let’s get real about covid-19 – here’s what you need to know
November 5, 2021
We live in an age where the transference of information has never been quicker. With a push of a button, you can access critical information about any subject you choose to learn about. We have a large number of options on how we choose to consume content, we have video, text, audio, VR, and many other forms available. With this easy access to information, it’s important to discern between what is factual information and what is not. While technological advances have made it possible for everyday people to share knowledge, images, and even the latest funny meme, we’ve also seen the downside to this rapid misinformation shared about the coronavirus, research, and clinical trials. This is despite a wide variety of credible resources and experts who have worked diligently to make sure our fellow Americans have the information they need to make an informed decision. Misinformation is easy to spread, especially if the source is either a public figure or someone who has millions of eyes looking at their page. Because of information overload, it can be difficult to distinguish between evidence-based information and speculation on the internet.
When Covid-19 vaccines were made available to the public earlier this year, many people in Black and brown communities had legitimate questions about what the vaccine was, how it was made, and what risks might be associated with getting the shot. Unfortunately, there were also quite a bit of unfounded theories spread that made their way across the Internet. What should have been a moment of clarity for communities to learn about the benefits and risks associated with the vaccine became a moment of chaos. As we have seen over the past 20 months, the results of this chaos (and persistent misinformation) across various media channels has been deadly. This is not a gamble our communities can take, so it’s important that our folks have the information they need to make an informed decision regarding COVID-19 prevention. We are nearing winter months which means: people are heading indoors, traveling for the holidays and likely spending time with their loved ones. With a constantly changing landscape of vaccine mandates, in-person work (or school), or even simple preventive measures like masks–it is key that our communities fully understand their COVID-19 risk.
We spent a few moments with Dr. Bahby Banks, CEO of Pillar Consulting and adjunct assistant professor at UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health, about her COVID-19 educational campaign called “Not A Host” (or NAH) that does exactly this: helps people understand their COVID-19 risk. While the COVID-19 pandemic is new to our country, Dr. Banks’ commitment to healthy equity and justice for Black and brown communities is not. For the past 20 years she used her training in biology, epidemiology, and biostatistics to help educate and empower communities to address a variety of health disparities. “People had valid questions about the COVID-19, the research leading up to vaccine development, and how to protect themselves and their families,” says Banks, “our goal was to take the complex information people were consuming every day and to make it plain. Everything does not have to be rocket science. Simple, clear messaging is key to helping people navigate through their decision-making.”
We know that bringing this pandemic to an end will take quite a bit of work, but it can be done. It will be done. With grassroots efforts across the country like Not A Host, people have an opportunity to ask their questions and learn more about safety and efficacy concerns about COVID-19 prevention, including vaccines.
Let’s cut to the chase and answer some common questions we’ve heard around the coronavirus, Covid-19 research and the vaccines. And NO, your cousin won’t get giant genitals because of the vaccines…just so we’re clear.
Does the COVID-19 vaccine have the live virus in it? Will it make me sick?
This is a good question. So, vaccines for chickenpox or measles, mumps, and rubella have a weakened form of the actual virus. Other vaccines like hepatitis A or rabies use the killed version of the virus that causes a disease. The COVID-19 vaccine does not contain the live coronavirus. It is a little savvier in that it uses a small protein to let your body know it needs to suit up and get ready to set off an immune response. As a result of years of vaccine development, research and collaboration, we now have a new way of fighting diseases. mRNA technology allows us to use mRNA, not live virus or actual virus, to instruct our bodies to make the proteins that prevent or fight disease. This results in activating your immune response. With this mRNA technology, Moderna, Pfizer, and J&J were able to create mRNA sequences that then elicit an immune response to fight COVID-19 effectively. Traditional vaccine development would take years to develop because it targeted the spike protein and not the mRNA. In general, vaccines can produce symptoms like fatigue, soreness, perhaps even a rash. It’s important that you understand these before receiving any medical or preventive care. But these are all immune responses that let you know your body is doing exactly what it should do if/when it comes in contact with the real virus.
If I’ve already been infected with COVID-19, am I protected from reinfection? Do I need to be vaccinated?
Another great question. Previous infection from COVID-19 does not mean that you are protected from reinfection. While you were sick, your body produced antibodies to fight off the infection (whether you had symptoms or not!). Scientists don’t know how long this immunity lasts. And then, there are mutations. Variants. This is what we know about viruses: they will find the most efficient way possible to infect their host (in our case, humans). As the virus mutates and becomes more infectious, the best way to protect yourself and your loved ones is by getting vaccinated. Several studies have illuminated that vaccines for people who’ve previously had COVID-19 and for those who haven’t, vaccines offer the best protection available. Here are some scientific insights:
- In a study, people who were previously infected and unvaccinated were 2 times more likely to become reinfected with COVID-19.
- Immunity from the vaccine may last longer than immunity from having COVID-19.
- Vaccination reduces the number of infections that give the coronavirus an opportunity to mutate (change). Mutations (variants) of the virus (such as the contagious delta variant) can delay or even prevent herd immunity from being reached. And even worst mutations can make the virus more fatal and even more resistant to vaccines or available treatment.
Do COVID-19 vaccines contain microchips?
This was perhaps the most common misconception regarding vaccines. This is where we think folks got confused: Health departments and pharmacies track vaccine shipments and know when and where the vaccines have actually been administered based on reporting. You also can see this information in your vaccine card that is handed to you. The COVID-19 vaccine does not contain a microchip or any other tracking device. Vaccines have always been targeted by disinformation campaigns that are easily shared online. We do know that 170 million people have been vaccinated with no evidence of any implantations of tracking hardware or chips.
Should I get the Covid-19 Vaccine if I am pregnant or thinking about getting pregnant?
Evidence about the safety and effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccination during pregnancy, although limited, has been growing. Evidence suggests that the benefits of receiving a COVID-19 vaccine outweigh any known or potential risks of vaccination during pregnancy. What does this mean? Unvaccinated pregnant women are at increased risk for severe illness from COVID-19 that could require hospitalization, intensive care or illness that results in death. Additionally, pregnant people with COVID-19 are at increased risk of preterm birth and might be at increased risk of other adverse outcomes. The reality is if you are pregnant or considering becoming pregnant the vaccine will protect you. Over 200,000 pregnant women have already received the vaccine without any safety concerns. If you are pregnant or considering becoming pregnant, don’t forget it still is important to stay in close communication with your provider and continue protecting yourself from getting COVID-19.
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