AUGUST IS NATIONAL IMMUNIZATION AWARENESS MONTH: THE PERFECT TIME FOR COVID-19 VACCINE EDUCATION
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AUGUST IS NATIONAL IMMUNIZATION AWARENESS MONTH: THE PERFECT TIME FOR COVID-19 VACCINE EDUCATION
By Pat Stricker, RN, MEd
Former SVP of TCS Healthcare Technologies
While reviewing a list of months for national healthcare observances I noticed that August has been designated as “National Immunization Awareness Month." The purpose of each month’s observance is to educate people about the importance, benefits and need for the given topic. Typically the goal for August is to discuss the need for childhood vaccines as children prepare to return to school. It is also a good time to remind adults about the vaccines they need, such as the annual flu vaccine, pneumonia vaccine, shingles vaccine, etc. However, it is especially pertinent this month to discuss the need for the COVID-19 vaccine, given what is currently happening here in the United States – the lower than anticipated overall vaccination rate that is causing a significant rise in COVID cases and deaths.
Over the past year and a half, the world has been fighting a global pandemic against the novel coronavirus (COVID-19). This has been the worst pandemic of the century in terms of the number of people affected globally and the unprecedented loss of life. Luckily, vaccines were able to be developed, tested and released much quicker than anticipated. There were two vaccines approved for Emergency Use Authorizations (EUA) by the FDA in January 2021 (Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna) and then followed by a third vaccine developed by Johnson & Johnson, that was approved in March for an EUA. By the end of March (about 2 months after the vaccines were released) the number of cases and deaths were reduced dramatically, allowing us to get back to some sense of normalcy through the summer months – lockdowns were lifted, inside gatherings were allowed and most mask mandates were lifted.
The goal in January, when the vaccines were introduced, was to have 70% of the population vaccinated with at least one dose by the 4th of July. This would have provided herd immunity, making most of the population immune to the disease by either receiving the vaccine or building their own antibodies by having the infection. This would have also protected the small number of people who do not have immunity, thereby stopping the further spread of the disease.
However, according to the Mayo Clinic only 48% of the U.S. population were fully vaccinated by July 4th, and only 55% had received at least one dose of the three available vaccines. So we missed the goal of having at least 70% of adults at least partially vaccinated by July 4th. Since that time, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), we have made only slight gains, with 59.7% having at least one dose of the vaccine and only 50.7% being fully vaccinated now in the middle of August.
Over the past few weeks, we have seen the number of cases and deaths rapidly increase again due to a more transmissible Delta variant of coronavirus and the lower than anticipated vaccinations. Since about 40-50% of the population is still not vaccinated, this means the virus is able to infect a large number of unvaccinated people while it continues to replicate, creating even more variants. Not only is this limiting our ability to eradicate the disease, but the fear is that the virus, as it continues to replicate, may produce a new, more virulent variant that is resistant to the current vaccines. This would mean we would no longer have immunity and put us back to where we were a year and a half ago.
People have a variety of reasons for not getting the COVID-19 vaccines, and many of them are based on myths and disinformation. Our role as case managers is to educate our clients and their families to assure they have accurate information to make an informed decision based on facts, not myths or rumors. However, finding credible vaccine information can be difficult. We need to encourage them to look for trusted medical websites, such as CDC COVID-19 site, World Health Organization (WHO) Official COVID-19 Information site, Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center, State Public Health Departments, or any other credible site. Encourage them to avoid commercial or non-medical sites, as they may contain less accurate information or information that is totally non-factual.
Let’s take a look at some of the COVID-19 vaccine myths listed on the CDC and other websites.
NOTE: The vaccines noted below include the three used in the U.S. (Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson). The CDC website has more detailed information about the vaccines.
1. Myth: COVID-19 vaccines can alter DNA or give someone COVID-19
Truth: These vaccines do not interact with or change DNA in any way, nor do they give someone COVID-19. They do not contain antigens or the live virus, so there is no risk of getting COVID-19 by taking the vaccine. The vaccines are developed using:
- mRNA: The Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines are made using “messenger BiboNucleic Acid.” They teach the cells to make copies of a protein on the outside of the coronavirus known as the “spike protein” to trigger an immune response. They cause the genetic material in cells to build protection against the virus, but the material does not enter the nucleus of the cell where DNA is kept and does not alter DNA. The terms mRNA and DNA are often confused and may be responsible for creating some of this confusion. These vaccines can be developed and brought to market faster than other vaccines.
- viral vectors: The Johnson & Johnson vaccine uses a modified version of a different virus (the vector) to deliver instructions to cells, thereby allowing the body’s own cells to produce the vaccine.
2. Myth: The COVID-19 vaccines contain metals, the lung tissue of aborted fetuses, microchips that can track people, and/or ingredients that produce an electromagnetic field
Truth: These claims have been proven to be false. Vaccines do not contain any of these products. The ingredients for the Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson vaccines can be found online on the FDA website.
3. Myth: The vaccines shed or release their material in the body
Truth: None of the vaccines contain a live virus, and shedding only occurs when a vaccine contains a virus.
4. Myth: The vaccine can give me COVID-19
Truth: None of vaccines contain the virus that causes COVID-19. The vaccines teach our immune systems to identify and fight the virus, which can cause symptoms of fever, tiredness, aches, etc. as the body builds protection against the virus.
5. Myth: The vaccines cause infertility or problems with pregnancy
Truth: There is no evidence that vaccines cause problems with pregnancy, the development of the placenta, or female or male fertility.
6. Myth: The vaccine will cause me to test positive for COVID-19 on a viral test
Truth: Viral tests are used to see if someone has a current infection; they will not cause a positive COVID-19 test. An antibody test shows if someone had a previous infection or an immune response to the vaccination, which is the goal.
7. Myth: Vaccines are not needed. Antibiotics and other medications can prevent or treat COVID-19
Truth: Antibiotics do not work against COVID-19, a virus, and antibiotics only work against bacteria. Antibiotics may be ordered for COVID-19 patients who also have a bacterial infection. There are no other medications currently that can prevent or cure COVID-19.
8. Myth: COVID-19 vaccines are not safe because they were rushed out and not properly tested
Truth: The vaccines were developed using well-known scientific processes. They are not experimental. They were tested in clinical trials involving tens of thousands of people and had the most intensive monitoring in U.S. history that showed they were safe and effective.
9. Myth: COVID-19 vaccines are not effective
Truth: The vaccines are effective. They can prevent someone from getting the virus, spreading it, and from getting seriously ill if they do get COVID-19. Vaccines have also been shown to be highly effective in preventing hospitalizations and death.
10. Myth: The vaccines do not work
Truth: The vaccines have proven to be effective in studies and in the statistics gathered since the vaccines were given. Hospitalization and death rates dropped dramatically. They are more protective than having antibodies from an infection.
11. Myth: The vaccines have caused widespread death and disease
Truth: These types of claims have been made, but have never been verified. Studies and ongoing use have shown that the vaccines are safe. Most people dying of COVID-19 are unvaccinated.
Most of the research for myths and incorrect information circulating on the internet and other media sites focuses on vaccine development, safety, effectiveness and COVID-19 denialism. For additional information, refer to these sites:
- “10 types of COVID-19 vaccine misinformation swirling online, fact-checked” by the Poynter Institute for Media Studies, a non-profit journalism school and research organization.
- A list of COVID-19 Mythbusters on the WHO website that addresses non-vaccine related myths.
- Additional sites with information on COVID-19 Myths
Both misinformation (false information shared without the intent to mislead) and disinformation (false information deliberately created and disseminated with malicious intent) have affected vaccine confidence and resulted in lower than expected vaccination rates. How do we combat this and provide facts supported by science?
The CDC website offers how-to strategies for “sharing accurate information about the vaccines, responding to gaps in information, and confronting misinformation with evidence-based messaging from credible sources.” The first step is to become knowledgeable about COVID-19 and how it is affecting the local community. Then, research and share clear, accurate, easy to understand information with others. The best way to address inaccurate information is to begin by stating the actual fact, followed by explaining why the information is not true, and then re-state the fact, providing even more detailed information to emphasize the validity of the facts.
When trying to convince clients or their families to get vaccinated, present a positive, confident approach. Take the time to listen to their concerns, fears and issues and provide them with clear, accurate information. Be careful not to lecture them. Reassure them and point out the benefits that being vaccinated will provide them. Focus on how the vaccines were developed and the fact that they do not contain any live virus, so they cannot give someone COVID-19. Explain how they were tested by thousands of people before they were released and have shown to be overwhelming safe over the past 6 months. Also, stress their effectiveness and how they can prevent someone from getting the virus, spreading it, and how highly effective they are in preventing hospitalizations and death. End by pointing out the risks of not being vaccinated versus the benefits of being vaccinated. This approach should be helpful in allowing them to come to an informed decision about vaccination.
We are at a scary time in the pandemic right now. The WHO is currently tracking 13 or more variants, with four of them listed as “Variants of Concern” (VOC). These include the Alpha, Beta, Gamma, and Delta variants, with Delta being the dominant one right now in the U.S. They are significant because of their evidence for impact based on their transmissibility and immunity. With more than 40% of our population still not fully vaccinated, the virus has a large group of people to infect. And as it is allowed to replicate, each time a new variant may get stronger and eventually it could produce a variant that is not affected by the vaccines. This would mean we could all be capable of getting the new form of COVID-19 variant. We need to stop this before it happens.
We need to get the vaccination rates up to 70-90% so the virus has a lot fewer people it can infect. This will help to end the transmission. It is important that we focus on doing this over the next month, as the flu season will also be here soon. We did not have a big problem with the flu last year, as most people were at home, practicing social distancing, and following more strict masking and hand washing. This helped to reduce the transmission of COVID-19, as well as the flu. However things are more relaxed now, so we may have more problems with the flu this year. It’s hard enough to fight one virus. We do not want to have to deal with both of them at the same time.
Please do whatever you can to encourage anyone who is not vaccinated to do so as soon as possible. The future direction of the pandemic depends on us getting more people vaccinated AS QUICKLY AS POSSIBLE.