COVID-19 vaccines have changed the landscape of the pandemic.
For the tens of millions of Americans who have been fully vaccinated, the risk of disease and especially the risk of severe disease has been almost completely eliminated.
It is clear that many still have questions about the safety and effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines. Vaccination is a personal choice, albeit one that has impacts on families and communities. Hesitancy about COVID-19 vaccination is sometimes driven by misinformation. The best way to address misinformation is with information.
There are three safe and highly effective COVID-19 vaccines authorized for use in the United States, named after their manufacturers: Pfizer/BioNTech, Moderna and Janssen. The first two use what is known as an mRNA platform. The latter uses a viral vector vaccine platform. The technology for both vaccine platforms has existed for at least a decade.
In the case of mRNA vaccines, a small message (designed to teach the body to make harmless viral proteins) is inserted in a greasy envelope to aid delivery to the cells. The viral vector vaccine packages a different version of this genetic message in the envelope of a common non-COVID virus that has been engineered not to replicate.
The safety of these vaccines has now been demonstrated after over 300 million doses administered in the U.S. The U.S. has the most robust vaccine safety surveillance system in the world. Most observed side effects have been mild local or systemic reactions, which indicate a normal immune response.
A few extremely rare adverse effects have been reported and are being investigated. These include anaphylaxis (allergic reaction), thrombotic thrombocytopenic syndrome (blood clots and low platelet count), Guillain Barre Syndrome (neurologic disorder involving weakness and/or temporary paralysis) and myopericarditis (inflammation of heart muscle and the sac surrounding the heart).
Both the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration have been very forthcoming about these rare conditions and detailed information about them can be found on the CDC and FDA websites. It is clear that the benefit of COVID-19 vaccination vastly outweighs the risk of rare side effects.
The effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines has now been proven both in clinical trials and in real world conditions. Not only do each of the vaccines prevent infection, but they reduce the risk of hospitalization and death from COVID-19 almost completely, even from variants such as the delta variant.
The delta variant has become the dominant strain in the U.S. in just two months. As a result, we are beginning to see a new surge in infection rates, hospitalizations and deaths. But this phenomenon is not universal. Both more easily transmissible and likely more severe, delta variant COVID-19 infections are occurring primarily in communities with low vaccination rates.
Vaccination remains the most effective weapon we have to fight the COVID-19 pandemic. It is safe and widely available for all people 12 and older.
Dr. Matthew A. Clark is a board-certified physician in internal medicine and pediatrics practicing at the Ute Mountain Ute Health Center in Towaoc.