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What are the Potential Side Effects of the COVID-19 Vaccine?

In the presence of the pandemic and a rising death toll, we feel the absence of time more than ever before – we are at its mercy. Just like in the past, we know that only one thing can free us and restore some hope and normalcy into our future: a COVID-19 vaccine. In non-pandemic times, this vaccine should take 10 to 15 years to develop, but with a worldwide death toll of 1.4 million, the goal is to accelerate and develop safe and effective vaccines by the end of this year, through initiatives such as Operation Warp Speed and Emergency Use Authorization. The underlying theme: How can we release the vaccines as quickly as possible to the public without further endangering them?

The good news is, from what we know, the experimental COVID-19 vaccines are yielding mostly promising results. Last week, pharmaceutical companies Pfizer, Inc. and Moderna Inc. reported 95 percent success in preliminary tests during the late-stage trials of the vaccine. For the vaccine to work, two doses are given, three weeks apart. The most recent vaccine from AstraZeneca, a British-Swedish company partnering with the University Oxford, reported 70 percent effectiveness on average. However, effectiveness increased to 90 percent, when participants received a lower amount of vaccine in the first dosage and a full amount in the second dosage. While Pfizer’s vaccine has to be stored at minus 70 degrees Celsius – temperatures chillier than an Antarctica winter – AstraZeneca’s vaccine can be stored in refrigerator temperatures, offering greater reach and accessibility across the nation. AstraZeneca’s vaccine also costs as little as $2.50 a dose. 

What are the Potential Side Effects of COVID-19 Vaccines? 

While a vaccine could ultimately prevent the spread of the disease significantly and save lives, no drug is without risk. It is important to know and understand that the COVID-19 vaccine will hurt for a few days and cause noticeable or even at times, intense discomfort. Experts have stated that they expect the side effects and complications of the COVID-19 vaccine to be similar to standard adult vaccines, but worse than the pneumonia vaccine, Prevnar, or regular flu shots. Side effects will likely feel like mild coronavirus symptoms, such as muscle pain, chills, and headaches, and for the most part, go away after a few days. After the second dose in particular, you may feel the pain and discomfort are enough to request a day off from work. We know that some vaccines simply result in more uncomfortable side effects. But aren’t side effects that will dissipate after a few days, worth the risk of not getting coronavirus? 

Prevnar Vaccine

Another vaccine, Prevnar-13, successfully protects adults and children (particularly those under two years of age and older than 65 years) from serious infections caused by pneumococcal bacteria, including pneumonia and ear infections. Still, there were 202 serious cases involving Prevnar and prevnar-13 since 2012, including 10 deaths – seven of which were under the age of 2 years old. According to the “FDA Adverse Event Reporting System,” more than half the cases had side effects in the “general disorders and administration site conditions” category. 

Ten most common side effects included: 

  • Drug ineffective (55 cases)
  • Pyrexia, or fever (51 cases)
  • Fatigue (36 cases)
  • Headache (36 cases)
  • Pneumonia (35 cases)
  • Pain (35 cases)
  • Dyspnea, or shortness of breath (33 cases)
  • Cough (32 cases)
  • Drug Hypersensitivity (32 cases)
  • Arthralgia, or pain in a joint (25 cases) 

Other Key Takeaways:

  • Women made up 117 of the 202 serious cases involving Prevnar vaccine.
  • Patients between the ages of 65 and 85 are most vulnerable to Prevnar vaccine side effects, making up 104 of the 202 serious cases.

Flu Vaccine

Before coronavirus, the flu vaccine and “flu season” are what came to mind. Though the flu vaccine is recommended for almost everyone, only about half of all Americans get their flu shot every year. The type of flu vaccine we take generally varies on age group. 

Today, most of us take the quadrivalent influenza vaccine, which protects against four different flu viruses: an influenza A (H1N1 virus), an influenza A (H3N3 virus) and two influenza B viruses. There is also the trivalent flu shot approved for ages 65 and older. 

Since 1969, there were 2,319 serious cases involving influenza virus vaccine overall, including 191 deaths. According to the FDA Adverse Event Reporting System, the ten most common side effects for influenza virus vaccine included: 

  • Drug interaction (393 cases)
  • Pyrexia, or fever (367 cases)
  • Dyspnea, or shortness of breath (292 cases)
  • Headache (267 cases)
  • Malaise, or general discomfort (229 cases)
  • Fatigue (216 cases)
  • Cough (214 cases)
  • Influenza (207 cases)
  • Nausea (196 cases)
  • Pain (188 cases)


However, with fast-tracked drugs there is always an additional risk due to incomplete data and information. Early results indicate that side effects may include neurological problems, including Bell’s Palsy.

We are treading on uncharted territory, and in scientific research, the progression of time is our only path to truth and certainty. Yet, the benefits of the vaccines will always outweigh the risks and uncertainties. By strengthening the immune system, vaccines prevent 2 to 3 million deaths every year from diseases. The polio vaccine, for example, has prevented over 10 million cases of paralysis and over 500,000 deaths since 1988. 

In a lot of ways, getting the COVID-19 vaccine is like wearing a mask – not only is it protecting us, but it is protecting those around us, too. But, like the mask, it also comes with discomfort. The vaccines may be worth taking, as long as the success rates of the trials hold, and complications or side effects fall in line with what is expected.

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