The Age of Misinformation: COVID Vaccine Edition
I have dedicated my medical career to fighting the battle of misinformation as it relates to the musculoskeletal rehabilitation industry and with the most significant public health crisis of our lives, I continue to try and be a resource for those trying to wade through the conflicting information presented regarding the COVID-19 vaccine. I am not an infectious disease expert or epidemiologist, but I am an expert in research. I spend the vast majority of my day doing two things: reading and appraising research AND trying to educate patients that have been given false or inaccurate narratives about their bodies.
The following is a list of common talking points I hear regarding the vaccine and I wanted to take a moment to address each one. This write-up was intentionally constructed to avoid source material from media outlets or biased entities (although this is quite difficult, hence the current problem). Most references are from statistics, medical groups, the FDA/CDC and science publications. My aim is not to convince people to get vaccinated but rather give the most accurate, up-to-date information we have available to allow individuals to make their own informed decisions.
It isn’t FDA approved.
1) Technically not a myth as this is true, but it is often the number one reason people give that are scared to receive the COVID vaccine. Currently the vaccines available are under “Emergency Use Authorization” which is no simple task to achieve. The FDA “rigorously tests” any medical treatment prior to being given EUA. Thousands of people were given the vaccine prior to EUA status in phase 3 trials to assess potential health risks. You can read more about the EUA process here. The people making these decisions are not politicians or businessmen, they are “career scientists and physicians who have globally recognized expertise in the complexity of vaccine development and in evaluating the safety and effectiveness of all vaccines intended to prevent infectious diseases.” 2) FDA approval is largely expected to happen within the next few weeks or months as the application by Pfizer (and soon Moderna) are under “priority review” although it could take until 2022 to receive final approval. 3) Many things people put in their bodies are not FDA approved and many of us never think twice. For example, daily vitamins are not FDA-approved, neither is that protein powder, creatine or pre-workout supplement. There is no governing body to confirm the quality, quantity or efficacy of any of these supplements yet the Doterra Oil/Young Living are seeing over a billion dollars in revenue growth each year or 800% growth over the last 5 years. Apprehension with receiving the vaccine without FDA approval is understandable but should be taken in context.
It’s too new/they rushed it.
1) According to the FDA, “efforts to speed vaccine development to address the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic have not sacrificed scientific standards, integrity of the vaccine review process, or safety”. The acceleration in approval comes from streamlining the process, not from skipping safety steps. If this was construction of a new home for example, it would be the equivalent of permits being priority approved (after evaluation) for this project before any other projects, contractors clearing their schedule to be immediately available for their work, and multiple subcontractors working together to get things done. If we view the vaccine-to-market timeline in this lens, it may make more sense? No steps were skipped, no short measures, just elimination of the bottlenecks combined with the procedural priority given to get things done. 2) mRNA vaccine research has been in the works for over 20 years. In fact, Moderna’s formation is largely due to mRNA vaccine research back in 2010. You can read more about mRNA research history here. Or listen to this fantastic podcast by Barbell Medicine here. This is the first mRNA vaccine, but it almost certainly will pave the way for future vaccines. “It was really incredible to see how well these vaccines worked in the clinical trials,” says Monica Gandhi, an infectious disease physician at UCSF.
Vaccinated individuals still get sick, so it doesn’t work.
1) Vaccines are never 100% effective. Current research done by Kaiser Family Foundation (a non-partisan, non-profit organization dedicated to research in public health) shows that while breakthrough cases exist, this is not unusual for vaccines or unexpected. Additionally, double-vaccinated individuals are continuing to demonstrate the “rate of breakthrough cases at well below 1%” and hospitalizations of vaccinated individuals is “between 0 and 0.06%.” 2) The longer the virus has to find hosts, the more likely it is to continue to mutate, which can potentially facilitate vaccine-resistant strains. We see the same effect with prolonged antibiotic use for other infections.
Breakthrough cases in California. - Image source
I’m worried about side effects.
1) Side effects are a possibility with any medication. We take other medications because the risk of not taking them far outweighs the low probability of experiencing side effects. Regarding vaccines, historically, adverse events related to a vaccine are seen within the first several weeks or first couple months. With these vaccines, we have a massive sample pool (billions of people) taking the vaccine at the same time which allows researchers to have more information regarding side effects of a vaccine than at any other point in history. Because of this, any side effects experienced or expected have likely been established and future side effects are unlikely. In fact, the longest a side effect has shown up after receiving any vaccine is 6 weeks. That being said, we do not know if there are any long-term effects, but we also do not know the long-term effects of being infected with COVID (although this research is emerging). It is unlikely there will be side effects down the road, not impossible, but highly improbable.
‘A key reason for this limited window of side effects is the short time all vaccines stay in the body’, says Onyema Ogbuagu, an infectious diseases specialist at Yale Medicine and a principal investigator of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine trial This is likely due to the fact that the vaccine does not stay in the body very long.
Finally, VAERS is the vaccine adverse event reporting system. A few key points when reading anything about side effects with the vaccine: 1) Because of the emergency use declaration, one of the caveats is that ANY health issue must be reported if someone received the vaccine even if the physician does not believe the cause is related to the vaccine itself. They are required to report any event which is not how we normally do things. 2) Events reported to VAERS are not fact-checked and anyone can report to the system with no quality controls in place to verify accuracy or authenticity. 3) Things like “thousands of deaths due to the COVID vaccine” are circulating social media which have been shown to be false. This claim originated because ALL deaths are reported if someone has received the vaccine NOT whether they died from the vaccine. If you got hit by lightning, for example, but have had the vaccine it is getting reported.
• The Moderna and Pfizer vaccines are 88-93% effective against COVID including the Delta variant.
• Although this is the first mRNA vaccine, mRNA research has been around for decades.
• Receiving an “Emergency Use Authorization” does not mean any safety protocols were skipped in getting this vaccine to market.
• Side effects from vaccines are historically seen within the first 6 weeks and almost never seen beyond that.
• Breakthrough cases happen with all vaccines, but currently, less than 1% of those hospitalized have been double-vaccinated.
• The most effective strategy we have to get back to normal is to be vaccinated. The longer the virus has to reproduce, the more likely it is to mutate and perpetuate the cycle.
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