The COVID-19 Vaccine Quandary Part 1: Dispelling Myths
We’ve all had to become infectious disease experts in the last twelve months. Now we need to become experts on COVID-19 vaccines as we continue to manage our workplaces. As a result of many questions surrounding the vaccines and whether to mandate vaccination to return to work, PSA recently partnered with experts in the medical and legal fields to host a webinar and provide authoritative information as we move forward in a re-shaped workplace.
This will be a two-part blog series, divided into a Q&A portion regarding the science surrounding the vaccine (addressed in this blog) and the legal implications of mandating vaccines (the second installment). Below are some of the top questions and concerns that Dr. Ada U. Emarievbe, MD, MHA (Assistant Physician in Chief for Quality, Risk Management/Patient Safety, and Physician HR at Kaiser Permanente) addressed during her portion of the webinar. We hope that addressing various myths will help you and your employees feel safe and secure in obtaining a COVID-19 vaccine.
Q: How do vaccines work?
A: Dr. Emarievbe compared vaccines to a home alarm system. Your immune system is the home, which you keep in order by eating well, sleeping, and exercising. In the event of an intrusion, your immune system may sound the alarm to let your body know there’s an infection, but the response may be delayed. Installing a home security system (getting a vaccine) gives your immune system an early alert so it can prepare for and respond to an invader faster.
Q: How are the Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson vaccines different?
A: There are currently three different types of vaccines that we use to train our immune systems: using a whole virus/bacterium (traditional), using parts of the virus/bacterium (traditional), and using just the genetic material of the virus/bacterium (mRNA). All three of the COVID-19 vaccines cause cells in your body to produce a harmless part of the coronavirus called the spike protein. Through this process, we build up immunity to COVID-19.
The Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines are both mRNA vaccines. Researchers have been researching mRNAs for decades, and the advantage of this type of vaccine is that it can be developed in a lab using a readily available DNA template. This makes vaccine development faster than traditional methods. Both the Pfizer and Moderna mRNA vaccines require two doses.
The Johnson & Johnson vaccine was recently authorized for emergency use as a single shot COVID-19 vaccine. It is a traditional vaccine versus an mRNA, in that it uses the common cold virus (that doesn’t make you sick), to deliver instructions to cells for making the spike protein.
Q: Should I wait for the vaccine I want?
A: Health officials have advised that you should get the first vaccine you are offered and not hold off for one that you think is better. There are myths that the government or health officials are giving certain vaccines to certain groups of people. Dr. Emarievbe acknowledged that there is a distrust of medical professionals among certain communities, but insisted that all three available vaccines have a very high effective rate and provide the same protections against getting COVID-19.
Q: How were vaccines developed so quickly?
A: The fastest vaccine development prior to COVID-19 took 4 years (mumps). Some people believe the COVID-19 vaccine was developed quickly because science was skipped, but this is simply untrue. Researchers didn’t start from scratch—there are many coronaviruses—COVID-19 is just a specific strain. Researchers mobilized and shared research across countries to uncover the viral sequence of COVID-19 in order to quickly develop the vaccine. Heavy investments went into building the capacity to manufacture a large number of vaccines, and through emergency authorization, there was immediate dispensation to the general population. Since these vaccines were developed in a pandemic, the difference in disease risk between those who received the vaccine and a placebo in trials was able to be measured more quickly. No shortcuts were made and no safety measures were compromised.
Q: Can you get COVID-19 from the vaccine?
A: No, this is a myth. All three of the vaccines cause cells in your body to produce a harmless part of the coronavirus called the spike protein.
Q: Do MRNA vaccines change your DNA?
A: No, this is not possible. The messenger RNA contains instructions for your cells to build a specific protein; it does not contain or impact your DNA.
Q: What are the side effects of the COVID-19 vaccine?
A: It has been rumored that the vaccine will cause severe side effects, but this is extremely unlikely and should not be a deterrent to receiving the vaccine. You may have some mild side effects for a few days, which are normal signs that your body is building protection. Some people have no side effects. Common side effects include pain, swelling, and/or redness at the injection site, tiredness, headache, muscle pain, chills, fever, and nausea.
Q: Does the vaccine prevent me from carrying and transmitting COVID-19 to non-vaccinated people?
A: Vaccinated people can still get the virus, but it is expected that they will experience milder symptoms of the disease, if infected. It is currently unclear if the vaccine will prevent a vaccinated person from transferring covid to a non-vaccinated person.
Q: Should I get the vaccine if I’ve already had COVID-19?
A: Yes. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) states there is no contraindication to receiving the vaccine for those who had COVID-19. Those who currently have the virus should wait until they are recovered and out of isolation to receive a vaccine.
Q: What about other concerns I’ve heard surrounding the COVID-19 vaccine?
A: ALL of the below are myths that are factually false with no data to prove otherwise:
- COVID vaccines give you HIV
- Vaccine causes infertility in women
- When you get the vaccine, a microchip is injected into your body
- The three authorized COVID-19 vaccines were developed using fetal tissue
Q: Is vaccination important for returning to work?
A: Scientists agree that the more employees are vaccinated before returning to the office, the better.
Q: Aside from mandating vaccines, what can we do to create a safe work environment when employees return?
A: Educating employees about safety practices, washing hands, social distancing, wearing masks, and developing a response control plan in alignment with the CDC guidelines are the best place to start. If social distancing isn’t feasible in your industry, consider staggering shifts to decrease amount of people in-person at once. Here are some ways to reduce and prevent COVID-19 transmission:
- Actively encourage sick employees to stay home
- Conduct daily in-person or virtual health checks
- Incorporate testing for SARS-CoV-2 into workplace preparedness, response, and control plans
- Identify where and how workers might be exposed to individual with COVID-19 at work
The Three Cs
Dr. Emarievbe shared her belief that the “three Cs” of confidence, complacency, and convenience must all converge in a positive way to decrease vaccine hesitancy. In short, the public must trust the medical community, recognize the need for vaccination (whether it be protecting themselves or others), and it must be easy to get a vaccination appointment.
We hope this information helps boost your confidence and eliminate any complacency or reservations toward receiving a COVID-19 vaccine. As always, PSA is dedicated to providing insights from experts in the community. Please feel free to leverage our COVID-19 Business Resources for relevant updates and educational materials regarding the pandemic.