Myths and facts about COVID-19 vaccines

COVID-19 vaccines remain one of the best tools we have to help mitigate the current pandemic. Having a large number of the population vaccinated will save lives, reduce transmission and help bring the current pandemic under control. Although it’s true that the vaccines we have available today don’t prevention all infection, they do result in patients with less severe symptoms and decreased risk of hospitalization and death – even against the Omicron variant we’re facing today.

You’ve likely read claims about COVID-19 vaccines on social media or on various sites online that have left you wondering what is true and what is not. We spoke with Tiffany Pankow, MD, associate chief medical officer of HonorHealth Medical Group, who helped set the record straight on the several myths currently circulating about COVID-19 vaccines.

COVID-19 vaccination myths vs facts

Myth: COVID-19 vaccines are not safe because they were rapidly developed and tested.

Fact: COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effective. Truly the best and brightest in our scientific fields have reviewed the research to determine the safety and efficacy of these vaccines, which have undergone the most intensive safety monitoring in United States history. These vaccines went through all necessary safety processes, and nothing was skipped in their development. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) continues to intensively monitor the safety of the millions of people who have now been vaccinated in the U.S.

Learn how federal partners are ensuring the safety of COVID-19 vaccines in the U.S.

Myth: The vaccine won’t be effective against the many variants now circulating in the U.S., so I should wait until better vaccines are available.

Fact: Viruses mutate all the time, and that's another reason to get people fully immunized as quickly as possible. That's also why boosters are important, if you are eligible, since we know vaccine efficacy wanes over time. Viruses can't mutate as easily if they are not spreading and replicating. By receiving your vaccine, you'll not only protect those around you from getting the disease, but you may also help prevent the further emergence of variants. Even as we face the highly transmissible Omicron variant, it's important to recognize that although people who are vaccinated are still sometimes getting infected by this variant, they have less severe symptoms and decreased risk of hospitalization and death than those who aren't vaccinated.

Learn more about ongoing research of COVID-19 variants.

Myth: I already had COVID-19 and I have recovered, so I don't need to get vaccinated for COVID-19.

Fact: Due to the severe health risks associated with the virus and the fact that re-infection is possible, especially as new variants occur, it's recommended you get vaccinated even if you've had COVID-19 previously. The same goes for booster shots, if you are eligible. Because the risk of reinfection is believed to be low in the 90 days following COVID-19 infection, you may choose to delay the vaccine during the three months following your illness, but you may still choose to be vaccinated to prevent future infection. You should not get vaccinated if you are in quarantine after exposure or if you currently have COVID-19 symptoms.

Myth: I have been exposed to COVID-19 and still haven’t caught it, so I don’t need to get vaccinated for COVID-19.

Fact: There are many reasons why an exposure might not lead to infection. We know certain people are more contagious than others, and people are more contagious at certain times during infection. Just because you’ve been exposed in the past and not gotten sick doesn’t mean you won’t in the future. There is no way to know how COVID-19 will affect you, even if you don’t have an increased risk of developing severe complications. The best way to protect yourself, as well as your loved ones and high-risk members of your community, is through vaccination.

Learn more about your risk for complications.

Myth: If we still need to follow safety protocols after receiving the vaccine, it must not be very effective.

Fact: We know that COVID-19 vaccines are very effective at preventing severe illness, hospitalization and death, but since we don't have the entire community vaccinated, precautions are still necessary. We also know that vaccine efficacy wanes over time. There is also a potential that you may develop an asymptomatic case of COVID-19 if you are exposed to the virus after vaccination, which means you could transmit it to others. It's important to continue with precautions, such as wearing a mask, practicing physical distancing and washing hands frequently. Together, COVID-19 vaccination and following recommendations for how to protect yourself and others will offer the best protection from getting and spreading the virus.

Read the latest prevention guidelines from the CDC.

Myth: COVID-19 vaccines have severe side effects.

Fact: While some people don't have any side effects after getting the vaccine, many people will have mild side effects, like pain or swelling at the injection site, a headache, chills or fever. These reactions are normal and are the result of the immune system response, and they are more common after the second dose. A very small number of people have had a severe allergic reaction (called "anaphylaxis") after vaccination, but this is extremely rare, and when it does happen, vaccination providers have medicines available they can use to effectively and immediately treat the reaction. There are other documented side effects that are more serious, but these complications are rare, and it's important to remember that vaccination is much less of a risk than being infected with COVID-19.

Learn more about what side effects you can expect.

Myth: The COVID-19 mortality rate is only 1-2%, so I don't need to be vaccinated against something with such a high survival rate.

Fact: People often equate COVID-19 to the seasonal flu, but the mortality rate is actually much higher. While the mortality rate may only be 1% in certain groups of people, it’s much higher in other groups, especially among older adults. We’ve seen people with no underlying health conditions get very sick with COVID-19, or even die, so the truth is you just don’t know how it’s going to affect you.

Next steps

The choice is yours to make. If you have additional questions before you make a decision, please talk to your healthcare provider.

Ready to get vaccinated?

Visit our COVID-19 vaccine page to find nearby vaccine locations and appointments.

Find vaccine locations