The COVID-19 vaccine: what you need to know

A healthcare worker wearing personal protective equipment holding a vial of the COVID-19 vaccine
HCA Healthcare's Westside Regional Hospital in Plantation, Florida received their first shipment of the COVID-19 vaccine on December 17, 2020.

If you have questions about the safety and efficacy of the COVID-19 vaccine, you’re not alone. It’s normal to have questions, especially with so many rumors and theories percolating on social media. Dr. Jonathan Perlin, president, clinical operations group, and chief medical officer of HCA Healthcare addresses common vaccine misconceptions and myths below…

The COVID-19 vaccine has been a welcomed sense of relief and sign of hope for many people – especially for front line healthcare workers who have been battling the virus for nearly a year. In December 2020, vaccines created by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna received emergency use authorization (EUA) by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and states began to distribute them for healthcare personnel. To date, HCA Healthcare has administered more than 300,000 first and second doses of the COVID-19 vaccine to HCA Healthcare colleagues and affiliated patient care workers.

As the two approved COVID-19 vaccines continue to be rolled out to other essential workers and people over 65 years of age, other vaccines – notably those by Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca – are in the queue for in-depth review and possible U.S. authorization.

From earlier claims about the validity of mask-wearing to downplaying the dangers of a virus that has now claimed the lives of more than 400,000 Americans, social media has proven a key front for misinformation about COVID-19. Notably, there is a lot of buzz surrounding the COVID-19 vaccine.

We asked Dr. Jonathan Perlin, president, clinical operations group, and chief medical officer of HCA Healthcare to weigh in on nine common COVID-19 vaccine myths by discussing what the science shows:

Myth #1: The COVID-19 vaccine is unsafe because it was developed so quickly.

Dr. Perlin: Yes, the COVID-19 vaccine was developed at record speed. But – it was not rushed. Rather, the vaccine is the result of astonishing scientific achievement and pre-existing technology that enabled researchers to learn at speed.

The COVID-19 vaccine has been proven safe and effective. As with all vaccines used today, it went through rigorous testing and safety procedures. The accelerated timeline for this vaccine development was achieved through coordinated efforts by public and private partnerships. However, these efforts have not sacrificed scientific standards, integrity of the vaccine review process or safety.

The science used in the development of these vaccines has been in existence for more than 30 years; COVID-19 accelerated the opportunity to fully take advantage of the existing science.

Myth #2: The COVID-19 vaccine will alter my DNA.

Dr. Perlin: This rumor that we’ve all seen on social media may have started because the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines both use genetic material. But, the COVID-19 vaccine will not alter your DNA. In fact, it does not even interact with your DNA.

When you receive the vaccine, messenger RNA (mRNA) is injected into your muscle where it triggers cells in your body to produce proteins that, in turn, generate protective antibodies. This builds immunity to the virus that causes COVID-19. So, mRNA does not, and cannot, enter into the nucleus of your cells – where our DNA is housed.

Myth #3: The COVID-19 vaccine contains a microchip tracking device.

Dr. Perlin: One of the most bizarre vaccine myths is that the injectable contains a microchip that can track your location. The COVID-19 vaccine will not track people or gather personal information into a database. There is no vaccine microchip. So, this is pure science fiction.

Myth #4: There are severe side effects of the COVID-19 vaccine.

Dr. Perlin: Similar to any medication, vaccines can cause side effects. However, these side effects are usually minor and typically go away on their own within a few days. Symptoms may include fatigue, headache, muscle pain, chills, joint pain, a sore arm where a shot was given or a low-grade fever, and are signs that the body is generating an immune response that builds protection against the virus that causes COVID-19. Severe reactions such as anaphylaxis response continue to be very rare events, less than 1 in 10,000.

Myth #5: The COVID-19 vaccine causes infertility.

Dr. Perlin: There is zero evidence that COVID-19 vaccines cause an increased risk of infertility. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the antibodies formed from COVID-19 vaccination do not cause any problems with pregnancy, including the development of the placenta.

Because of this, it is not necessary to delay pregnancy after completing both doses of the COVID-19 vaccine; however, we recommend that women who are already pregnant or who are trying to become pregnant speak with a healthcare provider before planning to receive the vaccine.

Myth #6: I’ve already had COVID-19, so I don’t need to get the vaccine.

Dr. Perlin: For those who have already had COVID-19, you still are encouraged to get the vaccine once it’s available to you, as there is not enough information currently available to say if or for how long after infection someone is immune from contracting COVID-19 again. Early evidence suggests that natural immunity to COVID-19 from an actual infection may not last very long.

Since there are severe health risks associated with COVID-19, it is important to protect yourself and others from reinfection by getting the vaccine. There is no question that reinfection can occur. That said, those who have recently had COVID-19 should discuss whether or not there is a need to delay vaccination with their healthcare provider.

Myth #7: Once I get the vaccine, I won’t need to wear a face mask.

Dr. Perlin: You should continue to wear a face mask and take precautions even after receiving the vaccine. While the vaccine is highly effective at preventing illness from COVID-19, it remains possible that those who have been vaccinated can still carry and spread the virus.

Until we have better information, it is important for everyone to continue using all the tools available to help stop the spread of COVID-19 and end the pandemic. This includes wearing a mask, practicing social distancing and washing your hands.

Myth #8: You can get COVID-19 from the vaccine.

Dr. Perlin: This is another widely spread myth that is not based on science. It is not possible to get COVID-19 from the vaccine because neither of the current vaccines or those on the immediate horizon contain the live virus that causes COVID-19. Anyone who develops COVID-19 after receiving the vaccine got it from an exposure, and not from the vaccine itself.

Myth #9: Once I receive the vaccine, I will test positive for COVID-19.

Dr. Perlin: You will not test positive for the coronavirus on a viral test – used to test for current infection – after receiving the vaccine. There is a possibility you may test positive on some antibody tests – used to test for previous infection – which indicates that you have some level of protection from COVID-19.

A female nurse receiving the COVID-19 vaccine
Brittany Russell, a critical care nurse at North Florida Regional Medical Center, receives the COVID-19 vaccine.

“The COVID-19 vaccine signals the beginning of the end of this pandemic, it signals hope,” said Dr. Perlin.

“My wife is a front line caregiver in the HCA Healthcare family, and she and her colleagues were thrilled to get the vaccine. I’ve encouraged my parents to get the vaccine. And for those who aren’t frontline caregivers, of more advanced age or have chronic disease, I encourage us to get the vaccine,” adds Dr. Perlin. “It’s not just about our protection, it’s about protecting our loved ones, our community and our economy.”

As we inch closer towards herd immunity, now is not the time to let down your guard. Please stay vigilant by practicing common safety precautions such as masking, social distancing and washing your hands.

To learn more about the vaccine, listen to our COVID-19 vaccine podcast series on YouTube:

Logo for COVID-19 Vaccine Podcast Series

About HCA Healthcare

HCA Healthcare, one of the nation's leading providers of healthcare services, is comprised of 183 hospitals and more than 2,300 sites of care, in 20 states and the United Kingdom. Our more than 283,000 colleagues are connected by a single purpose — to give patients healthier tomorrows.

As an enterprise, we recognize the significant responsibility we have as a leading healthcare provider within each of the communities we serve, as well as the opportunity we have to improve the lives of the patients for whom we are entrusted to care. Through the compassion, knowledge and skill of our caregivers, and our ability to leverage our scale and innovative capabilities, HCA Healthcare is in a unique position to play a leading role in the transformation of care.

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