Essentia Health doctors sought to alleviate concerns about COVID-19 vaccines during a public webinar Wednesday, April 14, which included a segment designed to debunk what they called common myths surrounding the vaccines.

All who spoke continued to emphasize the importance of receiving a COVID-19 vaccine.

Myths

Dr. Amanda Noska, infectious disease physician, addressed the following:

Myth: The COVID-19 vaccine causes infertility in women.

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Truth: Two Europeans with anti-vaccination views started the myth and it spread on social media, Noska said.

“Many of you are familiar with the benefits and risks of social media disseminating scientific knowledge,” she said. “The joint statement from our United States American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, as well as the American Society for Reproductive Medicine, and Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine, strongly suggests that experts in reproductive health continue to recommend the vaccine.

“They do not know if there's any finding whatsoever in terms of the vaccine leading to loss of fertility or loss of a fetus if you are pregnant,” Noska said, “and we have now given this vaccine to literally millions of people and haven't found scientific relevance among childbearing women, and we are definitely monitoring for those side effects very, very closely.”

Myth: Vaccine development was rushed, so they can’t be safe.

Truth: No steps were skipped; some occurred simultaneously to accelerate the process, Noska said. Almost limitless resources expedited development.

There were about 75,000 participants in the Pfizer and Moderna trials. Extensive safety data from more than 150 million doses in the United States showed a very low risk of adverse reaction (0.0003%).

“There are rare side effects to vaccines but there’s nothing outside of the realm of normal,” she said, noting most vaccines study about 20,000-30,000 participants in any trial. “They actually didn’t skip any steps, but they did these steps simultaneously and analyzed the data very carefully at the end, despite all of the proper mechanisms having been in place this time.”

Myth: mRNA technology is new and unproven.

Truth: CDC researchers have been studying and working with mRNA vaccines for more than a decade, and they’re held to the same standards as other vaccines in the United States.

The mRNA in the vaccine teaches your cells how to make copies of the spike protein of the coronavirus. If you are exposed to the real virus later, your body will recognize it and know how to fight it off.

Myth: The vaccine will alter my DNA.

Truth: This vaccine does not alter anyone’s DNA. It’s not a DNA vaccine.

“That is a really important thing to clarify because it is awfully terrifying to think about any vaccine altering one's DNA,” Noska said.

Myth: I don’t need to get the vaccine because COVID-19 numbers are low.

Truth: Infections and hospitalizations are rising across the region with the prevalence of more contagious variants.

“We're not making this up. It's very serious and that's why we want folks to really, please consider vaccination,” Noska said.

Myth: I don’t need a vaccine because I’m young and healthy.

Truth: COVID-19 can affect anyone. The B117 variant is more likely to cause severe disease in younger people, it’s more contagious and is spread asymptomatically, Noska said.

“People can feel fine and be transmitting virus,” she said, adding side effects are unpredictable and potentially long term. “The vaccine protects you and others around you by reducing risk of transmission.”

Myth: The vaccine will make me sick with COVID-19.

Truth: No vaccines currently available in the United States contain the live virus that causes COVID-19.

Some people may develop symptoms like fever and a headache following vaccination. These are typically short-lived.

Johnson & Johnson vaccine

Addressing the pause in administering the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, including locally, Noska said severe symptoms are very rare.

The Centers for Disease Control and the Food and Drug Administration recommended a pause in using that vaccine after six reported cases of severe blood clots in women ages 18-48 who received the J&J vaccine. One woman died.

“It’s a very rare condition that causes clots in the veins of the brain. This side effect of the vaccine is extremely, extremely uncommon,” Noska said, noting 6.8 million doses of the J&J vaccine had been administered.

Symptoms included severe headache, abdominal pain, leg pain and shortness of breath. Noska said anyone who received the J&J vaccine and experiences any of those symptoms to seek medical attention.

Symptoms presented six-13 days after vaccination.

Trends and variants

Elena Willmot, senior business intelligence analyst, talked about COVID-19 activity in Essentia Health communities; and Dr. Bertha Serwa Ayi, infectious disease physician, provided an update on COVID-19 variants.

Ayi said vaccination affects the variants by reducing spread, reducing multiplication of the virus and reducing variants.

“Let us all get vaccinated,” she said, sharing the successful history of other vaccines - such as smallpox, polio and measles vaccines.

“Vaccines have been so useful for so many years that we shouldn’t even be questioning it,” she said.

“We have over 40 vaccines that can prevent illnesses. This COVID-19 vaccine is just one of them, and so I want to encourage every one of you - vaccines work. Go out and get it. Protect yourself. Protect your family, and let’s break the chain of this pandemic,” Ayi said.

Dr. Bill Heegaard, president of Essentia Health’s West Market and emergency medicine physician, said this is the safest vaccination campaign we’ve ever had in our history.

Long-term side effects are extremely unlikely following COVID vaccinations, according to the CDC; any side effects would generally happen within six weeks.

“This is by far the most extensive, most carefully rolled out and, yes, fast campaigns in the history of the world,” he said.

View the webinar

The second half of the webinar answered questions from those attending the online event.

To view the webinar, visit the Essentia Health Facebook or YouTube pages.

Additional resources regarding Essentia’s vaccination efforts can be found at EssentiaHealth.org. Click the “vaccine information” link at the top of the page.

Patients and non-patients are eligible to receive a vaccine through Essentia Health. Schedule an appointment by using MyChart or by calling 833-494-0836.

Nancy Vogt may be reached at 218-855-5877 or nancy.vogt@pineandlakes.com. Follow her on Facebook and on Twitter at www.twitter.com/@PEJ_Nancy.