Vaccine Mistakes You Can't Afford to Make
Experts warn that getting the COVID vaccine is an effective way of fighting off the deadly virus. Although it's available to Americans at no cost, many still are weary of getting their shots. Not only is there a lot of misinformation out there about the vaccine, many think they're healthy enough to fight off COVID on their own, therefore a vaccine is not needed. Eat This, Not That! Health talked to medical experts who explain 10 misunderstandings about the vaccine and the mistakes people are making when it comes to not getting theirs. Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.
Get Vaccinated But Don't Think the Vaccine is a Magic Bullet
Dr. J. Wes Ulm, MD, Ph.D explains, "COVID vaccines are a key tool in the infection protection arsenal, but they're not a magic bullet — they're best combined with other control measures especially amid an outbreak. When it comes to infectious control protocols, the COVID-19 vaccines are perhaps the most pivotal development since the start of the pandemic, but as has since become clear, they don't provide ironclad protection, and don't in themselves confer herd immunity. As alluded to above, a host of large-scale cohort studies out of medical centers worldwide — particularly in Israel and Europe, and more recently among American veterans — have helped to demarcate both the strengths and limitations of the protections delivered by the shots. They're especially valuable in mitigating the toll on healthcare systems from hospitalizations and extended ICU stays, and greatly reduce the chance of a severe infection. However, they do not as of yet confer mucosal or sterilizing immunity, and after several months as noted before, they also lose some of their potency in warding off severe infections, hence the need for boosters (which the FDA as of Friday November 19, 2021, has recommended for all previously vaccinated adults). This does not mean that the vaccines are ineffective, but like any other intervention against infection, they have their boundaries in what they alone can provide, particularly given the aggressiveness of the delta variant. For this reason, it's important to combine vaccination and boosting with other protective measures such as masks, social distancing, and solid air filtration, particularly for large indoor gatherings or in the midst of known or suspected sick contacts. This has been the lesson from the roller-coaster waves striking highly-vaccinated countries like Israel, Britain, Singapore, and Malta, territories like Gibraltar, or states like Vermont — it's not as easy as "doffing the masks" since the vaccines at this point remain somewhat leaky, particularly for this first generation. It can be somewhat frustrating to have to continue with these measures even after getting the shot, but pandemics are a fact of human history and, as we've learned with COVID-19, for the modern world as well. Fortunately, with better treatments and hospital capacity along with next-generation vaccines in the pipeline, we're getting closer to a point of managing the pandemic much more effectively, across the globe."
One Shot is Not Enough
Not getting the vaccine is a mistake, says Dr. Jagdish Khubchandani, MBBS, Ph.D. Professor of Public Health New Mexico State University . "For those who are yet to get their first dose or have gotten the first dose of a 2 dose vaccine- return back to get your second dose. While something is better than nothing, for long lasting and stronger immunity, one must complete doses of any vaccine as recommended. These recommendations are based on clinical trials and have to be taken seriously. Early in April, it was estimated that 5 million people missed their 2nd dose and by late summer, it was estimated that 10 million people missed the second dose.
Think You Don't Need a Booster? Think Again!
Experts are recommending a booster to help keep people protected longer from COVID-19 and Robert G. Lahita MD, PhD ("Dr.Bob"), Director of the Institute for Autoimmune and Rheumatic Disease at Saint Joseph Health and author of the upcoming book Immunity Strong says not getting the booster is a bad idea. "This is a mistake for two reasons. First, the initial immunity from your first round of the vaccine may be waning at this time. Second, the booster protects you from new variants which is useful."
Dr. J. Wes Ulm, MD, Ph.D., adds, "For a good many Americans, this has been a recurring source of perplexity with the delta variant and the booster regimens being rolled out to combat it — if I got "x" vaccine originally, should I get another dose of "x," or opt for "y" or "z" as a booster, since mixing-and-matching is now an option? There's a great deal of research ongoing to address such questions, and we are in somewhat uncharted territory as we learn and improvise, but the bottom line is this. All of the approved COVID vaccines have been demonstrated to solidly bolster the lymphocytic immune memory — rooted in so-called memory T and memory B cells, a specialized subset of the white blood cells that fight infections in our bodies — that underlies targeted immunity to the virus that causes COVID-19, i.e. SARS-CoV-2-specific adaptive immunity in medical parlance. The delta variant is quite virulent and isn't going anywhere, and for individuals approaching the six-month mark after their initial shots, there's a strong likelihood that their immunity has waned significantly, leaving them highly vulnerable to not only catching and transmitting COVID-19, but also suffering a severe enough infection to require hospitalization. This has been reinforced not only by findings from US hospitals, but also from large-scale studies overseas, particularly in Israel and Britain where robust booster regimens have already been in place. Given the heterogeneity of each individual patient, it can be helpful to consult with a personal physician about specific questions, especially if you've had an adverse reaction to one of the inoculations in the past and are interested in an alternative to whichever vaccine you got first. With that said, don't sweat the details about which specific option is best for a booster, or await further efficacy data on mixing-and-matching — winter is coming and the delta variant cases are soaring once again, so whenever you can find an opening in your calendar with a local clinic or vaccination center, make the appointment."
Don't Forgo the Shot if You're Pregnant
According to Dr. Bob, "The vaccine does not damage your fertility nor does it cause infertility. This is a myth. The vaccine protects you and your fetus during a particularly vulnerable time."
Don't Believe "Everyone" Will Definitely Get a Breakthrough Infection
That is not the case," Dr. Bob states. "Breakthrough infections are uncommon and they rarely result in hospitalization."
Don't Think You Have Full Immunity
Dr. Khubchandani explains, "For those who are yet to get their first dose or have only gotten one dose of a second dose vaccine or just got vaccinated, immunity does not develop overnight so stay cautious and practice social distancing and mask wearing. We are all expected to acquire some level of immunity and protection within a few weeks after the first dose, but adequate immunity and protection need time to develop and for 2 dose vaccines, it could take an additional few weeks. So, dropping the mask and social distancing on the day of the first shot is rash, defeating the purpose of vaccination."
Don't Believe Conspiracy Theories
"Thinking that extreme measures like bathing in epsom salts and borax will "undo" the vaccine – that's not true at all, explains Dr. Bob. "That is very much not how vaccines work."
Don't Politicize the Vaccine
"This is a big mistake," says Dr. Bob. "The vaccine should never be politicized because this is a matter of public health."
You are Not Invincible
Dr. Khubchandani says, "young people thought they could not be infected or hospitalized. While age is a predictor of death and serious disease, nothing is guaranteed with COVID-19, even young people have suffered serious infections and death. As of late 2021, unfortunately, the global average age of those dying from COVID-19 has reduced since the onset of the pandemic. Despite this, our own studies find that more than a fifth of young adults in colleges and almost a fifth of medical/healthcare students are refusing the vaccines."
Don't Believe a Vaccine Doesn't Work
"There is often a debate if vaccines cannot prevent infection, why have them?, Dr. Khubchandani asks. It's a good question that needs some myth busting. Vaccines approved for use worldwide for COVID-19 show in trials that they can reduce serious disease, hospitalization, or even severe infection. No vaccine manufacturer can or has claimed 100% efficacy in preventing infection, but they provide a layer of protection against serious disease. Driving with a seat belt is no guarantee against accidents or deaths, but the chances are lower. No harm in wearing a mask even if you are fully vaccinated as even a minor infection could possibly cause long covid symptoms? We are living with a lot of uncertainty and in such times, being cautious can go a long way."
Dr. J. Wes Ulm, MD, Ph.D.adds, "The newer vaccine technologies do involve a number of "not-so-known unknowns" — but COVID-19 involves far more.
First off, it's worth noting that intensive discussions about COVID-19 vaccine safety and efficacy are both instructive and fruitful, and should be welcomed. They have indeed proceeded on a much more condensed timeline than immunoprophylactic technologies in the past, and as always with a novel intervention, we're still learning as we go along, and retrospective studies are ongoing for vaccinated cohorts. With that said, remember that especially with the delta variant, we in practice don't much have the luxury of an uninfected control group. Although we lack data on long-term outcomes for recipients of these jabs in large-scale clinical trials, we also lack data on the long-term effects of COVID-19 infection — and the sheer virulence and dissemination capacity of the delta and similar variants mean that SARS-CoV-2 in some form is becoming endemic, across the world. With this in mind, whatever toxicity is wrought by adverse effects from the vaccines is almost certainly going to be multiplied many thousands or millions of times by an active infection by a replicating coronavirus. Recall, for a moment, those scenes of hospitals and clinics in New York City and, from there, across the US being overwhelmed by patients on ventilators due to the COVID strains circulating in 2020 (the principal strain in the United States having gained a foothold chiefly via travelers from Italy, which had been hard-hit in February). It's easy to lose sight of this two years into the pandemic, but the primary reason for the lockdowns, societal strains, and general stresses from the COVID waves has been the unprecedented peacetime pressures (at least since the Spanish flu pandemic) on the healthcare system, which cripple responsiveness and aggravate morbidity and mortality for all manner of medical issues. Now consider that the delta variant is at least 1,000 times as virulent as those strains in 2020. We're still unraveling the many puzzles surrounding delta, but the long-and-short of it is that it replicates much faster and sheds much more rapidly than even the strains that crammed US hospitals in the early spring and winter of last year. This helps to put the relative risks in context.
For instance, the spike protein of SARS-CoV-2 has been shown to mediate many of its noxious effects upon human cells and tissues, and it's true that a COVID-19 vaccine jab will deliver this both locally and, to a lesser extent, systemically. But an infection with actively replicating virus will deliver a much, much higher dose of that same spike protein, and studies particularly of delta have shown that this variant is quite capable of breaching the tight junctions — intercellular structures providing a kind of biological retaining wall — that protect critical tissues like the central nervous system and reproductive tract, at far greater levels than any of the WHO-listed vaccines could. There are ongoing studies surrounding issues like biodistribution of the lipid nanoparticle delivery vehicles for the mRNA vaccines and the synthetic messenger RNA used to construct them. Risk stratification and natural immunity are important topics of discussion and ideally, the near future will offer up second-generation vaccines providing greater mucosal immunity against the delta variant and a broader menu of effective immunizations built from different modalities (including protein-subunit and inactivated viral particle systems, more in line with previous vaccine designs). With all that said, almost any conceivable risk — along with "not-yet-known unknowns" — from the vaccines would be amplified many times over by a live viral infection, and given the high likelihood of an encounter with the widely circulating virus at some point, the controlled dose provided by the jab is effectively providing a coat of armor as extra protection. This armor, of course, can get rusty and chipped after a while, and it'll eventually need replacement (boosters), but it's better to have it when the metaphorical slings and arrows (rapidly replicating viral particles, to extend the analogy) of a COVID-19 outbreak are looming."
How to Stay Safe Out There
Follow the public health fundamentals and help end this pandemic, no matter where you live—get vaccinated ASAP; if you live in an area with low vaccination rates, wear an N95 face mask, don't travel, social distance, avoid large crowds, don't go indoors with people you're not sheltering with (especially in bars), practice good hand hygiene, and to protect your life and the lives of others, don't visit any of these 35 Places You're Most Likely to Catch COVID.