Ten questions about the COVID-19 vaccines answered

The Delta variant of COVID-19 is bringing the fourth wave of infections throughout the country as the nation's COVID-19 vaccination rate flatlines. Last week, the CDC returned to previous recommendations for everyone to wear a mask when indoors, regardless of vaccination status.

The reason for the reversal was based on studies that show even those vaccinated can carry the Delta variant and pass it on to those who are not vaccinated against COVID-19, thus furthering the spread. Additionally, being vaccinated does not guarantee that you are immune to the virus, instead, the vaccine makes it less likely that you will get severely ill.

The first clinical trial of the COVID-19 vaccines started in the summer of 2020 and it was believed to be the best course out of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, fear and misinformation have spread over the past year and still are being shared widely.

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In an effort to dispel some of the biggest myths and answer important questions, Henry Ford Health System Doctor Dennis Cunningham put together a list of ten rumors that aren't true. Among them are that they were developed too quickly, that it will alter your DNA, or that it will make you infertile. All of them are untrue.

Dr. Cunningham is the medical director of infection control and prevention at Henry Ford Health System. Below are the ten questions and Dr. Cunningham's explanation about the truth behind them all.

Are COVID-19 vaccines unsafe because they were developed quickly?

Dr. Cunningham says that, yes, the vaccines were developed quickly but clinical trials all went through the proper steps.

"The COVID-19 vaccines themselves were developed quickly, but the clinical trials to examine safety and efficacy weren’t rushed at all," says Dr. Cunningham. "Safety was not compromised in any way. What happened quickly was finding the vaccine to test. In the 1980s, it took scientists so long to do this, but thanks to scientific advances we’ve made over the years, we can find viruses so quickly."

Why it was able to be developed so quickly, Dr. Cunningham writes, is that COVID-19 is similar to other coronaviruses that we've seen in humans - like MERS and SARS. Dr. Cunningham said that previous research could be used to speed up the process of the vaccine developments.

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Can COVID-19 vaccines lead to long-term effects?

Dr. Cunningham said there are side-effects possible but we would have already seen long-term effects by now.

"With vaccines, if there is going to be a complication or side effect (like an allergic reaction, for example) it will occur within minutes to hours of receiving the vaccine," says Dr. Cunningham. "If we’re not seeing serious side effects now, we can pretty much know it will be safe down the road."

Additionally, the mRNA technology used to create them has been used for decades to treat things like cancer, influenza, Zika virus, and rabies. Based on this experience with over viruses, Dr. Cunningham said it has informed doctors and scientists that unknown or delayed side effects show up within two months of receiving the vaccine.

Dr. Cunningham says the vaccine has been in use for months with the first trials conducted over a year ago.

"There are no long-term side effects to worry about," he wrote.

Can you get COVID-19 from the vaccines?

This one has been debunked multiple times and Dr. Cunningham reasserts that the live virus is NOT used in any of the three vaccines.

"There’s no live virus in the vaccines, so they can’t infect you," says Dr. Cunningham. "Basically, the vaccines make our bodies produce one single protein from the virus—the protein that infects our cells. By making that protein, we prevent infection. You might have side effects like a headache or chills, but that’s because your body is creating an immune response, not because you have an infection."

Do you need to get vaccinated if you've already had COVID-19?

Having the virus does not make you immune to COVID-19. New data suggests that vaccines provide better protection against COVID-19 variants - like the now rampant Delta variant - than natural immunity does.

"If you have had COVID-19, research suggests you have some natural protection from your own antibodies," says Dr. Cunningham. "However, we don’t know how effective that protection is or how long it will last. A benefit of getting vaccinated is that you will have a higher, more predictable level of protection against the virus." Future research will tell us more about exactly how long we are protected after vaccination.

Should people with underlying conditions get vaccinated?

People with underlying health conditions SHOULD get vaccinated.

Dr. Cunningham writes that people with diabetes or heart disease, for example, are at a higher risk of getting complications due to COVID-19 and it's even more of a reason to get vaccinated.

If you have concerns, you should definitely talk to your doctor.

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Should people who have been treated for cancer or have a suppressed immune systems get vaccinated?

Similar to the one above, Dr. Cunningham urges people with suppressed immune systems to get vaccinated. People who have undergone cancer treatments or have an autoimmune disease should get the vaccine and consult their doctors with specific concerns.

"The vaccines will not hurt you since they don’t contain a live virus," says Dr. Cunningham. "Those with suppressed immune systems will still get protection from COVID-19, just not as much protection as those with healthy immune systems."

Will the COVID-19 vaccines will alter your DNA?

This is false and has been proven to be false for more than a year. The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines both use messenger RNA to communicate to our bodies how to fight the virus but it does absolutely nothing to your DNA.

"The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines use messenger RNA (mRNA) to protect us from COVID-19, and I think that is where this rumor comes from," says Dr. Cunningham. "mRNA gives our cells the blueprints for the factories that will build the protein to protect us from COVID-19. People get scared that mRNA will cause the virus to go into our DNA and mutate us, but it does not even go into the center part of the cell where we have our DNA. It doesn’t affect DNA at all."

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Do the COVID-19 vaccines make you infertile?

Again, there is no evidence to support this claim. Dr. Cunningham writes that there is no data from clinical trials or any theoretical reason about why or how vaccines could cause infertility.

Women who participated in clinical trials were able to conceive after vaccination and Dr. Cunningham said pregnant women are urged to get the vaccine.

"In fact, we know that pregnant women with COVID-19 infections are at a higher risk of having a miscarriage or going into premature labor, which is all the more reason to get vaccinated," says Dr. Cunningham.

This leads us to the next question…

Should women who are pregnant or breastfeeding get vaccinated?

This has been proven to be untrue. It is safe to get vaccinated during pregnancy or while breastfeeding, Dr. Cunningham writes. In fact, doing so in the late stages of your pregnancy may protect your newborn.

"If you get vaccinated during your third trimester, you could potentially pass protective COVID-19 antibodies to the baby, but it is safe to get vaccinated during any stage of pregnancy," says Dr. Cunningham. "And evidence has shown that breastfeeding people who have received COVID-19 mRNA vaccines have antibodies in their breastmilk, which could help protect their babies from COVID-19."

Do young and healthy people need to get vaccinated?

Yes, people who are young and healthy are less likely to get sick than older people but that doesn't mean it's not possible. Even if people are asymptomatic, they can still have long-hall Covid symptoms for months after the virus has moved on. Also, being unvaccinated could unknowingly pass the virus to vulnerable people around us.

"The key to ending the pandemic is having everyone get vaccinated—not just those who are most vulnerable," says Dr. Cunningham.

This picture taken on May 23, 2020 shows a laboratory technician holding a dose of a COVID-19 novel coronavirus vaccine candidate