Facts about COVID-19 and vaccines

This piece previously appeared on the Health Feed blog

COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations are once again rising across the country. As doctors, scientists, and medical professionals urge broad vaccination against COVID-19, skepticism and misinformation continue to spread on social media. To address some of the myths and misconceptions, top experts in epidemiology, infectious diseases, and obstetrics and gynecology at University of Utah Health provide current information about COVID-19 and the vaccines.

The Delta variant is more contagious

  • The Delta variant is a more infectious and transmissible strain of the virus that causes COVID-19 (SARS-CoV-2), even in vaccinated individuals.
  • According to studies in Scotland and Canada, the Delta variant, which is now the predominant strain in the U.S., is causing more severe disease and hospitalization.
  • Unlike in 2020, more young people are experiencing severe COVID-19 and are needing hospitalization, mostly driven by the Delta variant. At University of Utah Health, more than 90% of COVID-19 hospitalizations are among unvaccinated individuals.
  • While the Delta variant is primarily spreading among unvaccinated individuals, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says it is also causing a small percentage of breakthrough infections among vaccinated people. Breakthrough infections are milder than infections in unvaccinated people.

COVID-19 vaccines work against the Delta Variant

  • COVID-19 vaccines decrease infection with all variants, including the Delta variant, and have shown to be highly effective at reducing severe illness, hospitalization, and death.
  • Vaccinated individuals are four times LESS likely to be infected with COVID-19, according to the Utah Department of Health.
  • COVID-19 vaccines provide broader protection and prolonged immunity than natural infection of the virus. It is recommended that those previously infected with SARS-CoV-2 get a COVID-19 vaccine.
  • The Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines provide the best immunity against SARS-CoV-2 after two doses. For these vaccines, it takes five (Pfizer-BioNTech) or six (Moderna) weeks to be fully protected. This is the duration from the first dose until two weeks after the second dose.

COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effective

  • The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved emergency use authorization for COVID-19 vaccines at the end of 2020 and early 2021 after extensively reviewing safety data. This data includes continued surveillance of initial vaccine trial participants and of more than 167 million vaccinated individuals, or more than 350 million doses administered, in the U.S. In order to achieve full FDA authorization, several technical requirements are needed through a process that can’t be sped up such as providing proof of clean manufacturing plants and a long-term supply chain.
  • While mRNA vaccines are a relatively new type of vaccine, they have been under research for more than 20 years. The mRNA vaccine has been shown to be so effective that it provides better protection than antibodies that develop after natural COVID-19 infection.

Vaccine benefits outweigh any potential risks

  • People typically experience relatively minor side effects from a COVID-19 vaccine, such as short-lived fever and fatigue that can be treated with over-the-counter medication.
  • The vaccines do not give you COVID-19.
  • The risk of experiencing a complication from the vaccine is extremely rare and occurs no longer than six to eight weeks after vaccination.
  • There’s a much higher risk of developing severe illness or long-term symptoms from natural infection of COVID-19 than there is of potentially developing serious side effects from a COVID-19 vaccine. It’s estimated that 10 to 30 percent of people who have had COVID-19 develop long-term symptoms. These include chronic fatigue, brain fog, difficulty breathing, irregular heartbeat, loss of taste and smell, and loss of hair.

Continue to mask

  • Masking is one of the most crucial tools available to help stop transmission of COVID-19.
  • The CDC recommends unvaccinated individuals continue wearing a mask to help prevent others from getting infected. It is also recommended that vaccinated individuals wear a mask indoors in public to maximize protection from the Delta variant.
  • Masking has been shown to be very effective in schools. A study conducted by U of U Health found schools can safely resume in-person learning if universal masking, physical distancing, and other safety prevention measures are in place.

COVID-19 vaccines are recommended for children

  • Currently, the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is the only available COVID-19 vaccine for children aged 12 to 15 years old. Results from the vaccine trial in kids 12 and under is expected in the fall.
  • While COVID-19 in kids is not as serious as it is for adults, kids are still at risk of experiencing complications from the virus, such as hospitalization, death, and, more commonly, long COVID. A condition caused by the virus, known as MIS-C, can also develop after infection.
  • COVID-19 cases among children are increasing in Utah. More children are becoming seriously ill and are being hospitalized.
  • COVID-19 vaccination is the best way to protect children from getting the virus and spreading it to other children, family, friends, teachers, and people in the community.
  • The side effects experienced among kids are nearly identical as in adults.
  • Currently, the CDC is monitoring reports of myocarditis and pericarditis, extremely rare and temporary conditions associated with the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, that occur in less than .001% of vaccinated people.

COVID-19 vaccination is safe during pregnancy

  • Pregnant and breastfeeding women are recommended to get a COVID-19 vaccine. Vaccination during pregnancy has been safe and effective among the more than 139,000 pregnant women who have received a vaccine in the U.S.
  • COVID-19 vaccination during pregnancy and breastfeeding provides protection for both mother and baby. Protective antibodies are passed onto baby via the bloodstream or through breastmilk.
  • COVID-19 vaccines do not cause infertility and have not been connected to changes in a woman’s menstrual cycle. According to published research, vaccines do not likely pose a risk for people who are pregnant.
  • Pregnant women do not experience any worse complications or side effects from COVID-19 vaccines than non-pregnant people. However, women are more vulnerable to infections and viruses. According to research conducted by U of U Health, pregnant women with severe COVID-19 are at higher risk of pregnancy complications such as preterm birth, cesarean delivery, and high blood pressure. Therefore, COVID-19 vaccines are recommended during pregnancy.