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Vaccines and confronting misinformation

 

Wouldn’t it be better to wait for a school-age child or adolescent to get COVID-19 disease and develop natural immunity, than take chances with a vaccine? 


It is much safer to get the vaccine -- even with its rare and its common side-effects -- than to take chances of developing severe COVID-19 disease or ‘long-COVID’. It is also important to recognize that not everyone who gets COVID-19  disease will get a good immune response. A study of people with prior COVID-19 infection found that 18% became reinfected and half of those developed symptoms. Persons who get very mild COVID-19 disease may not mount good or prolonged immunity. The immune response to the vaccine does not vary nearly as much – and protects against disease far more reliably for at least 6-9 months, and against severe disease for much longer than that.  


If an individual had COVID-19 disease with a positive test and currently has high antibody levels, why would that person need a vaccine? 

An individual with COVID-19 infection would not need a vaccine to protect themselves or others for up to 90 days after the day they experienced the first symptoms of test-documented  COVID-19 (or, if asymptomatic, for up to 90 days after the first positive PCR or other molecular test).  However, after 90 days, that person must be vaccinated to protect others and themselves from infection. It is safe for that individual to get the COVID-19 vaccine immediately after the COVID-19  infection occurred (usually waiting until symptoms have subsided). Getting the vaccine anytime before that 90 days has fully passed is recommended for all vaccine-eligible individuals and is required for  those whose employment or education is associated with a vaccine mandate.  

Regarding that individual’s antibody levels, according to the US Food and Drug Administration, “a  positive result from an antibody test does not mean you have a specific amount of immunity or  protection from SARS-CoV-2 infection … Currently authorized SARS-CoV-2 antibody tests are not  validated to evaluate specific immunity or protection from SARS-CoV-2 infection.” 


Since there are drugs that are recalled after a few years, how can we trust vaccines that are not quite one year old? 


Vaccine monitoring has shown that side effects happen within 6-8 weeks of receiving a vaccine dose. A lot of data has been amassed on the safety of COVID-19 vaccines within this time period, and then for many months beyond. 

It can take years before enough people have taken a drug to identify enough rare adverse events to pull a drug off the market. In contrast, according to the CDC’s Vaccine Tracker website, as of October 7, 2021, nearly 400 million doses of vaccine have been administered to over 186 million individuals in  the U.S. with a very, very small number of serious adverse events. If the COVID-19 vaccine caused serious adverse events, they would have been recognized by now. 


Does the federal database called “VAERS” (vaccine adverse reaction reporting system) show high numbers of problems after the COVID vaccine?  


VAERS is a system that accepts reports of any and all health-related events in the days,  weeks and months following vaccination. It is not designed to detect if a vaccine caused the health event (whether or not it was truly a side effect). What is good about the VAERS system, is that it can help identify very unusual and unexpected problems after a vaccine. Although this makes VAERS very useful, its value is extremely limited because it also includes all problems that occurred after the  vaccine that were not caused by the vaccine. For example, if you happen to get a cold 3 days after you  got a vaccine, you cannot really say for sure that that vaccine causes colds. Yet anything that happens in the days and weeks and months after one gets a vaccine can be included in VAERS. While only a small portion of adverse reactions get reported to the VAERS, anyone, including patients, parents, and  healthcare providers, can include reports in the VAERS. As such, COVID-19 vaccine adverse events reported in the VAERS could be intentionally or unintentionally inaccurate. Furthermore, the number  of reports to VAERS increases in response to media attention and increased public awareness. In  short, VAERS is only a first-step for scientists figuring out what may be a side effect of a vaccine.  Anything that looks unusual is investigated further. It is to use VAERS to determine what problems are really caused by the vaccine. It would also be wrong to determine the frequency (or percentage of  people) of any given side effect caused by a vaccine using VAERS.  


Are there vaccine-related deaths? 


Only 3 vaccine attributable deaths have been found. Those were related to blood clots after receiving the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. Now that this rare adverse event has been identified, it can  be anticipated and prevented. 


How can the COVID vaccine be recommended or mandated since they came out with a warning about myocarditis (heart muscle inflammation), especially in younger teen males? 


Myocarditis or pericarditis (inflammation of the heart muscle or lining) can occur within a few days after the vaccination, mostly after the second vaccination. This has been reported at rates of: - 4.8 cases per million second doses of mRNA COVID-19 vaccines for all ages and sexes,  - 48 cases per million after second doses administered to males aged 12−29 years,  - A maximum of 70 per million for males ages 12-17 years old. (Myocarditis in females at that age occurs at less than half the rate of males at that age).  

Although 70 males per one million vaccinated males ages 12-17 can get myocarditis from the  vaccine, the vaccine in that age group will also prevent 5,700 infections, 215 hospitalizations and 2 deaths. Moreover, the myocarditis from the vaccine is mild and the symptoms get better by  themselves. There have been no deaths or re-hospitalizations for those who were observed in hospital. The condition cures itself. 


Hospitalizations for adolescents with COVID-19 disease are 2.5 to 3 times higher than hospitalizations for flu at that age. Although most unvaccinated adolescents who are hospitalized for  COVID-19 disease have an underlying condition (like obesity or moderate to severe asthma), 30% of those who were hospitalized for COVID-19 had no underlying condition at all. In short, significant health problems from COVID-19 disease are far more serious and far more frequent than significant health problems from the vaccine, even in young teen males.  


What about all those things people read on the internet, that the vaccine contains microchips? Or  that it causes you to be magnetic? Or that it can alter your DNA? Or that it can cause infertility? 

These are myths that have no basis in reality. Most of these allegations (magnetic, microchips, alter  DNA) are not even remotely possible. Others (infertility) simply have no evidence, even though public health officials are looking for all such possible side effects. The CDC has dealt with each one, plus others, on its website: Myths and Facts about COVID-19 Vaccines | CDC

What is the point of getting a vaccine, if vaccinated people are just as likely, or even more likely, to transmit the SARS-CoV-2 virus to unvaccinated persons?  


There are emerging studies on how well vaccinated people can transmit the virus to others.  The ones most pertinent to today’s situation are the studies of transmission with the delta virus,  because that variant is most easily transmitted. For the Delta variant, early data indicate that vaccinated and unvaccinated persons infected with the Delta variant have similar levels of the virus in  their bodies, suggesting that some vaccinated people infected with the Delta variant may be able to transmit the virus to others. However, other studies have shown a more rapid decline in levels of the virus in fully vaccinated people. So, while vaccinated people can pass the virus to others, they may do so for a much briefer period of time. One study observed that Delta variant infection in fully vaccinated  persons was associated with significantly less transmission to close contacts than persons who were  unvaccinated or partially vaccinated. Scientists are now also studying how (a) vaccination status, (b)  time since vaccination, and (c) the nature of the exposure can affect the risk of transmitting the virus  to others. What is certain, is that vaccination does disrupt the chain of transmission because vaccinated people are so much less likely to get infected.

Why get the vaccine if it is still possible to get COVID-19 infection? 


Vaccinated people are far less likely to get infected. In the case of the Pfizer vaccine, vaccine effectiveness is strongest at 96.2% between one week and 2 months after receiving the second shot.  It declines an average of 6% every two months. At 6 months it is still 84% effective. More importantly,  the protection against severe disease (defined as being hospitalized or having a low blood oxygen  level) remains very high at 97%, even 6 months after the second shot. 

 

There were high levels of virus transmission in Israel throughout August and September 2021  (on several days that month, they recorded the highest number of new cases per 1 million in  the world), despite that country having a relatively highly vaccinated population. 


While Israel’s vaccination rate is high, it is not high enough. 78% of eligible Israelis over age 12 were vaccinated when their surge began, meaning that 22% of people older than age 12 and all children younger than 12 were unvaccinated. Young adults had some of the lowest vaccination rates, as did Arab-Israelis and Orthodox Israelis. Moreover, Israel dropped its indoor mask mandate just as the more infectious Delta variant entered the country in July 2021.  This also coincided with the protective effects of the vaccine beginning to wane (6 months after  vaccination). And in early September, many extended families got together for their New Years’  holidays indoors without masks.  

But vaccines still offered protection, even if not full protection. The rate of serious cases among unvaccinated Israelis under age 60 years old was two times higher than the rate among fully  vaccinated people in the same age category. For those over age 60 years, serious disease was 9 times higher among unvaccinated than among fully vaccinated individuals.  

The graduate school, Harvard University Business School, had 60 confirmed student cases in one week in September 2021, despite 95% of students, faculty and staff being vaccinated.  

This was not the situation elsewhere at Harvard University (very few undergraduates became infected) or of other universities and other non-educational settings with high  vaccination rates. The nature of inter-person contact that led to Harvard Business School infections did not occur during class time. The Business School’s experience demonstrates that there are breakthrough infections in a minority of situations. The protective effects of vaccines are overall excellent, even when the numbers from situations like Harvard  Business School are added to the complete data set. No vaccine is 100% perfect, including those for COVID-19. However, the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are 95% and 94% effective at preventing infection, respectively. While the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is less effective at  preventing infection (72%), it is 86% effective at preventing severe illness, which is considered very good protection. Harvard’s experience may demonstrate that wearing masks indoors when in groups, even among vaccinated persons, is worthwhile to protect from this disease, at least for now.  

What scientific studies does the district use to be convinced that the vaccine for COVID-19 is safe and effective for adults and children?  


Sorting through multiple research articles and determining the validity of their data and conclusions takes dozens of hours and requires expertise in infectious disease, epidemiology, statistics, and other specialized science. Professionals who work for the federal Office of Vaccines and Research & Review of the DVRPA (Division of Vaccines and Related Product Applications) are assigned to this time-consuming task. It is the conclusions of this group and the conclusions of the FDA that are being followed by health professionals across the country. The analysis is an open process, so that the data that was reviewed and the rationale behind the analysis are all published and available to the public. That information for the COVID vaccine (Pfizer), which is currently the only one approved for  students older than age 16, can be found at: August 23, 2021 Summary Basis for Regulatory Action - Comirnaty (fda.gov). A vaccine with full approval is not “experimental”. It has been thoroughly researched, evaluated, and determined to be safe and effective.  

The FDA website will continue to publish summaries (just like the one referenced above) on their website for any vaccine that receives approval for school-age children.