If I am fully vaccinated, can I still infect someone who is unvaccinated?
So if you've been vaccinated, there are rare occasions, and it is exceedingly rare, but there's something called a breakthrough infection where you may be able to contract COVID-19 even though you've been fully vaccinated. Now, it's important to note that even though these infections are rare that they do occur, but also that people who are vaccinated are highly unlikely to get severe COVID-19, that is COVID-19 that would require you to go to a hospital or that may cause death. And so, COVID-19 vaccines continue to protect against the most severe consequences of COVID-19 infection. Now, masks are an important part of protecting ourselves and others. When you have an infection, you have the ability to spread COVID-19, and masks help prevent spread of COVID-19. So even if you are vaccinated against COVID-19 infection, masks in specific situations, based on who you're around or what situation you're in, may make a lot of sense for you so that you can protect others around you from potential COVID-19 infection.
Why are fully vaccinated people still contracting COVID?
You may be wondering, why are fully vaccinated people contracting COVID-19? It's really important to recognize that this is an exceedingly rare event. There are very few people who have completed their COVID-19 vaccinations but are still getting infected. And in those rare cases that they are getting infected, they are protected against the most severe consequences of COVID-19 infection. And that is mainly hospitalizations or death. No vaccine is ever 100% effective in preventing infection, but what is reassuring in what we are seeing, across the millions of individuals who've been protected by COVID-19 vaccinations, both here in the United States and across the globe, is that it's protecting us against severe infection, illness, and death. And that's why it's still important to get vaccinated because it will protect you from those severe consequences.
What new research is available to share on the existing vaccines?
As millions of individuals across the United States and across the globe have received COVID-19 vaccines, we continue to gain more and more scientific evidence about the safety and efficacy of COVID-19 vaccines. First and foremost, what we are learning is that these COVID-19 vaccines provide a robust, strong immune response. And that immune response we can measure in many different ways, but demonstrates that your body has learnt how to recognize COVID-19 and can fight against it, and protect individuals from the most severe consequences (hospitalizations and deaths). We're seeing that people's immune systems are learning and continue to remember how to protect against COVID-19 around six months and longer after completing their COVID-19 vaccine series.
We have not seen long-term side effects of the vaccines yet to date. We have seen some short-term side effects such as with Johnson & Johnson, some increased blood clots, or with some of the Pfizer and Moderna mRNA vaccines, what we call a heart inflammation or myocarditis, more likely among young men, and a rare neurologic syndrome called Guillain-Bare. [GM1] All of these are short-term side effects that occur in a very small population, across the millions and millions of individuals who have been vaccinated. And the overwhelming evidence is that, again, these are risk benefit calculuses, but the overwhelming benefit of COVID-19 vaccines far outweighs the short-term rare side effects that can occur, again, to protect individuals against severe COVID-19 infection and death.
What is the Delta variant? Why is it important?
The virus that causes COVID-19 is called SARS-CoV-2 and what has happened over the course of the pandemic is SARS-CoV-2 has been mutating and changing. The most recent mutation is something called the Delta variant. Now, you've heard a lot about this in the news. Why is it important? The Delta variant is far more contagious than the original virus that has caused the pandemic. And so just to put this into terms that we can all understand, the original variant, the original strain of SARS-CoV-2, if you were infected, you could then infect two to three other individuals. But because of the changes that have happened with the Delta variant of SARS-CoV-2, if you're infected with the Delta strain, you can infect three to four more individuals. So it's essentially twice as contagious as the original strain. Now, that's very concerning because it becomes easier to spread SARS-CoV-2 across the country, especially for those who are unvaccinated. Vaccinations appear to be protective against the Delta strain, and therefore, vaccination continues to be the most important tool in our fight against SARS-CoV-2, including against the Delta variant.
What other COVID variants should I be concerned about?
Over the course of the pandemic, the SARS-CoV-2 virus has continued to change, and it has created something called variants or strains, that can be more or less infectious, or more or less deadly in terms of creating hospitalizations or death, the consequences of serious illness from COVID-19. Now, anytime a variant is identified, there are health authorities across the globe that track and watch to see, is it more contagious? Is it more deadly? We identify them as variants of interest and if they do appear to be more contagious, we call them variants of concern. Until we get to the other side of the pandemic, you will continue to hear about other variants that arise. And the scientific community will watch them really closely. At this time, the Delta variant is what we are concerned about, at the time that we are filming this video. There will be new variants that come up, but at that time, we'll have a better understanding of what are the consequences and what we will need to do. But until then, vaccinations continue to be the most important tool in protecting us against new strains and variants of COVID-19.
What is the difference between a booster and a 3rd dose of the vaccine?
As millions of individuals have been vaccinated against SARS-CoV-2 and protected against COVID-19, we have learned more about how different individuals' immune systems respond to getting a COVID 19 vaccine. Now, there's two different ideas here. There's one is a booster shot, the other is a third dose. Let's start with third doses. Why would somebody need a third dose? The reason somebody would need it is because their immune system did not learn enough from the first two doses to protect someone sufficiently against SARS-CoV-2 infection. So that is very different than a booster shot. What we mean by a booster shot is that you had two shots, you had full protection, your immune system learned what it needed to learn to protect you against COVID-19, but over time, that protection has decreased, therefore requiring you an additional shot to get you back to that level of protection.
At this time, we understand that there are certain individuals who have not mounted sufficient response to COVID-19 vaccines, specifically those who are immunocompromised, which means a weakened immune system from taking medications, being on chemotherapy, having had cancer, being on hemodialysis. And so those individuals require additional doses to get them to the threshold of protection they need.
What is the difference between EUA and Full FDA approval?
What's the difference between emergency use authorization and full approval, and is there a significant difference? The short answer is that there is not significant difference between the two. The vaccine development and clinical trial process for both are essentially the same. You can't receive either an approval or authorization without meeting rigorous scientific standards of safety, effectiveness and manufacturing quality. And so again, the three categories are, is the vaccine safe? How effective is it? And how good is the process by which we make those vaccines, the quality of the manufacturing? Now, when you have full approval, what has happened is that there's submission of additional data around all of those characteristics of safety, efficacy, and manufacturing quality, but ultimately, it is the same information, but in greater quantity, that's being submitted for approval, compared to authorization. Authorizations can occur in a public health emergency, such as the one that we're in now with the pandemic, but we all are expecting, in the relatively near future, that all the COVID 19 vaccines will complete their process for getting full approval.