As a member of the conventional medical/scientific community, I grieve at so many needless deaths that have occurred, a trend that continues to this day. As a response, I endeavor here to provide correct information and spread it as far as possible.
To begin, I totally concur with the Surgeon General, as detailed below:
U.S. Surgeon General Vivek H. Murthy has issued a 22-page advisory recommending actions that can be taken to curb the spread of health misinformation. The advice is for individuals, families, communities, health organizations, and all others concerned. At a July 15 news briefing at the White House, Murthy stated:
Today, I issued a Surgeon General’s advisory on the dangers of health misinformation. And while those threats have often been related to what we eat, drink and smoke, today, we live in a world where misinformation poses an imminent and insidious threat to our nation’s health. Health misinformation is false, inaccurate, or misleading, according to the best evidence at the time. And while it often appears innocuous on social media apps and retail sites or search engines, the truth is that misinformation takes away our freedom to make informed decisions about our health and the health of our loved ones. During the COVID-19 pandemic, health misinformation has led people to resist wearing masks in high-risk settings. It’s led them to turn down proven treatments and to choose not to get vaccinated. This has led to avoidable illnesses and death. Simply put, health information has cost us lives. Modern technology companies have enabled misinformation to poison our information environment with little accountability to their users. They’ve allowed people to intentionally spread misinformation, what we call disinformation, to have extraordinary reach. They’ve designed product features such as like buttons that reward us for sharing emotionally charged content, not accurate content. And their algorithms tend to give us more of what we click on, pulling us deeper and deeper into a well of misinformation. Now we need an all-of-society approach to fight misinformation. And that’s why this advisory that I issued today has recommendations for everyone.
The advisory recommends a focus on these areas of action to start:
- In partnership with trusted local leaders, equip Americans with the tools to identify misinformation, make informed choices about what information they share, and address health misinformation in their communities.
- Expand research that deepens our understanding of health misinformation, including how it spreads and evolves, how and why it impacts people, who is most susceptible, and which strategies are most effective in addressing it.
- Implement product design and policy changes on technology platforms to slow the spread of misinformation.
- Invest in longer-term efforts such as media, science, digital, data, health-literacy programs and training for health practitioners, journalists, librarians, and others to build resilience against health misinformation.
- Convene federal, state, local, territorial, tribal, private, nonprofit, and research partners to explore the impact of health misinformation, identify best practices to prevent and address it, issue recommendations, and find common ground on difficult questions, including appropriate legal and regulatory measures that address health misinformation while protecting user privacy and freedom of expression.
So now we can get down to some of the specifics:
Recent Facts About Coronavirus Vaccines
In a remarkably short period of time—less than one year—scientists managed to design, create, and test several potential vaccines for the virus that causes COVID-19. Today, more than half of American adults are fully vaccinated.
The Food and Drug Administration issued the first two emergency use authorizations for coronavirus vaccines in December, with an additional vaccine authorized in February. The first two were two-shot regimens, developed by Pfizer and Moderna, using similar technology. The third, which provides protection after just one shot, was developed by Johnson & Johnson (J&J).
In the following July, the FDA added a warning to the label of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. It says that reports “suggest an increased risk of Guillain-Barré syndrome during the 42 days following vaccination.” The syndrome is a neurological disorder that in severe cases can cause paralysis, though most people fully recover. The warning came after about 100 preliminary reports of this syndrome were detected after 12.8 million doses of the J&J vaccine had been administered. In a statement, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention emphasized that “the risk of severe adverse events after COVID-19 vaccination remains rare.”
As of July 13, at least 387 million vaccine doses had been distributed in the U.S. At least 184 million people have received at least one dose, and more than 159 million people are now fully vaccinated. By May of 2021, 67 percent of Americans said they had already received or were very likely to get a vaccine. This percentage was the same as it was in April, and up from 47 percent in January.
But still, a number of questions remain. Here are some of the most common concerns:
Which Groups are eligible to Be Vaccinated?
As of May 12, anyone in the U.S. who is 12 or older is eligible to be vaccinated.
How Is the Vaccine Being Distributed?
The federal government has a centralized system to order, distribute, and track vaccines, according to the CDC. Vaccines are ordered through the CDC. States, however, have flexibility in how they distribute vaccines, The vaccines are now widely available, and distribution efforts are focused on reaching people who have not yet been vaccinated.
Where Can I Get a Vaccine?
Vaccines are being distributed at a wide variety of locations, including hospitals, long-term-care facilities, mobile and temporary clinics, doctors’ offices, and pharmacies. Your local government or health department should have a vaccine provider list or search tool to find locations, and you can also check VaccineFinder, which includes data on pharmacies that are distributing COVID-19 vaccines.
Are the Coronavirus Vaccines Free?
Yes. The U.S. government will pay for vaccines given to people living in the U.S., according to the CDC. Providers may charge a fee for administering the vaccine, but the government has mandated that insurers (or the government, in the case of uninsured individuals) cover this fee, so people should not have any out-of-pocket expenses associated with vaccination.
How Long Does Protection Take to Kick In?
The Moderna and Pfizer vaccines require two doses—an initial shot and a booster, usually several weeks later. Generally with a two-dose vaccine, it takes about two weeks from the second dose for a vaccine’s protection to fully kick in.
Though both doses are necessary, the FDA’s analysis of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine indicates that people appear to be somewhat less likely to get COVID-19 within two weeks of receiving the first dose. It’s unclear how long protection from that first dose may last. And the second dose is still required for full protection, to ensure a more durable immune response. The J&J vaccine requires only one dose. Protection starts to kick in two weeks after vaccination and grows stronger over the next two weeks, according to the company.
How Long Will Protection Last?
It will take time and more research before we know how long vaccine-provided immunity lasts, according to the CDC. On April 1, Pfizer and Moderna announced that they now had enough follow-up data from clinical trials to say that their vaccine provided protection for at least six months. These results have not yet been confirmed by others.
The early evidence scientists have on how long natural immunity lasts after an infection with COVID-19 has been mixed. But scientists hope immunity from a vaccine is more durable. If it turns out that vaccine-induced immunity wanes after time, occasional booster shots may be needed.
If I Had COVID-19, or Think I Did, Should I Still Get Vaccinated?
Yes. The CDC says that because reinfection is possible (though rare, and unlikely in the first few months after a first infection), it’s recommended that people who have recovered from COVID-19 still get vaccinated.
At least some of the vaccine trials have included people who had recovered from COVID-19. Thus far it appears to be safe for these people to get the vaccine. Even if recovered patients have some natural immunity, the vaccine could provide some longer-term benefit. The immune system’s natural response to a this infection is varied, and in some cases protection might not last very long. So far, the evidence suggests that the immune system boost from vaccines is much stronger and thus potentially longer-lasting than the natural immune system response.
How Safe are these Vaccines?
Even before the vaccines were given emergency use authorization, the FDA reviewed months of safety data on tens of thousands of participants in vaccine trials. Since then, regulators have tracked people who received a vaccine in the real world, because it’s possible that very rare side effects might emerge once millions of people receive a shot.
In the U.S., more than half of adults are now fully vaccinated, and even more have received at least one dose. With more than 300 million doses of vaccine administered and an intense safety monitoring program that’s able to track even extremely rare side effects, researchers have been able to track vaccinated people for months, and are confident that the COVID-19 vaccines currently authorized for use by the FDA are safe.
For the vast majority of people, side effects have been similar to those from other vaccines, like the shingles vaccine, though they have been more common and severe than they are with the typical flu shot. These side effects include fever, headaches, feeling run-down, and soreness in the arm. These are more common after the second shot than the first, and generally go away within a few days. A few rare side effects have been detected, now that millions of vaccine doses have been administered.
After receiving the J&J vaccine, a very small number of people—primarily women younger than 50—have developed a type of rare but serious blood clot. In women between 18 and 49, there have been about 7 cases per million vaccinations, and the FDA and CDC still recommend this vaccine. Similar rare blood clots have been observed with the Astrazeneca vaccine in Europe. In July, the CDC also announced that the agency had detected preliminary reports of about 100 cases of Guillain-Barré syndrome, a neurological disorder, among 12.8 million people who received the J&J vaccine. Most were men, many of them 50 and older. Another concern is that early data suggest that this vaccine may not be quite as effective as the other vaccines against the delta variant of the virus.
After receiving either the Moderna or Pfizer vaccines, a small number of people have had a severe allergic reaction, called anaphylaxis, which can occur after any type of vaccination. These have occurred in about two to five people per million vaccinated, and while serious, they are treatable—this is why people are asked to stick around for 15 to 30 minutes after getting a shot.
The CDC is currently investigating higher than normal rates of suspected myocarditis (heart inflammation) in adolescents and young adults who have received the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines. These incidents are rare, and in 81 percent of suspected cases with a known outcome, patients have fully recovered. Any longer-term side effect is extremely unlikely, according to the CDC. Typically, any vaccine side effects would emerge during these first two months after immunization. Moreover, it’s difficult to clearly link any adverse health events that occur after two months with a vaccination. But regulators will continue to monitor vaccine trial participants for two years to see how long immunity lasts and note any adverse events.
The Meaning of Reports of Allergic Reactions to the Vaccine
Initial reports of several severe but treatable potentially life-threatening allergic reactions called anaphylaxis raised concern about whether the vaccines would be safe for people with severe allergies. There were 71 cases of anaphylaxis reported after the first 18 million vaccine doses were administered in the U.S. That works out to 2.8 cases of anaphylaxis per 1 million people vaccinated with the Moderna vaccine and 5 cases per 1 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine, with no reported deaths linked to anaphylaxis. The risks of dying from COVID-19 are much worse—about 16,500 people per 1 million diagnosed with COVID-19 will die. Now, the only people being told to avoid the vaccine are those allergic to vaccine ingredients such as polyethylene glycol or the related substance polysorbate.
To minimize risk while maximizing the number of people vaccinated, vaccine administrators will ask patients about allergy history. People who report being allergic to a vaccine component should be given a skin test and should not receive the vaccine if that test is positive. If patients report a history of severe allergies to food, medication, or other vaccines or injectable medications, the vaccine can still be given, but those vaccine recipients should be observed for 30 minutes after getting their vaccine dose (instead of the standard 15 minutes).
How Many People Need to Be Vaccinated for Normal Life to Resume?
Scientists don’t yet know, according to the CDC. Once enough people have some immunity, either because of previous infection or because of vaccination, the virus will have a hard time spreading through the community. Once that community protection exists, it may be possible to resume what we thought of as “normal” pre-pandemic life. More research needs to be done before scientists can say exactly how many people need to be vaccinated. Researchers have hoped we might reach community-level protection when around 70 to 75 percent of people are vaccinated. But more contagious variants of the virus could cause that number to rise to 80 or 85 percent.
How Effective are the Current Vaccines?
Pfizer and Moderna, manufacturers of the first two vaccines authorized by the FDA, reported that their vaccines appeared to be about 95 percent effective at preventing people from developing symptoms of COVID-19 in clinical trials. Both Pfizer and Moderna calculated that their vaccine was about 95 percent effective, While other vaccines might not appear to be quite as effective overall, they may still be equally effective at preventing severe disease that requires hospitalization and puts people at risk for death.
But the J&J vaccine was 86 percent effective at preventing severe or critical disease overall 28 days after vaccination in the U.S., with similar efficacy against severe or critical disease in South Africa and Latin America. None of the more than 20,000 vaccinated people in the J&J trial died from COVID-19, and there were no COVID-19 cases requiring hospitalization for people in that trial who had been vaccinated for at least 28 days.
On March 25, AstraZeneca reported that clinical trials had shown its vaccine to be 76 percent effective against symptoms of COVID-19, with slightly better efficacy in adults 65 and older and even greater protection against severe disease and hospitalization. And on June 14, Novavax reported that clinical trials had shown its vaccine to be 90 percent effective overall, and 100 percent effective against moderate to severe disease. Still, all data on safety and efficacy will need to be reviewed by the FDA before the agency decides whether to authorize the use of that vaccine in the U.S.
Why Are There So Many Different Kinds of Vaccines?
Many scientists and pharmaceutical companies started working on this problem at the same time, using as many different approaches as they could think of. The first coronavirus vaccines to be authorized, those created by Moderna and Pfizer, relied on new technologies that had never been used in an approved vaccine before. Usually, the barrier for trying to develop a new vaccine is cost. But in this case, the federal government decided to step in to cover the financial risk.
Many of the new technologies used in the first batch of vaccines were designed for emergencies, leading to fast development. It was important to try a variety of approaches, because there was no certainty that any one approach would work out. But the first vaccines that were authorized and others that are furthest along in the pipeline have at least one thing in common: They target the specific protein (known as the spike protein) that COVID-19 uses to infect cells.
How Might Variants Affect the Vaccine?
As the virus that causes COVID-19 has spread around the globe, it has continued to mutate, as all viruses do. A number of variants—versions of the virus with specific sets of mutations—have emerged, and in many cases, become the dominant version of the virus in parts of the world. Vaccines teach our immune system to respond to a virus by recognizing some key sign of it. Mutations that affect the parts of the virus the immune system recognizes can thwart a vaccine’s effectiveness.
Most of the vaccines currently in use or development target a particular protein—the spike protein—that the coronavirus uses to infect people. So mutations of that protein could potentially make a vaccine less effective. But while the vaccines don’t seem to generate quite the same level of antibodies in response to some newer variants, that reduced activity has not been significant enough to blunt the vaccines’ protection. So far, the vaccines we currently use here in the U.S. are effective in protecting against the variants.
The Pfizer vaccine is still approximately 95 percent effective against the variant now known as the Alpha variant, which was first described in the U.K. and is now the dominant strain of the virus in the U.S., according to a May study. Also, the full two doses of that vaccine are still approximately 88 percent effective against the newer Delta variant, though one dose is only 36 percent effective, according to data from Public Health England. At present, the efficacy of the J&J vaccine against the delta variant is uncertain.
While it’s not yet clear whether we’ll eventually need to get booster vaccines, the booster vaccines that all the companies are working on will include coverage for the variants that have so far emerged.
Can we Choose Between Vaccines ?
As more vaccines become available—and if we learn that certain vaccines work better or cause fewer side effects for certain population groups—one vaccine might be recommended over another, as is the case now with flu vaccines. It’s now possible to use the vaccines.gov website to search for a specific vaccine. As appointments have become easier to come by, people seeking a particular vaccine due to a doctor’s recommendation, or simply personal preference, may be able to find it.
When Will Children Be Able to Get Vaccinated?
Adolescents age 12 and up are currently eligible to receive the Pfizer vaccine. The FDA is expected to authorize additional vaccines for adolescents soon. It’s not certain, but children under age 12 may be eligible for the vaccine perhaps as early the fall. That’s according to a May 4 Pfizer earnings call, in which the company described plans to seek FDA authorization for use of its vaccine in children ages 2 to 11 in September. Pfizer also said it hoped to get authorization for the vaccine in infants in November.
Is the Vaccine Safe for Pregnant Women?
Trials involving pregnant people are underway, according to the CDC. Animal tests revealed no pregnancy-related safety concerns with the Moderna, Pfizer and J&J vaccines. Already, guidance from the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices permits individual pregnant women to choose to get the vaccine if they are part of a group that’s currently eligible to be vaccinated.
More than 10,000 already have without raising any red flags about safety so far, according to Anthony Fauci, M.D., director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. And recent data indicates that the vaccines work for pregnant people: For a study published March 25, researchers followed 84 pregnant, 31 lactating, and 16 non-pregnant vaccine recipients. The researchers found that antibodies generated by vaccines in pregnant and lactating recipients were equivalent to the antibodies in those in the non-pregnant group and that these antibodies could be passed on to children through the placenta or breast milk. This indicates that the vaccines not only should help protect pregnant and lactating people but also may provide some protection to their children. The CDC says that pregnant people may choose to get vaccinated with any of the currently available vaccines.
Can Vaccinated People Still Spread the Virus?
Yes, but research so far suggests they are much less likely to do so.
A study on real-world effectiveness released by the CDC on March 29 found that the Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines were just as good at preventing asymptomatic infections as they were at stopping symptomatic ones. Data released in February by the University of Oxford and AstraZeneca showed that vaccines may reduce overall transmission of the virus by about two-thirds. That could indicate that vaccinated people are significantly less likely to spread the virus, though it’s still possible for them to do so. Early data from Israel indicates that people who have received the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine seem to have a lower viral load when they are infected, meaning they’d be less likely to infect others.
But while it’s likely that other vaccines might show some similar reduction in transmission, scientists don’t yet have the data to say for sure.. The CDC recently updated guidance to say that people who are fully vaccinated—meaning it has been at least two weeks since their last required dose—no longer need to quarantine if they are exposed to someone with confirmed or suspected COVID-19, as long as it has not been more than three months since the last vaccine dose.
After I Get a Vaccine, What Can and Can’t I Do?
According to the latest CDC guidance released May 13, fully vaccinated people can safely stop wearing masks in most situations, indoors and outdoors. Vaccinated people with an underlying health condition or who take immune-system-weakening medications should talk with their doctors about what’s safe. However, everyone should continue to wear masks in planes, trains, buses, and other forms of public transportation, as well as inside airline terminals, train stations, and other transit hubs. You should also still wear a mask in doctor’s offices, hospitals, and other healthcare settings. The agency said, too, that states, municipalities, and businesses can still set their own rules, which supersede the CDC guidelines. Recent research has determined that the highly contagious delta mutant of the virus more likely to be carried and shed by those who are fully vaccinated. This latter group, although usually asymptomatic or only mildly ill, are advised to employ masks when indoors and together with others, in order to prevent them from spreading the virus to those who are not vaccinated.
Will a Vaccine End COVID-19?
Researchers hope that vaccination campaigns will be sufficient to end the pandemic, once there is sufficient vaccine supply and enough people get vaccinated. However, the whole world will need to have access to these vaccines for the disease threat to be fully eliminated. If the disease is still spreading somewhere, it could always reemerge, especially if people’s immunity wanes.
So, here are the facts currently available. I strongly urge all recipients of this information spread the word as far as possible!