Getting vaccinated is the fastest way to end the COVID-19 pandemic
There seemed to be a light at the end of the tunnel when the COVID-19 vaccines became available to the general public early in 2021. We were hopeful that the vaccines would significantly reduce the spread of the virus and bring us closer to ending the pandemic. While this is indeed true and we have come a long way toward reaching this goal thanks to the vaccines, we still need more people to get vaccinated in order to truly put COVID-19 behind us.
I’ll explain what we know about the vaccines and help dispel any misconceptions that may be causing you or someone you know to be hesitant about getting vaccinated.
They’re safe. With more than a year’s worth of data on the COVID-19 vaccine, we can confidently say that the vaccination is safe for the vast majority of people. Side effects are generally mild and severe side effects are rare. Additionally, there is no truth to vaccines altering your DNA (mRNA in the vaccines does not reach the nucleus, or “machine shop,” of your cells), and they do not cause you to develop COVID-19. Women have no reason to be concerned that the vaccines cause infertility. In fact, the vaccine is strongly recommended for pregnant individuals given higher rates of complications of pregnancy and even death related to COVID-19 in this group.
The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is FDA-approved. If you have been waiting on getting the vaccine until it was approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the wait is over. The FDA approved the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for people 16 and older in August 2021. The Johnson & Johnson/Janssen and Moderna vaccines are authorized for individuals 18 and older. It was ultimately the combination of how well the vaccine works to prevent severe illness, along with safety data available for several hundred million vaccine recipients, which led to full FDA approval for the Pfizer vaccine. It is very likely that the other vaccines will receive full FDA approval in the near future following the review of additional safety data.
They enhance your protection following natural infection. If you have had COVID, you’re generally protected from reinfection for a short period of time. Fortunately, evidence shows that vaccination following natural infection increases levels of protective antibodies in your system by around 50 times as compared to infection alone. Those who have had COVID and then get the vaccine are 2-3 times less likely to get infected again, compared to those who don’t get vaccinated.
They save lives. At this time, the number of unvaccinated patients in the hospital due to COVID-19 greatly outnumbers those that are vaccinated and virtually all of the patients in the ICU at Pardee and across the UNC Health System are unvaccinated. This means the vaccines are doing what we expected, saving lives and reducing the strain on our health care workers. Getting vaccinated doesn’t just protect yourself, but it helps others around you from getting severe infections and ending up in the hospital. It’s common for coronaviruses to mutate, so we aren’t surprised to see new strains of the virus that cause COVID-19. The Delta variant is currently the most prevalent strain in the United States, and evidence clearly indicates that this strain is more contagious and making people sicker than previous strains.
Breakthrough infections—contracting the virus after getting vaccinated—is still possible. But if you’re vaccinated, you are much less likely to get severely sick, end up in the hospital or die from the virus. Data from the state of North Carolina indicate a 15-fold reduction in your risk of death if you are vaccinated.
You may benefit from a booster shot. People who got the shot when it first became available are starting to see a reduction in protective antibodies. This is common for the flu vaccine as well – the level of protection offered by that vaccine wanes over time. This is especially important for individuals over the age of 65 and those with high-risk medical conditions or poor immunity in general. At the time I am writing this, the recommendations from the FDA for the Emergency Use Authorization for Pfizer vaccines states getting a booster shot if you are at least six months away from your first series of vaccines. These booster shots are approved for people 65 and older; those aged 18 to 64 at high risk of severe COVID-19 infection based on their underlying medical conditions (as defined by CDC guidelines); and those whose frequent institutional or occupational exposure to the virus puts them at high risk of infection and serious complications of COVID-19.
The bottom line: The more people vaccinated, the sooner the pandemic will end. Now is the time to get your shot. The vaccine is free and widely available, including at Pardee Urgent Care locations. Make a vaccination appointment today.
Dr. Parsons is the director of the Center for Infectious Disease at Pardee UNC Health Care.