vaccinated, we will have reached herd immunity. Herd immunity protects the community by significantly reducing the number of people susceptible to infection, limiting the spread of COVID-19 (Mayo Clinic).
Herd immunity is safer to achieve through vaccination than through natural immunity from COVID-19 infection. Even if you have already been infected COVID-19, there is a change you could be reinfected. Scientists do not know how long natural immunity lasts to the virus. Infection with COVID-19 can be life-threatening and getting vaccinated is a safer way of building and maintaining virus immunity (CDC).
What are the different types of COVID-19 vaccines?
There are three different COVID-19 vaccines being distributed in the U.S. today: Moderna, Pfizer-BioNTech, and Janssen. To learn more about what vaccines are and why they are used, check out this article previously published with Her Campus Iowa.
The Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines use mRNA technology. Two doses are required, 28 days apart. During human trials, the vaccines have shown to be 94.1% (Moderna) or 95% (Pfizer) effective at preventing COVID-19 infection (CDC). Over 48 million Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines and 46 million Moderna vaccines have been administered in the U.S. (CDC).
Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen vaccine uses viral vector technology, requiring a single dose. The vaccine was shown to be 66.3% effective at preventing COVID-19 infection two weeks after receiving the vaccine, and 80% effective at preventing severe disease after 28 days if infected (CDC). Over 400,000 Janssen vaccines have been administered in the U.S. (CDC). The vaccine has been developed by Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen Pharmaceutical Companies, who used the same technology to manufacture an Ebola vaccine approved by the European Commission (J&J).
Moderna and Janssen are intended for people over the age of 18; Pfizer-BioNTech is intended for people over the age of 16. There is no FDA-approved vaccine in use. Rather, the FDA has authorized emergency use of Moderna, Pfizer-BioNTech, and Janssen to prevent the spread of COVID-19 (CDC). Emergency use authorization occurs during public health emergencies, like a pandemic, and allows unapproved use of specific medical products to diagnose, treat, or prevent serious diseases. However, even vaccines authorized under emergency use must meet statutory criteria to ensure that they are safe, effective, and the only medical option (FDA).
How are mRNA vaccines different than viral vector vaccines?
Viral vector vaccines, like Janssen, have been created since the 1970s. Recently, two viral vector vaccines were used in Ebola outbreaks in West Africa and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Viral vectors vaccines insert a spike protein – which is a modified version of a different, harmless virus – into our cells. This triggers an immune response during which our cells make antibodies to prevent COVID-19 infection. If a vaccinated person were to be exposed to COVID-19, the spike proteins on the surface of COVID-19 cells would initiate the antibodies to fight infection (CDC).
Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech use mRNA vaccine technology. This vaccine technology is new, but not untested. Researchers have been studying mRNA technology in cancer treatment and viruses other than COVID-19, like the flu, Zika, rabies, and cytomegalovirus. Unlike viral vector vaccines, mRNA vaccines do not insert a live virus into our cells. Rather, these vaccines give our cells the instructions to make spike proteins, triggering an immune response and making antibodies to protect against COVID-19 infection. There is no risk of mRNA vaccines causing disease in a vaccinated person. The future of mRNA technology is exciting; these vaccines have the potential to protect against multiple diseases from a single dose (CDC).
There are benefits and drawbacks to both types of vaccines. Viral vector vaccines rely on our body’s immune response to a natural virus. Some people may have already been exposed to these viruses, and thus viral vector vaccines may not be as effective in all people. While viral vector vaccines are relatively simple to store and handle, they are complex to make. On the other hand, mRNA vaccines are easy to design, produce, and test – although they require subzero temperatures to maintain their efficacy (GAVI).
What are the possible reactions/side effects to vaccination?
All three COVID-19 vaccines have the same possible side effects, which typically resolve after a few days. In the arm near the shot site, these side effects include pain, redness, and swelling. Tiredness, headache, muscle pain, chills, fever, and nausea are also possible side effects (CDC). Showing side effects does not necessarily indicate COVID-19 infection. Rather, side effects are a sign that the vaccine is working; your body has triggered an immune response and is making antibodies to protect against COVID-19 infection.
Some people have experienced an allergic reaction to the vaccines. None of the vaccines contain egg, preservatives, or latex. However, some people may have allergies to other components of the vaccines and should read the ingredients of each vaccine before administration (CDC). A survey of vaccinated Massachusetts employees showed that 2.10% reported acute allergic reactions (itching, rash, hives, swelling, and/or respiratory symptoms) and 0.025% reported anaphylaxis (severe allergic reaction). Most of the employees who reported a reaction had a history with allergic reactions, which is why it is important to read each vaccine’s ingredients for allergens before receiving it (CIDRAP)