Real answers about the COVID-19 vaccines

September 16, 2021

By Dr. O’Rell R. Williams

Dr. O’Rell R. Williams

From the moment COVID-19 emerged in the United States, we have all been asked to make sacrifices to protect ourselves, our families and our neighbors from this terrible virus. At Ascension – and health systems everywhere – our caregivers have worked long hours on the front lines to care for those afflicted with the worst symptoms of the virus.

And we know every member of our communities has struggled right alongside those of us on the front lines. We have weathered lockdowns, mask mandates and social distancing. Our children have struggled to adapt to distance learning and we have missed out on countless opportunities to be with family and friends.

As health care providers, we understand that long periods of difficulty, like the past 18 months, can result in a deep sense of uncertainty in many of us. So it is understandable that many members of our community have real, legitimate questions about the COVID-19 vaccines.

As a physician who has cared for families in my community for more than 20 years, I received the vaccine a few months ago when it became available to me, as did every eligible member of my family. Since then I have been encouraging my patients, colleagues, friends and everyone else to get the vaccine.

With more than 357 million COVID-19 vaccine doses given in this country over the past eight months, I believe the COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effective. But, even with all the information that has been shared about the vaccines, there are still a lot of pressing questions. And that’s OK. It is good to ask questions about your health. I’m hopeful I can address some of these questions, ease your concerns and encourage you to join me in receiving a COVID-19 vaccine.

Here are some of the questions we hear most frequently from our patients: Question: Will the vaccine make me sick with COVID-19? Answer: No, the vaccine will NOT give you COVID-19, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. None of the authorized and recommended COVID-19 vaccines or COVID-19 vaccines currently in development in the United States contain the live virus that causes COVID-19. This means that a COVID-19 vaccine cannot make you sick with COVID-19.

Question: Does the COVID-19 vaccine cause infertility in women?

Answer: According to the CDC, there is no evidence that COVID-19 vaccination causes any problems with pregnancy, including the development of the placenta. In addition, there is no evidence that female or male fertility problems are a side effect of any vaccine, including COVID-19 vaccines.

Question: Will the COVID-19 mRNA vaccines alter my DNA?

Answer: No, your DNA will not and cannot be altered by these vaccines. COVID-19 mRNA vaccines do not change or interact with your DNA in any way. According to the CDC, mRNA (or messenger RNA) never enter the nucleus of the cell, which is where our DNA (genetic material) is kept. The mRNA vaccines “teach” our cells how to make a protein that triggers an immune response inside our bodies. That immune response, which produces antibodies, is what protects us from getting infected if the real virus enters our bodies.

Question: Are the side effects of the COVID-19 vaccine dangerous?

Answer: Sometimes after vaccination, the process of building immunity can cause symptoms, such as fever, body ache, headache and fatigue. These symptoms are normal as the body is building immunity. Symptoms are typically mild to moderate in severity, occur within the first three days of vaccination, and resolve within one to three days of onset. Severe side effects are very uncommon. The benefits of vaccination and community immunity far outweigh the risk of side effects from vaccination.

Question: If I’ve already had COVID-19, do I need a vaccine?

Answer: Every eligible person should get vaccinated regardless of whether they have already had COVID-19. We do not yet know how long a person is protected from getting sick again after recovering from COVID-19, which is why it is important to get vaccinated to prevent further illness and/or hospitalization. It’s also not known how well natural immunity from a prior COVID-19 infection will protect you from one of the new variants of the virus.

Question: Did scientists rush vaccine development? Can we trust its effectiveness and safety?

Answer: All vaccines require extensive research, documentation and closely monitored clinical trials to determine effectiveness and safety before being submitted by pharmaceutical companies for approval. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is responsible for ensuring the safety, effectiveness and availability of vaccines in the United States. Since the emergency use authorization of three COVID-19 vaccines in use in the U.S., 185 million U.S. residents have received at least one dose.

The development of a safe and effective vaccine has been a critical part of the world’s effort to stop the spread of COVID-19. And as the pandemic continues to affect people worldwide, the vaccine is our best chance to finally defeat this virus and return to the moments and social activities we miss. I understand you may still have questions, so I implore you to talk to your doctor. Get the answers you need, and please get vaccinated.

Dr. O’Rell R. Williams is an internal medicine physician and Regional Medical Director with Ascension Wisconsin.