Kwame Akoto, MD

Featured Expert: Kaiser Permanente

Kwame Akoto, MD, Mid-Atlantic Permanente Medical Group

The COVID-19 vaccine offers the best way to bring the ongoing pandemic to an end. Yet, much conflicting information is circulating about the vaccine, causing hesitancy and confusion, so it’s important to know the facts. Dr. Kwame Akoto, a Permanente Medicine family medicine physician with Kaiser Permanente, addresses some common myths and shares important facts about COVID-19 vaccines.

FACT: You cannot get COVID-19 from the vaccine. This is an important fact: you absolutely cannot get COVID-19 from the vaccine. None of the authorized COVID-19 vaccines in the U.S. contain the live virus that causes COVID-19. This means that a COVID-19 vaccine cannot make you sick with COVID-19.

FACT: COVID-19 vaccines DO NOT change your DNA. COVID-19 vaccines do not change or interact with your DNA in any way. Pfizer and Moderna are mRNA vaccines and Johnson & Johnson is a viral vector vaccine. Both types of vaccines deliver instructions (genetic material) to our cells to start building protection against the virus that causes COVID-19. These vaccines work like others to help your body build an immune response that helps protect us from severe infection. The genetic material never enters the nucleus of the cell, which is where DNA is kept.

FACT: COVID-19 vaccines help protect you from getting sick or severely ill and might also protect people around you. COVID-19 vaccines provide substantial protection against severe illness, including disease caused by Delta and other variants. Breakthrough infections are possible even if you’re vaccinated because no vaccine is 100% effective. However, if you’re fully vaccinated, you are much less likely to become infected and therefore less likely to pass the virus to others. If you are fully vaccinated and experience a breakthrough infection you are less likely to become seriously ill, require hospitalization or die. Hospitalization rates are 9 to 15 times higher for unvaccinated individuals compared to vaccinated adults.

FACT: COVID-19 vaccines were developed quickly because it was an international priority. The rapid spread of COVID-19 made developing these vaccines an international priority, unlocking billions of dollars in funding and international collaboration to ensure safety while moving with urgency to save lives. For the development of COVID-19 vaccines, there was a huge investment from both private companies and government organizations to help move through the process quickly and safely. Scientists have been studying coronaviruses and vaccines for many years. They used this research to quickly create very safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines. The federal government prioritized review and approval processes. The Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson studies followed all vaccine safety protocols and reviews.

FACT: The COVID-19 vaccine does NOT impact fertility. There is no evidence that any vaccination, including the COVID-19 vaccine, affects fertility for women or men. Studies have shown, among women undergoing IVF treatments, there was no difference in pregnancy rates between vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals. Further, getting vaccinated provides protection against the virus both mothers and babies. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) strongly recommends pregnant women to get vaccinated. So far, more than 22,000 pregnant women have been hospitalized due to COVID-19, and pregnant women with COVID-19 are at increased risk of adverse pregnancy outcomes such as preterm birth, stillbirth and serious COVID infection of their newborn.

Fact: If you had COVID-19, you should still get the COVID-19 vaccine. People who have had COVID-19 should still get vaccinated. COVID-19 poses a severe health risk, and it is possible to be infected more than once with the virus. Getting vaccinated makes you far less likely to die or be hospitalized if you experience a rare breakthrough infection.

Fact: Some may experience short-term, mild or moderate side effects from the COVID-19 vaccines. Some people have short-term mild or moderate reactions to the vaccine that resolve without complications. This may include pain, redness, and swelling on the arm where you got the shot, fatigue, headaches, muscle pain, chills, fever and nausea. These symptoms are normal after a vaccination and are signs your immune system is responding to the virus to offer protection in the future. Unlike the symptoms of a COVID-19 infection that can be severe and last for weeks, these symptoms should go away in a day or two and can be treated with over-the-counter pain relievers.

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Kwame Akoto, MD, is a board-certified family medicine physician with the Mid-Atlantic Permanente Medical Group. He sees patients at Kaiser Permanente in Baltimore.

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