Vaccines are a complex topic and there has been a lot of controversy around them in recent years.

Getting a Covid vaccine has been introduced as a way to stop the rampant spread of the virus within our communities, as well as reducing the risk of severe disease (hospitalization and death) if you do come in contact with the virus.

I fully appreciate and acknowledge that you might have concerns and questions, because I had them too. How was this vaccine created so quickly? Were the trials testing the safety rushed? Can a vaccine made with mRNA technology permanently change our DNA?

We’re going to dig into all those questions here. No matter what your initial reaction is to this topic, this information is so important and I urge you to read on with an open mind.

My only agenda is to empower you with unbiased and scientific information to make a well-informed decision for you and your family and to tell you how I came to my personal decision about getting vaccinated.

Based on all the research and the results we’re already seeing, I believe that the vaccine is the best choice for my health and I will be getting it as soon as I am eligible.

That said, I acknowledge that even having a choice about this comes from a place of privilege.

Many communities around the world have been disproportionately affected by this global pandemic due to a variety of socioeconomic factors, and there are communities suffering at such high levels that there is no choice but to do everything required to stop the spread and severity of the disease — which includes widespread vaccination.

So: let’s get started.

Table of Contents

The Current State Of Affairs

As you read through this post, it’s important to remember that the science we have on this topic is constantly evolving. My goal is to give you a thorough and objective source of information as it currently stands, and I am committed to including all the data, not just the data that make the vaccines look good.

So: at the time of writing this post, we are 13 months into a global pandemic and counting. Over 111 million people have had Covid globally, and this number continues to increase daily. Over 2.4 million people have died as a direct result of Covid, and many millions more have been hospitalized with a severe form of the disease.

It will also be a long time before we understand the full extent of people who died or had major health complications as a result of not being able to access care in the overloaded hospital systems that they would have received if the pandemic were not raging.

Many people who have had Covid-19 also experience long-term effects after they have ‘recovered’ from their infection.

The likelihood of developing long-term effects of contracting the virus (described as a long Covid, post-acute Covid-19, and Covid long-hauler) is estimated to be between 10% and 88%. These long-term effects seem to affect young people just as much (if not more) than the elderly, and just as common in people who experienced mild infection as in those who had severe infections.

The largest study to date was just published in January 2021 by The Lancet which showed six months after people got out of the hospital, 76% still had one or more symptoms. The most common were:

  • Fatigue
  • Muscle weakness
  • Sleep difficulties
  • Hair loss
  • Smell disorder
  • Heart palpitations
  • Joint pain
  • Decreased appetite
  • Taste disorder
  • Dizziness
  • Diarrhea or vomiting
  • Chest pain
  • Sore throat or swallowing difficulty
  • Skin rash
  • Muscle pain
  • Headache
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Impaired lung function and breathing
  • Heart abnormalities.

Sadly, we are only at the beginning and will not fully know the long-term risks of Covid-19 until more time has passed.

For example, will a past infection increase your future risk of chronic fatigue syndrome (myalgic encephalomyelitis), heart disease, lung disease, Alzheimer’s disease, or other diseases? We won’t know the answers to these questions until more time has passed.

As we’re seeing with these Covid after-effects, viruses are strange in that even after the initial infection, they can have an ongoing impact on the person’s health.

Take HPV (human papillomavirus): after the initial infection, which is often asymptomatic, it can then go on to cause cervical and other types of cancer long after the initial exposure.

Or the virus that causes chickenpox (varicella-zoster virus) which can then lay inactive in your nerve tissue only to be reactivated and cause excruciatingly painful shingles years after the chickenpox has disappeared.

So far, 205+ million doses of the vaccines against Covid-19 have been administered around the world and the data shows that they appear to be working to lower the risks of death and severe infection. Early evidence also suggests that they are slowing the spread of the virus.

Many countries around the world are finally starting to see a slowing in the rates of infection (vaccination may be only one of many contributing factors), including in Portugal where I live. We’ve been in a full-scale lockdown for the last month due to skyrocketing infection rates and hospital emergency rooms being at full capacity.

How Vaccines Work

A pathogen is a bacterium, virus, parasite, or fungus that can cause disease within the body. The part of a pathogen that causes the formation of antibodies is called an antigen. Antibodies are like the soldiers in your body’s defense system.

Vaccines are substances made from a weakened or inactive part of the antigen or a blueprint of the antigen that are then used for the specific purpose of stimulating a person’s immune system to produce immunity to a specific disease, protecting them from that disease.

Vaccines stimulate your immune response against an antigen. Then, the next time you come into contact with that antigen via infection, your body remembers this response (a process called immunological memory) and can fight off the infection quickly before you develop the full-blown illness.

Vaccination basically gives your immune system a practice round before it has to tackle the virus at full strength. This is the same way that your immune system remembers and fights off a virus when you’ve been exposed to it naturally.

Why Do We Vaccinate?

If you are under the age of 40 and live in a developed nation, it’s most likely that until now, you’ve been spared the devastating consequences of a fast-spreading virus. This is the result of widespread and highly effective vaccination campaigns that have wiped out the worst viruses from our communities.

One of the most successful vaccination programs was for polio. Polio attacks the nervous system and can cause muscle wasting and paralysis. Polio still exists but has decreased by over 99% since 1988 due to the global effort to eradicate the disease using vaccinations.

Vaccination also played a decisive role in the eradication of smallpox, which was officially declared in 1980. It took 21 years after the World Health Organization initiated a global eradication campaign, and is now considered one of the biggest achievements in global health.

Vaccination for many other viruses has reduced infant and child mortality worldwide. The leading cause of child death globally is from infectious diseases, and so childhood vaccination is associated with substantial reductions in childhood mortality (particularly the measles and tetanus vaccinations).

Vaccination efforts were ramped up globally between 2011 and 2020. There were 6,531,000 child deaths from infectious disease in 1990, which was reduced to 2,428,000 child deaths in 2017.

The primary goal of vaccination is not individual protection but community protection. Although vaccines do protect you individually, the goal is to create herd immunity.

What Is Herd Immunity?

Herd immunity is typically a term only used in the context of vaccination, not natural infection. Unfortunately, we have heard the term misused throughout this pandemic, particularly when Sweden announced that it would not enforce lockdown measures, with the expectation that some form of resistance would develop in the community to slow Covid down. This was a highly controversial approach and led to devastating consequences for the Swedish people.

Herd immunity occurs only when enough of the community becomes immune to an illness, that when someone is infected in the community, the illness doesn’t spread and can be easily contained.

Vulnerable populations who may not be immune, such as babies and children, the elderly, pregnant women, and people with a compromised immune system, are more protected because contact with infected people is less likely.

The herd immunity threshold is the percentage of the population who need to become immune before the population is protected against further infection. The percentage needed depends on how contagious the illness is and can be a big topic of debate.

There is currently very little evidence to show that we could achieve ‘natural’ herd immunity with infections alone, as Sweden was hoping to do:

‘According to Johns Hopkins University epidemiologists David Dowdy and Gypsyamber D’Souza, it is likely that 70% or more of the population would need to be immune to reach herd immunity for Covid-19. To put this into perspective, “without a vaccine, over 200 million Americans would have to get infected before we reach this threshold.”’ (source)

For context, the US is currently leading the number of infections worldwide, currently at 28 million. There is a long way to go before reaching 200 million. The cost of relying on natural infection alone is too great and would mean that after more than a year of this devastating pandemic, we aren’t even a quarter of the way there. 

Even worse? This strategy doesn’t take into account that we don’t know how long natural immunity for Covid-19 will last, or if that threshold is even accurate. The ethical implications of relying on natural immunity alone — which exposes large groups of vulnerable people disproportionately — are simply not acceptable. 

That said, it’s important to note that achieving herd immunity with vaccination will likely only be part of the solution to ridding the world of Covid-19. Each different illness and our very globally connected world brings individual nuances that impact a population’s ability to reach immunity.

In addition to vaccination, we also need to focus on ways to better the health of high-risk individuals to prevent severe infection from Covid-19 and future viruses. This includes more research into the areas of health that are protective against severe forms of the disease, such as:

  • Vitamin D status: reports that 73 studies are happening around the world. Low vitamin D levels appear to be associated with more severe forms of the disease. A fake study from Indonesia caused some skepticism in the vitamin D research but reputable places like Brigham and Women’s in Boston are studying vitamin D’s role in Covid-19 severity. 
  • Microbiome: dysbiosis may lead to more severe disease.
  • Genetic susceptibility: certain genetic polymorphisms may lead to more severe disease.

It is more important than ever that we develop public health campaigns to promote optimal health and strong immune systems through basic diet and lifestyle changes.

How Do We Choose What To Vaccinate Against?

Producing a vaccine is a very time intensive and expensive process. Therefore, we only invest in vaccines for diseases that have high mortality rates (the numbers of deaths caused by the disease) and/or morbidity rates (the numbers of severe illness, complications, and lifelong health consequences caused by the disease).

Let’s look at measles as an example.

Measles has a mortality (death) rate in developed countries of 1 to 3 deaths per 1000 infections, most commonly from giving the person pneumonia.

Measles morbidity (severe illness) rates:

  • 1 in 5 unvaccinated people in the US are hospitalized
  • 1 out of every 20 children get pneumonia
  • 1 in 1000 develop encephalitis (swelling of the brain) that can leave the child deaf or with intellectual disability
  • Complications of measles during pregnancy can lead to premature birth or low birth weight babies

Measles vaccinations resulted in a 73% drop in measles deaths, which prevented about 23.3 million deaths, between 2000 and 2018 worldwide.

OK: We’ve covered the foundational information about vaccines generally, so let’s get into more detail about the Covid vaccines specifically. To do that, we need to take a quick detour into mRNA vaccine technology.

mRNA Vaccine Technology: How New Is It, And How Does It Work?

mRNA is a big advancement in vaccine technology which allows vaccines to be created much more quickly than ever before.

This is extremely important, because if new variants of Covid-19 keep emerging, that may mean that the vaccines being rolled out now become less effective before we get the pandemic fully under control. If this happens we need to be able to create and distribute a new vaccine as quickly as possible.

Two of the vaccines currently being rolled out against Covid-19 use this mRNA technology (the Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna vaccines).

It’s important to note, mRNA technology itself is not new. It has been studied for 30 years and has the potential to revolutionize vaccines, as well as cancer and other drug treatments.

And here’s a cool side note: scientists and researchers are working to develop mRNA vaccines for cancer. Essentially, the treatment could become a vaccine made from the tumor that would then fight your own cancerous tissue!

(Contrary to some rumors, the mRNA vaccine will not increase your risk of autoimmune disease or cancer — more on this further down the post).

Here’s the breakdown of how mRNA vaccines work:

The vaccine containing mRNA is injected into the muscle of the upper arm.

It contains the instructions for building a small unique part of the coronavirus, called the spike protein. These instructions are called messenger RNA (mRNA).

Using mRNA of one small section of the virus means that you can’t get sick with Covid-19 from the vaccine itself.

The mRNA information is packaged within a protective vessel called the lipid nanoparticle. This is important because the structure of the lipid nanoparticle allows the mRNA to be brought into your body’s cells.

Once the mRNA is inside of the cell, your body will start to make proteins from the set of instructions until it has created the spike protein.

Then, your body transfers the spike protein out of the cell and attaches it to the outer covering of the cell, or the membrane. The purpose of this is to show it to your immune system to see if it passes inspection.

Once the immune system sees the spike protein on the surface of the cell it sounds the alarm bells to the immune system. It recognizes that it is something foreign (not part of you) and that it should be attacked.

After a period of time your body creates a sufficient response to the vaccine protecting you the next time your body comes in contact with that same virus.

One interesting part of the mRNA vaccine technology is that it creates an adequate immune response without additional adjuvants (typically aluminum salts), which are used to stimulate a robust immune response to certain vaccines.

How The Covid-19 Vaccines Were Developed

One of the many myths about these vaccines is that they were rushed through production and testing, and so we don’t know if they are safe.

However, one of the advantages of the mRNA vaccine technology is that it allows for rapid, inexpensive, and scalable manufacturing. 

This is partly how the Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna vaccines were created so quickly — all that was needed was the sequence of the virus genome in order to create the RNA sequence for the spike protein. After the RNA sequence was received by the lab, the vaccine was shipped 41 days later to the NIH for clinical trials!

These vaccines also got a major jump start from drawing on research already being done on SARS and MERS, two different coronaviruses that had caused local outbreaks around the world in recent years. For example, we already knew that the coronaviruses had a spike protein that bound to receptors in our body called the ACE2 receptors. These receptors are found in heavy amounts in the lung tissue which is why an infection with Covid-19 causes a characteristic cough.

The severity of the global pandemic also led to unprecedented funding which allowed for the different phases of the Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna clinical trials to happen simultaneously (phase 2 and 3, below). 

Phase 1 = testing in small groups (non-randomized) to determine safety, side effects, best dose, and formulation method for the drug

Phase 2 = test for safety

Phase 3 = test for efficacy

Usually the phases of trials are not done simultaneously because if phase 2 is not going well you wouldn’t put the time and money into a phase 3.

Although the speed has been unprecedented, no corners were cut to get these vaccines to the public safely. We now have many vaccine options approved and in development that will prevent death, hospitalization, and the spread of the virus.

Currently, the two mRNA vaccines have been given emergency use authorization (EUA) by the FDA. EUA can be given only after Phase 3 trials are completed which includes a two-month follow-up post-vaccination (the window in which adverse events are known to occur in reaction to a vaccine).

Efficacy Of The Covid-19 Vaccines

What does it mean when a vaccine has high efficacy? Efficacy is the relative difference between the small fractions of people who actually got sick within the placebo and vaccine groups.

Efficacy does not tell you what your chances are of becoming sick if you get vaccinated. It is a calculation used to describe how the testing population responded to the vaccine versus the placebo group. This is not necessarily equivalent to how the vaccine will perform in the real world.

The Pfizer/BioNTech mRNA vaccine, for example, has approximately 95% efficacy.

For the Phase 3 trial, Pfizer recruited 43,448 volunteers. A total of 170 people became infected with Covid-19 during the trial and got a positive test. Out of these 170, 162 had received a placebo shot, and just 8 had received the real vaccine. This data is used in a calculation that results in 95% efficacy.

The Moderna mRNA vaccine also has approximately 95% efficacy.

The Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna vaccines also are very effective in preventing severe disease, achieving 90% and 100% protection respectively.

A peer-reviewed study published in The Lancet medical journal just showed that AstraZeneca’s vaccine (76% efficacy after the first dose) is more effective when its second dose is given 3 months after the first dose (81% efficacy). It also provides 100% protection against severe disease, hospitalization, and death.

Effectiveness, on the other hand, is different than efficacy and it means how well the vaccine works out in the real world. After a vaccine is approved for use in the public it is continued to be studied long-term for effectiveness.

We won’t fully be able to appreciate the true effectiveness of all the Covid vaccines until a greater number of people are vaccinated in the real world and more time has passed.

*Note – At the time of this post, not all of the vaccines approved for emergency use around the world have released the results of their Phase III trials, therefore, I have not included them in the above conversation on efficacy.

Safety Of The Covid-19 Vaccines

The research for both the Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna vaccines (as well as many of the others coming out now) has gone through extensive peer review and independent review. 

This means that multiple groups of scientists have independently analyzed the data and have all come to the same conclusions about the safety of these vaccines — that they are safe for public use and an appropriate tool for our attempts to control Covid-19. 

What each of these groups of scientists found from the data is that there were no specific safety concerns identified by age, race, ethnicity, medical comorbidities (other medical conditions that could interact with the vaccine), or prior infection with the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

Common reactions to the Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna vaccines:

The most common reactions have been injection site reactions (84.1%), where there is redness and swelling for a couple of days after the injection. Other reactions include fatigue (62.9%), headache (55.1%), muscle pain (38.3 percent), chills (31.9%), joint pain (23.6%), and fever (14.2%). These most commonly occur after the second dose of the mRNA vaccines.

Severe reactions:

There have been some rare occurrences of severe reactions to the vaccine such as anaphylaxis allergic reactions (2.5 people per 1 million). They are currently researching what is causing the allergic reactions but it is likely one of the adjuvants (an ingredient used in some vaccines that helps create a stronger immune response; in this case, an adjuvant known as PEG). 

*Note – If you carry an EpiPen or have anaphylaxis allergies, talk to your doctor before getting the vaccine.

Like efficacy testing, safety testing also occurs across two groups: one group receiving the vaccine, and the other group receiving the placebo. 

There have been stories in the media about people dying after getting their vaccine. However, the death rate in the vaccine group and the placebo group were the same: people died in both groups, so the cause of death is more likely to be from an underlying health condition rather than the vaccine itself. 

However, it would be naive to say that people will not die as a result of the vaccine, as this is always a possibility when large populations with long-standing health problems are vaccinated. But the mortality rates are much higher from getting a Covid infection itself.

How and where are adverse events (bad reactions) to vaccines tracked and recorded?

Adverse events do happen, as with any medication or medical intervention. Medicine is a continual process of weighing the risks and benefits of each scenario. That said, if you would like to weigh those risks yourself, you can stay up to date about adverse reactions to these vaccines at the following website:

VAERS: This is a completely open database so that you can see what adverse events are being reported, as well as report your own

You can also use your smartphone to tell the CDC about any side effects you experience after getting the Covid-19 vaccine: V Safe vaccination health tracker.

It’s important to note that the safety and efficacy research on the Covid-19 vaccines is ongoing, even after the vaccines have been approved for use.

What We Still Don’t Know

How long the vaccine will last

We don’t know how long the immunity will last from the vaccine. However, the immune response from the vaccine appears to be much greater than that of a natural infection, so the protection is expected to last much longer. 

At least one vaccine, AstraZeneca, was tested and compared to the meningococcal vaccine (which gives 10 to 18 years of immunity) and we are seeing better numbers from the AstraZeneca vaccine than the meningococcal vaccine. 

So I would expect the immunity to last a long time for the current variants of the virus.

If the virus mutates significantly enough that it makes the vaccines less effective we’ll need updated vaccines — this is why it’s such good news that the mRNA technology is now available.

Asymptomatic infections after vaccination

We don’t know if you can still become infected with the virus, have an asymptomatic case, and spread it to others after getting the vaccine. 

For this reason, it’s very important to continue with hand washing, social distancing measures, and mask-wearing even after getting the vaccine until we know more.

If you need a refresher on all of the science that supports wearing face masks to reduce the spread of Covid-19, click here to see this excellent review put together by medical biophysicist Dr. Sarah Ballantyne.

Vaccine safety and efficacy in children and pregnant women

The initial research was conducted in groups 16-18+ but vaccine trials are starting for children ages 12-15. We will have that information soon. 

Although there haven’t been studies yet specifically in pregnant women, there were women who got pregnant while taking part in the vaccine trial and did not have any complications. And, there hasn’t been any data so far that suggests that a Covid infection or vaccine will disrupt fertility or lead to miscarriage.

Common Questions About The Covid-19 Vaccines

Why do you often feel poorly after getting a vaccine?

When you feel achy, tired, and feverish after vaccination, this is a good sign. This means that your immune system is responding to the vaccine. 

The parts of your immune system that recognize the vaccine and ramp up the immune system are the same parts that are responsible for creating the symptoms when you are really sick.

So it’s normal and a good sign to feel a bit under the weather for a day or two post-vaccine. 

If you don’t have these symptoms, though, don’t worry — if you don’t feel anything after a vaccination that doesn’t mean that your immune system didn’t respond adequately.

Is there anything that you can do to support your body when getting a vaccine?

*Note: These recommendations are basic recommendations on the general topic of vaccination and not specifically for Covid vaccines. We don’t have that research yet but I will update this post as it becomes available.

Go in with a strong immune system. If you are currently sick or feeling run down, wait to get any vaccine until you are feeling better. 

If you’ve had Covid, I recommend waiting four weeks after symptoms first appear or four weeks from the first confirmed positive test, if you were asymptomatic, to get your vaccine so that your body has had time to recover before having to mount another defence. 

Make sure that you are well hydrated. Drink half your body weight in ounces (if you weigh 140 lbs, drink 70 oz) of filtered water daily, or if you use the metric system, 1 liter per 30kg of body weight (if you weigh 60 kg, drink 2 liters).

Take a multivitamin before and after your vaccination. Vitamins A and D may also help to support a healthy immune response to the vaccine. 

Take a probiotic. They have been shown to be beneficial by improving your immune response vaccines in about 13 studies

Avoid alcohol consumption and any other undue stressors on the organs of your body, and plan to take it easy for 1 to 2 days after getting your vaccine.

I’ve heard the mRNA vaccines may cause autoimmune disease or lead to cancer. Is that true?

This is being studied extensively. It is possible that through something called molecular mimicry an autoimmune disease could be triggered either through getting a virus or a vaccine.

A paper just came out looking at the cross-reactivity of Covid proteins (from the virus itself, not the vaccine) with human proteins. So far there are some signs that a Covid infection may cross-react with the following:

  • Insulin receptor: possibly leading to or worsening diabetes
  • Neurofilament protein (NFP): possibly leading to or worsening neurodegenerative diseases (movement disorders)
  • Beta-catenin: possibly leading to or worsening neurodegenerative diseases, mood disorders, and certain cancers

So getting an actual Covid infection could lead to a higher likelihood or worsening of these. 

At this stage in the research, we only see evidence that the vaccine may cross-react with the Neurofilament protein (NFP). However, changes to autoimmunity can take between 3 and 18 years to manifest, so we won’t know all the consequences of the infection and the vaccine for a long time.

This is why I have noted throughout this article that in medicine we always have to weigh up the risks compared to the benefits. While such a reaction is a possibility, the risk of a severe reaction or death from contracting Covid is, in my opinion, the much greater threat in this consideration.

Why are there so many different types of vaccines in development?

There are 3 different types of vaccines: those made from the whole virus, those made from parts of the virus, and those using genetic material.

The human immune system doesn’t generate the same type of immune response to every type of vaccine, so testing out many types is very beneficial in this current situation. They all have potential benefits and downsides. 

For example, the mRNA vaccines are fast and easy to make, but must be stored at very cold temperatures, which may make them harder to store in developing countries. 

Certain vaccines will be found to be more effective in different populations or age groups. Some vaccines require one shot, while others will require two. 

Some people may be allergic to one or more ingredients of a certain vaccine and need to go for one that is unlikely to trigger an allergic reaction. 

And then of course there is the cost. AstraZeneca is currently the cheapest at $4 per shot while the mRNA vaccines are more expensive to manufacture and store.

(AstraZeneca has committed to making its COVID-19 vaccine available to as many countries as possible and at no profit during the pandemic period. And, A global initiative called COVAX run by the World Health Organization, GAVI and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations is trying to bring equitable access to vaccines around the globe, providing free or reduced-cost vaccines to nations in need.)

Here is a review of the vaccines which have already been released, according to the Regulatory Affairs Professionals Society (RAPS— this is the largest global organization of and for those involved with the regulation of healthcare and related products, including medical devices, pharmaceuticals, biologics and nutritional products). 

This review outlines where each vaccine was created, and how it works:

  • Pfizer/BioNTech: created with multinational cooperation (made from genetic material, mRNA technology). Requires two 30-microgram doses, separated by 21 days.
  • Moderna: created in the US (made from genetic material, mRNA technology). Requires two 100-microgram doses, separated by 28 days.
  • Sinovac: created in China (made from the whole virus, inactivated or killed using chemicals, heat or radiation). Requires two doses, separated by 2-4 weeks. 
  • AstraZeneca/Covishield: created in the UK (viral vector: made using a chimpanzee cold virus called adenovirus: parts of the Covid-19 spike protein are inserted into the safer adenovirus, which serves as the vector to deliver it into the body). Requires two doses, separated by 6-12 weeks.
  • Sinopharm: created China (made from the whole virus, inactivated or killed using chemicals, heat or radiation). Requires two doses.
  • Sputnik V: created Russia (viral vector, I don’t have the details of this vaccine). Requires two doses, separated by 21 days.

Many more vaccines are in the final stages of vaccine trials. One of these is the single-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which was created in the US (also viral vector: made from made using the human cold virus, also known as adenovirus, where parts of the Covid-19 spike protein are inserted into the safer adenovirus which serves as the vector to deliver it into the body).

Is there anyone who should not get the vaccine?

At this time we don’t have dedicated trials on children, pregnant/nursing women, and those with certain pre-existing conditions like certain autoimmune diseases and those who are immunocompromised. Please talk to your doctor if you have any questions about this. 

However, being pregnant or breastfeeding does not exclude you from getting the vaccine. You can still choose to be vaccinated against COVID-19.

If you’ve had a severe allergic reaction to an ingredient in a vaccine in the past, you should tell your doctor so that you can be sure to get a vaccine without that ingredient.

Where can I find a list of all the ingredients in the vaccines?

The basic formula of a vaccine is a combination of the following: 

  • Active Component/Immunogen to which the immune system should create a response  (ie. mRNA, whole virus, part of the virus)
  • Adjuvant that helps the body to create this response (ie. lipid nanoparticle, aluminum, PEG, Matrix M)
  • Other Ingredients like preservatives, stabilizers, trace components from manufacturing

The components of all vaccines are different. 

The ingredients become available publicly when approved by the governmental body (such as the FDA) and are also on the manufacturer’s website (but are sometimes hard to find).

Here are the ingredients in the Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna vaccines: 

mRNA (immunogen) + lipid combo for the nanoparticle (adjuvant) + salts and sucrose

What’s up with the virus variants?

All viruses — not just Covid — mutate into new variants. All viruses naturally mutate overtime.

So far, there have been more than 1600 variants of this virus, and each variant or ‘lineage’ is showing an average of 2 mutations per month. 

The more the virus spreads the more it will continue to mutate.

Recently there has been a lot of focus on the UK and South Africa variants, both in the media and in the research being done. So far we know that the UK variant is more infectious. More virus particles can get into the cell, which worsens the outcome of the infection. 

The efficacy of the vaccines against the new more infectious variants is currently being studied and so far does not seem to show a huge impact on the efficacy of the vaccines.

After I get the vaccine can I still get Covid?

Yes. Regardless of what type of vaccine you get, it can take up to several weeks for your immune system to build up a protective response. Therefore, you need to be just as cautious with hand washing, distancing and mask-wearing as you were prior to getting your vaccine.

If you are getting a vaccine that requires multiple doses it is very important to stay diligent between doses! You can absolutely get Covid-19 after you get your first shot and before your body has developed a complete response.

How soon after getting Covid can you get the vaccine? 

You can get your vaccine four weeks after the onset of symptoms or a positive test (whichever is earlier). Your second dose can be completed after your isolation period. Isolation is for 10 days or 10 days plus 24 hours with no fever and an improvement in symptoms.

These recommendations may differ depending on your individual situation and location, and you should ask your doctor for their advice.

After getting the vaccine, will I test positive for Covid-19?

No. There is a possibility that your body would develop a positive antibody test indicating that your immune system has created a response to the vaccine, but you will not test positive on viral tests used to see if you have a current infection.

Who is winning the worldwide race in vaccination?

At the time of writing this article, Israel was way out in front, with 82 doses per 100 people. That was followed by the UAE, with 56 doses per 100 people. Then came the UK (26 doses per 100 people) and the US (18 doses per 100 people).

You can stay up to date with the vaccination figures here.

Myths About The Covid-19 Vaccines

Myth: The Covid-19 vaccine can alter my DNA

This is incorrect.

The mRNA vaccines do not change or interact with your DNA in any way.

In order for something such as a virus, medication, or vaccine to alter DNA, it must be able to go into the nucleus of a cell to access the DNA in the location where the genetic material is stored. 

mRNA exists for a short time outside of the cell only and cannot go into the nucleus — therefore, it cannot alter your DNA. The job of mRNA is to provide instructions to the cell so that it can create proteins. In the case of this vaccine, it gives instructions on how the cell can mount an immune response to the spike protein of the coronavirus, so that if you come in contact with it in the future your body will recognize it and attack it before it leads to major replication and infection. 

mRNA is like a Snapchat message: it’s temporary.

The half-life of mRNA in the body is at the very most 30 hours. It delivers the message to the cell on what to do, and then your body does the rest. 

This is also why the negative side effects of the mRNA vaccines have been very minimal to date.  

Myth: You need to detox after getting the vaccine

This is false.

There is nothing contained in vaccines that your body is not designed to break down and eliminate when it is no longer needed.

I recommend planning to take it easy for 1 to 2 days after getting your vaccine, drinking plenty of water, and avoiding alcohol, simply so that your immune system can focus entirely on developing an immune response to the vaccine.

Myth: We can develop a natural herd immunity if enough people get infected naturally

This is highly unlikely to work, and even if it did, would have very significant consequences.

There is currently a lack of evidence showing that the level of infections needed to achieve natural herd immunity can be achieved with infection alone.

“According to Johns Hopkins University epidemiologists David Dowdy and Gypsyamber D’Souza, it is likely that 70% or more of the population would need to be immune to reach herd immunity for Covid-19. To put this into perspective, “without a vaccine, over 200 million Americans would have to get infected before we reach this threshold.” (Source)

Like I said above, the US is the leader in worldwide infections currently at 28 million. There is a long way to go before reaching 200 million. The cost of relying on natural infection alone is too great and would mean that after more than a year of this devastating pandemic, we aren’t even a quarter of the way there. 

This strategy also doesn’t take into account that we don’t know how long natural immunity for Covid-19 will last, or if that threshold for herd immunity is even accurate. The ethical implications of relying on natural immunity alone — which exposes large groups of vulnerable people disproportionately — are simply not acceptable. 

That said, it’s important to note that the goal of achieving herd immunity with vaccination will likely only be part of the solution to getting the virus under control. Each different illness and our very globally connected world brings individual nuances that impact a population’s ability to reach immunity.

Myth: Once I’ve had the vaccine I can stop wearing masks and taking other precautions because I can no longer spread the virus

Unfortunately, we don’t know if this is true or false yet.

You still need to take all the same precautions until we have more research in this area. Over time this will become more clear. 

Myth: I’ve already had Covid-19 so I don’t need the vaccine

You still need the vaccine even if you’ve been infected already! We don’t know how long immunity lasts from natural infection. 

The immune response from the vaccine appears to be much greater than that of a natural infection so the protection is expected to last much longer. 

At least one vaccine, AstraZeneca, was tested and compared to the meningococcal vaccine (which gives 10-18 years of immunity) and we are seeing better numbers with the AstraZeneca vaccines.

Myth: There is a microchip or marker in the vaccine that will be used to track you

This was a big piece of false and damaging information going around. It was born out of a conversation with Jay Walker, executive chairman of pre-filled syringe maker Apiject, who got a $590 million U.S. loan to produce injectors for the eventual Covid-19 vaccine. 

He said that the vaccine syringes could contain an optional RFID chip, in reference to the Radio Frequency Identification chip that could be part of the syringe’s label, not the injectable substance itself. 

Unfortunately, Walker’s comments were taken out of context and soon spread across the internet as a meme that Bill Gates and the government were conspiring to inject people with a microchip tracker to track and control the population.

This is false and should not be given any weight in your decision about getting the vaccine. 

The RFID chip will only allow the healthcare provider to confirm that the injectable and the actual vaccine in it has not expired, that it is not counterfeit, and to confirm that this particular injection has been used, in order to keep accurate records about the number of doses that have been administered.

Weighing Up The Risk:Benefit Ratio

The risks for Covid-19 have, at this stage, been well-documented. They include death, severe respiratory difficulty, organ damage, loss of smell and taste, anxiety and depression, and many other side effects. We are also yet to see the full extent of the long-term health consequences of a Covid-19 infection.

Vaccines also present some risks. However, these risks are very mild by comparison: a couple of days of muscle ache, headache, and other cold and flu symptoms.

There are, however, many benefits to the Covid-19 vaccine: protecting your community, and reduced risk of death, severe complications and hospitalization from getting Covid. 

You are far less likely to develop ongoing health effects that would be possible after an infection, and the likelihood that you infect others with Covid-19 is also dramatically reduced. 

Finally, as more people are vaccinated, the restrictions we have all suffered as a result of the pandemic will ease, and life will be able to return to normal, which of course will bring huge benefit to our relationships, work, and overall health.  

This is all the information that I have used to make my own decision about the Covid-19 vaccines: I will be getting it as soon as it is my turn.

At this point in time, due to the risk benefit analysis of this situation, I believe that the best vaccine is the first one that becomes available to you.

I encourage you to make this decision for yourself and your family based on all the facts and evidence we have available. I hope this post has been useful, and if you still have questions or are unsure about anything you’ve read here, please feel free to contact me. 

    5 replies to "Everything You Need To Know To Make Your Decision About The Covid-19 Vaccines"

    • Nancy

      Very thorough and easy to understand Alexis. I enjoyed reading your article. Mike and I had to drive 3 hours each way to get our vaccines. None in St Louis yet!

    • David F Bruno

      Greetings Doctor,
      Thank you for such a timely and thorough article.
      I read it twice just to insure I understood it all.
      My first vaccine is coming up next week (Mar 1st).
      Appreciate especially the pre and post shot advice.
      Best regards,

    • Ali Kourmessto

      Thank you very much for this article. It helps me a lot to understand more around the vaccines and took me a step closer to my decision. Appreciate your effort. Best regards from Berlin, Ali

    • Mohamed Abdullatif

      Thank you very much for putting this information together. It answered a lot questions that I had about the safety of the vaccines.

    • J .s Phillips M.D

      Great job of saying what equals basic factual recommendations. Today science based facts are being over ruled by dangerous non factual statements. Unfortunately many people believe these untruthful lies resulting in unneeded sickness and even death . Please don’t believe these statements .

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