Experts are recommending COVID-19 vaccine boosters for all Americans, regardless of age, eight months after they received their second dose of the shot, to ensure lasting protection against the coronavirus. (Matt Stone / The Boston Herald)

Experts are recommending COVID-19 vaccine boosters for all Americans, regardless of age, eight months after they received their second dose of the shot, to ensure lasting protection against the coronavirus. (Matt Stone / The Boston Herald)

Doctor clears up common misconceptions about COVID-19 vaccines

1. Breakthrough COVID-19 infections don’t mean the vaccines have failed. 2. The shots aren’t a one-and-done solution.

This month, I wanted to clear up some important misconceptions about the SARS-CoV2 vaccines. Unfortunately, these misconceptions are prolific — you can find them in reputable news articles, unverifiable social media posts and everywhere in between.

The two misconceptions are 1) the idea that breakthrough COVID-19 infections mean the vaccines have failed and that 2) our current vaccines are a one-and-done solution.

First, breakthrough infections do not mean the COVID-19 vaccines have failed. I have heard more than a few of my patients, sick with mild breakthrough cases, exclaim “The vaccine didn’t work!” I have also read this sentiment across the various social media platforms.

It seems that people were under the impression that getting a COVID-19 vaccine would prevent them from catching the coronavirus altogether. In actuality, the vaccines were designed with primarily one major goal: to reduce mortality and severe illness.

In that regard, the vaccines are performing beautifully. The most recent statistics from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention say that being unvaccinated increases your likelihood of severe illness or death from COVID-19 10 times. Your odds of dying or being hospitalized are 10 times more likely if you are unvaccinated and catch SARS-CoV2.

Switching our mindset from “breakthrough infections are vaccination failures” to “the vaccines are savings lives and reducing hospitalizations” is an important shift as we talk about these vaccines and keep our pandemic morale going.

Secondly, and this one is even more prolific, is the way our SARS-CoV2 vaccines are spoken about as though they are a one-and-done type of vaccine. Most of the language around the vaccines are a dichotomy — you are either vaccinated or not. This language is extremely confusing. And while it is true that boosters are now being talked about more and are being offered to select groups, the language still has not evolved much.

Why is this so important? Because we are likely going to see more severe infections in those who are overdue on their boosters, and this may very well contribute to more vaccine hysteria. Be prepared for further narratives of “the vaccine failed,” because of these misconceptions.

If you got the flu vaccine in fall 2021 and then caught a really bad case of the flu one year later, would you plaster social media with complaints about how ineffective your flu vaccine was? Not likely, right? Because most of us understand this is a seasonal vaccine due to the rate at which the flu virus mutates. The flu vaccine needs to be modified from year to year, and just because you had a flu vaccine 12 months ago, does not mean you are protected against current strains.

From the very beginning, the manufacturers of the SARS-CoV2 vaccines did not predict that these vaccines would be a one-and-done solution. The estimates were that they would be efficacious for anywhere between six to 18 months. But that isn’t how most of us are talking about these vaccines.

The messaging is even more confusing because most public health organizations agree that getting everyone their initial vaccines is more important than boosters at this time. Therefore, much of the language from these health organizations actively deemphasizes boosters.

However, this language may very well backfire because many of us are not mentally holding the expectations that COVID-19 vaccines will likely be a seasonal vaccine, like the flu vaccine.

It is my hope that you can engage in these conversations with your loved ones and understand better that should you catch a breakthrough infection, it was not a vaccine failure. And as our public health organizations review the data and continue to make recommendations for boosters for select groups, you are mentally prepared for this and understand that the need for a booster is not a vaccine failure either. May you be well in these strange times!

Dr. Lauren Gresham is a naturopathic physician and a community health education specialist. She holds a master’s degree in public health. Learn more about her by visiting www.totallylovablenaturopathic.com.

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