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Medical experts suggest that helping others understand the science behind the COVID-19 vaccine may be the best way to help ease their fears if they’re hesitant about getting it. Vera Yaromava/EyeEm/Getty Images
  • As COVID-19 vaccines roll out in the United States, many people are feeling hesitant.
  • Knowing the facts about vaccines can help ease concerns.
  • Having open discussions with loved ones about the vaccine can help relieve fears.

As the COVID-19 vaccines roll out in the United States, feelings of hope and hesitation have arisen for many.

The Marist Poll, conducted by NPR and PBS NewsHour and released this December, reported that 61 percent of U.S. adults said they would get the COVID-19 vaccine if they were able.

On the other hand, 32 percent said they would not get the vaccine.

However, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told Mark Zuckerberg in a Facebook live stream that in order to reach herd immunity, 75 to 85 percent of the population will need to get vaccinated.

So, what should you do when a friend or family member says they don’t trust the vaccine and are hesitant to get it?

Talking with loved ones about the vaccine can be tricky, said Dr. Leela R. Magavi, a psychiatrist and regional medical director for Community Psychiatry.

She suggests approaching the conversation with openness and curiosity.

“I advise individuals to actively listen to their friends and family members who have disparate belief systems and utilize open-ended questions to understand the evolution of their fears and misperceptions. Subsequently, identifying shared beliefs and ideals fosters unity and healthy discussion about the benefits of a vaccine,” she said.

Dr. Robert Amler, dean of New York Medical College School of Health Sciences and Practice and a former CDC chief medical officer, said people should also keep in mind that it’s natural to be hesitant when trying something new.

“We all know that this is a product that came out more rapidly than any vaccine in history. Given so, people… have rational concerns… and might wonder did they get everything right? Cut corners? Overlook something?” he said.

However, while some concern is natural, Amler said the magnitude of the COVID-19 pandemic puts the importance of the vaccine into perspective.

“Even with the small, almost theoretical risks of the vaccine, the alternative is the very definite tangible of getting sick and passing the virus to friends and loved ones, and possibly hastening the death of someone you love,” said Amler.

That’s why medical experts suggest that helping others understand the science behind the vaccines may be the best way to help ease their fears.

We reached out to medical experts to debunk these 4 myths about COVID-19 vaccines and offer insight about common concerns people have.

While technology advancements have contributed to the speed of the vaccines, the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines used technology that has been around for a decade.

“In fact, this technology has been used for several years to treat certain types of cancers, and preliminarily for other coronavirus infections which did not become pandemics (SARS, MERS),” Dr. Scott Braunstein, medical director of Sollis Health in Los Angeles, told Healthline.

The vaccines use methods to create mRNA sequences that cells recognize as if they were produced in the body.

“[The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines] are made from mRNA that has been created in a lab, to match only the small part of the COVID-19 virus’ genome that encodes for the spike protein. These are specific proteins that are on the surface of the COVID-19 virus, that make it identifiable to the human immune system,” said Braunstein.

The vaccine enters a cell and causes the cell to produce the spike protein, which stimulates the body’s immune system to create T and B lymphocytes, explained Braunstein.

The lymphocytes then recognize the protein, destroy it, and immediately attack the real COVID-19 virus when a person is exposed to it in the future.

“There are other vaccines on the horizon that use different mechanisms, namely using a different virus, such as adenovirus in a weakened form, to transport the same genetic material into cells,” said Braunstein.

While the vaccines were developed in unprecedented time, and the process was dubbed “Operation Warp Speed,” all the necessary protocols were followed.

“In fact, what was cut out of the equation was mostly red tape, and what was added was technology and funding. The vaccines went through all three testing phases, including over 37,000 people in Phase 3,” Braunstein said.

Amler added that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is conscientious, and follows a rigorous phased process for a reason.

“In phase 3 trials, you are already testing at least 30,000 people. Even the company that makes the vaccine is not going to put it out to 30,000 people unless they are convinced it’s safe,” said Amler.

“I’m not saying the world is a perfect world, but this process is tried and true,” he added.

Leading experts from around the world scrutinized the vaccine trial data with overwhelming support, and the vaccines have been approved for emergency use by health oversight agencies from multiple countries, including the United States.

Plus, experts who dedicate their entire careers to studying and treating viruses took pride in the opportunity to conquer COVID-19, added Amler.

“From the minute this threat emerged, people who make vaccines jumped in right away. They saw there would be a need, and labs all across the world [jumped in] just for the opportunity to help create the most life-saving vaccine of the century,” he said.

He compares this to firefighters learning there’s a huge fire.

“They are going to want to go. Same with vaccinologists. This is what they train their whole career for,” Amler said. “This has been an admirable race to the top for who can get there with the best vaccine. You don’t win a race by cutting corners and not doing proper preparation.”

Common side effects of any vaccine include a sore arm, swelling, or a headache.

“These effects are [actually] signs your body is responding to the vaccine and your immune system is kicking into gear. They will go away, and you are on your way to getting immune,” Amler said.

When it comes to serious adverse effects of receiving the vaccine, Amler added, “The vaccine group for COVID-19, collectively, has been already given to more than 100,000 people without major reported ill effects.”

Of course, hearing about serious adverse reactions can cause worry.

For instance, two people who received the vaccine in the UK experienced anaphylaxis. However, they both had known allergies and carried epinephrine shots with them.

“These cases are extremely rare. Certainly, people who are allergic enough to carry epinephrine pens should be extra cautious and stick around if they do get the vaccine,” said Amler.

While serious effects are rare, keeping perspective is crucial.

“When you look at 3,000 people dying a day from the virus, you have to balance it. The goal is to get immunity to a bad and deadly disease,” said Amler.

As the vaccine is delivered to more and more people, Braunstein said confidence will build.

“The vaccine has been given to tens of thousands of people (even more every day in the UK), and there has not been any pattern of unusual adverse effects,” Braunstein said.

“For most of the U.S. population, who will not have access to the vaccine until early spring, there will be millions more people who have had the vaccine, and any concerning side effects will certainly be found,” he added.

The COVID-19 vaccines do not have the live virus in them, so they can’t give you the virus.

“In the case of the COVID-19 vaccines or the flu or tetanus or current polio vaccines, you’re not getting living material that could cause disease. In fact, you cannot catch the disease from the vaccine; but you will get protection against the virus from the vaccine,” said Amler.

Braunstein added that claiming the vaccine can give someone the virus is patently false.

“None of the vaccines in development contain actual COVID-19 in a form that can be infectious,” he said.

In addition to providing answers to loved one’s questions in order to help clarify the science behind vaccines, experts say it’s also important to encourage them as well.

If you’re having a “vaccine talk” with a loved one, experts suggest including the following:

Encourage them to talk with their doctor

Amler suggests people think about what concerns them most and share those concerns with their doctor.

Magavi agreed.

“I recommend individuals to encourage their friends and family members to write down their fears and questions and to share these with their physicians, rather than browsing the internet, as the latter could exacerbate misperceptions and apprehension,” she said.

Researching on websites like the CDC or WHO is the best way to gather information online, added Braunstein.

Remind them that qualified people study the vaccine

Braunstein said to point out that “The fact that the FDA (and its equivalent in multiple other countries) has reviewed the data and approved the vaccines for use, means that it has passed the inspection of a lot of smart scientists and physicians.”

It can be helpful to add that although the vaccine development process was expedited, no steps were skipped.

“Human trials will help us understand how individuals tolerate and benefit from the vaccine, and this vital information may alleviate individuals’ understandable anxiety,” said Magavi.

Remind them that medical professionals stand by it

People who understand and practice science and medicine stand by the vaccine.

“The fact that doctors and nurses, who are specifically trained to evaluate medical studies and data, are lining up to receive this vaccine, is a powerful statement,” said Braunstein.

Remind them that getting ill from COVID-19 is more serious than vaccine reactions

Your chances of getting seriously ill from COVID-19 are far greater than having a reaction to the vaccine, said Braunstein.

“You only need to care for one ill patient, struggling to breathe, to understand the very real dangers of… COVID-19,” he said.

Point out that they’ll be helping protect others

By getting vaccinated, Magavi said, you’re protecting others.

“Getting the vaccine also protects your loved ones, and other vulnerable people, including those who are pregnant, immunocompromised, or elderly,” she said.

Point out they’ll be helping get society back to normal quicker

For people who have experienced monetary concerns, Magavi recommends explaining that the vaccine will help expedite normalcy and allow society to return to work and school.

“Sharing personal experiences and losses may help unite individuals, evoke their humanitarian instincts, and consequently, encourage them to reconsider the vaccine,” she said.