Unsure About COVID Vaccines? Information to Consider and How to Learn More

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Many people aren’t sure if they want a COVID-19 vaccine. You might have questions about side effects. Maybe you heard that vaccines can affect your DNA or fertility. Or maybe you just want to wait and see how it goes for other people.

These are all understandable. It’s smart to weigh risks and benefits when deciding about your health.

To help, we’ve gathered some facts for you to consider. We also offer ways to learn more. We want to help you make the best decision for yourself and your family. Download our guide on getting a COVID-19 vaccine

Talking about vaccines with friends and family

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offers tips for discussing vaccines. They include listening with empathy, and asking open-ended questions.

7 facts about COVID vaccines

  • Vaccines keep people from going to the hospital or dying because of COVID-19.
  • Side effects are usually mild to moderate, lasting only a day or two.
  • Vaccines can’t track you, affect your DNA, damage your fertility or give you COVID-19.
  • Getting a vaccine is especially important for people of color.
  • Vaccines are safe. They were tested in tens of thousands of people, including people of color.
  • Vaccines contain no fetal tissue or fetal cells.
  • You won’t pay any money for a vaccine.

Interested in a vaccine? Find an event, no appointment needed

  • OHSU is holding community vaccination events across the Portland area, no appointment needed.
  • Community members ages 5 and older (12 and older through Dec. 7, then 5 and older starting Dec. 8) are welcome. (Ages 5-14 need to come with a parent/guardian or with signed, written permission from a parent/guardian.)
  • You will get a vaccine at no cost to you.
  • These events especially welcome members of the Black/African American, Asian, Latino, Pacific Islander, Native American and other communities.
  • Questions? Need help? Call us at 833-647-8222.
Dr. Dawn Nolt, an infectious disease specialist, share information about vaccines so you can make a confident decision.

FAQ and information about COVID-19 vaccines

In clinical trials (tests in people who volunteered), all three approved vaccines did an excellent job of preventing serious illness from COVID-19.

Tens of thousands of people took part in clinical trials for Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson. None of the people who received a vaccine in the trials went to the hospital or died because of COVID-19.

For most people, side effects are mild or moderate and last only a day or two. Side effects might include feeling tired and achy. You might have a fever and chills. Your arm will probably be sore where you got your shot.

If you’re worried about missing work, try to make your appointment for a day off or right before days off, just in case.

Learn more:

These worries would concern anyone, but they’re all based on myths. It’s easy to spread bad information on social media with a click. It’s harder to check if it’s true.

Let’s look at these:

  • A video, with important information edited out, fueled tracking fears after it was shared on Facebook. The full video makes clear that a microchip on a shot  — not injected into a person — could give dose information. Also, the chip was never used.
  • It’s normal to have questions about new mRNA vaccines. But the vaccines do not interact with or affect your DNA.
  • Some fertility rumors trace back to a letter sent to a European medical agency. The letter claimed — wrongly — that vaccines affect a protein needed for pregnancy.
  • None of the vaccines contains live coronavirus, so they can’t give you COVID-19.

How can you check information?

  • Google the claim and “fact check” to find articles.
  • Google “COVID vaccine myths” to see if the information has been debunked.
  • Visit our main vaccines page to learn more about vaccine safety and how the vaccines work.

These articles might help:

Black, Latino/Hispanic and Indigenous people are at higher risk than white people of getting COVID-19. They are also at much higher risk, if they do get COVID, of needing hospital care and of dying.

Race and ethnicity are risk factors for conditions that affect health, including socioeconomic status, access to health care, and exposure to the virus at work (for example, being a frontline worker). 

Getting a vaccine is the best way to protect yourself and the people you love.

Most U.S. adults — Black, Latino and white — plan to get vaccinated or already have, a March 2021 survey found. But Black and Latino people have not gotten their share of vaccines, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation and a New York Times analysis.

What can you do? Visit our main vaccines page for vaccine-finding tools and more information. If you need help making an appointment, call us at 833-647-8222, weekdays 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Learn more:

Learn why Dr. Donn Spight, an OHSU surgeon, is doing everything he can to make sure people of color are not left behind.

COVID vaccines do not contain fetal tissue or fetal cells.

It is true, though, that the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is made using a fetal cell line. Pfizer and Moderna used fetal cell lines in early testing.

Fetal cells lines come from cells grown in a lab that trace back to cells from a fetus aborted in the 1970s or ’80s. The cell line Johnson & Johnson uses, for example, came from one fetus that was aborted in 1985. Cells in use today are thousands of generations removed from the original cells.

Religious leaders agree that getting a vaccine does not mean you are OK with abortion.

Pope Francis, for example, said people have a moral duty to get vaccinated. A Vatican statement said all vaccines are morally acceptable.

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It might help you to know:

Tens of millions of Americans have been vaccinated, and only a tiny portion have had a serious problem. 

  • A small number of people who got the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine developed myocarditis or pericarditis (inflammation of the heart muscle or surrounding tissue). Most case are mild, treatable and leave no lasting effects.
  • The FDA in July added a warning to the Johnson & Johnson vaccine of a higher risk of Guillain-Barré syndrome. This rare condition can damage nerve cells. There were reports of 100 cases in the U.S. among nearly 13 million people who had received the vaccine at that point. 
  • The Johnson & Johnson vaccine was paused for 10 days in April after six women (the tally later rose to 15) developed dangerous blood clots. The women, nearly all ages 18 to 49,  were among more than 8 million people who had gotten the vaccine at that point.

Federal health officials investigated these complications and concluded that the benefits of getting vaccinated far outweigh the risks. They are carefully watching the vaccines and ready to act swiftly if needed.

The vaccines were developed much more quickly than usual, but no steps were skipped. 

All the vaccines in use in the U.S. went through the same strict testing as any vaccine, with three phases of clinical trials. Reasons behind their speed include:

  • The vaccines were tested in tens of thousands of people in a short time — far more than is typical. The Pfizer clinical trials included more than 40,000 people, and Moderna’s nearly 28,000. This gave researchers a lot of data — quickly — on safety and effectiveness.
  • Two of the vaccines (by Moderna and Johnson & Johnson) were developed with help from the Trump administration's Operation Warp Speed. The program used taxpayer dollars to pay for research, development and millions of early doses. It’s one reason vaccines were ready to ship the instant they were approved.
  • The Pfizer vaccine now has full FDA approval. This required an extensive review of data, plus inspections of manufacturing facilities.

Researchers have used mRNA vaccines in studies for years.

It’s true that mRNA vaccines, such as Pfizer’s and Moderna’s, have not been widely used to fight an infectious disease before. But mRNA vaccines have been used in cancer treatments. Researchers have also worked with them for years in studies of the flu, Zika and other illnesses.

Learn more:

Yes. The vaccine clinical trials included thousands of people of color, including people of different races and ethnicities, and found the vaccines safe.

Here are some details:

  • Black people made up about 10% of those in the Pfizer and Moderna clinical trials, and 17% in the Johnson & Johnson trials.
  • Hispanic/Latino people made up about 20% of Pfizer and Moderna participants, and about 45% of those in the Johnson & Johnson trials.
  • The Pfizer trials alone included about 4,000 Black people and about 10,500 Hispanic/Latino people.
  • Indigenous people (American Indian, Alaska Native, Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander) made up smaller portions. Still, hundreds took part in the trials. 

You won’t pay anything for a vaccine. That’s because both the Trump and Biden administrations bought millions and millions of doses to provide free of charge.

You also do not need health insurance to get a vaccine.

If you do have insurance, though, you might be asked to bring your insurance card to your vaccine appointment. Vaccine providers are allowed to charge your insurance company a fee to cover the cost of providing the vaccine.

Serious long-term side effects are unlikely, the CDC says. Historically, side effects of vaccines tend to occur within six weeks. The CDC also notes that many millions of people have had a COVID-19 vaccine, and no long-term side effects have been detected.

The CDC and FDA also have several monitoring systems to spot any problem quickly. They include v-safe, which lets people use a smartphone to report any side effects to the CDC.

Learn more:

COVID-19 itself is unrelated to politics. But in our divided culture, issues such mask-wearing and lockdowns became political hot buttons. Conflicting messages early on about masks also bred mistrust.

If you’re not sure about getting a vaccine because of political views, we invite you to explore more information. You are entitled to a vaccine if you want one.

You might consider:

  • What do leaders you trust and admire advise? Did they get a vaccine?
  • What does your doctor think?
  • How do the pluses and minuses of getting a vaccine compare with the risk of getting COVID-19?
  • Do you have solid information? It’s easy to come across real-sounding but wrong information, especially on social media.

Visit our main vaccines page to find information that was reviewed by health experts.

Getting vaccinated will protect you against COVID-19. And that will help you avoid spreading the illness to those around you.

Getting a vaccine is also a gift to the community. When enough people are vaccinated, the coronavirus won’t be able to easily spread anymore. This is called population immunity or herd immunity. It’s the point when the pandemic ends.

When we reach that milestone, we can all return to safely gathering with others and doing the things we enjoy.

See more videos on COVID-19 vaccines

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