Long-term side effects? Developed too quickly? COVID vaccine concerns, answered

Washington state is expecting and preparing to distribute more than 62,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine by mid-December. That’s if the FDA gives the emergency authorization as expected after a Dec.10 meeting.

But will people take the new vaccine? Experts in vaccine ethics and law say trust in a COVID vaccine will be lower than for previous vaccines.

“There will be a higher amount of hesitancy among the population,” said Dan Bustillos, Ph.D, a professor at the University of Washington Bothell. “Recently there has been an upsurge in people who are anti-vaccine,” Bustillos said.

One worry people have is if there will be long-term side effects of a COVID vaccine, months or years down the road.

“We can never fully exclude the possibility, but it’s going to be very rare - one in a 100 million, or one in 10 million,” said Deborah Fuller, Ph.D, who is a vaccine scientist with UW Medicine.

Fuller said the chances of long-term complications are extremely unlikely because of how vaccines work.

“Most of their job is done in the first few days, then the vaccine is gone from your body. So what’s left is that immune response to the vaccine,” Fuller said.

Others have voiced concerns about the new technology behind Pfizer’s and Moderna’s vaccines, which use mRNA - the first vaccines to use such technology.

“Actually, mRNA vaccines have the potential to be even safer,” Fuller said. Most existing vaccines use inactivated or dead virus, but the new method avoids that.

“We don’t actually have to use the pathogen itself. There is no risk in those vaccine preparations of actually having a virus or not sufficiently inactivated, as is the case with the majority of the vaccines we currently take,” Fuller said.

Some are also worried about how fast the COVID vaccines were developed. But experts want to make sure you know - corners were not cut.

“Before a vaccine is licensed for use in a population, all of those steps have to be completed and all of those safety checkmarks made,” Fuller said. “The acceleration is actually due to an overlapping of the steps it takes to get a vaccine approved,” she said.

There are still many unknowns --  like how long the immunity will last, or how a vaccine’s effectiveness varies among demographics.

But the bottom line?

“People should not be hesitant to take this,” Bustillos said. “We should be concerned and vigilant. But these things should not amount to a decision not to take it, or even to wait and see,” he said.

Washington state expects to have 200,000 does of the vaccine by the end of December.