Editor’s Note: The Bedford Citizen thanks the Bedford High School Chapter of HOSA/Health Occupations Students of America for this article explaining coronavirus vaccinations.
Contributing writers include Noy Toledano, Shahadah Manzer, Ella Mullins, Maddie O’Neil, and Harsheni Sudakar. BHS School Nurse Nancy Thorsen, BSN, RN, NCSN, served as an advisor for HOSA’s project.
Many people are hesitant to receive a Covid-19 vaccine and for good reason!
The phrasing of “emergency authorization” can be scary. In this article, we address all of those concerns and more, but if all your questions are not answered, you can find our Vaccine FAQs in our Instagram bio (@bedford_hosa) or contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we will be glad to be of help.
Be sure to follow us on Instagram @bedford_hosa for regular updates about the latest health news and subscribe to our podcast, Piece of Mind, on Apple Podcasts/Spotify to listen to our growing collection! Now let’s get to it.
The Benefits of Being Covid-19 Vaccinated
Why should you seriously consider getting vaccinated? According to Mayo Clinic, a Covid-19 vaccine might be able to:
- Prevent you from getting Covid-19, from becoming seriously ill, or dying due to COVID-19
- Prevent you from spreading the Covid-19 virus to others
- Add to the number of people in the community who are protected from getting Covid-19 — making it harder for the disease to spread and contributing to herd immunity
- Prevent the Covid-19 virus from spreading and replicating, which allows it to mutate and possibly become more resistant to vaccines
How a Vaccine Generally Works
Vaccines carry the same germs that cause a disease, but only a part of it or a weakened version. This way, the person receiving the vaccine will not get sick but their immune system can prepare to fight off the virus. During this process, your immune system develops antibodies, just as it would have done if it were dealing with the actual disease. Antibodies help your body learn how to recognize and attack the real virus in the future. To ensure maximum safety, vaccines go through extensive labs and trials before being given to the general public. Even though the Covid-19 vaccine had emergency authorization, it still went through many phases of testing and is continually reevaluated for safety. Getting vaccinated means that you are at a lower risk for contracting the disease and if the virus is contracted, it will reduce the severity of your symptoms.
Flu vs Covid-19 Vaccines
The flu and Covid-19 are not the same, but taking a look at the statistics on the flu vaccines can give us a rough idea of where the Covid-19 vaccine might stand in the future. This table gives a comparison between the known statistics of each vaccine. While the effectiveness of the flu vaccine seems small, from 2018-2019, it prevented about “4.4 million influenza illnesses, 2.3 million influenza-associated medical visits, 58,000 influenza-associated hospitalizations, and 3,500 influenza-associated deaths” (CDC).
Drawbacks of Vaccination
A common reason for hesitation is the side effects. The table above lists the current common side effects experienced with both vaccines. With that said, it’s important to note that no drug is truly free of side-effects (even painkillers!). Side-effects indicate that a vaccine is doing its job and helping your body develop immunity (they also generally go away within 1-2 days).
Another major reason people tend to avoid vaccines is due to the fear of anaphylaxis: a “severe, potentially life-threatening allergic reaction” (Mayo Clinic). This can be scary but the CDC states that “[a]naphylaxis after Covid-19 vaccination is rare. If this occurs, vaccine providers can effectively and immediately treat the reaction,”. Some cases of anaphylaxis have been reported after getting the Covid-19 vaccine, but the statistics show that the chance of having this severe a reaction is very slim (for the Covid-19 vaccines it is a 1 in 220,000 chance, so you can take a breather).
Many precautions are also in place to ensure that everyone getting the vaccine is truly safe. For example, after receiving the vaccine, people are monitored at the test site for at least 15 minutes (30 if you have a history of allergic reactions to a vaccine). Overall, the benefits outweigh the slight chance of drawbacks so you shouldn’t need to worry; if you have a history of severe allergic reactions, or are still concerned regardless, you can ask your PCP for more information.
Contents of the Covid-19 Vaccines
Currently, three Covid-19 vaccines are being administered. Some vaccines contain mRNA (messenger ribonucleic acid), which is material already found inside your body and degenerates after completing its intended task. Lipids, usually included in vaccines, are simply another word for fats and oils, which help transport the vaccine material in the body. Additionally included are salts, like potassium chloride (low sodium salt), monobasic potassium phosphate (found in Gatorade), potassium chloride (table salt), dibasic sodium phosphate dihydrate (found in Kraft Singles), and sucrose (table sugar). The salts work to help stabilize the acidity of the vaccine mixture to match the pH of your blood. Furthermore, other additional acids make the vaccines more effective in combating the virus. In short, the vaccines contain a series of basic ingredients, many of which are either already in our bodies or in products we use and see on a normal basis.
Both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are mRNA (messenger ribonucleic acid) vaccines, and the mRNA contains the genetic code with instructions for your body to create a protein, which causes an immune response and triggers the creation of antibodies. The mRNA vaccines have a very minimal amount of the virus material that causes Covid-19, allowing our body to make proteins specifically for attacking the Covid-19 virus. After our body cells make copies of the protein they discard the material from the vaccine. Our body cells then recognize that the Covid-19 specific protein is not supposed to be there, so in response, they build T-lymphocytes and B-lymphocytes, both defensive type white blood cells, remember the virus and attack it.
Vector vaccines, which are like the mRNA vaccines, use a weakened live version of a virus, but not the virus that directly causes Covid-19. Johnson and Johnson’s vaccine is a viral vector vaccine (which has been used for vaccines in the past like with flu) rather than an mRNA vaccine. This means that genetic material from a virus (not the actual virus), not necessarily the Covid-19 virus, is injected so the material can travel through the body. The genetic material causes the body to code spike proteins (which are also found on the surface of the Covid-19 virus) so that the body can make antibodies in response.
Comparison Among Authorized Vaccines
Currently, there are three authorized vaccines in the United States: Pfizer- BioNTech, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson/Janssen.
- The Pfizer- BioNTech requires 2 doses that are 21 days apart and is recommended for people 16 years and older. The common side effects include chills, headache, pain, tiredness, and/or redness and swelling at the injection site, which all usually resolve in a day or two. Lastly, it is 95% effective at preventing confirmed Covid-19 illness in people without previous infection.
- The Moderna vaccine is also 2 shots, but requires them to be one month (28 days) apart and is recommended for people 18 years and older. It is 94.5% effective at preventing confirmed Covid-19 illness in people who received two doses and who were not previously infected. Additionally, the Moderna vaccine has similar side effects to the Pfizer vaccine which include: chills, headache, pain, tiredness, and/or redness and swelling at the injection site, which all should resolve in a day or two.
- The Johnson & Johnson/Janssen vaccine is newly approved in the United States and differs from the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines. It only needs 1 shot and is recommended for people 18 and older. Side effects were more common in people 18-59 compared to those 60 and older. This vaccine has a 72% overall efficacy and 86% efficacy against severe disease in the US (most protection is 2 weeks after getting vaccinated). It has high efficiency in preventing hospitalization and death in people who do get sick and might even protect against asymptomatic infection. Common side effects include: fatigue, fever, headache, injection site pain, or myalgia (which should all resolve in a day or two) So far, the Johnson & Johnson vaccine has had milder side effects than the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines.
With that said, there is no true “good” or “bad” vaccine. Even with varying rates of efficacy, it is important to understand that all of the vaccine trials have not had hospitalizations due to serious illness or death after contracting Covid when monitoring vaccinated individuals. The worst thing you could do to lower your chances of contracting Covid is waiting for a “better” vaccine. When you are eligible, you should really be taking whatever vaccine you can get.
We hope this article helped answer most of your questions and concerns about the Covid-19 vaccines! Hopefully, after reading this you are feeling more comfortable getting vaccinated when it’s your turn so you can keep yourself, your loved ones, and your community safe.
But, if you do have more questions, be sure to ask your physician or reach out to us! You can also check out our other article, “COVID-19 Vaccines: Answers to FAQs” (in our Instagram bio: @bedford_hosa) for answers to some of the more commonly asked questions as well.