Risks and Misinformation About mRNA Vaccines

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Over the course of the past year we have done many blogs on what mRNA vaccines are, how they work, and how they are different from traditional vaccines. The mRNA vaccines temporarily help our bodies protect against viruses with synthesized versions of messenger RNA.  These carry genetic coding to cells that make protein.  In the Covid mRNA vaccines, this coding tells these cells to make the spike protein that Covid-19 uses to enter the cells.  This stimulates the body to create antibodies to the virus. 

These vaccines are faster to develop than traditional vaccines because they do not rely on growing any actual viruses or injecting weaker versions of a virus into people.  Since they are so new, and the urgency for them is so high, we have not had the time to properly test and get efficacy data.  Our clinical studies have only included 30,000-50,000 people.  Which is small when talking about vaccine trials. Nevertheless, in these studies, the mRNA vaccines were proven to be 94 to 95% effective at stopping illness.  Later, in a much larger study from Israel, they determined the Pfizer shot was 94% effective against developing Covid-19 symptoms, and prevented 87% of Covid hospitalizations.

People look at the low participation data figures and have concerns, but now with the shots being available to the public, we have much more data on their safety and their side effects. Both the Moderna and the Pfizer can have some uncomfortable side effects including headaches, muscle and joint pain, and fevers.  Most people in the Moderna trial experienced fatigue and muscle pain and about 15% reported a fever. Other people reported allergic reactions to the shots.  A study from the Massachusetts General Hospital collecting data through the middle of February of this year showed about 2.5 cases of an allergic reaction per 10,000 shots and declared the risk of developing an allergic reaction as very low.

Unfortunately, all of this information combined gives some people enough fuel to discredit the vaccine or spread information.  Anti-vaccine activists criticize the rushed development of the mRNA vaccines, saying steps were skipped and that the vaccines have not been approved formally by the FDA.  These statements are both technically true.  Our need for the vaccines was so great that the FDA and the US government helped fund the development of these vaccines before results were officially in, and have still only granted an emergency-use authorization.  It should be noted however that the FDA said early on that in order to be granted the EUA, any of these Covid-19 vaccines had to demonstrate a 50% effective rate in preliminary testing and large-scale testing.  Both Moderna and Pfizer shots were also inspected by independent advisers, and both shot makers will apply for regular approval this year.

While it is perfectly fair to have concerns about a vaccine that has not been thoroughly tested, it’s another thing to spread misinformation about the shots. One of the worst criticisms facing the mRNA vaccines is that they are a form of Gene Therapy, which simply is not true.  These vaccines do not change the DNA inside of out body’s cells.  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says ““They do not affect or interact with our DNA in any way.”  Another misinformation issue is that the vaccines cause us to be dependent on this antibody enhancement or that there are more negative reports for the Covid-19 vaccines than typical flu shots.  Aaron Kesselheim, a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, says this is not fair to the Covid shots as these numbers surge when treatments or vaccines are more prominent in the news.  In the US, many of these reports can be filed by anyone, and there does not have to be proof that the vaccine caused an adverse reaction.

For more updates be sure to check back with the ABN Blog regularly.

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