If You Wait to Get Vaccinated, You Run This Risk, Dr. Fauci Says

This is why the "wait and see" approach could put the whole effort in jeopardy.

An expert panel of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommended approval for the Johnson & Johnson vaccine on Friday, Feb. 26, meaning there will soon be three highly efficacious vaccines available in the U.S. to fight COVID. And while White House COVID adviser Anthony Fauci, MD, has said that this is "nothing but good news," he warns that having those vaccines at our fingertips is simply not enough. We'll now need to put those doses into arms at rapid speed, or else run the risk of creating more mutations while we wait. Read on to learn how this could present grave challenges to our containment efforts, and for another reason to get vaccinated ASAP, The CDC Says You Don't Have to Do This Anymore Once You're Vaccinated.

While skeptics have bristled at the quick pace of the COVID vaccines' development, Fauci cautioned in a recent interview with Savannah Guthrie that vaccine hesitancy could have dire consequences. "This is a race, Savannah, between the virus and getting vaccines into people," Fauci explained. "The longer one waits on getting vaccinated, the better chance the virus has to get a variant or mutation," he added.

Already, viral variants from the U.K. and South Africa have proven to be more contagious than the original virus, and potentially more deadly. This week, two homegrown strains from California and New York have sounded alarms in the research community.

Yet, despite the virus' continued spread and the above-anticipated vaccine efficacy, many Americans say they'd prefer to delay their jabs. According to a January 2021 Pew Research poll, just 47 percent of the American adult population intends to get the vaccine as soon as it is available to them. The other 53 percent plan to either "wait and see" how the vaccine is working first (31 percent), get it only if required (7 percent), or refuse the vaccine entirely (13 percent).

However, those attitudes may soon change. In one of the largest public health education efforts in U.S. history, over 300 companies, community groups, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have recently announced a massive joint ad campaign that will seek to reassure the public of the vaccines' safety and efficacy. Experts believe that more widespread understanding of the vaccines will enable our swift return to normal—before additional variants have opportunity to find their footing. Read on for more essential information about COVID vaccines, and for an incentive to get vaccinated that will make you smile, Dr. Fauci Says It's Safe for You to Do This Once You're Vaccinated.

mRNA vaccines have been studied for over two decades.

Scientist studying COVID-19 in lab
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While it's fair to have questions about the COVID vaccines' long-term safety, it's important to note that they use technology that has been studied for more than two decades for use against other infectious diseases and cancers.

According to Ellen Matloff, MS, founder of Yale University's Cancer Genetic Counseling program and CEO of My Gene Counsel, there are several benefits to using this relatively new technology. "Because mRNA vaccines are not using a live virus, there is no potential risk of being infected with the condition," she explained in a December article for Forbes. "Another benefit of mRNA vaccines is effectiveness. mRNA is efficient and can be taken up and used by the body quickly. Finally, mRNA vaccines are quicker and easier to produce than traditional vaccines, because they are produced in a laboratory instead of in an egg or other mammalian cell. Therefore, mRNA vaccine production can be controlled more closely, and is less expensive and faster to produce in large quantities," she added. And for the latest COVID news delivered straight to your inbox, sign up for our daily newsletter.

Their side effects tend to be brief and minimal.

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As Fauci points out, the COVID vaccine side effects tend to be mild to moderate and last for just 24 to 48 hours, if they appear at all. You might expect to feel pain at the injection site, aches, chills, or other flu-like symptoms, but none of these are likely to cause you any severe distress.

Of his own vaccination experience, Fauci told CNN's Dana Bash, "The only thing I had was maybe six to 10 hours following the vaccine I felt a little bit of an ache in my arm that lasted maybe 24 hours, a little bit more, then went away, and completely other than that I felt no other deleterious type of effects." And for up-to-date vaccine news from Pfizer's CEO, This Is How Often You'll Need a COVID Vaccine.

Getting a vaccine protects the people who can't—including children.

A family of a mother, father, and three children all wearing face masks while indoors.
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Deciding whether or not to get a COVID vaccine may seem like a personal choice—and of course to some degree that's true—but that doesn't mean that your decision exists in a vacuum. Beyond Fauci's broader concerns about delayed vaccinations causing further mutations, other experts have suggested that these mutations could begin to have more serious consequences for children.

While pediatric COVID cases are more likely to be mild or asymptomatic than those affecting adults, there have been hundreds of tragic deaths among children since the start of the pandemic. Additionally, "more than 2000 children and teenagers have developed a severe inflammatory syndrome that can cause critical illness and damage organs," according to the journal Science. Vaccines are unlikely to be approved for young children until 2022 (Moderna, for instance, hopes to have efficacy results on children 12-17 by mid-year 2021, and will begin trials for children six months to 11 years old at the end of the year). Until then, it's critical to keep our overall numbers low.

We'll need widespread vaccination to achieve herd immunity.

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Fauci has said that we reach herd immunity—the point at which enough people are immune to COVID that cases have difficulty spreading through the community—once 75 to 85 percent of the population has either become vaccinated or recovered from COVID-19. Once we do achieve herd immunity, "even individuals not vaccinated (such as newborns and those with chronic illnesses) are offered some protection because the disease has little opportunity to spread within the community," the CDC explains.

However, according to a 2010 census, children make up 24 percent of the American population and are largely ineligible for the vaccine at present (the Moderna vaccine is approved for those 16 and up, while Pfizer is only available to adults). That means we'll need to work swiftly to vaccinate every adult who is eligible, or else risk missing our window before new variants take hold. And when you're ready to make your vaccination plans, The CDC Says Don't Do This With the Second Dose of Your COVID Vaccine.

Lauren Gray
Lauren Gray is a New York-based writer, editor, and consultant. Read more
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