Should I Get The COVID-19 Vaccine?

By Farheen Khan (Get Well Clinic)

 

It's incredible to think that it’s been a few months since vaccines have been both available and accessible to the general public to fight against COVID-19. As we’ve been fortunate enough to enjoy patios and somewhat normal activities again throughout the summer, the “enhanced COVID-19 vaccine certificate” has come into effect as per the Ontario government on September 22, 2021.1 In other words, in order to dine indoors at restaurants, or have access to public spaces like gyms and movie theatres, residents will need to provide proof of vaccination.1

Though approximately 70% of Ontario’s population is fully vaccinated, with 75% of the population having received at least a single dose, that means approximately 30% of Ontario’s population is still not vaccinated.2

Some have been on the fence due to their concerns about potential side effects. It is important to note that you will NOT get COVID-19 from the available vaccines as neither contain the live coronavirus.3 It is true that you may experience a sore arm, a mild fever, or even aches in your body, but these will all be temporary and only last a day or two.3,4 Some people don’t even experience any side effects!5 These side effects are a sign of the vaccine working as it causes your immune system to learn to recognize and fight against the REAL COVID-19 virus, should it enter your system at any time in the future.3–5 The temporary side effects of the available vaccines are definitely way better than getting infected by the actual virus and being sick with terrible symptoms, or even ending up hospitalized for weeks or months.6

The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is also now officially FDA approved (as of August 23, 2021) for individuals over the age of 16.7 According to the Acting FDA Commissioner, Janet Woodcock, M.D., “the public can be very confident that this vaccine meets the high standards for safety, effectiveness, and manufacturing quality the FDA requires of an approved product.”7 Earlier this week, Pfizer also released that the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine was “safe, well-tolerated, and showed robust neutralizing antibody responses” in a pivotal trial consisting of over 2000 participants aged 5 to 11 years old.8 In other words, though we did see a rise in pediatric cases earlier this summer, we are now one step closer to having younger children protected against the existing COVID-19 variants. This means that they can make safer returns to their schools and extracurricular activities.8   

Further, according to results from a safety surveillance study of the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines conducted by Kaiser Permanente and CDC researchers, there are “no serious health effects linked to mRNA COVID-19 vaccines.”9 This study, published earlier this month in The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), reported findings from mid-December 2020 through to June 26, 2021, after evaluating 6.2 million people after their first dose of either mRNA vaccine, and 5.7 million people after their second dose.9 More specifically, the researchers examined 23 potential health effects, some of which include: “neurological disorders such as encephalitis and myelitis, seizures, and Guillain-Barré syndrome; cardiovascular problems such as acute myocardial infarction, stroke, and pulmonary embolism; and others such as Bell’s palsy, appendicitis, anaphylaxis, and multisystem inflammatory syndrome.”9,10

Earlier this summer, many were concerned about the confirmed cases of myocarditis and pericarditis among young individuals.11 This study identified 34 individuals (aged 12-39) that presented with such cases, of which 82% were hospitalized for a median of 1 day. All patients  recovered before their charts were reviewed for this study, and the study authors concluded the risk of myocarditis to be approximately 6 per 1 million doses (~0.0006%) during the first week post-vaccination.10 Other studies have also shown that the risk for myocarditis and pericarditis is much higher from being infected by the COVID-19 virus than from the mRNA vaccines.12

In case you are concerned that the COVID-19 vaccines were created way too quickly, please be ensured that extensive testing for safety and efficacy was conducted for each approved vaccine, and that the technology used is not brand new.3,4 Having countless experts collaborate with one goal in mind – to protect and immunize individuals from the, at the time, new SARS-CoV-2 virus – is what expedited the process in creating vaccines at the speed they were created. For more information on how the vaccines work and their safety and efficacy tests, please be sure to read the following articles:

https://www.getwellclinic.ca/announcements/guides/vaccines/186-covid19-mrna-vaccine

https://www.getwellclinic.ca/announcements/guides/vaccines/198-covid19-adenoviralvector-vaccines

    
It is also important to note that it is a good idea to get vaccinated even if you have already been infected by COVID-19.13 This is because the vaccines can act as boosters by providing you with longer and stronger protection compared to your natural immunity, while also protecting you against the different variants that your body has not been exposed to.13,14

Finally, the COVID-19 vaccines are not meant to completely eradicate the chances for a vaccinated individual to be infected by the SARS-CoV-2 virus. Instead, they exist to prevent hospitalization, severe disease, and death.15 Though there have been rare cases of breakthrough infections, it has been observed that the severity of disease among individuals who have been vaccinated is much less severe compared to the severity of disease in individuals who have not been vaccinated.16 In addition, individuals who are at greater risk of getting sick – older populations, individuals who are immunocompromised, etc. are more likely to be infected despite being vaccinated, which is why suggestions of a third-dose booster are in discussion for the vulnerable populations.15,16 Please note that this does NOT mean that the vaccines don’t work well enough after the first and second doses. The first two doses are effective at protecting individuals against severe disease as mentioned in the previous articles above. With time, as antibody levels decline, the chances of breakthrough infections occurring increases, as there are less antibodies in the immune system to fight against the COVID-19 virus and variants – especially in immunocompromised and vulnerable populations.17,18 However, studies have shown that protection against hospitalization and death remains high, even as time passes, as memory B cells and T cells are still circulating in vaccinated individuals, and are ready to jump into action when needed.17,19 To clarify, immune protection does not disappear after some time after the second dose. It is only decreased against infection (more so in immunocompromised individuals), but still is excellent at preventing hospitalization and death.17–19

As much of the breakthrough cases have been observed in individuals who have stopped using other interventions to prevent virus transmission (i.e., handwashing, wearing masks, etc.), to protect yourself, your loved ones, and your community, and to enjoy “normal” social activities, please get vaccinated, and continue taking the simple precautions of physically distancing when possible, wearing a mask, washing your hands, and staying home when you’re feeling sick.16

If you have any further questions and concerns, please reach out to your healthcare practitioners for the most up-to-date information and individualized recommendations.

References

1. Powers, L.; News ·, A. C. · C. Ontarians will need to show proof of COVID-19 vaccination for indoor dining, gyms, theatres | CBC News (accessed 2021 -09 -21).
2. COVID-19 Tracker Canada - Ontario Vaccination Tracker (accessed 2021 -09 -21).
3. Admin, O. W. COVID-19 mRNA Vaccines (accessed 2021 -09 -21).
4. Admin, O. W. COVID-19 Adenoviral Vector Vaccines (accessed 2021 -09 -21).
5. Sutherland, S. If You Don’t Have COVID Vaccine Side Effects, Are You Still Protected? (accessed 2021 -09 -21).
6. CDC. COVID-19 Vaccination (accessed 2021 -09 -21).
7. Commissioner, O. of the FDA Approves First COVID-19 Vaccine (accessed 2021 -09 -21).
8. Pfizer and BioNTech Announce Positive Topline Results From Pivotal Trial of COVID-19 Vaccine in Children 5 to 11 Years | Pfizer (accessed 2021 -09 -21).
9. No Serious Health Effects Linked to mRNA COVID-19 Vaccines (accessed 2021 -09 -21).
10. Klein, N. P. et al. Surveillance for Adverse Events After COVID-19 MRNA Vaccination. JAMA 2021.
11. Diaz, G. A. et al. Myocarditis and Pericarditis After Vaccination for COVID-19. JAMA 2021.
12. Boehmer, T. K. Association Between COVID-19 and Myocarditis Using Hospital-Based Administrative Data — United States, March 2020–January 2021. MMWR Morb. Mortal. Wkly. Rep. 2021, 70.
13. CDC. Frequently Asked Questions about COVID-19 Vaccination (accessed 2021 -09 -21).
14. COVID-19 Vaccine Hesitancy: 12 Things You Need to Know (accessed 2021 -09 -21).
15. CDC. Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) (accessed 2021 -09 -21).
16. Episode #49 - Can I get infected after vaccination? (accessed 2021 -09 -21).
17. Dolgin, E. COVID Vaccine Immunity Is Waning — How Much Does That Matter? Nature 2021.
18. The rationales for and against a third dose of the COVID-19 vaccine (accessed 2021 -09 -24).
19. Scobie, H. M. Monitoring Incidence of COVID-19 Cases, Hospitalizations, and Deaths, by Vaccination Status — 13 U.S. Jurisdictions, April 4–July 17, 2021. MMWR Morb. Mortal. Wkly. Rep. 2021, 70.

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