Are the vaccines safe? Here’s what the experts say

“This is the point that we’ve all been waiting since last March.” - Vicky Knisley-Henry, a health educator for Miami County Public Health.

Are the coronavirus vaccines safe?

Many answers have been given to that question. Some are factual. Others are rooted in unfounded Internet conspiracy theories.

The safety of the vaccines is one of the most frequent questions asked of our team of reporters.

It was one of several questions we asked of the panel of local medical, health and vaccine experts who participated in the latest in our series, Community Conversations: What you Need to Know about the Vaccines.

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WATCH: Find the video of the conversation on our Facebook pages and websites: DaytonDailyNews.com; SpringfieldNewsSun.com and Journal-News.com.

LISTEN: You can also listen to the conversation on the What Had Happened Was podcast available on Dayton.com, Apple Podcast, Stitcher, iHeart Radio and other services.

The panelist were:

  • Dr. Mamle Anim, chief medical officer for Five Rivers Health Centers.
  • Sheryl Harris Wynn, Greene County Public Health accreditation coordinator, planning chief for the pandemic response and vaccination planning team leader.
  • Dr. Robert W. Frenck Jr., professor of pediatrics at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, director of the Gamble Center for Vaccine Research and the immunization program medical director of the Ohio Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics.
  • Vicky Knisley-Henry, a health educator for Miami County Public Health.
  • Dr. Thomas Hirt, PriMED Centerville Family Practice physician. PriMed Dayton area adults for a phase 3 coronavirus vaccine clinical trial that involved 30,000 Americans.

Below are excerpts from the conversation edited for clarity and length.

QUESTION: Typically vaccines take two or so years to develop, but this came about in less than a year. How confident are you that the vaccines are safe?

DR. THOMAS HIRT: “I would have lined up today to get it if I could have gotten it. It is not quite available just yet.

These are the first mRNA vaccines that are licensed, but the technology has been there since around 1990. So it is something we’ve been working on for 30 years, trying to get a delivery system so that you could make a vaccine like this.

Vaccines have been around for hundreds of years really. Go back to smallpox.

They’re generally safe and effective. No vaccine, no medical treatment is 100% effective, but they’ve been studied rigorously. The FDA would not give any emergency use authorization if they did not feel confident it would be safe to start distributing.”

DR. MAMLE ANIM: “It’s a very safe vaccine. The process was sped up because again, we’re in an emergency situation.

Steps that could have taken months, weeks were sped up. Safety is the primary goal of this to get people better, to prevent disease. I believe that it’s a very safe vaccine.

We are very fortunate that the companies really all kind of went straight to this problem and tackled it and were able to produce something.”

Dr. Robert W. Frenck Jr., professor of pediatrics at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, director of the Gamble Center for Vaccine Research and the immunization program medical director of the Ohio Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics.
Dr. Robert W. Frenck Jr., professor of pediatrics at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, director of the Gamble Center for Vaccine Research and the immunization program medical director of the Ohio Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics.

DR. ROBERT W. FRENCK JR.: These trials are huge. They’re actually much bigger than most of the time when we’re doing a phase three trials. They were powered to be able to give us enough outcomes.

Thirty thousand people. Most of the time we’re looking more like 8,000 to 10,000 people that are in a phase three trial.

People should feel comfortable about the safety. We’ve been doing the clinical trials here since March. A number of people actually get no symptoms at all.

If they’re going to get symptoms, the common things we’ve been seeing is headache and fatigue that’s lasting maybe a day or two.

ExploreWATCH: Experts discuss what you need to know about coronavirus vaccines at Community Conversation

Typically if people are going to have any adverse events or side effects, they start about day two, sometimes day one. If they haven’t had them by day three, we really haven’t seen people have side effects.

After the headache, fatigue, the other things that some people have had are some muscle aches and joint aches, and some people had chills. In the range of 7% to 8% of people had some fever.

All of these symptoms have been a day or two in duration and then gone away.

None of the people who we’ve enrolled have missed work to my knowledge. No one has had anything serious that needed hospitalization or anything like that.

While these vaccines did come to market quickly, we didn’t cut any corners. We did all the same things. What happened is that we just put a tremendous amount of person power to these vaccine testing programs.

The FDA was working weekends. They were working seven days a week to be reviewing data almost in real time.

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That’s one of the things that allowed them to be able to make the emergency use authorization and determination so quickly, is that usually we spend a year or two collecting data and then we send it to the FDA and then the FDA would maybe take two or three months to go looking through their data. But here they were looking at it on a daily basis as we were sending it to them on a daily basis.

So, that’s why we were able to condense time, but it didn’t cut any corners. That’s what people really have to be understanding and believing: We didn’t cut corners.

Q: How would you describe the side effects?

Dr. Mamle Anim, chief medical officer for Five Rivers Health Centers.
Dr. Mamle Anim, chief medical officer for Five Rivers Health Centers.

DR. MAMLE ANIM: “I think that the closest side effects that I’ve seen it compared to is the shingles vaccine, which is a little bit of a rough vaccine to get in that the immune response is very strong.

You get muscle aches and fever. I had it (the shingles vaccine) personally and it knocked me out for a day. And then I was fine.

Those symptoms are established side effects for most vaccines. It’s not because it is the COVID vaccine, and that is not going to put your life at risk. The disease (COVID-19) definitely does.

And it’s a lot safer to take the vaccine than to try to get the disease.”

Q: What is the biggest case you can make to convince others to take the vaccine?

Sheryl Harris Wynn, Greene County Public Health accreditation coordinator, planning chief for the pandemic response and vaccination planning team leader.
Sheryl Harris Wynn, Greene County Public Health accreditation coordinator, planning chief for the pandemic response and vaccination planning team leader.

SHERYL HARRIS WYNN: “The standards for the vaccine trials have been rigorous, the same as they would be for any other vaccine that’s been developed.

Now it has been put forth, when your turn comes — whatever vaccine is available, whichever product is available at that time ― I would encourage people to go ahead and take it.

It is our way forward. It is our way back to some normal semblance of life where we can see close faces and smiles again.

It’s going to take some time. Take the time to educate yourself. The information out there is available. Go to your trusted sources for information, the local public health departments.

We’ve been vaccinating people for decades. It is part of our business, and we are happy to share information and answer any questions that people have.”

Vicky Knisley-Henry, a health educator for Miami County Public Health.
Vicky Knisley-Henry, a health educator for Miami County Public Health.

VICKY KNISLEY-HENRY: “This is the point that we’ve all been waiting for since last March. It’s here. Now is our opportunity to take advantage of all of the efforts that all of the experts have put in. This is what we’ve been waiting for. So it’s time to take advantage of it.”

DR. MAMLE ANIM: “One of the biggest reasons to take the vaccine is to save your life, and to save other people’s lives.”

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