As the U.S. works to quickly roll out the new COVID-19 vaccines, the hope is that a critical mass of Americans will be vaccinated by this summer or fall so we can return to some semblance of normalcy.
However, the unprecedented speed of vaccine development and a surge of misinformation on social media has fueled skepticism about the vaccine among some Americans.
Public health experts emphasize that all COVID-19 vaccines authorized for emergency use in the U.S. went through the Food and Drug Administration’s strict vaccine development timeline, which includes three phases of clinical trials to generate information on safety and effectiveness and a review by an independent panel of scientists.
Here are some prevalent coronavirus vaccine myths and the truth behind each one.
• Myth #1: If you’ve had COVID-19 already, you don’t need to get vaccinated.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says it’s important to be vaccinated even if you already had COVID-19. That’s because experts don’t know how long you are protected from COVID-19 after a previous infection — or if you are protected at all.
“Even if you have already recovered from COVID-19, it is possible — although rare — that you could be infected with the virus that causes COVID-19 again,” the CDC says.
• Myth #2: Once you receive the coronavirus vaccine, you’re immune for life.
Studies are underway to determine how long immunity from a coronavirus vaccine will last. But it’s likely you will need to get the shot on a regular basis, perhaps once every three years or every year like the flu shot.
• Myth #3: You can ditch your mask after you get vaccinated.
It takes about two weeks after your final vaccination for your body to build full protection to the coronavirus. But even after those two weeks, the CDC says you should continue to wear a mask and practice social distancing in most situations.
That’s partly because researchers don’t know yet whether the vaccine can block virus transmission. That means it’s possible that you could still carry the virus once you’ve been vaccinated and silently transmit it to others, even if you don’t have symptoms.
• Myth #4: The vaccines use a live version of the coronavirus.
None of the authorized vaccines in the U.S. use the live virus that causes COVID-19, and they cannot give you the disease. Instead, the vaccines use scientific techniques to train the human body to recognize and fight the coronavirus.
The Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines deliver a small fragment of genetic code to your cells to encourage your body to produce antibodies.
The J&J vaccine works differently. It uses a harmless adenovirus that can no longer replicate to send a genetic message to your cells.
While the coronavirus vaccines will not make you sick with COVID-19, they do cause side effects in some people. Commonly reported side effects include injection-site pain, fatigue, headache, chills, fever and muscle aches. Most of the reactions are temporary and resolve within a few days, according to the CDC. Experts stress that they are a sign the vaccines are working.
• Myth #5: mRNA vaccines can alter your DNA.
COVID-19 vaccines do not change your DNA, the CDC says.
The Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines both use a new type of technology called messenger RNA, or mRNA for short. Think of mRNA as an instruction manual: It directs the body to build an immune response to a specific infection. The mRNA “never enters the nucleus of the cell, which is where our DNA are kept,” the CDC says. “This means the mRNA does not affect or interact with our DNA in any way.”
Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine uses a harmless virus (not a coronavirus) to deliver instructions to your cells to start building immunity.
• Myth #6: You don’t need both doses of the two-dose vaccines.
Both the Moderna and the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines require two doses given a few weeks apart. Because health experts are not sure whether one dose will be sufficiently effective in preventing COVID-19 or a severe case of the illness, skipping the second shot is not a good idea.
• Myth #7: You shouldn’t get the vaccine if you’ve ever had an allergic reaction.
If you have a history of allergic reactions to oral medications, food, pets, insect stings, latex or things in the environment like pollen or dust, you can safely get the COVID-19 vaccine, the CDC says. You can also get the vaccines if you have an egg allergy, because none of the authorized vaccines contain eggs or egg-related components.
The only group the agency says should definitely abstain are those who have had a severe allergic reaction to any ingredient in a COVID-19 vaccine. If you’ve had an allergic reaction to other vaccines or to injectable medications, the CDC recommends talking to your medical provider about whether to get the vaccine.
(Edited for length and reprinted from AARP. Read the unedited version at aarp.org/health/drugs-supplements/info-2020/covid-vaccine-myths.html)