As more Californians continue to get vaccinated against COVID-19, Dr. Joe has been getting even more questions about them – their effectiveness, safety, and side effects, including how to deal with any side effects as naturally as possible. Here are some of the most commonly asked, along with Dr. Joe’s answers to each…
Q: They say that even after you’re vaccinated, you still need to mask up, social distance, and all the rest? If the vaccine is effective, why can’t we go back to normal life? Or if the vaccine isn’t so effective, why should I still get it?
A: While our knowledge of SARS-CoV-2, a/k/a COVID-19, is constantly evolving, we know that all three of the currently available vaccines in the US – Moderna, Pfizer, and Johnson & Johnson – are protective against infection.
Both Pfizer and the CDC have been following over 43.000 recipients of the vaccine for over 10 months to track effectiveness and all adverse events. To date, the Pfizer vaccine has been 95% effective in preventing infection – both in those who have never had COVID and those who have been infected before. It is 92% effective in those with underlying medical conditions. These numbers apply regardless of age, sex, or race/ethnicity.
Similarly, Moderna and the CDC have been following roughly 30.000 recipients of the vaccine for over 10 months to track effectiveness and all adverse events. To date, the Moderna vaccine has been over 94% effective in preventing infection in those who haven’t been infected before and over 86% effective in those with underlying medical conditions. Again, these numbers apply regardless of age, sex, or race/ethnicity.
|Johnson & Johnson
Johnson & Johnson and the CDC have been following about 75,000 recipients of the vaccine to track effectiveness and all adverse events. To date, this vaccine has been over 66% effective in preventing infection in those who have never been infected and 85% effective in preventing severe disease 28 days after infection. No one who got COVID-19 at least four weeks after vaccination has had to be hospitalized. This holds true regardless of age, sex, or race/ethnicity, as well as in those with underlying conditions.
But preventing infection or serious illness is only one reason to get vaccinated against COVID.
The virus is able to mutate to a more dangerous form in unvaccinated people. We don’t know yet how effective the vaccines may be against the mutations identified so far, such as the UK and South African variants. So it’s crucial that we continue to mask and distance to try to slow their spread in the US.
On the upside, as more of us get vaccinated, the fewer opportunities the virus has to mutate.
We’re also still gathering information on how well the vaccines keep people from spreading the disease and how long protection lasts. Until we know more, basic prevention measures make good sense:
- When in public, especially around people who don’t live with you, everyone from age 2 on upwards should wear a mask that covers the nose and mouth. (Personally, I double mask – wear 2 masks – whenever I’m in public or working in my clinic. I’ve received both doses of the Pfizer vaccine, as well.)
- Wash or sanitize your hands before putting on your mask, as well as after coughing, sneezing, blowing your nose, or leaving a public place, and before preparing or eating food.
- Use only hand sanitizers that are at least 60% ethyl alcohol or 70% isopropyl alcohol.
- Keep 6 feet apart from others not from your own household.
- Avoid crowds and poorly ventilated spaces.
The real danger is not whether the vaccines work but whether enough people get vaccinated to prevent further spread of the disease and – as importantly if not MORE importantly – whether we can stop the mutations because we are protected by the vaccines in the first place.
Meantime, the CDC guidance has been significantly modified for those who are fully vaccinated. While you are considered to be fully protected two weeks after your last dose of any of the vaccines, my own recommendation is to wait at least three weeks, as protection can take longer in some people.
Once you are fully protected in this way,
- You can gather indoors with other fully vaccinated people without wearing a mask.
- You can gather indoors with unvaccinated people from one other household (for example, visiting with relatives who all live together) without masks – UNLESS any of those people or anyone they live with has increased risk of severe illness from COVID-19.
- If you’ve been around someone who has COVID-19, you do NOT need to stay away from others or get tested unless you have symptoms. However, this does NOT apply to anyone living in a group setting or with someone with COVID-19.
Again, though, the above guidelines apply ONLY to those who have been fully vaccinated and ONLY after two to three weeks have passed since receiving their last dose.
Q: Are any of the vaccines effective against the new variants?
A: The current vaccines may offer some protection, but it’s not yet known HOW effective they may be. Our understanding of this is evolving and being updated as more facts roll in. There is some very limited evidence that the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, along with one by Novavax, which is not yet approved in the US, may offer some protection against the UK and South African variants.
All makers of the currently available vaccines, as well as Novavax, are currently working on booster vaccines to protect against the newer virus variants which developed in unvaccinated individuals.
Q: I’ve heard that some people have died shortly after they got the vaccine. That’s a pretty serious “side effect” if it’s true. Is it true?
A: As I write this, 1265 deaths have been reported after receiving either the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine, all of which have been carefully and meticulously evaluated by independent medical reviews and the CDC, along with oversight from Pfizer and Moderna.
ALL of these deaths have been due to SERIOUS underlying medical conditions that were life-threatening well before these people received the vaccine. They are not – and CANNOT – be attributed to the vaccine itself.
In fact, the number of deaths is equal to the number you’d expect to see in the general population in the same time period without any vaccinations at all. These were deaths occurring at the expected rate.
What the facts show is that, to date, NONE of the 1265 post-vaccine deaths can be attributed to the vaccine. No credible source claiming deaths from vaccination has been presented – only sensationalistic claims being made by those looking to undermine the importance of and real need for vaccinations.
Q: How concerned should I be about long COVID?
A; At least 10% of those who become infected with SARS-CoV-2 become “long haulers,” experiencing continued symptoms after recovering from the initial infection. Symptoms of “long COVID” include brain fog, fatigue, headache, palpitations, numbness, tingling, loss of taste and smell, and muscle pain. As many as 50 symptoms have been reported, which can persist for months after infections.
As a physician who works with many patients with similar symptoms, I feel these are a serious concern. Because of this, I strongly advocate strict adherence to the basic preventive measures outlined at the top of this post and urge you to get vaccinated against COVID-19 as soon as possible.
Q: Are there any natural remedies you can recommend for dealing with side effects from the vaccine?
A: In a word, yes, but with two HUGE caveats: 1) Avoid taking anything before your vaccination unless your doctor specifically advises otherwise, to allow your body to react to the vaccine and mount a good response; and 2) If you’re having what may be an allergic reaction – rare as it may be – these tips do NOT apply, and you should call 911 immediately.
If you’re experiencing common side effects, I recommend starting with the basics: lots of fluids and rest. Apply a cool, damp cloth to the site but avoid resting the affected arm. Instead, move it around or mildly exercise it. If the injection site is tender, you can cover it with protective gauze pads. For fever and/or pain, Tylenol or Advil is fine.
That said, I regularly use homeopathic remedies based on specific situations. Modest-dose IV vitamin C with B vitamins offers excellent anti-inflammatory support, as well. We regularly provide these in my clinic.
Remember, though: These reactions to the vaccine are the result of inflammation, which – within reason – is a GOOD thing after the shot(s). This is the body responding to the vaccine and creating protective antibodies and immune cells.
If your symptoms seem more severe – and especially if they last more than a few days – you should call your doctor for guidance.
Q: Besides masking, social distancing, and so on, is there anything else I can do to lower my risk of getting COVID while I wait for my turn to receive the vaccine?
The basic prevention steps I outline at the top of this post remain your best option for keeping your risk of infection low. Although I believe immune support with oral herbals and IVs are an excellent additional consideration, I cannot recommend them as a preventative against COVID-19 at this time.
Images by Alachua County & US Secretary of Defense