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Answers to burning vaccine questions

ASU experts weighed in as part of a Q&A panel sponsored by the American Society for Virology

Vaccine illustration
April 01, 2021

Questions about COVID-19 vaccines? Many people have them.

At a March 30 town hall, top experts from around the country, including some from Arizona State University, had answers. And the news was good.

The American Society for Virology and the American Society for Microbiology have sponsored a series of town halls where anyone can ask any question about the three vaccines being given to the public nationwide.

The experts are professors and laboratory scientists with doctoral or medical degrees, including virologists, infectious disease experts, medical doctors and trained experts from other scientific disciplines.

More than 500,000 people have died in the United States from COVID-19, and the three vaccines available have received emergency authorization from the Food and Drug Administration. They have been tested in thousands of people; the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines each were tested on 30,000 people.

The expert panelists said that out of every 1 million people vaccinated, only one person will experience adverse reactions. No one knows how long the vaccine will be effective, but experts estimate at least one year. The vaccine has twice the efficacy of the flu shot you get every year.

On to specific questions posed by participants:

Does the vaccine permanently change your DNA?

No, it’s gone in about a week or two.

Grandpa had COVID-19 but he’s getting better. Should he get a vaccine?

“Absolutely,” said Jim Alwine, an emeritus professor of cancer biology from the University of Pennsylvania.

“Medically speaking there’s no reason not to get the vaccine after COVID,” added Grant McFadden, center director and professor at ASU’s Biodesign Center for Immunotherapy, Vaccines and Virotherapy.

How close are we to getting a vaccine for children?

“Late fall, end of the year – depending on how the trials go,” said Brenda Hogue, a professor in the Biodesign Center for Immunotherapy, Vaccines and Virotherapy. Hogue has studied coronaviruses since she was in grad school.

There is no reason to believe the vaccine is unsafe for children, McFadden said.

Could the vaccine ravage the lungs or cause miscarriages a few months after administration?

No vaccine – ever – has produced adverse effects long term, Alwine said.

“This is one of the cleanest vaccines I’ve seen as far adverse reactions,” he said. “That’s an internet rumor.”

Of the approximately 400 million vaccines that have been administered, University of Arizona moderator Felicia Goodrum — who studies interactions between DNA viruses and their host — said we have not seen adverse effects for pregnancyAs for testing the vaccine on pregnant women, Goodrum says that although no known pregnant women were enrolled in the completed trials (that is, pregnant at the time of enrollment), it was her understanding that some women became pregnant in the course of the trial. Their experiences were the first insights that the vaccine would be safe for a pregnancy, she says..

Will the vaccine you’re getting now prevent these variants you hear about popping up?

Yes. “All of these vaccines have tremendous efficacy,” Hogue said.

Have people died after being vaccinated?

“Absolutely not,” McFadden said. “The record … is of extreme safety for the vast majority of vaccines.”

Do coronaviruses mutate quickly? Will it always be ahead of the vaccine?

“Coronaviruses do not mutate at as high a rate as many other RNA viruses,” Hogue said. We may have to have a booster at some time, however, she added.

What do you say to vaccine deniers who say we are creating a supervirus?

“That’s not an accurate way to view the circulation of the variants,” Hogue said. “We have to monitor these as they arise.”

The opposite is true, actually. Not getting the shot will “encourage” variants popping up.

“Vaccine denial favors the emergence of variants,” McFadden said.

Is 70% of herd immunity going to be safe?

“That’s what the models project at this moment,” Hogue said. “That’s what all the models I’ve seen project.”

“I personally would be surprised if we hit herd immunity in April,” McFadden said.

The two groups most likely to not get vaccinated are Black Americans and white Republicans.

“The propagation of misinformation is really troublesome,” McFadden said. “I think people are worried because of the emergency authorization.”

All the experts agreed that as more people get vaccinated, skepticism will drop.

Will ibuprofen reduce the vaccine’s efficacy?


Will the vaccines protect from common cold?

“It’s not clear there’s any protection offered from previous infection … of viruses that occur on a common basis,” Hogue said.

Was COVID-19 created in a lab?

“That’s a tricky question,” McFadden said. “My best guess is that it came from an animal.”

Town halls will continue through mid-April. Learn more about how to attend a town hall

Top image by Pete Linforth from Pixabay.

Clarification: An earlier version of this story said that there were pregnant women in the vaccine trials. To clarify, although no known pregnant women were enrolled in the completed trials (that is, pregnant at the time of enrollment), some women became pregnant in the course of the trials. But as for testing specifically with pregnant women, Pfizer and Biotech began a trial in February; that trial is still ongoing.

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