5 Things You Need to Know About COVID-19 Vaccines

Separating the myths from facts about vaccines

By Ernst Lamothe Jr.

Physician Alan J. Lesse, division of infectious diseases at the University at Buffalo. “I think the vaccines are safe and effective. I’ve taken my first injection and will take the second to generate a protective response,” he says.
Physician Alan J. Lesse, division of infectious diseases at the University at Buffalo. “I think the vaccines are safe and effective. I’ve taken my first injection and will take the second to generate a protective response,” he says.

In mid-December, the first 170,000 doses of the coronavirus were ushered into the state of New York. Double that number came a week later. Slowly every state has received its initial doses of the vaccine. Now, under the new Biden administration, there is a strong push for everyone to be vaccinated. In mid-February, the president said that by July everyone who wants to be vaccinated will be able to do so. There have been many questions and rumors about the vaccine as residents hope it is the first wave of good news when it comes to COVID-19 and the attempts to return to normalcy.

“I think the vaccines are safe and effective. I’ve taken my first injection and will take the second to generate a protective response,” said physician Alan J. Lesse, associate professor, division of infectious diseases, department of medicine, Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences at the University at Buffalo. “When you are offered the vaccine, it is based on your risk of getting sick or doing poorly once you become infected.”

Lesse answers five frequently asked questions about the COVID-19 vaccine.

1. What is the process of the vaccine coming to market?

Some people may wonder if the vaccine was fast-tracked and created too soon. But experts say there is a reason why the vaccine came through in less time than others because COVID-19 had similar strains from Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) and severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS).  The vaccines were built upon years of work in developing vaccines for similar viruses.

More than 70,000 people volunteered in clinical trials for two vaccines (Pfizer and Moderna) to see if they are safe and work to prevent COVID-19 illness. To date, the vaccines are 95% effective in preventing COVID-19 with no safety concerns.

“No shortcuts were done in the testing of the vaccines. The speed came from two major factors,” said Lesse. “First, given the worldwide pandemic, the U.S. and other countries, poured billions of dollars into the vaccine trials. This allowed a much more rapid accumulation of data. By having so many people enrolled, the same amount of data was obtained in a very short time.”

Lesse said the other major factor in the speed of the vaccine was the government’s commitment to buy the vaccines and cover the cost of vaccine production even before the vaccine was approved. Normally, because of the expense in ramping up to make the actual vaccine in the trials, companies produce small amounts of vaccine and wait to see if the vaccine trial proves effective. If approved, then the company makes many more vaccines, but there is always the question of how well it will sell and how much to make.

“By committing to purchase the vaccine before it was available, the economic risk to the companies was eliminated and the process was sped up greatly,” said Lesse. “This meant that millions of doses of every vaccine in clinical trials are being manufactured, but only those that are successful will be approved for use, allowing for vaccines to ship to people the day after approval is granted. It normally takes months or longer to scale up production.”

2. Signing up

During the initial roll out and during the beginning of the year, federal elected officials, health care workers, those working in nursing homes and senior citizens were prioritized with the vaccine. The COVID-19 vaccine will be distributed in phases to groups of people at increased risk of exposure or severe illness. Phased distribution will take time, with vaccines not expected to be widely available to all New Yorkers until mid-2021. The different phases of COVID-19 vaccine distribution are determined by New York State and may change. The federal government determines how much vaccine New York state receives. The federal government has given New York about 300,000 vaccines per week for more than seven million people who are eligible, as a result supply is very limited.

3. Should you get the vaccine?

There are people on either side of the vaccine who are either highly excited and plan to receive it right away and others who are skeptical and may take a wait and see approach. Lesse has a clear answer when asked if people should get vaccinated.

“I strongly recommend that everyone should be vaccinated against SARS-CoV-2 because it is highly effective and offers widespread protection,” he added. “This has been a tragic year for humanity with the loss of more than half million souls in the U.S. and more than 1.7 million people worldwide due to COVID-19. The pandemic has also crushed the economy and there is no hope of repairing the economy until the pandemic is under control. That will require a massive vaccination effort.”

4. Have there been any side effects?

There is no COVID-19 in the vaccines and there are no serious side effects. But a few common occurrences have happened in people.

“The main side effects of the vaccine are pain, swelling, and redness at the injection site,” said Lesse. “Fever and muscle aches are also seen after vaccination.  Since both vaccines require two administrations, the second vaccination may have more or less side effects of the same type.”

5. What are some myths about the vaccine

Lesse said the major myth to dispel is that the vaccines were not properly tested and inappropriately rushed to market.

“While the large investment of time and money made the emergency use authorization of the vaccines possible, the safety data for the immediate use of the vaccine in a pandemic was more than sufficient to confirm the known and potential benefits of this vaccine outweigh the known and potential harms of becoming infected with the coronavirus disease COVID-19,” said Lesse.