Dr. Robin’s Covid-19 Updates

Eighteen Vaccine Questions Answered in Under Six Minutes

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My friend, a front-line critical care doc at Children’s, beaming behind her mask, as she receives her first vaccine against COVID-19

Here are answers to eighteen common questions about the two approved vaccines: Pfizer’s vaccine (first one out of the gate, the one which health care workers started getting first) and the Moderna vaccine (just arriving at hospitals this week).

Q. Can I get infected from the vaccine?

A. No. Period. No. There is no virus in the injection so you cannot get COVID-19 from getting the vaccine.

Q. How effective are these vaccines?

A. Every vaccine trial has two groups of people — one who gets the vaccine and one who doesn’t (they get a placebo). Then the scientists count up who gets sick.

Here’s the results:

18,000 people RECEIVED the vaccine: 8 got Covid

18,000 people DIDN’T GET the vaccine: 162 got Covid


14,000 people RECEIVED the vaccine: 11 got Covid

14,000 people DIDN’T GET the vaccine: 185 got Covid

32,000 people RECEIVED the vaccine: 19 got Covid

32,000 people DIDN’T GET the vaccine: 347 got Covid

It adds up to >94% effectiveness — it’s unbelievably fantastic, SPECTACULARLY good. This is why many health care workers are banging down the doors to get this vaccine in their arms as fast as they can.

Q. Why did this happen so fast? Isn’t that dangerous?

A. This is the fastest vaccine development in the history of the world because a bunch of science went on for years before this and then a bunch of good stuff happened all at once. It’s like a “perfect storm” of vaccine development:

  1. Because our knowledge about genetic sequencing is about ten gajillion times better than it was a few years ago;
  2. Because they figured out Covid’s whole genetic code within days and then invented a vaccine in about half an hour (slight exaggeration but not much);
  3. Because scientists have been studying other coronaviruses behind the scenes for years;
  4. Because scientists have been studying mRNA vaccines behind the scenes for years;
  5. Because researchers have figured out how to do really good vaccine trials and have worked out a lot of the kinks;
  6. Because there was so much coronavirus around and it’s so contagious that trials could finish up quickly;
  7. Because the government, industry, and a bunch of charities poured buckets of money into this research;
  8. Because the government paid for vaccines to be manufactured before the studies were done and sped all their processes up;
  9. Because they’ve been working on vaccine distribution for months;
  10. Because if you spend a ton of money miracles can happen.

Q. Don’t scientists need more time to study these vaccines to be sure they’re effective?

A. No. These trials were set up to accumulate a certain number of people and cases of Covid. Independent statisticians monitored the numbers throughout the study.

Once the trials hit those numbers, it was time to evaluate, and that’s when they saw the big 95% differences in outcomes. There’s no reason to think this will change much so boom! What’s not to approve?

Q. Don’t scientists need more time to study these vaccines to be sure they’re safe?

A. They watched these 64,000 people in these trials super carefully:

  • They kept close track of the short-term reactions (sore arm, fatigue, etc) and saw they didn’t change over time and didn’t last.
  • Some people got their shots in July and they have been followed ever since (five months) with no new side effects during that time.
  • As a rule with viruses you just don’t see side effects or reactions more than few weeks after getting a vaccine
  • The FDA didn’t even look at the data until an average of two months after the last dose was given
  • It is possible there will be new reactions or allergic reactions seen when the vaccine is given to eight gajillion more people but so far it’s all been temporary and easily handled

Q. Could the data be fake?

A. The data has been examined by many different groups of scientists, doctors, statisticians etc., all along the way — independent groups early on and before approval, FDA career scientists, and CDC committee members (not to mention eight gazillion commenters on Twitter). It is probably the most examined data in history.

Q. Can these vaccines change my DNA?

A. No.

Q. Can these vaccines change my chromosomes?

A. No.

Q. Can these vaccines harm the chromosomes of my unborn child?

A. No.

Q. Do these vaccines impact a woman’s fertility?

A. No.

Q. Do these vaccines impact a man’s fertility or ability to have an erection?

A. No.

Q. Have these vaccines been tested on enough people?

A. Yes. In fact these trials are bigger than most.

Q. Do I have to get both shots?

A. Yes. The vaccines are about 50% effective after one shot but then 95% effective after the second dose. This is a no-brainer. Do not walk around in a state of 50/50 “maybe you’ll get Covid, maybe you won’t.” GET BOTH SHOTS.

Q. Am I safe the day after the first shot?

A. No. It takes a while. You are super safe (94% safe!)a week after the second dose.

Q. Can I stop buying masks once I have my second shot?

A. No, not yet (unfortunately). We don’t know yet about TRANSMISSION. Could you get vaccinated, get infected anyways, stay asymptomatic and then accidentally pass it along to others? Possibly. Since we don’t know yet how often that happens, we need to mask up. We’ll be wearing masks for a long while yet until the data on this critical question is in.

Q. What if I have allergies?

A. Tell your doctor, but at this point it is fine to get the vaccine no matter what kind of allergies you have (the only exception being of a history super huge allergic reactions to a past vaccine or components of this vaccine, in which case they’ll make special arrangements).

Q. What if I’m pregnant? Or nursing?

A. Talk to your Ob. There’s not a lot of data on these women, but so far there’s no theoretical reason to think it’s unsafe for you or baby. But being pregnant means you have an increased chance of getting bad Covid, so you need to think hard about how high your exposure risk is.

Q. What about the kids?

A. Kids weren’t studied in the Pfizer/Moderna trials (children are never studied early on, they always test adults first). We may have data later in 2021. In the meantime, vaccinate their teachers and janitors and the kids will automatically be safer.

And one last word about the holidays — this is me pleading with you to stay home and stay safe:

An old patient of mine with an old cancer and an old heart told me he’s going to spend Christmas alone to keep himself safe while waiting for his vaccine.

He said, “I know how to do this; it’s what I did in Vietnam the last month of my tour. All I had to do was stay alive long enough to get to the troopship. I dreamt about that troopship every night, I could practically smell it. And every morning I got up and my goal was to be the grunt who stayed safe just long enough to get on that troopship home.”

May we all be the grunt who stays safe this Christmas, and may every person in our family end up on the troopship with us, too.

Let’s picture it in our dreams, this ship I’m calling The Vaccine Salvation, waiting for us in the harbor, waiting to take us home.

Written by

Radiation Oncologist at Massachusetts General Hospital/Emerson Hospital. Writer. Teller. Mom. Currently Covid-Obsessed. www.DrRobin.org, @robinshome

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