Addressing Misconceptions about the COVID-19 Vaccine
As COVID-19 vaccination changed from a distant hope to reality, misinformation continues to spread.
Questions about the vaccine range from valid concerns — “What are the side effects?” — to the totally outlandish — “Does the vaccine contain nanobots?” — according to Olveen Carrasquillo, M.D., M.P.H., a primary care physician and minority health expert at the University of Miami Health System.
How to handle misinformation
When it comes to the extremely far-fetched claims, Dr. Carrasquillo says to make sure you’re getting information from sound, reliable sources. “Your friend’s Facebook post or a random Internet blog post are not the best sources of information about the vaccine,” he says. “Instead, rely on information from hospitals, major medical organizations, doctors, and community health leaders.”
However, Dr. Carrasquillo says that many of his patients also have totally valid concerns about the vaccine.
Here are some of the common questions that he hears:
Can the COVID-19 vaccine cause dangerous side effects?
Thus far, Dr. Carrasquillo says that side effects of the vaccine have been mild. Like most vaccines, many patients may get pain at the injection site. Some may also get fatigue, muscle and joint pain, but these resolve in a few days. In a current vaccine study he is conducting, he notes. “We’ve had some low-grade fever, headaches, body pains and allergic reactions, but those have been mild for the most part,” he says. “If you do notice any unusual symptoms, contact your doctor.”
Is the vaccine safe despite the quick turnaround?
Dr. Carrasquillo also says some of his patients have concerns because of how quickly the FDA approved the vaccine compared to other vaccines. But he emphasizes that researchers properly tested these vaccines despite the tight timeline. He says it took a monumental effort by many health professionals, but the result was a thorough study cycle approached with diligence and urgency. “It was atypical, but still safe,” he says. “I had a week to get people hired and trained for my study instead of the usual 6 months. We were still doing everything that we usually do, but with a sense of urgency.”
Is the vaccine safe for minorities, even though they were underrepresented in studies?
The underrepresentation of minorities in medical studies is a major issue for all medical trials, not only for COVID vaccine trials, says Dr. Carrasquillo. While this is an issue Dr. Carrasquillo is passionate about addressing, he says these unprecedented times call for vaccinations despite this shortcoming.
This is particularly true when you consider that the virus disproportionately affects many ethnic communities. To address these concerns, Dr. Carrasquillo is leading a collaborative outreach program known as the Community Engagement Alliance Against COVID-19 Disparities, or Florida CEAL Team, to help people in these communities get the care and vaccinations that they need.
Do I need the vaccination if I’ve already had COVID-19?
Another misconception noted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is that some individuals who already had COVID-19 illness think that they don’t need the vaccine. The reality is that they may still be advised to get the vaccine to prevent possible reinfection. It should offer greater immunity to the virus, even for those who have already had it.
Will the mRNA vaccine alter my DNA?
Due to the nature of the first wave of COVID-19 vaccines, which use messenger ribonucleic acid (mRNA) to “train” the immune system to respond to the virus, some people fear the vaccines alter your DNA. The CDC states that mRNA never enters the nucleus of the cells and will not alter or interact with your body’s DNA in any manner.
Trust the data about vaccines
There’s no question the timelines for the current COVID-19 vaccines have been unprecedented, he says. It’s understandable that people would have some concerns. However, the reality is despite the urgency, these vaccines have been thoroughly researched, and all of the data has been properly vetted prior to their approval.
“We’re dealing with a public health emergency,” says Dr. Carrasquillo. “Hundreds of thousands are dying, with millions more becoming infected. We don’t have perfect information, but we have enough information to trust the data. The vaccine is the best chance we have of getting out of this, unless we want to spend the next couple of years wearing masks and socially distancing.”
Wyatt Myers is a contributing writer for UMiami Health News.