Is the COVID Vaccine Safe? A letter from our Chief Medical Officer

I want to address concerns and questions around the safety of the COVID-19 vaccine. 

One of the most common concerns is the speed at which the vaccines were developed. Given it usually takes several years of development and research for most vaccines before theyre approved, I do understand. However, there are a couple of important factors at play that make development of COVID-19 vaccines quite unique.

First, the type of vaccine is different from others. Its not the whole virus but parts of the virusgenetic makeup. With advances in genetic research today, scientists were quickly able to sequence the genetic material of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19. They were then able to promptly identify the parts of the virus to which our immune systems would likely mount a response. Its important to understand that the science that led to the development of the vaccines is not new. Scientists were able to take advantage of years of work around viral genetics to create the COVID-19 vaccines.

Another reason scientists were able to develop the vaccines so quickly is funding. Lack of funding is a significant issue that delays  the speed of research and development. With the COVID-19 vaccines, funding was expedited through government agencies, private companies and individuals. The government funding, nearly $1 billion, also allowed companies to mass produce the vaccines even before the final clinical trials were completed, helping to ensure the vaccines would be available to millions very soon after approval. The vaccines were created quickly only because we had the science and the funding in place.

So far, more than 346 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccines have been given in the US with 164 million people being fully vaccinated. This adds to the wealth of research on the vaccines. And to date, serious side effects are very rare.

Its not nearly enough. Its less than half of the US population. And its why were seeing a sharp rise in cases and deaths once again.

The COVID-19 vaccine is highly effective, even against the delta variant. Theres no question its our best defense. As a significant number of people remain unvaccinated, more continue to get infected. More infections will likely mean more strains. It’s how viruses work as they look for ways to infect more people. But we can stop the vaccine in its tracks with millions more vaccines.  

The current outbreak of the delta variant is largely affecting the unvaccinated. Nearly 100% of those who are getting seriously ill are unvaccinated. While uncommon, its possible for a vaccinated person to get COVID-19, but the symptoms are typically mild. 

Over 600,000 people in the US alone have died from COVID-19, making it a leading killer of Americans. With more cases and hospitalizations, were now seeing the numbers of daily deaths rise once again. If more people dont get the vaccine, experts, including me, dont see a way out of this pandemic without losing hundreds of thousands more. 

I hope this information has answered questions about the safety and efficacy as you make a decision on whats best for you and your family.

Sincerely,

Dr. Michael W. Smith

Chief Medical Officer

SOURCES

MIT News. Explained: Why RNA vaccines for COVID-19 raced to the front of the pack
https://news.mit.edu/2020/rna-vaccines-explained-covid-19-1211

HHS.gov. Fact Sheet: Explaining Operation Warp Speed
https://www.hhs.gov/coronavirus/explaining-operation-warp-speed/index.html#:~:text=The%20additional%20doses%20ordered%20today,and%20manufacturing%2C%20to%20%244.1%20billion.

CDC. What to Expect After Getting a COVID-19 Vaccine
https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/vaccines/expect/after.html

CDC. COVID-19 Vaccines and Allergic Reactions
https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/vaccines/safety/allergic-reaction.html

WebMD. FDA: Track Vaccine Recipients for Facial Paralysis
https://www.webmd.com/vaccines/covid-19-vaccine/news/20201217/fda-says-vaccine-recipients-should-be-monitored-for-facial-paralysis

JAMA: COVID-19 as the Leading Cause of Death in the United States
https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/fullarticle/2774465