Over the past month, COVID-19 vaccines have rolled out across the U.S. But many folks are still looking for a trusted medical professional to truly break down all this scientific jargon into language they can actually understand. Luckily, New York-based internist and pulmonologist Dr. Mike Hansen exists.
In a recent YouTube video, Hansen discussed whether the Moderna vaccine is safe —and what the hell it actually does. And he drops some serious knowledge on what we know about the latest vaccine for the prevention of COVID-19.
In the video, Dr. Hansen explains that the Moderna vaccine—which is administered in two doses—is an mRNA vaccine containing messenger RNA housed in a lipid nanoparticle. When injected, the mRNA creates a “viral spike protein” in the human body, which is virtually harmless on its own.
According to Dr. Hansen, this viral spike protein is just one of 29 proteins which make up the SARS-CoV-2 virus. But this protein alone won’t cause a COVID-19 infection. “Without the complete genetic code, the SARS-CoV-2 virus can’t be manufactured in a human being,” Dr. Hansen explains.
Instead, he says, the immune system recognizes the viral spike protein as a foreign body. This causes the immune system to fight back, creating antibodies that will fight off SARS-CoV-2 in the future. “There are no weakened, killed or gutted viral particles in the vaccine, making it much safer for those who are immunocompromised,” Dr. Hansen says. “And this vaccine is 95 percent effective.”
So how safe is this thing? Well, the vaccine was tested in a study of more than 30,000 people over the age of 18. This was a double-blind placebo-controlled study, meaning 15,000 people got the actual vaccine while 15,000 got a placebo. Of those included in the study, 11,000 were from communities of color, 7,000 were people over the age of 65, and 5,000 had conditions that increased their risk for severe COVID-19.
While 185 people in the unvaccinated group contracted SARS-CoV-2 during the course of the study, only 11 from the vaccinated group contracted the virus. Now that’s pretty impressive—but what about those side effects.
Local side effects were recorded in 84 percent of the vaccinated group after the first injection, and in 89 percent after the second. The majority of side effects were rated mild to moderate in severity, lasting about 3 days or less. The most common side effect was injection site pain and swollen lymph nodes under the armpits.
Systemic side effects were reported by 55 percent of vaccinated people after the first dose, and by 79 percent after the second. The most common was fatigue, headache and muscle and joint pain. Fewer than 1 percent reported fever over 102 degrees Fahrenheit after getting either dose of the vaccine.
“These systemic side effects are unpleasant and are at a higher rate than seen in most vaccines,” Dr. Hansen says in the video. “In most cases, they’re more likely related to the lipid nanoparticles.”
Though there were no reports of severe allergic reactions in the study, Dr. Hansen recommends those who have had a severe reaction to a vaccine in the past check the list of ingredients in the Moderna vaccine. He cites a particularly unlucky Boston doctor who had a severe reaction to the Moderna vaccine, but was treated and released for the adverse side effects. The doctor has a long-standing severe allergy to shellfish.
As of Dec. 19, there have been six cases in the U.S. of anaphylaxis in response to any COVD-19 vaccine, not just Moderna. In that time period, more than 272,000 people received the vaccine. Given all the variables, Hansen reaches a single conclusion: Just get the damn vaccine.
“As with everything we do, from driving a car to eating a food that could potentially be allergenic, we have to weigh the risk versus the benefits,” Dr. Hansen says. “When it comes to COVID-19, the risks of getting COVID-19 and the possible consequences that come with that far outweigh the risks that come from the vaccine itself.”
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