As Alabama continues to roll out the COVID-19 vaccine, we connected with Dr. Darrel Weaver with Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Alabama to learn more about vaccine safety. He addresses seven COVID-19 vaccine myths and explains why everyone should receive the vaccine when given the opportunity.
Already know you’re ready to receive the vaccine? For information on eligibility, vaccine safety, and to schedule a vaccination appointment, visit ALCovidVaccine.gov. You can also call 855-566-5333 for appointments.
Myth 1. “Scientists threw the vaccine together too fast for it to be effective.“
Actually, scientists and other researchers worked on the development of this type of vaccine for around 15 years—since the SARS-CoV and MERS-CoV viruses emerged in the world.
Because much of the background work for the COVID-19 vaccines was already completed, it’s part of what allowed these vaccines to be available in what seems like a short time frame.
“These are some of the safest vaccines ever. They weren’t just thrown together. There is actually 15 to 20 years’ worth of work going into them. That work took a turn a year ago when they decided to say ‘Okay, now let’s apply this technology that we’ve been working on to COVID-19.’ They are very effective.“Dr. Darrel C. Weaver, MD, Vice President of Healthcare Networks, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Alabama
Myth 2. “There is a strain of COVID-19 in the vaccine.”
The COVID-19 vaccines work in completely different ways than other vaccines, like the flu shot. Before, every vaccine you received was some form of the virus itself killed or weakened to the point where it couldn’t grow.
Your body would recognize a foreign entity and work to make antibodies against it. However, the COVID-19 vaccines deliver a little genetic instruction to your body to make a small part of the virus.
Think back to those photos of the virus we saw flash across every news channel and all over social media at the beginning of the pandemic. It was a round ball with red spike proteins sticking out on the sides.
The “round ball” is the part of the virus that makes you sick. The spike proteins on the outside are the appendages the virus uses to get into your body.
The new vaccines are telling your body to make copies of the spike proteins, not the actual virus.
“(The vaccine) is not giving your body the instructions to make the virus. It’s giving your body instructions to make the safe part of the outside of the virus. Now your body recognizes that ‘Hey there are things floating around in me now that aren’t supposed to.’ So it makes antibodies against the spike protein.
Now when the real Coronavirus comes in some capacity, your body says ‘Oh I see spike proteins out there.’ You’ve already made the antibodies—the antibodies fight the Coronavirus so you don’t catch it.“Dr. Weaver
Myth 3. “The side effects of the COVID-19 vaccine are dangerous.”
According to Dr. Weaver, one out of 10,000 vaccine recipients has had an allergic reaction to the vaccine. For one out of 100,000, it’s a dangerous reaction.
“Again, (the vaccines are) light years safer than the vaccines we’ve been taking our whole life.”Dr. Weaver
Another COVID-19 vaccine myth is it reprograms your DNA and causes harmful effects. The kind of genetic material the COVID-19 vaccines use is completely separate from the DNA in your body—it doesn’t even get close.
Medical experts say if you experience temporary side effects after receiving the vaccine, that means the vaccine is working. Here are the possible side effects:
- Sore arm
Myth 4. “The vaccine is a failure because you lose antibodies after 3 months.”
When you have COVID-19 or receive the vaccine and get antibodies, they stay for about three months. If you check back six months down the road and no longer see those antibodies, you may report it as a failure.
That’s not the case—it’s normal for your body to not have antibodies after a period of time. When your body gets sick, it develops antibodies against whatever you’re sick with. You recover, and for a while you still have antibodies floating around looking for problems.
Eventually, the antibodies won’t find any problems and leave, but your body doesn’t forget them.
“Antibodies go away, but your body remembers it. There are immune cells that their only job now is to remember what a COVID-19 virus looks like. There are only a few of them, but they’re floating around. So then, a year from now if a COVID virus comes back to you, those immune cells start screaming out loud, ‘Hey it’s back! Make some more antibodies.‘”Dr. Weaver
What if you’ve had COVID-19 already?
You may also hear that if you’ve had COVID-19 there’s no point in getting the vaccine. Again, Dr. Weaver stresses everyone should get the vaccine if allowed the opportunity.
Besides being one way to keep individuals, families, and communities safe, it’s also free. Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Alabama provides 100% coverage for the administration of COVID-19 vaccines during the government’s phased-in vaccine distribution.
Myth 5. “You should rely on herd immunity instead of the vaccine.”
Herd immunity is a big buzzword when talking about the pandemic. In short, when most of a population becomes immune to an infectious disease, it provides indirect protection to anyone not immune.
This is the ideal situation, but Alabama reaching herd immunity relies on a lot of factors and many unknowns. It’s necessary to get the shot now instead of waiting to see what will happen.
“While (the virus) is still new and while our bodies don’t have a lot of defenses against it, it’s important to get the shot.“Dr. Weaver
Myth 6. “The vaccine doesn’t protect you against variants.”
Currently, the vaccine proves very effective against the so-called UK variant or B.1.1.7. If you do become infected by one of the COVID-19 variants, your risk of dying or experiencing severe health issues from the disease is significantly reduced while vaccinated.
“They’re remarkably effective. Year after year when you get the flu shot, if it works 60% of the time it’s considered to be very effective that year. The (Moderna and Pfizer) vaccines are 95% effective. After the two shots, 95% of the time you’re totally protected from getting COVID-19.”Dr. Weaver
The single-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine is the latest one approved by the US Food and Drug Administration and has a 72% effective rate. But this doesn’t mean it’s less effective than the Moderna or Pfizer vaccines or that you should hold out and opt for a particular one of the three.
“Even though the Johnson & Johnson is only 72% effective, it may be because it’s not working on some of those variants. But what it is absolutely doing: Nobody that has received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine has died from COVID-19. It’s greatly reduced the number of people who ended up with COVID and got really sick.”Dr. Weaver
Myth 7. “When you get the vaccine, you can drop all COVID-19 safety measures”
Even if you receive the vaccine, it’s essential to still social distance, wash your hands and wear a mask. While the vaccines reduce the risk of catching the disease, it does not stop your exposure to it.
Until there’s more research on how the vaccine impacts others through asymptomatic transmission, wearing a mask protects others from picking up the virus and transmitting it to someone else.
The following is an op-ed by Alabama health organizations stating their recommendation for Alabamians to receive the COVID-19 vaccines:
Op-Ed March 8, 2021
Alabama Health Organizations Recommend Alabamians Receive COVID-19 Vaccines to Help End Pandemic
Alabama’s leading health organizations are joining together to strongly recommend Alabamians get the COVID-19 vaccine. Getting the vaccine can help stop the spread of the COVID-19 virus that has affected the lives of almost every Alabamian.
“Protection from COVID-19 through vaccination of the majority of people is critically important in reducing COVID-19 disease,” said Dr. Scott Harris, State Health Officer. “COVID-19 vaccines have been shown to be safe and effective for men and women regardless of age or racial and ethnic group. We strongly recommend that adults protect themselves, their family, coworkers, friends, and community from severe illness and death by getting vaccinated when they are eligible. Vaccination will help advance the public health vision of healthy people, healthy communities, and a health Alabama.”
The Alabama Department of Public Health, the Alabama Hospital Association, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Alabama, the Alabama Pharmacy Association, the Alabama Medicaid Agency, and the Medical Association of the State of Alabama are together confident in the vaccine’s effectiveness and safety.
“Alabama physicians are no strangers to patient education and how it can ease hesitancy regarding vaccines. However, the public’s uncertainty surrounding the COVID-19 vaccine is unparalleled. Around 39% of Americans say they probably or definitely would not get a coronavirus vaccine,” said Dr. John Meigs, President, Medical Association of the State of Alabama. “It’s critical to help alleviate misunderstandings in order to overcome vaccine hesitancy.
“A top concern appears to be how quickly the COVID-19 vaccines have been developed. The first vaccines were distributed to the public in less than one year,” added Dr. Meigs. “While there is an element of ‘wait and see’ to evaluate the full effectiveness of the vaccines, here is what we know so far: the available vaccines are up to 95% effective at preventing COVID-19, and the majority of side effects are very minor. We can start to renew the trust in our healthcare system now by shutting down divisive rhetoric and focusing on science. The road to recovery is long but will be possible thanks to the people of Alabama.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, vaccine safety is a top priority. Millions of people in the United States have received COVID-19 vaccines safely and with few side effects.
“As soon as individuals are eligible and the vaccine is available, we encourage every Alabamian to be vaccinated against COVID-19,” said Dr. Don Williamson, President, Alabama Hospital Association. “Through vaccination, we not only protect ourselves, but everyone around us. These vaccines have undergone the most intensive safety monitoring in U.S. history and represent our best chance for the state and nation to return to a sense of normalcy.”
Alabama pharmacies are a trusted source playing a crucial role in COVID vaccination administration and distribution across our state.
“We strongly recommend that every Alabamian who is eligible receive one of the safe, effective, and approved COVID-19 vaccines. Alabama’s pharmacists have had the privilege of administering
thousands of vaccines to patients in every community over the past few months,” said Louise Jones, Chief Executive Officer, Alabama Pharmacy Association. “While we understand hesitancy with the unknown, we are confident in the vaccines we are administering to the patients who know and trust us. Pharmacists will continue to be available to answer questions and to vaccinate with confidence as more supply becomes available. Getting vaccinated is not only about protecting yourself, but protecting those around you.”
Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Alabama is providing 100% coverage for the administration of COVID-19 vaccines during the government’s phased-in vaccine distribution. Blue Cross members on individual, Medicare and almost all employer health plans will be able to receive a FDA-authorized COVID-19 vaccine without having to pay any out-of-pocket expenses.
“Alabama can overcome this healthcare crisis if we do our part by getting the COVID-19 vaccine,” said Tim Vines, President and CEO, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Alabama. “The health and wellness of our members and communities remains our top priority. We want to make sure our members have access to the COVID-19 vaccines without cost being an obstacle.
“I encourage all Alabamians, including Medicaid recipients, to get the COVID-19 vaccine as soon as they are eligible,” said Stephanie Azar, Commissioner of Alabama Medicaid Agency. “There is no cost to recipients for the vaccine, and it can save lives and help slow the spread of the virus.”
By taking preventive measures for protection, Alabamians can help end the pandemic in our state and nationwide. Along with getting the vaccine, continue to wear face masks, practice social distancing, and wash hands frequently.
For information on eligibility, vaccine safety, and to schedule a vaccination appointment, visit ALCovidVaccine.gov. For appointments, the public can also call 1-855-566-5333.