Is the COVID vaccine safe? Does it work? Who’s at risk?

You have questions. We have answers from experts.

Health experts say COVID-19 vaccinations are key to protecting our community, but many readers have questions.

Our reporters surveyed and spoke to people to identify prevailing concerns, and relayed them to Public Health-Dayton & Montgomery County to get the facts. Those questions and answers are below. Speak to your doctor about whether the vaccine is safe and effective for your family.

Q: If vaccinated people are getting COVID, then it doesn’t work, right? Why should I take a vaccine that doesn’t work?

Of course some vaccinated people will get COVID because the vaccines are not perfect and not everyone’s immune system can respond fully to the vaccine. However, for nearly everyone else, the vaccines are protective against COVID infection.

All currently approved or authorized COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effective and reduce your risk of severe illness and death. Vaccination can reduce the spread of disease, which helps protect those who get vaccinated and the people around them. Vaccine effectiveness against hospitalizations has remained high, although it tends to be slightly lower for older adults and for people with weakened immune systems.

Area hospital officials say nearly nine out of 10 of those hospitalized in intensive care units for COVID-19 in the most recent surge and nearly five out of six of the over 370 people who died were unvaccinated.

Q: How many people have been injured or died from the vaccine?

The longstanding Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System is being used to track possible COVID-19 side effects. In addition, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has a proactive system for investigating these side effects, as well as the voluntary V-safe self-reporting system. These monitoring systems are so sensitive that they have identified rare side effects that occur with only a few cases out of a million vaccines.

Serious adverse events after COVID-19 vaccination are rare but might occur. For example, anaphylaxis after COVID-19 vaccination is rare and has occurred in approximately 5 people per 1 million vaccinated in the United States.

The standards for safety for COVID vaccines are rigorous and high. For example, the rare occurrence of side effects with the Johnson & Johnson vaccine (such as thrombosis reported in 57 cases out of 18 million J&J doses administered) contributed to the CDC updating its recommendation to prefer Pfizer or Moderna shots over J&J. This further demonstrates that the threshold for safety is high.

The risk of illness, death or long-haul symptoms if an unvaccinated person contracts COVID-19 are much higher than any rare risks of the vaccine.

Q: Was the vaccine rushed? Why did it come out so fast?

While COVID-19 vaccines were developed rapidly, all steps were taken to make sure they are safe and effective:

Scientists have been working for many years to develop vaccines against viruses like the one that causes COVID-19. This knowledge helped speed up the initial development of the current COVID-19 vaccines. All vaccines in the United States must go through three phases of clinical trials to make sure they are safe and effective. During the development of COVID-19 vaccines, phases overlapped to speed up the process, but all phases were completed.

Before vaccines are available, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration assesses the findings from clinical trials. The FDA determined that three COVID-19 vaccines met FDA’s safety and effectiveness standards and granted those vaccines Emergency Use Authorizations. This allowed the vaccines to be quickly distributed to control the pandemic. Before recommending COVID-19 vaccination for children, scientists conducted clinical trials.

The FDA gave the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine emergency authorization to use in children 5 to 15 and full approval to use in those 16 and older. This week, the FDA gave the Moderna vaccine full approval for individuals 18 and older.

COVID-19 vaccine safety monitoring has been the most intense and comprehensive in U.S. history. Over 540 million vaccine doses have been administered nationwide.. Through several monitoring systems, CDC and FDA continue to provide updated information on the safety of these vaccines.

Q: Are the COVID-19 deaths inflated? Aren’t those people really dying from something else and officials are just saying it was COVID?

COVID deaths include all the people who would still be alive if they had not caught COVID at the point in time. People with preexisting conditions (such as high blood pressure, heart and vascular disease and diabetes) are more likely to have worse disease and worse outcomes with any respiratory infections. In COVID deaths, whatever the underlying conditions, it is the COVID infection that tips the balance and causes the deaths.

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