This past year has been a challenge responding to a worldwide pandemic with its effects on our daily lives.
Biomedical scientists and public health officials have been working nearly around the clock to track the virus, propose guidelines to keep people safe, create effective therapeutics and vaccines, and plan for a safe return to normal life. American scientists are already working on alterations to the vaccines to account for emerging variants.
One of the major issues remaining is the mass vaccinations required for the public. People are hesitant about the vaccine for many reasons: an underlying distrust of medicine; politicians disparaging the vaccines; questions about whether the vaccines are effective; wild conspiracy theories and myths; and people are tired of masking and social distancing. As scientists and health care professionals, we have more work to do.
Recently, the Association of American Medical Colleges published an article about common myths and facts about COVID-19 vaccines that shines light on this important topic.
The first is that the vaccines are dangerous. Accumulating data shows the minimal side effects are about the same for other vaccinations. These might include a sore arm, feeling achy and fatigue — all caused by your immune system ramping up to protect you. You must have an immune response like this for the vaccine to work. There has been a very low rate of allergic reactions, but even they’re treatable.
There are some that believe the vaccines aren’t effective. Data from vaccinated people shows that the vaccine protects you, especially from hospitalization, severe disease and death. There’s a lack of available data on whether viral transmission is lowered, but researchers are working hard on it.
Some believe that if you already had COVID-19, you don’t need the vaccine. Scientists think most people are immune to the virus for at least six months after infection, but you should get the vaccine to make sure. Think of it as an insurance policy for your health.
People fear the variants will defeat the vaccine, and vaccination isn’t worth the effort. The United Kingdom variant is spreading and likely will become dominant this year, but the current vaccine controls it. The South African and Brazilian variants aren’t fully neutralized by the vaccine, but doctors think the vaccine provides substantial protection. We will probably see more variants, but scientists can quickly modify the vaccines to stop new variants.
Some are afraid that our lives will still be affected after mass vaccinations. This is largely a communication issue. As more people become vaccinated, we can dine out, hug each other and spend time with friends and family. Masking will still be encouraged and watch for new U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advice this summer and into the fall.
This will not be an easy process, but our modern technology and science are up to the challenge. Continue to trust in science as we reduce COVID-19 to something we can manage like the common cold or the flu in the future.