Public Health Update – 5/21

To the Wesleyan community:

The more we know about the COVID-19 vaccines, the better equipped we are to make informed decisions. I know many of you have questions and the topic raises strong feelings among some.

After more than 35 years as a physician, I critically evaluate scientific studies, keep an open mind to new theories, and stay up-to-date about the medical issues I face regularly in college health. I feel confident in assuring you that vaccines are one of the most important ways (if not the most important way) to control and at times eliminate infectious diseases. Few of us recall the days of the iron lung for polio patients, children dying from the whooping cough, or the sequelae of brain inflammation caused by a number of childhood diseases. Those days are over thanks to vaccines.

I would like to dispel some common myths about the COVID-19 vaccines.

  1. The current vaccines are too new and have not passed the test of time. It takes years for the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) to approve a pharmaceutical. These vaccines were approved in a few months.

In reality, the studies that led to approval were well designed, enrolled many people (tens of thousands), and were closely monitored. The rare complication of thrombotic thrombocytopenia occurred in fewer than one in a million people. Rare instances of complications such as this would not be seen with a medication that went through years of an FDA approval process until the medication was in general use. And frankly, the pandemic that was devastating the world warranted a rapid and thorough process of approval. This is much different than, let’s say, the 10th cholesterol medication being evaluated for release on the market.

The technology for the messenger RNA (mRNA) vaccines (those made by Pfizer and Moderna) started in the early 1990s, with initial research focusing on rabies, Zika, and cytomegalovirus. The adenoviral vector technology dates back to the 1970s. Research focused on Ebola and cancer treatments. There was a great deal of scientific bench work done prior to the pandemic.

  1. The current vaccines approved in the U.S. use brand-new technologies that have not passed the test of time.

Phase Three studies included many folks. The efficacy and safety profiles appear to be extremely promising.

  1. We do not yet know the long-term effects of taking these vaccines. How do we know what will happen in years to decades?

Side effects and complications from vaccines traditionally occur in the short-term, whether we are looking at allergic reactions, contracting the disease (which only occurs with live vaccines and does not apply to COVID vaccines), the rare Guillain-Barre syndrome, or most recently the extremely rare thrombotic thrombocytopenia syndrome. No long-term sequelae have been identified with the advent of modern vaccines, predating the 1950s to our current vaccines.

  1. The vaccines can affect fertility.

There is no scientific evidence that the vaccines affect fertility and no scientific theory that would link the mechanisms of action with the messenger RNA or the viral vector vaccines to any physiological effect on fertility. While there are some reports of menstrual irregularities following vaccination, we know there are many physiological and psychological stressors that can temporarily affect the menstrual cycle.

  1. The vaccines can alter our DNA.

None of the approved vaccines alters our DNA. Their actions do not affect DNA at all.

  1. Nano particles can be (and are) injected into our bodies. Mass vaccination will essentially effect the takeover of the human race.

This is not true.

I have no doubt that you all understand the importance of becoming educated about the vaccines, considering carefully the sources of information. To date, there have been 163 million cases of COVID and 3.4 million deaths from the disease worldwide. There have been 33 million cases and 583,000 deaths in the U.S.  It’s no surprise that as vaccine rates are climbing, hospitalizations and deaths due to COVID are decreasing.

Please get vaccinated. Students, once you are fully vaccinated, you must upload your information to the Davison Health CenterFaculty and staff, once you are fully vaccinated, we encourage you to share your information via WesPortal.

And to you students graduating, members of the Class of 2021, my congratulations and best wishes for all your future endeavors!

Tom McLarney, MD