Doctors address common misconceptions about COVID-19 vaccine

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CAPE FEAR, NC (WWAY) — Thanks to social media, there’s a lot of misinformation about the COVID-19 vaccine and the virus itself.

Doctors with Community Care of the Lower Cape Fear and Senior Health Associates are working to clear the air about these misconceptions and working to get you accurate information.

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Geriatrics Specialist Dr. Mary Rudyk with SHA, Family Physician Dr. Michelle Jones with CCLCF, and Retired Pediatrician Dr. Henry Hawthorne with CCLCF all contributed to the discussion about myths surrounding the virus and the vaccine.

Myth: The vaccine injects the virus into your body.

Response: “It doesn’t give you coronavirus, but what it does do is it helps you produce the antibodies to prevent you from getting the coronavirus. It attaches to the area where the coronavirus would come on to produce the antibodies to protect the body from having the coronavirus attach to the cells. You cannot get the coronavirus from the vaccine, however, once you get the first vaccine about two weeks later you’re about 50% protected. After the second vaccine, it takes another two weeks to get 95% protection so you can get the coronavirus in between your vaccinations because you don’t have that 95% protection until after the second vaccine well into the two weeks after,” Dr. Rudyk said.

Myth: The vaccine will change your DNA.

Response: “This vaccine is a messenger RNA vaccine. Messenger RNA does not get incorporated into our cell’s DNA. In fact, it doesn’t even go into the nucleus of the cell which is where our DNA is. It is not administered with any kind of animal products or human products, it’s actually a small, little lipid that is injected with this messenger RNA. It’s extremely safe,” Dr. Jones said.

Myth: The vaccine cannot be trusted because it was rushed.

Response: “The science behind this vaccine has really been going on, originally started with the ebola virus. Once we were able to decode the sequence of the DNA of the COVID virus, they were able to apply the technology that they have been studying and that they had been working on for years and to develop this vaccine,” Dr. Hawthorne said.

Hawthorne adds the vaccine has been tested thoroughly, saying most vaccines are tested on about 3,000 subjects before approval, whereas the COVID-19 vaccine was tested on 30,000 subjects before being approved for emergency authorization by the FDA.

Myth: The vaccine frequently causes severe side effects.

Response: “I’ve received my second vaccine and I can tell you about what I experienced. I experienced a site injection, meaning that my arm swelled up a little bit and got red. About 24 hours later, I developed some flu-like symptoms which persisted for about 24 hours, and then I felt fine. I’ve talked to other people who have felt very tired afterward, that persisted for about 48 hours and then they felt well. I’ve heard of chills and fever, but again everything seemed to resolve in about 36-48 hours. When I asked anybody if they would not take the vaccine again because of some of the side effects they had after the second vaccine, nobody said they wouldn’t do it.” Dr. Rudyk said.

“I’ve had both vaccines as well. I had no side effects after the first, after the second I did have a sore arm. I didn’t have a fever, but I sort of had chills at the end of the day and a little flu-like, I just went to bed and I was fine the next day. We need to remember that all vaccines can carry the side effect of a sore arm, a little bit of fever. These are very transient side effects, they are not long-lasting, they will go away, and they are very minimal compared to having covid itself. There are a few cases of people experiencing anaphylaxis, which is a severe reaction. They are very minimal, it was 21 people when I was looking at the data and 75% of those had reactions to vaccines in the past. So, what we say is if you’re allergic to vaccines you need to not take this without an EpiPen or without advice from your physician,” Dr. Jones said.

In discussing the side effects of the vaccine, Dr. Jones added that there has not been one occurrence of death resulting from taking the vaccine.

“No one has died from this vaccine, but we have nearly half a million people, approaching half a million people who will be dead of covid. That’s too many,” she said. “It’s our grandparents, it’s our colleagues, and we’re not going to get out of this unless we vaccinate ourselves and protect each other by using the 3 Ws.”

Myth: The vaccine causes women to be infertile.

Response: “Several people that were in the phase 3 trials did get pregnant after taking the vaccine, so I think the fertility myth is out,” Dr. Rudyk said.

Dr. Jones added, “Speaking of pregnancy, we do believe this is safe in pregnancy, although it is recommended that we wait until the second trimester. No studies have been done specifically in pregnant women, but we do think it’s safe and it’s recommended to be given after the first trimester.”

Myth: If you’ve already had coronavirus, you don’t need the vaccine.

Response: “They need the vaccine. You need the vaccine, without question. Both doses,” Dr. Hawthorne said.

“The current recommendation is 90 days [after recovering from covid], that is thought to be because you do have antibodies and it is to allow others who might not have antibodies to get the vaccine,” Dr. Jones said.

Myth: Masks are not effective in preventing the spread of the virus/if I have had the vaccine, I don’t have to wear my mask anymore.

Response: “Masks do work, they protect us from each other. We are able to keep our germs inside that mask, it’s not 100% and I don’t know the exact figure but masks do work and they have been shown to work, but they only work if you wear them. Washing hands works. You know, we’re all going to the grocery store grabbing that milk door or that frozen pizza door, so washing hands as soon as possible after leaving the grocery store. Social distancing, sadly. We miss our hugs, Dr. Rudyk and I were talking about that before, we miss our hugs with our patients and with our family. We’re not going to be able to do that until we get enough folks with this vaccine,” Dr. Jones said.

“It’s still very important, once you’ve had the vaccine, there is a time period after your first dose before you start developing antibodies. A lot of people say, ‘well I’ve had my vaccine so I don’t need to wear my mask or I don’t need to social distance.’ You do. Even after the second dose, you do because you need a couple more weeks to develop antibodies. Even then, to really be safe, because we’re talking 94%, 95% of efficacy, I’m going to continue to wear my mask until we get enough herd immunity,” Dr. Hawthorne said.

As a pediatrician, Dr. Hawthorne says another concern the pandemic has caused is the number of well-visits children have missed because families are scared to go to the doctor.

“Subsequently the number of immunizations for diseases that have previously been under control like polio, like measles, like mumps, chickenpox, parvovirus, the whole bit. Our immunization rate is really well, well down because people are fearful to go to the doctor’s offices to get their shots,” he said.

Specializing in geriatrics and working closely with nursing home and long-term care facilities, Dr. Rudyk says what she has seen so far is not the residence not wanting the vaccine, but the staff working in these facilities.

“It can be because of fear, because of them not wanting people to tell them what to do, because they don’t trust the government, they don’t trust this or that, but unless we can get more and more people to get that vaccine this isn’t going to go away,” she said. “We’re still going to be here at the end of 2021 with [masks] on, with our people being isolated. I can only tell you the devastation it has caused my patients with isolation. Some of my patients have memory impairment, they think their families have abandoned them. So if we could do anything today, it would be to try to encourage people to get that vaccine so we can have herd immunity, so we can gather again.”

For more information on the vaccine and to find out your eligibility, visit the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services website or call their covid line toll-free at 1-877-490-6642.