The COVID-19 vaccine
Vaccines should always be reviewed intelligently and individually. To take a vaccine is based on three things:
- The ingredients, function, and inherent risks of the vaccine
- The disease it’s trying to prevent
- The person receiving the vaccine
mRNA is, indeed, a new type of vaccine. Although messenger RNA only stays in your body for a few days and then is broken down, it delivers the instructions into our cells to build the structure of the spike protein found on the surface of the COVID-19 virus. Our immune system then recognizes the spike protein on the cell as a “foreign” and “not-friendly” presence, which triggers a response and creation of antibodies against this part of the virus. It is not the virus itself, nor a weakened or reconstituted version of the virus.
In the United States, the most common vaccines are still the Moderna & Pfizer which have 90-95% documented efficacy and studies started last summer show persistent immunity- both good things.
Any vaccine, in fact, anything that enters our bodies, can trigger the immune system. There have been reports of some anaphylactic reactions which is why vaccination recipients are asked to stay 15 minutes after injection for monitoring. Even without anaphylaxis, when the immune system ramps up, it’s common to have soreness at the site, aching, fatigue, headache, and joint pain. These symptoms can be treated with Benadryl or Tylenol and should resolve in a few days and are not an indication that something is wrong.
In addition to mRNA, Moderna & Pfizer contain additional ingredients or excipients, to help deliver the mRNA to the cell. As of this writing, more 35 million people have tolerated these ingredients; however, it is possible to react to excipients as well.
These mRNA vaccines have passed the same safety protocols as every other vaccine. They have taken much less time to develop because the mRNA is easier to make in a lab than to recreate the shell of a virus, as used in other vaccines; bureaucratic barriers have been removed in this unique pandemic situation; and SARS and MERS data has helped researchers understand COVID-19. The Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which uses double-stranded DNA instead of mRNA, is currently under FDA review. Read The New York Times opinion piece, “Seven Myths about the Coronavirus Vaccine.” For all of these reasons about the vaccine, we recommend getting vaccinated.
2/27/21 Update: The FDA approved the Johnson & Johnson’s single-shot vaccine for emergency use. This vaccine uses a modified adenovirus to deliver a piece of the viral DNA to produce spike proteins.
COVID-19 can run the gamut of no symptoms to death. The majority of us will experience COVID-19 somewhere in the middle, generally closer to mild symptoms or maybe even no symptoms, aka an ‘asymptomatic infection’.
Fighting the virus, however, is not necessarily the end of this disease. An unfortunate number of patients (an estimated 10-33%) who have had COVID-19, even mild cases, appear to be developing a post-viral syndrome including but not limited to the following persistent symptoms: dizziness, racing heart rate, brain fog and other cognitive concerns, muscle and joint aching and pain, abnormalities in taste and smell. Studies out of Wuhan, Ireland and Germany document post-COVID symptoms in 5-87% of patients. For preventing this post-viral syndrome, we recommend getting the vaccination.
In addition, COVID-19 has disproportionately affected people of color, people with disabilities, and low-income individuals in our communities, as they often carry multiple health risk factors, serve in essential worker positions, lack access to health care, and face health care discrimination that often results in death. (Read more about racial disparities in health.) For reducing the spread of COVID-19 to help protect our most vulnerable communities and front-line workers, we recommend getting the vaccination.
At the Center for Healing Neurology, we understand your unique needs must be considered to make the best choices for your health. We have received many questions from patients with existing conditions like autoimmune disease and mast cell activation syndrome (MCAS). We know also that this is not a live or weakened vaccine so it’s not more likely to trigger the disease itself in a compromised immune system. While some people with MCAS have gotten the vaccine and tolerated it with the help of Benadryl, Tylenol, and/or ibuprofen, others are avoiding it. Unfortunately, it is hard to predict and the alternative knowns must be weighed.
In general, we are recommending for most people to get the vaccine as soon as it is available for all of the above reasons. That recommendation may get fine-tuned as new information emerges, but thus far, that is our assessment of all of the available data and our goal for each person to have the least impactful long-term outcome.
If you would like personalized guidance on the vaccine, please schedule an appointment with us to review your specific situation.