COVID-19 Vaccines: Myths and Facts

Learn the facts about the COVID-19 vaccines from Dr. Michael Pichichero, an expert with over 30 years of experience in vaccine research and development.

Feb. 3, 2021 4   min read

covid myths

There are currently three COVID-19 vaccines approved by the FDA for Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) in the United States, one developed by Moderna, a second developed by Pfizer/BioNTech, and a third by Johnson & Johnson. As supply allows and more people are able to get vaccinated, it’s important to stay informed and up-to-date with reliable sources to avoid misinformation.

Dr. Michael Pichichero, the Director of the Rochester General Hospital Research Institute, has over 30 years of experience in vaccine research and vaccine development. He helps us debunk some common misconceptions about the COVID-19 vaccines.

NOT TRUE: I’ve already had COVID-19, so I don’t need the vaccine.

TRUE: Current guidelines recommend that those who have had a COVID-19 infection wait 14 days until they receive the vaccine. After 14 days, previously infected patients should receive the vaccine.

“Even if you had COVID-19 it is best to get the vaccine to maximize immunity and avoid getting it a second time,” said Dr. Pichichero.

NOT TRUE: The COVID-19 vaccines can alter my DNA.

TRUE: There are currently three vaccines available and approved for emergency use by the FDA. Two vaccines, developed by Moderna and Pfizer/BioNTech, are mRNA vaccines. The Johnson & Johnson vaccine is a replication-defective virus vector DNA vaccine. None of these vaccines are capable of altering DNA.

“When these types of vaccine enters the body, they do not interact with your DNA.”

How does an mRNA vaccine work?

An mRNA vaccine is injected into the muscle, and through a process that naturally occurs in the body, it provides instructions to our cells to create a small, harmless spike protein—one that is identical to the spike protein found on the COVID-19 virus. Once the protein is created, the immune system recognizes it and fights it off. Through this process, the immune system learns how to detect, recognize, and fight COVID-19 without ever being infected. 

How does the Johnson & Johnson vaccine work?

The Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine is a one-dose injection that works by injecting a replication of a defective virus (in this case the common cold) that cannot cause illness. Once the replication-defective DNA is in the human muscle cell, it enters the nucleus of the muscle cell and the DNA blueprint works to create an mRNA blueprint that teaches your immune system how to fight COVID-19 infection.

NOT TRUE: The vaccines can give me COVID-19.

TRUE: The currently approved COVID-19 vaccines in the United States do not inject any form of COVID-19 into the body. There is no live virus in the vaccines—which means they cannot give someone a COVID-19 infection.

“While many vaccinations are created using a killed virus or bacteria, the currently approved COVID-19 vaccines are not. These types of vaccine cannot possibly infect someone with COVID-19, due to the nature of the technology,” said Dr. Pichichero.

NOT TRUE: Getting vaccinated is pointless because we still have to wear masks.

TRUE: Wearing a mask further protects you from getting COVID-19 and it protects those around you who may not be vaccinated. Due to the limited supply of the COVID-19 vaccines, those who are vaccinated should continue to wear a mask out of an abundance of caution.

As research continues, we may find that the vaccine is the tool that helps minimize infection so much that we don’t need our masks anymore,” explained Dr. Pichichero. “But we are not there yet, and likely won’t be until at least a majority of Americans have been vaccinated.”

At this time, there is not enough information to determine whether or not vaccinated individuals can spread COVID-19. Researchers are continuously studying to determine more information as fast as possible, but until then, wearing a mask is an important layer of protection for yourself and those around you.

New regulations have been issued by the CDC regarding more activities that can be done by vaccinated persons safely. Those recommendations are dynamic and as more is learned we can expect modification to the guidance.

Related: What Can You Do Once You're Vaccinated? 

NOT TRUE: The vaccines are too risky because of potential long-term side effects.

TRUE: There is no current evidence that shows the approved COVID-19 vaccines can cause long-term side effects. Researchers will continue to gather detailed data to monitor the vaccines.

“The ingredients in the mRNA vaccine leave the body within three days of receiving the shot,” explains Dr. Pichichero. “The only thing left in the body for a little longer is a protein, which experts fully understand and have been researching for years.”

Dr. Pichichero says the Johnson & Johnson vaccine results in the same protein.

“Scientists have been studying protein vaccines for over fifty years, with no indication of long-term effects.”

NOT TRUE: The vaccines aren’t safe because they were developed so quickly.

TRUE: Although the COVID-19 vaccines were developed faster than usual, they were developed with all safeguards and regulations that the FDA requires.

How were they developed so quickly?

The COVID-19 vaccines were developed at “warp-speed” due to the seriousness of the pandemic. With an urgent need for a vaccine, funding and resources allowed researchers to enroll patients into studies at a much faster pace than normal. In a normal circumstance, this process alone could take two to three years.

Not only were the experts able to come together to develop vaccines quickly, but the technology they used in the vaccines allowed for faster development. 

Once the clinical vaccine trials began, all the required steps, phases, and safety measures were followed. The regulatory agencies that protect everyone’s health and safety, like the FDA and CDC, reviewed the vaccine trials and continue to monitor their distribution.

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