ELKO – COVID-19 vaccines won’t change your DNA, harm your fetus or weaken your natural immunity, local doctors told callers during a virtual town hall.
Elko-area residents had the unique opportunity to ask questions of three doctors Wednesday evening during the event hosted by Immunize Nevada and moderated by Lisa Kirkman of Ruby Radio.
Dr. Jacqueline Huynh of the Department of Family and Community Medicine and pediatricians Dr. Jonathan Slothower and Dr. Jocelyn DeGuzman answered questions from callers who were identified only by their first name.
The first caller wanted to know what patients are being told regarding the risks and benefits of getting vaccinated.
Huynh said the main benefit is the effectiveness of the vaccines in preventing COVID infections, up to 95% two weeks after the shots are completed.
Regarding risks, Huynh said “You may feel ill.” Headaches, muscle aches, and fever are common symptoms, particularly after the second shot. People are advised to get their shots at the end of their work week because of the effects that may last a day or two.
She mentioned the pause in administering the Johnson & Johnson version after “six out of over 6 million had a unique case of a type of blood clot.” The vaccine is now back on the market and “is still very safe,” she said.
Caller James said he’s gotten COVID two times — about six months apart — but he did not end up in the hospital despite having pre-existing health conditions. Since then, he has received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
“Is this vaccination going to affect my natural immunity?” he asked.
Huyn said he probably didn’t develop sufficient antibodies from the first infection, and getting the vaccine “is probably a really good idea to help protect you a little bit more.”
Anyone who has had COVID should still get a vaccine, according to Slothower, who said he got vaccinated after being infected with the virus. Protection from COVID antibodies may wane as time goes on, he said.
“Just because you’ve had COVID doesn’t necessarily mean that you are protected against the various different strains of COVID,” he added.
Caller Justin said he was wondering how many children have died from coronavirus and how many have died from the vaccine.
Slothower said deaths among ages 12-17 and younger “are really significantly low.” A total of 43 states have reported deaths in this age range, for a rate of about 0.23% of overall cases.
“The younger they are the better they tend to handle it,” he said.
Regarding the other part of the question, Slothower said, “As of right now I am not aware of any children that have died as a result of receiving the vaccine.”
In response to another question the doctors said Pfizer is currently the only version available for people under 18. Huynh said it is possible that Moderna will be approved for ages 12-17 before school starts in the fall.
Vaccine testing is now underway for the 5-11 age group, she added.
A caller named Gary said he planned to get the vaccine but then saw videos online of people shaking uncontrollably a day or so after they got their shot.
Slothower said violent shaking is a pretty uncommon reaction to the vaccine.
“There’s always a possibility of fainting and having some jerking associated with that, but that’s oftentimes more a symptom of having pain opposed to the vaccine … because it tends to hurt a little bit.”
Such reactions shouldn’t happen beyond first 15 minutes after injection, he added.
A caller named Hailey said she was pregnant and wondered if she should get the vaccine.
“Absolutely,” responded Huynh. “Getting vaccinated while you are pregnant shares that immunity to the baby.” The shots have been shown to be very safe, and there is no evidence of effects on a fetus or baby, she said.
The doctors were asked if the vaccine can alter someone’s DNA.
“Definitely not,” responded Slothower. “It does add some protein to the mRNA, which is down the stream from DNA … and that in turn causes the body to produce certain proteins – but in no way does it interfere with your DNA whatsoever.”
Caller Mel wanted to know if it was possible to get COVID from the vaccine.
“These are just proteins that are being introduced, they are not live viruses,” said Huyhn. “You cannot get the illness from them.”
Caller Hillary asked, “Why does it feel like the government is pushing so hard for me to get this vaccine?”
Slothhower offered to respond.
“One of the roles of the government is to protect us and our rights, our civil responsibilities, and ultimately to help us to live a productive life,” he said.
“This is a pandemic; this isn’t just a run-of-the-mill cold. This is affecting people and it is affecting people’s livelihoods, it’s affecting families, and as a result they are trying to encourage people as much as possible to do their civic duty in protecting themselves, and as a result protecting the community as a whole.”
“Certainly there is no mandate that anybody has to get the vaccine,” Slothower added.
Caller Jill asked why she should get vaccinated for a disease that has a 99% survival rate.
Huynh said many survivors of COVID “spent weeks, days, months in the ICU on a ventilator.”
Huynh said she sees a large number of patients still suffering from the after-effects of COVID, and they are called long-haulers.
“These are patients who have lost their ability to live the life they used to lead. They used to run 5Ks, they used to go hiking, now they struggle to walk down the block to pick up their mail.”
The disease can cause heart inflammation and other complications, she added.
A caller named Stephanie wanted to know why more than one dose was needed.
DeGuzman said it is possible that sometime in the future a second dose may not be needed for younger people, because “children have a more robust immune response.”
Huynh said the second dose provides more protection for adults. While the Johnson & Johnson version is single-shot, she said it is still under trial to determine whether a second dose is needed.
“We are still learning about this virus,” she said.
More information on getting a COVID-19 vaccination in Nevada is available at nvcovidfighter.org.