Eager since Monday expected Covid-19 vaccines have hit the upper arms of health workers in the United States, the first meager tranche of millions of doses to come. But the joy that has greeted the arrival of the shots is already muffled by worries. Billions of dollars were spent on the formulas. The preparation of the American people to receive them received much less attention.
This may turn out to be a mistake. The documentation provided to the Food and Drug Administration by Pfizer and Moderna notes that both vaccines have side effects – small ones that fade after about two days, but occurred in substantial percentages of the people who got them in the studies – and one few serious reactions have been reported. Descriptions of those side effects are starting to circulate, via news stories and also social media accounts written by trial participants.
Those descriptions reach the public without any attempt to contextualize or counteract them. There has so far not been a coordinated national campaign to reassure people that the vaccine not only works, but is safe to take and does not cause long-term illness. Planners and health researchers worry that it is getting late.
“At this point in time when vaccines are about to be distributed, it is very important to talk to people about the predictable side effects of the vaccine,” said Eric Toner, a physician and senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health. Security. “The worst scenario would be that we don’t tell people this, and they have a reaction, and they think they’ve taken Covid out of recording or that something is wrong.”
This is an urgent concern for two reasons. First, fear of side effects appears to be one of the main reasons people question these vaccines. And second, mistrust opens the door not only to confusion, but also to armed disinformation, which will prevent people from taking a vaccine they need.
The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation’s KFF Covid-19 Vaccine Monitor, an ongoing survey of 1,600 people aged 18 and older launched this week to convey an ongoing measure of public sentiment, shows that people generally are more positive about the shot than they were earlier this year. In November, 71 percent of participants said they would likely take the vaccine, up from 63 percent in a survey conducted in September. But the remaining 27 percent said they would probably or certainly never take it, a percentage that rose to 33 percent among black adults, 33 percent among essential workers, and 29 percent among those working in health care. For those who were hesitant, the main concern was the fear of side effects.
This is difficult to provide reassurance about because the side effects are real. Although the Pfizer vaccine only received emergency authorization last weekend and the Moderna vaccine has not yet been approved, tens of thousands of people received it in clinical trials earlier this year. In news reports and on social media, participants described experiencing ‘a severe hangover’, ‘fever … fatigue and chills’, ‘full Covid-like symptoms’. One contestant told CNBC he was shaking so hard with chills that he broke a tooth.
Those accounts are consistent with the data submitted by the companies to the FDA’s Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee, which reviews safety and efficacy. According to briefing documents, the Pfizer formula caused fatigue in 59.4 percent of study participants after their second dose, headache in 51.7 percent, muscle pain in 37.3 percent, joint pain in 21.9 percent, chills in 35.1 percent, and headache at 15.8 percent. The figures for the Moderna formula, released Tuesday, are similar: fatigue in 68.5 percent of recipients, headache in 63 percent, aches and pains in 59.6 percent, chills in 43.4 percent, and fever in 15.6 percent.