Ask the Flight Surgeon – By MAJ Matthew R. Cooper, DO
Let’s start with a brief synopsis of COVID-19. It is caused by a coronavirus, the same family of viruses that cause common colds. Coronaviruses cause upper respiratory infections spread by respiratory droplets (coughs, sneezes, residual mucous on hands, etc.). This is why mask wearing and hand washing are recommended to help prevent disease spread. While these prevention methods do work in reducing the spread of disease, they are not 100% effective.
This is where the vaccines come into play. Currently there are three vaccines available to use against COVID-19. The manufacturers are Moderna, Pfizer, and Johnson & Johnson. The first two are mRNA vaccines, meaning that the vaccine carries messenger RNA (a blueprint for making protein on the surface of the COVID virus) which allows our body to generate an immune response to these surface proteins to achieve immunity. Johnson and Johnson is a viral vectored vaccine, meaning that it uses a different virus than COVID-19, but the virus has been engineered to express the surface proteins of COVID-19. These surface proteins are again what cause an immune response in our body and generates immunity to COVID-19.
Facts Versus Myths
The vaccines alter our DNA – Not true. mRNA vaccines have no way of incorporating the viral mRNA into our DNA. Both mRNA and viral vector COVID-19 vaccines deliver blueprints to our cells to start building immunity via surface proteins against the virus that causes COVID-19. However, the material never enters the nucleus of the cell, which is where our DNA is kept.
The vaccines have caused people to be magnetic – Not true. COVID-19 vaccines do not contain ingredients that can produce an electromagnetic field at the site of your injection. All COVID-19 vaccines are free from metals.
The vaccines have anti-freeze in them –Not true. The vaccines have polyethylene glycol which is a derivative of ethylene glycol (antifreeze component). Polyethylene glycol is the polymerized form of ethylene glycol, which is non-toxic, odorless, colorless, and inert. In fact, polyethylene glycol is so gentle we use it as a laxative in the medical world – even in small children.
Many adverse side effects have been reported in the Vaccine Adverse Events Reporting System (VAERS) – True, however, adverse events and issues are reported using this system without verification. It is important to know that reports are not fact checked in a scientific manner and definitely doesn’t prove a causation between a reported event and the alleged vaccine use. As a medical provider, the system only informs us that we may need to look into the adverse reported events. Throughout this pandemic these adverse reports have been checked and most have been refuted.
The vaccines can cause myocarditis – True, however, the risk of not having the vaccine poses a greater risk to your health. While the vaccines have shown some cardiomyopathy instances, they are mostly all mild to moderate in nature and seen in 16-24 year old males. These males have a great recovery rate and many had no symptoms of the cardiomyopathy. The fact remains that the risk and the severity of cardiomyopathy from COVID infection is much higher than the vaccine. With the vaccine the risk of myocarditis was about 2.13 per 100,000 patients whereas the risk of myocarditis with infection is about 150 per 100,000 patients.
If you have had COVID you don’t need to be immunized – Not true. People who have had COVID can be re-infected, similar to the common cold or flu. We do not know how long natural immunity lasts to this virus. But we do know that adding the vaccine increases immunity and helps prevent illness contraction or at the minimum, prevents severity of illness.
There were 2 ICU admissions and a death related to COVID vaccines in the DOD – Not true. There have been no substantiated deaths due to immunization in our active duty, dependents, or department of Army civilians, however, there have been multiple COVID deaths in non-immunized DoD personnel and contractors.
There have been mishaps related to the vaccines – Not true. The U.S. Army Safety Center assessed all U.S. Army Aviation mishaps in the safety reporting database and determined there were no immunization related air or ground mishaps. The DoD has considered the health of the force and its impact on our national defense and the DoD’s strategic mission and only mandated the vaccine once one or more of the vaccines obtained a full FDA approval.
In summary, from all the evidence we have thus far, the vaccine is safe and offers protection for the individual and those around them. Even with Omicron variant we are seeing that while we can’t prevent 100% of infections with vaccines, they are still highly effective in the prevention of hospitalization and death if the disease is contracted. More than 6,858,358 doses have been safely given by the DoD to date.
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Question for the Flight Surgeon?
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The views and opinions offered are those of the author and researchers and should not be construed as an official Department of the Army position unless otherwise stated
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MAJ Matthew Cooper D.O. is a flight surgeon at the U.S. Army School of Aviation Medicine, Fort Rucker, AL.