The May 23 Sunday LNP | LancasterOnline Perspective section focused on immunization. Dr. Michael Ripchinski, chief clinical officer at Penn Medicine Lancaster General Health, addressed common misconceptions about COVID-19 vaccination. And Dr. Patrick Gavigan, a pediatric infectious diseases physician at Penn State Health Children’s Hospital, made the case for vaccinating kids against COVID-19. The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine now is available to children ages 12-15.
Throughout this pandemic we’ve urged readers to rely on scientists and medical experts for information about COVID-19 rather than on social media, which can be a whirlpool — and often a cesspool — of misinformation and disinformation.
Straightforward, science-based information from medical professionals is essential in a pandemic. So we’re grateful to Drs. Ripchinski and Gavigan for contributing their expertise to the Sunday Perspective section. And we’d like to amplify here some of the points they made.
Dr. Ripchinski addressed some of the common misconceptions that he and others in the medical community hear from patients about COVID-19 vaccination.
One of those misconceptions is about, well, conception and pregnancy.
According to the Boston Globe Media news site Stat, the “likely origin of this myth is a letter sent to the European Medicines Agency (the equivalent of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration) by two European anti-vaccination propagandists.”
Be warned: Those folks are out there, working against the cause of public and individual health. We’re not going to repeat their nonsense.
Instead, we’ll share what Dr. Ripchinski wrote: There is “no evidence that COVID-19 vaccines negatively impact fertility or pregnancy.”
In fact, he noted, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “there is no link between infertility and any vaccine.”
He continued: “If you’re pregnant or trying to conceive, the benefits of getting vaccinated against COVID-19 far outweigh the risks. Pregnant women are at greater risk for developing severe COVID-19 illness, which could endanger the lives of both the mother and the baby. We have seen miscarriages at Women & Babies Hospital that we believe were a result of the mothers’ infection with COVID-19. The CDC is continuing to collect data on this.”
Dr. Ripchinski also countered the misconception that the vaccines’ development was rushed, pointing out that the science behind the messenger RNA — or mRNA — vaccines began at the University of Pennsylvania in the mid-2000s.
“It’s important to dispel the myths about the messenger RNA, or mRNA, vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna,” Dr. Gavigan wrote. “They do not impact our DNA — rather, they’re a set of instructions for the cells to make a viral protein, and this mRNA is quickly broken down after the protein is made.”
Dr. Ripchinski emphasized that the COVID-19 vaccines were “well-tested in research studies with many tens of thousands of people. These studies have shown that the vaccines are safe and effective.”
And their emergency use authorization was “a normal first step for a new vaccine,” he wrote. “We are on track for the COVID-19 vaccines to ultimately receive full approval. It’s only a matter of time and paperwork completion with the FDA.”
Dr. Gavigan pointed out that the “fact that the Johnson & Johnson vaccine was paused because of a problem in less than one in a million cases shows that safety is a top priority of regulators.”
Dr. Ripchinski squarely addressed questions about the vaccines’ side effects, pointing out that they are “similar to common side effects from other vaccines, including a slight fever, chills, fatigue, headache and soreness where you got the shot. These side effects are usually mild and last only a day or two. They are a sign that your body is doing what it should to protect you from COVID-19.”
As we’ve noted before, the members of the LNP | LancasterOnline Editorial Board all have been vaccinated, and the side effects we experienced ranged from minimal arm soreness to a 12-hour low-grade fever and headache. These effects were much easier to handle than being hospitalized with COVID-19, or dealing with any lingering issues caused by the infection.
As Dr. Ripchinski wrote, “While some people may experience more serious side effects, such as allergic reactions, from the vaccine, this is very rare. The risk of developing serious long-term problems from a COVID-19 infection is much higher. Even if you’re young and otherwise healthy, COVID-19 could make you very sick. This is the No. 1 reason you should get the vaccine.”
He wrote that data from large-scale clinical trials and subsequent published studies indicate that the COVID-19 vaccines are very effective.
“Vaccination prevents most people from getting sick with COVID-19,” Dr. Ripchinski noted. “And if you do become infected, being vaccinated will help to keep you from becoming seriously ill.”
Even “though adolescents generally don’t get as severely ill from the novel coronavirus as adults do, even healthy kids can get very sick with acute COVID-19, and we don’t know what long-term effects there could be,” wrote Dr. Gavigan, who sees patients at the Penn State Health Lime Spring Outpatient Center in East Hempfield Township as well as at the Children’s Hospital in Hershey.
He continued: “We’ve seen kids develop a post-COVID-19 complication called multisystem inflammatory syndrome, usually characterized by fever, elevated inflammatory markers and heart dysfunction that requires hospitalization. ... We’re also seeing ‘long haulers’ — children with symptoms that develop during or after COVID-19 and last 12 or more weeks. In children, the most common symptoms are ongoing fatigue and difficulty concentrating.”
Because COVID-19 is still relatively new, the implications of “long COVID” and other post-infection conditions aren’t fully known. Scientists do know, however, that vaccination is a safe, effective, lifesaving weapon in the battle against infectious disease.
As the CDC notes, “The best way to prevent these long-term complications is to prevent COVID-19.” And that’s best achieved through immunization.
Dr. Gavigan wrote that “the longer we wait to vaccinate, the more infections will accrue. Vaccination is key to reducing future variants of the virus.”
He noted: “Some parents worry that their children are being exposed to too many vaccines, but the amount of viral protein in a vaccine is much less than their child would get with an actual COVID-19 infection.”
We’ll leave the last word to Dr. Gavigan, whose career is dedicated to the health of children: “Getting your child vaccinated — and getting vaccinated yourself — protects your child and the rest of society. If we’re going to achieve herd immunity — which is at least 70% of the population vaccinated and probably higher — we’re going to have to vaccinate this age group.”