by Dr. Justin Deaton

COVID–19 Frequently Asked Questions with ER Physician Dr. Justin Deaton

Answers published August 17, 2021.

Question: What is the delta variant?

Answer: The original COVID-19 virus, named Sars-COV-2, originated in China in late 2019.  This is the initial strain of the virus, also known as the alpha strain.   Like all viruses, as the COVID-19 virus mutates it produces variants which are slightly different from the original virus.  The delta variant is a mutation of the original virus and is the predominant strain in circulation in the US currently. 

Question:  How is the delta variant different from the original strain?

Answer: The delta variant is twice as contagious as the original strain.  This means it is as contagious as the chicken pox virus.  This virus also affects healthy individuals more severely than the original strain.  Currently in the US, 98% of people with severe illness resulting in hospitalization or death from COVID-19 related issues are unvaccinated and many of them were previously healthy, some of them children.

Question: Is the COVID-19 Vaccine safe?

Answer: Yes! Over 3 billion people have been vaccinated worldwide.  Serious side effects are exceedingly rare and to date, there has been no evidence that mRNA vaccines are any less safe than traditional vaccines.  This safety profile also applies to children and adolescents ages 12-17, who are now eligible to be vaccinated. 

Question: Are mRNA vaccines new?

Answer: Yes and No.  mRNA vaccines have been safely used in farming since the early 2000’s.  They have been studied in humans since 2015 and scientists believe that they are not only useful in treating infections but may have potential to be used in treating certain forms of cancer and other diseases.

Question: What is an mRNA vaccine and how is it different from traditional vaccines?

Answer: A traditional vaccine is made from a dead or weakened pathogen (virus or bacteria) which is then injected into the body to trigger a response from the immune system to produce antibodies.  mRNA vaccines cause some of your cells to make proteins that are like the proteins, called spike proteins, found on the surface of the virus which also triggers the immune system to produce antibodies without injecting the actual virus into the body.  By being able to engineer which specific proteins are produced by the mRNA vaccine, we can produce more effective antibodies than with traditional vaccines.

Question: If I have had COVID-19, should I get vaccinated?

Answer: Yes!   If you had COVID-19 prior to 2021, you likely had a different strain, called a variant, of COVID than the one circulating right now (delta variant).   It has been proven that antibodies that your body made naturally against the one strain are largely ineffective against subsequent strains.  This is a common characteristic of all viruses, not just COVID-19.  This is why you must get a new flu shot each year. Antibodies produced by mRNA vaccines are more effective against not only the original strain of COVID but also against subsequent strains.  However, if you had COVID-19 after January 2021 and have not been previously vaccinated, you still should receive the vaccine to protect against future strains.

Question: I know someone who was vaccinated and still got COVID-19, how is that possible?

Answer: No vaccine that has ever been produced is 100% effective at preventing all infections.  However, this vaccine has been proven to reduce the likelihood of you getting infected and reduce the chance of hospitalization or death if you were to become infected. 

Question: Which vaccine should I get?

Answer: Any of the 3 vaccines (Pfizer, Moderna, J&J) are better than no vaccine at all.  However, if you can get any of the 3, recent data suggests that the Moderna vaccine seems to offer the greatest protection against the delta variant, compared to the other two, with a similar safety profile. 

Question: Can the vaccine affect fertility?

Answer: There is no credible scientific evidence that the COVID-19 vaccine has any effect on fertility in men or women.  This theory stems from the idea that the antibodies produced by the COVID-19 vaccine could mistakenly attack the placenta instead of only attacking viral particles.  However, this theory has been discredited by numerous scientists as being not plausible and has not been demonstrated in any studies. 

Question: Can the vaccine cause inflammation to the heart?

Answer: Yes, although rare, there does seem to be an increase in the chance of developing myocarditis (or inflammation of the heart muscle) in male adolescents between ages 16-29.  All the patients with this condition attributed to vaccination have made a full recovery and there have been no deaths. However, males in this age group are 4x more likely to get myocarditis from COVID-19 infection than they are from the vaccine. 

Question: If I am pregnant or breastfeeding, should I be vaccinated?

Answer: Absolutely!  The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecology as well as the Society for Maternal Fetal Medicine both strongly recommend you get vaccinated if you are pregnant.  There is no evidence that the vaccine causes any complications with the pregnancy.  However, there is evidence that pregnant women tend to have much more serious symptoms if they become infected with COVID-19 than women who are not pregnant.  Covid infections in pregnancy have also been linked to premature birth as well as fetal complications.   Additionally, a recent study suggests that some of your antibodies will be passed on to your baby, giving him or her some protection when they are born, like other antibodies that are passed on to your baby during this same time. 

Dr. Justin Deaton, ER Physician