It’s been a year since COVID vaccines became available in NC. How effective have they been?

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It’s been more than a year since the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the first COVID-19 vaccine for public use.

While the majority of people who live in Mecklenburg County have received at least one dose of the vaccine, some who are concerned about potential long-term side effects have refrained from getting the shot. Others have attempted to protect themselves from the virus in a way health officials strongly advise against.

Vaccine-acquired immunity is less risky than infection

A common myth is that the natural immunity from contracting COVID-19 is better than the immunity provided by a COVID-19 vaccination.

This belief led to some engaging in COVID-19 parties – a gathering held with the intention of catching or spreading COVID-19 -- to acquire immunity from future infection.

Students at the University of Alabama were among the first to host these events, which were described as a “game to intentionally infect each other.” Some parents have even discussed the possibility of hosting COVID-19 parties for their children.

Though antibodies present after recovering from COVID-19 do provide some immunity from future infections, Washington said attempting to contract the virus could result in serious complications.

“There are a number of reasons why we would completely discourage anyone from intentionally getting infected with COVID-19, or any infection for that matter,” said Washington. “There are short term and long-term impacts on individuals’ health as a result of an infection, and we never know how any individual will react or respond. There’s certainly a risk of severe complications and illness.”

Receiving a COVID-19 vaccination is a safer way to build immunity to the virus, said Washington. Studies also indicate that people who’ve been previously infected with COVID-19 and are unvaccinated are twice as likely to be reinfected again than vaccinated people.

“Vaccines offer a longer term of protection in most individuals,” he said. “Everybody’s immune system is different. For some individuals, the antibody response following an infection can last six to 12 months, but on average, that immune protection starts to wane by the third month. And the protection that is offered by vaccinations is much stronger and lasts longer.”

What percentage of North Carolinians are vaccinated?

So far, 61% of people in Mecklenburg County are fully vaccinated, and 66% have received at least one dose. Although the health department is not aiming for a specific target, Mecklenburg County Health Director Raynard Washington explained the impact of the virus will subside as more people get vaccinated.

“Ideally, everybody would be up to date on vaccines that can be,” Mecklenburg County Health Director Raynard Washington said, further explaining that there is still a portion of the population not yet eligible to receive the vaccine. “For those who are eligible, we certainly encourage them to get vaccinated.”

On Friday, Gov. Roy Cooper announced that he has for staffing capacity in hospitals from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response, as the state endures a record number of hospitalized COVID patients.

“We have a certain number of folks with COVID-19 in our acute care facilities right now in the county, and it’s consistently true that most of those individuals are yet to be vaccinated,” Washington said. “I think the data is very clear that vaccines are effective, and certainly help us to avoid the strain on our healthcare system.”

In Atrium Health’s facilities, 156 COVID patients are on life support, according to the hospital system. And 92% of those patients are unvaccinated.

What are the side effects of COVID-19 vaccines?

Some people experience side effects after getting the vaccine, which are normal signs that their body is building protection, according to the CDC. Side effects may affect your ability to do daily activities, but they should go away in a few days.

Some common side effects of COVID-19 vaccines are:

  • Pain, redness and swelling at the injection site

  • Tiredness

  • Headache

  • Muscle pain

  • Chills

  • Fever

  • Nausea

Are there any long-term side effects from the vaccine?

Adverse effects that could cause a long-term health problem are extremely rare following the COVID-19 vaccination – or any vaccination – the CDC says.

One of the FDA-approved COVID-19 vaccines came under fire when an unexpected side effect was reported in a few patients after getting the shot.

In April, the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine was put on pause when a small number of people began experiencing a serious blood clotting problem. All of the cases emerged within two weeks of vaccination, according to researchers at the University of Missouri.

Health officials later determined that the benefits of the vaccine outweighed the risk, and they approved resume use of the vaccine.

Since adverse reactions generally happen within six weeks of receiving a vaccine dose, the FDA gathered data on each of the authorized COVID-19 vaccines for a minimum of two months, and is continuing to monitor the safety of vaccines as they are administered.

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