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Local voices on COVID-19: We want to hear your COVID questions.

Jun 02, 2021 09:29AM ● By Editor

By Grace Grinager, Cook County Public Health Supervisor from Cook County MN - June 2, 2021

This article is the fifth in a series intended to give some local perspective on issues about COVID-19. They are also intended to help readers make an informed decision about the COVID-19 vaccines. We encourage suggestions for future topics and you can see how to do so at the end of the article.


What Do We Know About the Long-Term Side Effects of the COVID-19 Vaccines?  

Understandably, many are unsure about the benefits or potential side effects of getting the COVID-19 vaccine. The long-term effects of COVID-19 should far outweigh the concern for side effects from the vaccine. Learning how these vaccines work, as well as how our public health system studies vaccine safety, can help you to make an informed choice about vaccination.

Let’s look a bit closer at how vaccines work.  The primary purpose of a vaccine is to prevent disease. The COVID-19 vaccine teaches your body to recognize the spike proteins which allow the virus to get into your cells. After your body learns how to recognize and then fight COVID-19, it breaks down the vaccine, and it is flushed from your system. Only the memory of how to recognize and fight the virus remain. The beauty of a vaccine is that it teaches our body to recognize and prepare to fight off sicknesses like COVID-19 without the risks involved with getting sick in the first place. This not only prevents you from getting sick, but also reduces the chance that you could pass COVID-19 to others you care about around you. 

It is common for you to experience side effects after receiving a vaccine. This is a sign that your immune system is working. After getting the COVID-19 vaccine, you may experience headaches, muscle aches, fever, a sore arm and feeling especially tired for several hours or days afterward. These symptoms generally resolve within 48 hours. Very rarely, a person may have an allergic reaction to an ingredient in the vaccine itself.  When we talk about rare “long-term” side effects from vaccines they typically occur within 6-8 weeks of getting the vaccine. Results from clinical trials for the COVID-19 vaccines that have assessed the vaccine for safety for over six months have shown that these vaccines are safe!  

In the United States, we have strong systems that monitor for even very rare side effects (also called “adverse events”) from any vaccine, even those that might occur weeks or months later.  With that goal in mind, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has a system called the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System, or VAERS. They’ve also created another system called “V-Safe” that specifically studies safety and side effects of the COVID-19 vaccines. The goal of these systems is to figure out what adverse events are related to a vaccine and which events are not.  As the vaccine is administered to very large numbers of people, we should expect that some of those people will have health problems after receiving the vaccine that are not related to the vaccine at all. It is important for the public health system to study and honestly report on even very rare vaccine side effects so that people can make informed decisions about vaccination. Over six months of data and 1.9 billion doses of COVID-19 vaccines worldwide have provided us with lots of data on vaccine safety. At this point, we know from the science that the benefits of vaccination outweigh the risks.

When we talk about long-term effects from vaccines, we also need to consider long-term side effects from getting sick with COVID-19. If a person is choosing not to vaccinate, they are also choosing to put themselves at a higher risk of becoming ill with the disease that the vaccine prevents (in this case, COVID-19). When it comes to COVID-19, we are still learning about the long-term side effects from becoming sick with the virus. We do know that even after people recover from COVID-19 and are no longer able to pass the virus on to others, they can suffer from a wide range of lingering health problems.  These include chronic fatigue, memory loss, shortness of breath, sleep issues, depression and organ damage. The COVID-19 vaccine will prevent this from happening. 

It’s normal to have questions about the COVID-19 vaccines and to feel a bit unsure as you make decisions around vaccination. We are lucky to have fantastic local health care teams that will listen to you and respectfully answer any questions you may have. Call Sawtooth Mountain Clinic at 218-387-2330 or at Grand Portage Health Services at 218-475-2235 to set up a time to talk.

Grace Grinager is Cook County’s Public Health Supervisor and she has a master’s degree in anthropology and public health. She lives just outside of Grand Marais and is a mother to two young sons, ages 4 and 1.

Each article in this series will be written by someone here in Cook County. Next week’s Q&A topic is the COVID-19 vaccine and children. To submit a question for a future article, please email [email protected] or call 218-387-3605 and leave a voicemail. No question is too controversial. You can be assured that your questions will be kept anonymous. 


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