Vaccine Questions

Since COVID-19 was first identified late in 2019, we have witnessed the rapid pace of medical research and scientific inquiry as scientists first raced to identify this new illness and then to find ways to treat and prevent it. For nearly two years, we’ve had a crash course in how scientists do their work -- sharing information and data, developing theories, testing those theories, drawing conclusions, applying their research, and making adjustments based on their findings. It is a time-consuming, labor-intensive process which, unfortunately, has sometimes left a void where misinformation often rushes in to fill gaps in our current knowledge, or to provide “guidance” that has no basis in science. It is much easier and quicker to write a social media post than it is to do clinical research and publish peer-reviewed findings.

Public health officials, including the Whatcom County Health Department, have followed the science as it has become available and evolved and kept our community up-to-date on the latest research, recommendations, and guidance. We have appreciated the opportunity to answer questions that have come our way including:

  • Symptoms of COVID-19
  • The rate of infections in our community
  • What kind of masks to wear and how to wear them
  • Where to find testing and how the tests work 
  • How to protect our family members, neighbors, employees, customers, and students from infection
  • The safety and effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines
  • Where to find vaccine clinics
  • What to expect when you get vaccinated

And many more.

We have struggled, however, to keep up with the scope and scale of misinformation out there, as have public health and healthcare staff across the country. Misinformation has evolved, at a much faster pace.

In an attempt to keep up with the volume of questions, concerns, and claims circulating in our community and on social media, the Whatcom County Health Department has prepared the following compilation. It includes everything from Frequently Asked Questions about vaccine safety and effectiveness and confusion about the science or guidance to outlandish claims about COVID-19 vaccines or the illness itself. 

In undertaking this effort, we have no expectation that all questions will be answered or that misinformation will cease. We remain ready and willing to answer questions from those seeking information to keep themselves and others safe. We will continue to provide the most recent guidance we have from the experts to answer these questions. 

We expect, however, that misinformation will continue to proliferate at a steady pace, and perhaps the responses we have prepared to some of the claims we’re aware of will only spur further proliferation. Nonetheless, we are hopeful that the following will be of service to those in our community who may have come across some of these claims and haven’t known where to turn for credible information. 

Does the COVID vaccine cause infertility?

Despite what you may have heard, the COVID-19 vaccine does not cause infertility or miscarriage. There is no evidence that any COVID-19 vaccine causes problems during pregnancy, including development of the placenta. If you’re currently pregnant or hoping to become pregnant, the COVID-19 vaccine is both safe and encouraged. In fact, getting vaccinated for COVID-19 actually helps protect you and your baby from COVID-19. 

Can I skip the vaccine if I already had COVID-19?

While it’s true that surviving COVID-19 does provide some natural immunity, that doesn’t mean you should skip out on vaccination. The amount of immunity provided after infection varies in both strength and duration. Current evidence suggests that the risk of reinfection, although uncommon in the first few months after, may increase with time. Getting vaccinated for COVID-19 greatly reduces your chance of reinfection.  

You shouldn’t get vaccinated immediately after recovering from COVID-19, but you should still get vaccinated after you’ve met the criteria for discontinuing isolation, or longer depending on the kind of treatment you received. Talk to your doctor if you are unsure what treatments you received for COVID-19 or if you have more questions about getting a COVID-19 vaccine.

Will the COVID-19 vaccine will make me test positive for the virus?

You may have heard that getting the COVID-19 vaccine will earn you a positive test result from a viral COVID-19 test. But this isn’t true.

Viral tests, like the diagnostic tests given at COVID-19 testing sites, can determine if you’re currently infected at the time the test is given. These tests look for the COVID-19 virus genome, which is found in the live COVID-19 virus. None of the vaccines currently in use in the US contain the live virus, so you can’t test positive for the COVID-19 virus from vaccination alone. 

Since COVID-19 vaccines do create COVID-19 antibodies - after all, that’s what they’re made for - you may test positive if you take an antibody test. Refer to the CDC for more information about the difference between viral and antibody tests, and for more information about COVID-19 myths and facts.

Will the COVID-19 vaccine alter my DNA?

A persistent rumor swirling around the internet claims the COVID-19 vaccine has the power to alter your DNA. The basis of this rumor has its roots in confusion over the mechanics of one type of COVID-19 vaccine.

Each of your cells contains a strand of DNA inside of a nucleus. The mRNA found in Pfizer and Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine never enters the nucleus and doesn’t mess with your DNA. All it does is teach your immune system how to ward off COVID-19. 

Researchers have been studying with and working with mRNA vaccines for decades, but to the layperson, the science behind DNA and mRNA can be confusing. Anti-vaccination advocates take advantage of this confusion to advance baseless claims that only sound scientific. Don’t let them fool you. Do your own research, and make your own educated choice. The CDC is a good place to start your research: https://bit.ly/3uLCzN8 

Is natural immunity is just as good as vaccine-given immunity?

We don’t know yet how long immunity lasts after COVID-19 infection. The strength of natural immunity provided by COVID-19 infection varies greatly depending on severity of infection, but the immunity provided by the COVID-19 vaccine is dependably strong and safe. And you don’t have to suffer COVID-19 illness and risk hospitalization, death, or long COVID if you get your immunity from vaccination. 

While we don’t know how much natural immunity is provided by any one COVID-19 infection, we do know that getting vaccinated after you’ve had COVID-19 can only improve your immunity to the virus. Just make sure you don’t get vaccinated too soon after you’ve recovered from COVID-19. Talk to your healthcare provider if you’ve recently recovered from COVID-19 and are seeking vaccination. For answers to common questions about the COVID-19 vaccine,  refer to the CDC

Does the COVID-19 vaccine shed?

You may have heard claims online that vaccinated people risk “shedding” parts of the vaccine onto others. This isn’t true. No parts of the vaccine “shed” from vaccinated individuals onto others. 

This myth is based on two premises, both borrowed from other debunked COVID-19 myths. 

  1. First, that COVID-19 vaccines contain the live virus and will give you COVID-19. None of the vaccines currently in use contain the live virus, so this is not possible. 
  2. Second, that COVID-19 vaccines negatively affect reproductive health, and can cause miscarriage, infertility, or upset menstrual cycles. None of these claims are true. 

Viral shedding happens when someone who’s been infected by a virus, such as COVID-19, expels (or sheds) particles of the virus when they breathe, cough or sneeze. This is why we recommend the use of masks or face coverings - they prevent those infected with COVID-19 illness from shedding the virus and help protect you from catching the virus if you’re around someone who is infected. 

Since none of the COVID-19 vaccines currently in use in the United States contain any part of the live COVID-19 virus, it’s not possible for you to catch COVID-19 from vaccination, so you can’t shed the virus by getting vaccinated. Likewise, you can’t shed any vaccine components. 

Vaccines aren’t contagious. Far fewer people would need to get vaccinated against any illness if that were the case. Since vaccines aren’t contagious and can't be shed, we need as many people to get vaccinated as possible to slow the spread of the COVID-19 virus - which actually can be shed. COVID-19 can also harm pregnant women and lead to pregnancy complications.

Bottom line--if you’re currently planning or hoping to become vaccinated, you won’t shed parts of the vaccine onto others.

How do I know what information to trust about the vaccine?

Did you know that nearly all anti-vaccine propaganda comes from just 12 people? That’s right. A dozen people are responsible for spreading nearly every myth you’ve heard about vaccines, including the COVID-19 vaccine. If you’ve heard something fishy about a vaccine, chances are you’d get to one of these people’s computers if you followed the breadcrumbs far enough. 

How can you know if the information you’re hearing comes from a reputable source, or from one of these 12 people? It’s easier than you’d think: usually a simple Google search is all that’s needed. A good rule of thumb when verifying information is a quick source check. Who’s cited in any claim? Is the cited work coming from a reputable source, or just a source that sounds reputable? 

For more information on the disinformation dozen, check out the Citizens Against Digital Hate’s recent report. For credible, verifiable and reliable information about the COVID-19 vaccine, you can always get info from the CDC, DOH, Mayo Clinic, Cleveland Clinic or Johns Hopkins University

Is the COVID vaccine magnetic?

If you feel drawn to the COVID-19 vaccine, it’s because you’ve heard of all the protection it offers you against COVID-19, not because it’s literally magnetic. 

One of the latest myths circulating the internet claims the COVID-19 vaccine is magnetic, and that magnets can attach to your arm at the injection site. That hasn’t stopped some people from trying to spread this myth by posting fake videos online, showing magnets stuck to their arms after vaccination. 

While it is possible to attract a magnet by taping a piece of metal to your arm with a bandaid, it’s not possible to draw a magnet from COVID-19 vaccination alone. None of the COVID-19 vaccines currently in use contain any metal components. 

As anyone who’s been vaccinated can tell you, their arms haven’t turned magnetic after vaccination. Don’t believe them? Try it out. Get a magnet and try to attach it to your vaccinated friend’s arm. This may be the easiest myth to debunk that was ever constructed. 

Does the COVID-19 vaccine have a high death rate? Since COVID-19 itself has a high survivability rate, why should I  get vaccinated for something that’s not likely to kill me?

Neither of the above premises, that the COVID-19 vaccine mortality rate is high and the COVID-19 virus fatality is low, are true.

Between December 14, 2020 and August 30, 2021, more than 369 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine were administered in the United States. Of those doses, VAERS reported 7,218 deaths, which would account for just 0.0020% of all vaccines given.

The actual fatality rate is likely much lower. VAERS accepts all reports of adverse medical outcomes that occur after vaccination, whether or not those outcomes are proven to be directly associated with vaccination. Since reports are voluntary, many VAERS reports may include incomplete, inaccurate, coincidental and unverifiable information.  

In contrast, the current fatality rate for COVID-19 stands at roughly 1.6%. A mortality rate of 1.6% might seem low, but a 1% mortality rate is actually 10 times deadlier than the seasonal flu. According to the CDC’s provisional mortality data for 2020, COVID-19 was the third leading cause of death in the United States last year, beaten only by cancer and heart disease. 

Neither cancer nor heart disease are contagious, but COVID-19 is a highly contagious virus. Now that we have a vaccine for the virus, COVID-19 is also highly preventable. It’s now the single deadliest preventable infectious disease in the country. 

Are alternative treatments safer than the COVID-19 vaccine?

The COVID-19 vaccines currently in use are some of the safest and most effective vaccines ever created. Some of the alternative treatments circulating on the internet, however, are downright dangerous.

Here’s a short list of unapproved and dangerous alternative COVID-19 treatments:

  • Chlorine Dioxide and Sodium Chlorite. Known by many names - like Miracle Mineral solution, Master Mineral Solution, Miracle Mineral Supplement and more - they all have one thing in common. They do nothing to treat COVID-19 and can kill you. These chemicals are powerful industrial bleaching agents. Drinking anything containing these chemicals can cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and severe dehydration. Seek help from a medical professional right away if you drink this stuff, accidentally or otherwise. 
  • Hydroxychloroquine and Chloroquine. Hydroxychloroquine sulfate and chloroquine phosphate are commonly prescribed to malaria patients, and these treatments were briefly given Emergency Use Authorization by the FDA for treating COVID-19 patients when the pandemic began. The FDA promptly revoked the EUA after receiving many reports of serious heart rhythm problems and other safety issues, including blood and lymph system disorders, kidney injuries and liver failure. These drugs shouldn’t be used for anything other than what the FDA has approved them for.
  • Ivermectin. Ivermectin is given to horses to kill parasitic worms, and may be prescribed for people with certain medical conditions. It is not approved by the FDA for use in treating COVID-19. Taking too much Ivermectin can cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, hypotension, seizures, coma or death. Only use Ivermectin when prescribed by your healthcare provider, and only use it exactly as directed. It’s not intended to kill viruses, and won’t help you recover faster from COVID-19.

If you have COVID-19 and you need medical assistance, your medical provider will give you the appropriate treatment. If you don’t have COVID-19, you can keep yourself safe by wearing a mask and watching your distance until you’re able to get vaccinated. That’s the best protection available, and the safest.  

If the pandemic is over, do I still need to get vaccinated?

Washington’s open now thanks to widespread vaccination, but that doesn’t mean the pandemic is over. We still need to wear masks in many settings, and we could slide back into full restrictions if our hospitals become overwhelmed. 

The vaccine offers lots of protection against COVID-19, but only to those who get it. If you’re not yet vaccinated, you’re still vulnerable, and so are those around you. The virus hasn’t gone away. In fact, it’s only gotten stronger. New, more transmissible variants like the Delta variants raise the risk of serious COVID-19 illness for the unvaccinated. 

You can help protect yourself and others by getting vaccinated for COVID-19 at the earliest opportunity. Go to VaccineLocator.doh.wa.gov to find a vaccine provider near you.