Understanding the COVID-19 vaccines: Myths versus facts

In an age where information can be found in numerous places — with varying degrees of credibility — you may stumble across some myths circulating about the newly authorized COVID-19 vaccines. Relying on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and other federal health resources is a good way to help you get accurate information, and to keep updated on developments regarding health, safety and quality measures for the vaccines. With that in mind, here are some common misconceptions that may be floating around about the COVID-19 vaccines – and the facts behind them.

A woman sits in a chair ready for her vaccine from a female medical professional A woman sits in a chair ready for her vaccine from a female medical professional

Myth: Vaccine effectiveness rates are still too low. It’s better to wait until more people receive the vaccine.

Fact: Currently, the COVID-19 vaccines that have been authorized for emergency use by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) are safe and effective per the CDC at preventing COVID-19. Large-scale clinical trials were conducted to determine each vaccine’s efficacy.

Based on those trials, the vaccines were also found to be effective at preventing serious complications and severe cases of COVID-19. The CDC recommends getting vaccinated as soon as a vaccine is available to you to help prevent further spread.

Myth: The side effects are bad, especially for the first shot.

Fact: As with all vaccines, some people may report side effects. However, the most common side effect for the COVID-19 vaccines is soreness at the injection site that typically goes away in a day or two. Some have reported mild flu-like symptoms that typically go away in a few days. Others report no side effects at all.

Adverse side effects appear to be extremely rare. The safety of the COVID-19 vaccines is a top priority, and the CDC takes all reports of safety concerns seriously. Both the FDA and CDC are constantly analyzing vaccination data to help ensure the safety of those receiving the vaccine – which is a top priority of both organizations. Any pauses in the distribution of a vaccine means that the systems put in place to make sure people are safe are working. If you have any concerns about potential side effects, you should speak to your primary care physician.

Myth: The vaccine might actually give an inoculated person COVID-19.

Fact: Because the vaccines do not include live COVID-19 viruses, the CDC states that you cannot get COVID-19 from the vaccine.

Myth: If no one you know has gotten COVID-19, and you’re healthy, you don’t need the vaccine.

Fact: The CDC says that COVID-19 vaccination is a critical step to help return our lives to normal. Even if you are healthy, you should still get vaccinated – to help protect yourself and those around you. This includes those who have already had COVID-19, as it’s possible to be infected by the virus again. It’s also important to remember there is no way to know how COVID-19 might affect you or if you may unknowingly pass it to someone considered high-risk.

“Part of what vaccines help us reach more quickly and safely is a threshold called ‘herd immunity,’” says Dr. Philip Painter, UnitedHealthcare Medicare & Retirement’s chief medical officer. “That means there are so many people with antibodies, the virus finds it too hard to find new hosts to infect. Herd immunity is the goal with mass vaccinations.”

If you’re not sure whether the COVID-19 vaccine is right for you depending on your individual health circumstances, be sure to contact your health care provider. There are no bad questions when it comes to a conversation between you and your provider.

To find local information about the COVID-19 vaccine and your eligibility, check out the UnitedHealthcare COVID-19 Vaccine Resource Locator.