Unraveling more COVID-19 myths

By DR. JOY MARTINEZ, Staff Writer

On May 25, North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services reported 525 new cases with approximately 700 currently hospitalized and a daily percent of positive tests above 4%. Even with this news, there is a lot of disinformation regarding the disease and the vaccine.

Myth: If you’ve already had COVID-19, you don’t need to be vaccinated.

Fact: Although rare, reinfection is possible. Some experts recommend waiting three months from when you developed COVID-19. This is because you probably have some degree of natural immunity, and the vaccine supply is currently limited. Importantly, it is not clear how long natural immunity will last. Simply having an antibody test doesn’t explain if you’re immune, as there is no way to know what level or number of antibodies signify immunity.

“Even if you have antibodies, we still aren’t sure what level or what type are best for protection purposes,” said Ostrosky, who is also a professor and division director of infectious diseases at McGovern Medical School.

Simply put, antibody tests are not a true measure of how protected you are from COVID-19. There are mechanisms of protection that will not show up in a test, like how your T-cells will respond when exposed to the virus.

Recently, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) sent out a reminder to public and health care providers that results from currently authorized SARS-CoV-2 antibody tests should not be used to evaluate a person’s level of immunity or protection from COVID-19 at any time, and especially after the person received a COVID-19 vaccination. There is no definitive answer regarding how long immunity lasts. When it comes to the vaccination, the research indicates sometime between six months and two years after you were fully vaccinated the first time around.

Myth: You can’t get COVID-19 after vaccination.

Fact: The COVID-19 vaccine is not 100% effective, so it’s possible to get infected and sick with COVID-19. When this happens, they are reinfections or breakthrough infections.

Two weeks after you receive the second Moderna or Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, you are fully vaccinated and 90% less likely to get infected by the virus. That is very good immunity, but it is not 100%. The J&J vaccine is more than 75% effective. Vaccination will likely keep you from getting sick with COVID-19, but it’s possible to get infected with the coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2), and potentially spread it to others.

According to a report from the CDC on May 25, A total of 10,262 SARS-CoV-2 vaccine breakthrough infections had been reported from 46 U.S. states and territories as of April 30, 2021. Among these cases, 63 percent occurred in females, and the median patient age was 58 years. Based on initial data, 10 percent of the patients with breakthrough cases were known to be hospitalized, and 160 patients died. Unfortunately, we won’t know if there are other breakthrough cases since as of May 1, the CDC transitioned from monitoring all reported COVID-19 vaccine breakthrough infections to investigating only those among patients who are hospitalized or die. Moreover, there is an undercount because many cases are asymptomatic and go undetected. Remember, the degree and duration of protection offered by the vaccine varies from person to person and can change over time.

Fully vaccinated people don’t have to wear mask except in where required by law, rule or regulation, including rules set by local businesses and workplaces.

Myth: The virus has mutated, so our vaccines won’t work.

Fact: It’s true that new strains of the coronavirus have emerged and are spreading quickly around the world. The new strains appears to be transmitted more easily than current strains, increasing the likelihood that even more people will fall ill. Viruses mutate all the time, though. This is not new, nor is it rare.

The current vaccines may be less effective for certain strains of the virus, such as the strains from South Africa and Brazil. The degree to which the vaccines are less effective is not yet fully known. However, data suggests they all still offer some protection. The thinking is, “better safe than infected.”

Myth: You can get COVID-19 from the vaccine.

Fact: You must be exposed to the novel coronavirus to get COVID-19. The COVID-19 vaccines being distributed in the United States do not contain any virus particles, so you cannot get COVID-19 from the vaccine. After vaccination, some people develop a fever, muscle aches, headache, and fatigue—symptoms commonly associated with COVID-19. But, when these symptoms occur within three days of vaccination, they are almost always vaccine side effects. These side effects are a good sign the vaccine is working, as the symptoms are evidence that your body is developing an immune response.

If you get sick and test positive for the novel coronavirus soon after receiving the vaccine, it means you were exposed to the virus, such as being in close contact with an infected person.

Myth: The COVID-19 vaccine is dangerous.

Fact: On April 13 the CDC and FDA  asked states to temporarily halt using J&J’s vaccine “out of an abundance of caution” while it investigated six women, ages 18 to 48, who developed blood clots – specifically cerebral venous sinus thrombosis, or CVST, in combination with low blood platelets within about two weeks of receiving the shot. They recommended resuming use of the shot 10 days later after the CDC determined that the benefits of the inoculations outweighed their risks. On Friday European government agencies indicated the second shot of the COVID-19 vaccine developed by AstraZeneca (AZN.L) and the University of Oxford must not be given to anyone who has had blood clots with low blood platelets after receiving the first.

The CDC is investigating a small number of young adults and adolescents who may have experienced heart problems following a COVID-19 vaccine, though the agency stressed that it is unclear the vaccine is responsible.  There have been “relatively few” reports of this inflammation – called myocarditis and “most cases appear to be mild,” but the COVID-19 Vaccine Safety Technical Work Group said it felt the potential issue should be communicated to providers. Reports have been mostly in adolescents and young adults, are more common in males than females, typically occur after the second dose, and show up about 4 days after vaccination. Symptoms of myocarditis include fatigue and shortness of breath and it often goes away without any complications, but still the CDC is investigating and alerting doctors to be on the lookout for this.The CDC noted that mRNA vaccines, which are made by Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech, are potentially causing the problem. 

The U.S. Department of Defense started tracking cases back in March and reports it found 14 cases of myocarditis in service members who got either the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines. Thirteen of those cases came after the second shot was administered. Several of those patients are in their late 30s.

Former acting CDC director Dr. Richard Besser says COVID is much worse threat than myocarditis. “We do know that the COVID infection itself can be very serious. We’ve lost hundreds of children (and) there’s thousands who’ve been hospitalized,” he said. “And so I would say from my perspective the risk of COVID is so much greater than any theoretical risk from the vaccine.” Still, some physicians say the benefit of being protected against COVID-19 could help prevent worse outcomes than the potential side effect that’s being investigated. “The relative risk is a lot in favor of getting the vaccine, especially considering how many doses of the vaccine have been administered,” Liam Yorepast, MD, president of the Washington State chapter of the American College of Emergency Physicians, said.

Typical side effects are not dangerous, more than half of vaccine recipients have a sore arm at the vaccination site. It’s not uncommon for a day or two after the vaccine to have flu-type symptoms, muscle aches, headaches, chills, perhaps low-grade fever. That’s the immune system actually responding to the vaccine.

Over 285 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine have been given in the United States from December 14, 2020, through May 24, 2021. Because COVID-19 vaccines clinical trials only started in the summer of 2020, the long term effects are still being studied. However, if you’re concerned, in the US, safety data on COVID-19 vaccines are reported to a national program called the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System. This data is available to the public. The CDC has also created v-safe, a smartphone-based tool that allows users to report COVID-19 vaccine side effects.

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