When a new iPhone or other piece of technology comes out, are you one of the first in line? Or do you sit back and wait to see if it’s worth it? Do you ask one or two key questions before you make a decision? Or do you do your research and get all the details before you’re ready to choose?
Anytime you encounter something new or unfamiliar – whether it’s a cell phone or a vaccine – it’s perfectly natural to be skeptical of the benefits. Especially when it comes to your health, asking questions so you can make informed decisions isn’t only allowed, it’s encouraged!
My colleagues and I know many people these days are hesitant about the COVID-19 vaccines. If that’s you, it’s okay to have concerns. But it’s also important to understand the difference between COVID-19 vaccine truths and COVID-19 vaccine myths.
Getting reliable information can be hard. To make it easier, we put together this guide of common questions we hear from our patients regarding the COVID-19 vaccines. The information here has been thoroughly researched and backed up by the latest medical science – we hope you find it useful as you make vaccine decisions for you and your family.
Is the COVID-19 vaccine safe, even though it came out quickly?
Yes. Big problems – like the COVID-19 pandemic – require lots of people working together to create a solution. This is exactly what happened with the COVID-19 vaccines.
The vaccines were able to come out quickly because scientists and public health care experts worked on many different parts of the research, testing and approval process at the same time, instead of one by one. Officials eliminated bureaucracy that normally slows things down – this meant vaccine development could happen much faster, but no less safely. Teams worked around the clock (and around the world) in unprecedented ways to help create vaccines that would stop people from getting sick and dying.
No corners were cut at any point. The technology behind the COVID-19 vaccines is not new – scientists have been working on it for years, so development already had a head start. Plus, the strict safety standards the vaccines had to meet were established well before the COVID-19 pandemic, and the vaccines went through the same rigorous clinical trials that other vaccines go through.
Sometimes, getting something faster than you expect might not indicate a job well done. But that’s definitely not the case with the COVID-19 vaccines. Scientists were confident in the safety of the vaccines before rolling them across the country. Now, after millions of people have been vaccinated, there’s no question that the COVID-19 vaccines are safe and the best way to reduce your chances of getting severely sick.
Which vaccines are the safest?
There are two main types of COVID-19 vaccines – mRNA vaccines from Moderna and Pfizer, and a viral vector vaccine from Janssen (Johnson & Johnson).
All of the vaccines that are available went through the same rigorous safety evaluation. So, you can feel confident that you will protect yourself and others against COVID-19 no matter which vaccine you get.
However, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has endorsed a clinical preference for the mRNA vaccines – Moderna and Pfizer. This is based on a couple of factors:
Concerns about Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS)
GBS is a rare medical condition that causes problems with your nervous system, resulting in weakness, numbness, tingling or loss of muscle control.
About 100 people in 12.8 million who received the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine later reported developing GBS. While it’s hard to say for sure that the Johnson & Johnson vaccine caused GBS in these individuals, there have been no cases in people who got an mRNA vaccine.
As a result, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has issued a warning about the increased risk of developing GBS within 42 days of receiving a Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
Concerns about blood clots
There have been some reports of blood clots after the Johnson & Johnson vaccination. The problem is rare, happening once in every 100,000 vaccinations given to women between the ages of 30 and 49 – the group that is at highest risk. However, when blood clots happen, they can cause hospitalization and death.
According to the FDA and CDC, getting vaccinated with the Johnson & Johnson vaccine still outweighs the risk of blood clots. However, the preferred option is to get either the Moderna or Pfizer vaccine if they’re available to you.
Does the COVID-19 vaccine cause infertility or miscarriage?
No. There’s no evidence that COVID-19 vaccines affect your current or future fertility, or lead to an increased risk of miscarriage.
The vaccines don’t change your body’s DNA or functioning in any way. Instead, they teach your body’s immune system to recognize and fight the coronavirus in case you ever encounter it.
In fact, women who are pregnant are more likely to become severely ill from COVID-19 than people who aren’t pregnant.
The CDC recommends all people who are breastfeeding or pregnant get vaccinated against COVID-19. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, as well as the Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine, also recommend pregnant or nursing mothers get vaccinated against COVID-19. To help you make an informed decision, discuss COVID-19 vaccination with your doctor or midwife.
Can I breastfeed after the COVID-19 vaccine? Is it safe to get vaccinated if I’m pregnant?
Yes. There’s no evidence of any increased health risks – for you or your baby – if you get the COVID-19 vaccine while you’re pregnant or breastfeeding. In fact, a few early studies suggest you may pass on protective COVID-19 antibodies to your child (though research is ongoing).
Are the side effects of the COVID-19 vaccines worse than just getting COVID-19?
No. It’s true many people report side effects in the first few days after getting their COVID-19 vaccine, but these side effects are not worse than the disease itself.
What are the side effects of the COVID-19 vaccine? How long do they last?
Side effects of the COVID-19 vaccines are usually temporary (lasting around 72 hours), mild to moderate, and can be managed at home with over-the counter remedies. If you have side effects, they could include pain, redness and swelling in the arm where you receive the vaccine. You could also experience a headache, tiredness, muscle pain, chills, nausea and a fever.
Side effects are actually a good thing – they indicate that your body’s immune system is responding as expected to the vaccine and learning how to defend itself from an infection.
Can there be long-term side effects of the COVID-19 vaccine?
According to the CDC, it’s extremely rare that long-term side effects would occur from any type of vaccine, including the COVID-19 vaccine. Based on studies of other vaccines, if someone experiences side effects, they happen within six weeks of the first dose. The COVID-19 vaccine was studied for eight weeks to ensure no long-term side effects would occur.
Since the COVID-19 vaccine was made available, millions of people in the U.S. have been vaccinated without evidence of long-term side effects among the vaccinated.
What could happen if I get COVID-19?
On the other hand, COVID-19 can cause severe, prolonged illness that may last months, lead to hospitalization, require intensive care and can ultimately lead to death. And some people who contracted COVID-19, from mild to severe cases, are experiencing lingering symptoms and struggling with long-term effects of COVID-19 even months after recovery.
While the chances of getting COVID-19 or long-haul symptoms may be small, the chances are much, much greater if you are unvaccinated. So, getting vaccinated is the safest choice to prevent potentially serious COVID-19 complications.
Do the COVID-19 vaccines cause Bell’s palsy (facial paralysis)?
No. There’s no evidence to suggest a link between Bell’s palsy and COVID-19 vaccines.
Bell’s palsy is a rare medical condition that causes facial numbness or paralysis. Some people who received COVID-19 vaccines reported cases of Bell’s palsy.
However, an investigation by the FDA determined that these cases didn’t occur at a frequency higher than would be expected in the general population. As a result, they haven’t concluded that the cases were caused by COVID-19 vaccination.
Do the COVID-19 vaccines cause heart problems?
While rare, some people have developed myocarditis (inflammation of the heart muscle) or pericarditis (inflammation of the tissue that forms a sac around the heart) after receiving the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine. Usually the resulting myocarditis and pericarditis are minor, and people who receive treatment for their symptoms quickly get better.
Depending on your age and gender, your chance of getting this type of inflammation after the COVID-19 vaccine is very unlikely: somewhere between one in 20,000 and one in 100,000.
According to the CDC, myocarditis and pericarditis from a COVID-19 vaccine happen most frequently in male adolescents and young adults after receiving a second dose. But even within this group, the conditions happen very infrequently.
Because the risk is small and the benefits of the vaccine are significant, the CDC still recommends a COVID-19 vaccine for everyone, including young men and people with heart disease.
Will the COVID-19 vaccines (or other vaccines) cause autism?
No. There is no link between COVID-19 vaccines (or any other vaccine) and autism. This rumor is believed to have begun due to a discredited 1990s research paper. Any link between vaccines and autism has been disproven repeatedly.
Is the COVID-19 vaccine a live virus? Can I get COVID-19 from the vaccine?
No. None of the COVID-19 vaccines contain a live virus.
In fact, the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines don’t contain any virus at all. For the Johnson & Johnson, the inactivated virus it contains is not the coronavirus.
Can I test positive for COVID-19 after getting the vaccine?
COVID-19 tests look for the coronavirus. And since none of the COVID-19 vaccines contain the coronavirus, they won’t cause you to test positive.
However, since it takes some time after getting vaccinated for your body to build up protection, you may test positive for COVID-19 after you’re vaccinated. This is not a result of the vaccines, though – you’ve just encountered COVID-19 in your community one way or another.
And while extremely rare, there’s a possibility you may get a breakthrough case of COVID-19, even after vaccination. So, if you’re experiencing symptoms of COVID-19, seek medical care or get a COVID-19 test.
Does the COVID-19 vaccine change DNA?
No. Right now, there are two kinds of COVID-19 vaccines: mRNA vaccines (Pfizer and Moderna) and a viral vector vaccine (Johnson & Johnson).
It is true that both of these vaccines send genetic material to our cells – just like blueprints or instructions, this genetic material teaches our cells how to defend against the coronavirus. However, the genetic material never enters the nucleus of our cells, which is where our DNA is stored.
That means the genetic material provided by the vaccines as defense instructions against COVID-19 does not interact with or affect our own DNA in any way. Moreover, the genetic material from the vaccines harmlessly dissipates shortly after it has done its job.
There’s no risk to your DNA from the COVID-19 vaccines.
I already had COVID-19. Do I need to get vaccinated? How long after COVID-19 can I get the vaccine?
Previously having COVID-19 does give you some immunity against getting COVID-19 again, but it may be possible to get COVID-19 again.
In some cases, people develop long-haul COVID-19 and have symptoms, either new or ongoing, that last for weeks, even months. This can happen even if you initially have few or minor symptoms.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the best way to prevent the long-term effects of COVID-19 is for you to get a vaccine, even if you’ve already had COVID-19.
I have an egg allergy. Is it safe for me to get a COVID-19 vaccine?
Yes. Egg ingredients are found in some other vaccines, but not the COVID-19 vaccines.
Do the COVID-19 vaccines contain microchips or other tracking devices?
No. This is simply false, and the rumor seems to have begun after some comments about digital vaccine records were misinterpreted.
The COVID-19 vaccines do not contain any microchips or other tracking devices. The ingredients used in the COVID-19 vaccines are safe and routinely used in many other vaccines.
Are there fetal cell tissues or pork byproducts in the COVID-19 vaccines?
No. There are no fetal cell tissues in the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines, and fetal cell tissues were not used in those vaccines’ production and manufacturing processes.
There are no fetal cell tissues in the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, but fetal cell tissues were used in that vaccine’s production and manufacturing process.
There are no pork byproducts in any of the approved or authorized COVID-19 vaccines – they can be considered kosher and halal.
Is the COVID-19 vaccine safe for kids and teens?
Yes. If they’re eligible, kids and teens are encouraged to get a COVID-19 vaccine. There are no differences in risks, safety or effectiveness in kids and teens getting vaccinated compared to adults getting vaccinated.
What can I expect after I get a COVID-19 vaccine?
In the first few hours after you get vaccinated, you may experience some minor side effects. Then, your body starts building up protection – you’re considered vaccinated against COVID-19 two weeks after your final initial dose.
Once vaccinated you’ll have the best protection against getting COVID-19. Even if you get a case of breakthrough COVID-19, you are less likely to be hospitalized or die because of illness.
Because most vaccines lose some of their effectiveness over time, it’s recommended to get one or two COVID-19 booster shots, depending on your eligibility and health risk factors. However, this does not mean that the initial COVID-19 vaccine is not effective – it’s common to receive booster shots for other illnesses such as chickenpox, tetanus, mumps and measles, to name a few.
If you have a weakened immune system, talk to your doctor about whether you should get an additional immunocompromise dose before then.
I have a different question. Can I talk to a doctor directly?
Yes. Our doctors and clinicians are here to help answer your questions and talk through any specific concerns you may have. We always want you to feel confident in any medical care you receive, including vaccinations.
How do I get a COVID-19 vaccine?
If you’ve done your research and you’re ready to get vaccinated, we’re here to make the process as easy as possible.
You can get a COVID-19 vaccine at our clinics in Minnesota and western Wisconsin. We recommend receiving any vaccine that’s available, but if you’d prefer to get one version over another, you can choose a location administering the one you want. Your COVID-19 vaccine won’t cost you anything.
What if I’m still not sure if I should get a COVID-19 vaccine?
If you’re still hesitant, we understand – this pandemic has been such a confusing time for everyone. But as doctors, we take vows to only give care and treatments to our patients that improve their health. It’s at the very core of our profession and our duty to you.
The COVID-19 vaccines definitely fit into that commitment – we wouldn’t administer or endorse them if we didn’t believe in their power to make your health better. If you’re still having doubts, please talk to a doctor so we can go over your concerns with you. We’re here to help.
In the end, the most important message is this: COVID-19 vaccines are safe. They’re effective. And we encourage you to get one as soon as possible. It’s the only way we can put this pandemic behind us for good without having to endure more restrictions, more illness and more tragic loss.