The Student Health and Counseling Center and Associated Students Inc. (ASI) provided information and clarified myths about the three available COVID-19 vaccines at a virtual discussion on April 27.
Fresno County Department of Public Health (FCDPH) Public Health Physician and family medicine physician Dr. Trinidad Solis alongside FCDPH Assistant Director David Luchini were present on the panel to present information about the vaccine.
Solis and Luchini led the first segment of the discussion with a PowerPoint presentation outlining the facts about the COVID-19 vaccine, in particular noting data provided from the FCDPH regarding the distribution of COVID-19 cases among different age groups in Fresno County.
Solis said the increase in cases of COVID-19 among young adults is an area of concern.
“[The data] specifically is relevant for our conversation here because, as you can see here, this is from the beginning of the pandemic until April 23. The group now that has the most cases of COVID-19 are individuals from 20 to 29, which is, you know, our college-age students, for the most part,” Solis said. “And so, it’s concerning because likely this is triggered because of variants that are circulating, and also lack of vaccinations.”
Solis then provided information about the Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson and Johnson (J&J) vaccine, outlining the basic functions of each shot.
She said the two-dose Pfizer and Moderna vaccines utilize messenger RNA, or mRNA, that allows an individual’s body to recognize a foreign virus based off of its spiked shape to then form antibodies to kill the foreign virus within the body.
“The mRNA has been around for years so it’s not something that… we just came out last year with. It, it’s been around for years, and we were able to utilize it with these vaccines,” Solis said.
Regarding the one-dose J&J vaccine, Solis noted that many are concerned due to the events in which six women under the age of 50 developed rare blood clots known as cerebral venous sinus thrombosis. She said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have already investigated the rare occurrences and paused distribution of the vaccine on April 13.
As of April 23, the CDC and FDA lifted the pause on the J&J vaccine distribution. Luchini then continued the presentation by emphasizing that, alongside receiving the vaccine, COVID-19 precautions such as wearing a face mask, social distancing and frequent hand washing should continue to be practiced.
Solis and Luchini then spoke about myths regarding the COVID-19 vaccine:
MYTH: The COVID-19 vaccine causes women’s infertility.
Solis said a study from the New England Journal of Medicine of over 25,000 women who received the vaccine before or during pregnancy showed that there were no overall safety concerns for women or their babies.
“The CDC now recommends that pregnant women get the COVID vaccine and that’s a really strong statement… That’s why this study is so important because it’s showing that overall there’s no major safety concerns that they found,” Solis said.
MYTH: The COVID-19 vaccine changes your DNA.
“That is a total myth, the messenger RNA never even gets into your DNA. The cell takes care of the messenger RNA before it even gets into the nucleus and so it takes care of that. So there are no risks to any DNA changes,” Luchini said.
He noted that Solis already mentioned that mRNA vaccines have been studied for years, and said that it is more prominently discussed in the public “because COVID gave an opportunity to utilize this new technology to provide an effective vaccine. It’s been shown to be very effective already.”
MYTH: If you have already had COVID-19, you do not need the vaccine.
Luchini said it is still important to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, particularly because studies have found that vaccines like Pfizer are showing protection from antibodies that last upwards of six months.
“And what’s important is the vaccine is even showing more effectiveness with the new variants, compared to just natural immunity, if you’ve got COVID-19 originally. So this is why the vaccine is another tool that allows you to really protect yourself from these other variants,” he said.
Luchini noted an attendee’s question that asked whether or not the vaccine will ensure a 0% chance of getting COVID-19 and said that the vaccine will not provide 100% guaranteed protection from getting the virus.
“The vaccine’s effective in preventing severe illness like hospitalizations or deaths. Not 100% that you can’t get COVID,” Luchini said.
He said mRNA vaccines like the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines have an efficacy of around 90% to 92% prevention, while the J&J vaccine offers an efficacy around 70%.
“We’re talking again [about] mild illness, but when you’re looking at severe illness and going into [the] hospital… That’s where they’re close to zero. Effectiveness [is] where they’re excellent. I want to make sure I clarify that before we end,” Luchini said.
Luchini also discussed the idea of herd immunity, and the question of its reliability by saying that “you take a chance with herd immunity.”
He highlighted the risk that certain people may have severe reactions to COVID-19 or experience long-term symptoms.
Additionally, he once again said that natural immunity is not showing long-term reliability or protection against other coronavirus variants.
“The vaccine is showing much more protected antibodies for a wide range of the variants, and will also be better, to develop a new vaccine…Pfizer [and] Moderna [are] working on booster vaccines to deal as more variants get created because if we don’t slow down transmissions, the virus likes to recreate itself and that will continue as we see outbreaks throughout the world,” Luchini said. “So we’ve got to do our best job of reducing the rate of transmission so the virus doesn’t recreate itself. So [the] vaccine is a critical tool to slow that down.”
The panel was also asked if it is risky to receive the COVID-19 vaccine after already having COVID-19, to which Solis answered that it is not dangerous to receive the vaccine.
“That’s why they’re also looking into boosters, but [I] just want to clarify again it’s not correct that if you’ve had COVID and get the vaccine it’s dangerous,” Solis said.
She noted that natural immunity to COVID-19 does not last as long as the immunity given by the vaccine.
“The studies are showing that the vaccines are lasting at least six months but probably longer. That’s just how long we’ve been studying them, but I’m sure as the research continues, we’ll see that a lot will last longer, maybe even up to a year,” Solis said.
For those interested in registering for a COVID-19 vaccine, Luchini said the state of California has registration online through myturn.ca.gov. The Fresno County Department of Public Health will also continue to update information on the COVID-19 vaccine as it becomes available through their website.