mRNA Vaccines: Fact versus Fiction

mRNA Vaccines: Fact versus FictionThe COVID-19 vaccines have been out for several months now, and millions of Americans are vaccinated against the coronavirus. Because of the unprecedented speed of development and the unpredictability of the virus, it is understandable that many people have questions about the vaccine. There are many myths and facts surrounding the new mRNA vaccines authorized for use this past year to protect against COVID-19. Following are some answers, culled from medical and scientific experts around the web.

What is an mRNA vaccine?

Vaccines help our bodies learn to fight invaders like viruses and bacteria by introducing a harmless piece of that particular virus or bacteria into the body to trigger an immune response. Most vaccines use a weakened or “dead” piece of the virus. These new mRNA vaccines (mRNA stands for “messenger RNA”) however, use a molecule of the virus rather than an actual piece of it. The vaccines work by introducing a portion of mRNA corresponding to a viral protein. Our immune system recognizes this protein as a foreign body and begins building the correct antibodies against. Once our bodies build these antibodies, they’ll remain in our systems for a quick response if we are exposed to that virus again.

So, what this means is when you get the mRNA vaccine for COVID-19, you are not being exposed to the virus. You are teaching your immune system how to fight off the virus in the event you are exposed to COVID-19. The CDC provides a handy infographic explaining how the mRNA vaccine works.

Do mRNA vaccines change your DNA?

No. The mRNA enters your cells to do its job, but it never enters the nucleus of the cell where your DNA resides. Once your cells make the necessary proteins to stimulate your immune system, the mRNA breaks down and leaves your body. Your DNA is never affected.

Does the COVID-19 vaccine cause infertility in women?

No. Johns Hopkins reports that a false report on social media started this rumor, “saying that the spike protein on this coronavirus was the same as another spike protein called syncitin-1 that is involved in the growth and attachment of the placenta during pregnancy. The false report said that getting the COVID-19 vaccine would cause a woman’s body to fight this different spike protein and affect her fertility.” This was proved untrue, as these spike proteins are completely different.

Getting the COVID-19 vaccine does not affect fertility, but becoming ill with COVID-19 can have a drastic effect on a pregnant woman’s health, as well as the health of her baby.

Will the mRNA vaccine give me COVID-19?

No. You will not test positive, nor will you get sick with the virus. It is possible you will test positive on an antibody test, however. The CDC reports that “antibody tests indicate you had a previous infection and that you may have some level of protection against the virus. Experts are currently looking at how COVID-19 vaccination may affect antibody testing results.”

Because the current authorized vaccines do not contain a live version of the COVID-19 virus, they cannot make you sick. It does, however, take a few weeks for the body to build immunity after vaccination, so it is possible to become infected with COVID-19 shortly before or shortly after being vaccinated.

If I already had COVID-19, do I really need the mRNA vaccine?

Johns Hopkins suggests that the vaccine may offer better protection from COVID-19 than immunity from natural infection. Because the health risks from coronavirus are so serious and because we know that re-infection is possible, you may benefit from a vaccination. The organization states that “early evidence suggests natural immunity from COVID-19 may not last very long, but more studies are needed to better understand this.” Getting the vaccine can also act as a booster effect, which is why it is recommended for everyone to get the vaccine if they are able.

Aren’t the side effects of mRNA and COVID-19 vaccines dangerous?

In an article about COVID-19 vaccine safety and side effects, Harvard Health Publishing lists some of the common side effects of the mRNA vaccines. They include:

  • Injection site pain
  • Swollen or painful lymph nodes on vaccinated arm
  • Fatigue
  • Headache
  • Muscle and joint aches
  • Nausea and/or vomiting
  • Fever and/or chills

These are common and normal side effects and are nothing to be concerned about. However, in very rare cases, some individuals may experience severe allergic reactions like anaphylaxis, which is a serious and potentially life-threatening allergic response.

Can I get the vaccine if I have allergies?

Most people with allergies can safely take the COVID-19 vaccine. Infectious disease expert Bryn Boslett, MD tells University of California San Francisco (UCSF), “People who have allergies to food, pets, insect bites, latex, oral medications, environmental allergens, or even a family history of anaphylaxis do not have to avoid the vaccines.”

For those who have a history of anaphylaxis to vaccines, Boslett continues, “For those folks, it’s not necessary that you avoid the vaccine, but you might think twice about getting the vaccine right now. If you do get it,  you want to wait at least 30 minutes for observation to see if you develop any type of response.”

More importantly, if you have a history of allergic reactions to any component of the mRNA vaccines, you should not get the vaccine. This is also true if you had an allergic reaction to the first dose. The CDC provides a list of ingredients included in COVID-19 vaccines.

Finally, the CDC recommends that “people who have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19 should keep taking precautions in public places, until we know more, like wearing a mask, staying 6 feet apart from others, avoiding crowds and poorly ventilated spaces, and washing your hands often.”

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