Real Talk About the COVID-19 Vaccine
Health experts address a few last questions.
I’m nervous about the vaccine. It’s still brand-new, and there could be side effects. Won’t I be better off waiting longer to get it?
Bottom line: Being vaccinated is far safer than not being vaccinated. Healthy adults of all ages have become severely ill after being infected with COVID-19, and it’s impossible to predict how anyone will react to the virus. “Getting the vaccine is so important,” says Gigi Gronvall, PH.D., a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security. It’s not only for any one person’s sake, she says, but because “it protects the people around you.” If we’ve learned one thing in the past year, it’s that COVID is bigger than any one individual. Getting vaccinated nudges everyone closer to herd immunity—the point at which the virus runs out of human hosts to infect and, as a result, ceases to be active. And it may be reassuring to note that you are far from the first: About 150 million people in the United States have had at least one dose. To the question of side effects: While some people have flulike symptoms post-vaccination, such as aches, chills, fatigue, or fever, experts say this is a small price to pay for lowering your risk of serious illness. You may also be among those who don’t experience any side effects at all—about half of all those vaccinated. As to reports of more serious effects such as blood clots, which can be alarming, it’s helpful to put them in context. In April, use of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine was paused after six recipients developed blood clots in the brain. By then, 6.8 million people had received that vaccine, meaning 0.000088 percent of them, or less than one in 1 million, were affected. According to Dr. Gronvall, one thing that carries a far higher risk for blood clots in the brain is having COVID (a 0.0039 percent risk, or a 39 in 1 million chance). Finally, “it’s heartening that there are multiple systems in place to pick up on any safety problems,” Dr. Gronvall says, adding that the FDA has acted quickly as questions have arisen.