NOTE: Please visit the CDC's website for more information about the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine, including information about a very small number of reports involving a rare and severe type of blood clot in people who have received the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine. No one has reported similar blood clotting events associated with the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines. If you have questions about COVID-19 vaccines, please talk to your doctor.
Host (Dr. Whitney): Hello and welcome to episode 2 of "Ask a Health Expert." I'm your podcast host, Dr. John Whitney, Vice President here at Anthem.
In our first episode, we addressed some common questions and concerns about the COVID-19 vaccines. Today we're going to specifically tackle some misinformation about the vaccines.
You know, we all know that the information about COVID-19 and the vaccines continues to change over time. So we'll do our best to answer the questions today with what we know now.
It can be hard to separate myth from fact when there's so much information out there. And to help us out, I've turned to Dr. Geoffrey Crawford, a medical director at Anthem and an expert in public health and epidemiology. Thanks for being here again, Dr. Crawford.
Dr. Crawford: Thanks, Dr. Whitney. Glad to be back.
Host (Dr. Whitney): So the first myth that I’ve heard going around is that the vaccine itself can infect me or cause COVID-19. Is that true?
- No, that’s not true. None of the three vaccines that are available for COVID-19 – the Johnson & Johnson, the Moderna, and the Pfizer – none of them contain the virus that causes COVID-19.
- The Moderna and Pfizer vaccines contain something called mRNA, which teaches your body how to produce a protein that’s found on the virus but doesn’t contain the virus itself.
- The Johnson & Johnson vaccine contains another virus, a harmless virus, that's been engineered so it can't replicate, and that virus carries over the same thing, the same instructions on how to produce this protein that's found on the virus that causes COVID-19. But none of these vaccines contains the virus and they can't make you sick.
- It is common though to develop some side effects from the vaccine, and this is your body producing an immune response, which is common and it does not mean that you are getting sick from the virus.
Host (Dr. Whitney): Thank you, that’s pretty straightforward. If the vaccine doesn’t contain the virus, it can’t cause the disease caused by the virus. That makes sense to me. So what about when people say that they’re completely immune to COVID after the vaccination. Is that true?
- Unfortunately it's not true. No vaccine is 100% effective, but we know that from clinical trial data that some of these vaccines are awfully close.
- For example, the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines were shown to be about 94 to 95% effective at preventing someone from developing COVID-19 that is associated with symptoms, meaning that they felt sick.
- And we know that the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, when you're just looking at preventing people from becoming sick enough that they had critical or severe COVID-19, that it was 85% effective. And so that's really important, showing that these vaccines can really reduce the risk of becoming ill with symptoms or becoming ill with serious disease.
- But no vaccine is 100% effective. Now we know that these vaccines are also extremely safe, which means that the risk of getting sick from the vaccines is extremely, extremely low. And the risk and benefit, the benefit from not getting sick from COVID-19, is very high, so that's the balance that's worth considering for these vaccines.
Host (Dr. Whitney): Well that makes sense too. I mean there’s really never any guarantees in medicine. And so they’re really good vaccines, but maybe not 100%. So what about people who say that, you know, they don’t need to be vaccinated because they’re not at risk for severe disease or for getting the virus at all?
- I would say that you can't really say that you're not at risk. You can say that you're at lower risk, but no one knows what will happen once they catch COVID-19, and so everybody's at risk.
- We also know that the vaccines they might reduce the chance that you can transmit the virus to others. They certainly will decrease the amount of illness in the community, and by doing so, that decreases the amount of people who have COVID-19 and introduces the amount of virus that is being spread. And so in totality, it really reduces the burden of illness and less chance that others will get sick. And so this is all extremely important for ending the pandemic, for opening up the economy again, and for getting back to normal.
Host (Dr. Whitney): OK, that makes sense. So there’s really two good reasons to get vaccinated. One is for yourself to prevent severe illness, but there’s also the issue of helping reduce the amount of virus spreading in our community. So two really good reasons to get vaccinated, even if you’re at low risk. What about when people say that the vaccines contain questionable substances or other products that are hidden inside the vaccine injection. What do you say about that?
- Well, no, the vaccines really only contain what they need to teach your body how to produce an immune response. And so for the Pfizer and Moderna, that's the mRNA, and those vaccines also contain some things to make sure that the mRNA is not rapidly degraded.
- And then for the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, it really just contains that adenovirus that goes to your immune cells and teaches your body how to produce the protein that's found on the COVID-19 virus.
- But, they don't contain any of these things that you might be hearing about, fetal tissue, or implants, or microchips, the tracking devices. We also know that they don't change your DNA. They really just go into your body and produce an immune response. They don't cause infertility. There's a lot of rumors going around, but they are extremely safe and really just contain what they need to contain. So by all accounts, much safer than getting sick from COVID-19.
Host (Dr. Whitney): Well, that’s good to know. I mean, it is the case that there’s a lot of rumors out there, and it is reassuring to hear that none of those are true, that the vaccines are exactly what they say they are and they don’t contain any of those other things you mentioned.
OK, so listen, I really appreciate you taking your time to debunk these common myths. I do have one more for today. Is it true that you can pay to be on a priority list to be vaccinated?
- No, you cannot pay to be on a priority list to be vaccinated.
- Each state has their own plan for prioritizing individuals to be vaccinated. and these plans are based on identifying individuals who are at higher risk of developing severe illness, maybe based on their age, maybe based on risk factors that they have, medical conditions or their job for example. But there is no way to pay for the vaccine. You have to be identified through your state.
- So you can go to the CDC’s website to see if you are eligible in your specific state, espanol.cdc.gov. The site also contains important information on where you might be able to find the vaccine.
Host (Dr. Whitney): Well, Dr. Crawford, thank you again. I do want add that Anthem covers the COVID-19 vaccine at 100%. That means if you have one of our health plans, you don’t have to pay out-of-pocket costs during this national public health emergency. This applies to all of our members, regardless of the type of health plan they have or which doctor or healthcare professional they choose to visit for vaccination.
And if you want to learn more about COVID-19 and your benefits, you can visit anthem.com/ca/coronavirus.