Still hesitant about the COVID-19 vaccine? Here are the facts
The COVID-19 vaccine will be available to millions of eager Americans in the coming months. While we wait, arm yourself with the facts.
What's in the vaccine?
The main ingredient in the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines is mRNA. The vaccines also contain small amounts of fats, salts, and sugars. Neither contain eggs, embryonic stem cells, latex or preservatives.
How does the vaccine work?
mRNA are genetic messages that all living organisms produce because it is needed to make proteins. Think of mRNA as a recipe and protein, the meal. mRNA can be made easily and artificially in a lab once we know what the message needs to say. This is a common practice utilized daily in research across the world. Any mRNA message (viral, human, bacterial) can be made this way without ever needing to use the virus itself. The COVID mRNA vaccines contain multiple different mRNA messages (recipes) for numerous COVID-19 surface proteins to help our immune system recognize the virus fast. Having multiple messages also protects us in case the virus makes changes to its surface proteins. Once protein is made from the mRNA, the mRNA falls apart.
After you get the COVID-19 mRNA vaccine, your body temporarily makes a virus protein. Your immune system recognizes the protein as something that doesn't belong and builds an immune response by making antibodies. These antibodies will protect you if you're exposed to the virus.
How do we know it's safe and effective?
The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines were scientifically reviewed and FDA approved before distribution. They are 95% effective against COVID-19, meaning that the vaccine protects you from developing severe illness. The vaccine is being monitored closely to ensure safety. Millions of doses have been given and have been shown to be safe and effective without unanticipated problems.
Pregnant women have a greater risk of a severe COVID-19 infection and should weigh this against the lack of data from the COVID-19 vaccine in pregnancy. Being pregnant or breastfeeding is not a contraindication to receiving COVID-19 vaccine. Many of our pregnant healthcare providers have already gotten the vaccine.
Trying to start a family? There is no data that getting the COVID-19 vaccine affects your fertility.
The vaccine seems like it was developed quickly. Were any shortcuts taken?
While these vaccines were developed as quickly as possible, all routine steps (clinical trials) were followed to ensure the safety of any vaccine approved for use. Scientists have been working on strategies for coronavirus vaccines since the 2003 coronavirus outbreak (SARS).
What are the side effects?
During clinical trials, none of the vaccines reported any serious side effects. Side effects of the COVID-19 vaccine are like other vaccines, like fever, headache, muscle aches and nausea. Most people don't experience systemic side effects.
What about reports of severe allergic reactions to the vaccine?
If you have ever had an immediate or severe allergic reaction to any ingredient in a COVID-19 vaccine, the CDC recommends you should not receive either of the current COVID-19 vaccines (Moderna and Pfizer). Talk with your doctor to discuss if any of the vaccines currently in development would be safe for you to receive once they are approved. If you have had a severe allergic reaction to other vaccines or injectable therapies, you should ask your doctor if you should get the COVID-19 vaccine. Your doctor will help you decide if it is safe for you to get vaccinated. Read more about recommendations and safeguards.
Where can I learn more?