Update on COVID-19 Vaccines: Baptist Health Experts Respond to Common Questions

As the number of U.S. adults vaccinated against COVID-19 has surpassed the 50 percent mark, cases and hospitalizations continue to decline while optimism for a return to normalcy is on the rise.

But questions persist, especially among those who may still be hesitant to get vaccinated. Experts from Baptist Health’s Miami Cancer Institute and Baptist Hospital recently took part in a Zoom webinar to update the public on COVID-19 vaccines.

The bottom line, according to the three experts: The three U.S.-approved vaccines — the two-shot, messenger RNA (mRNA) vaccines from Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna; and the single-shot Johnson & Johnson — are proving to be very successful. And while there is no 100 percent guarantee of not contracting the virus, the vaccines protect adults — and now adolescents — from serious illness or hospitalization or death.

The panel of experts included: Jose Gaviria, M.D., director of antimicrobial stewardship programs at Miami Cancer Institute; Kelsey Williams, Pharm.D., antimicrobial stewardship pharmacy specialist, Baptist Hospital of Miami; and Lee Amaya, Pharm.D., infectious disease clinical pharmacy specialist, Miami Cancer Institute.

“Something that is very important to keep in mind — the success of the vaccines is measured by preventing you from going into the hospital, having a severe illness or dying because of the disease,” explains Dr. Gaviria. “Sometimes, people say: ‘Well, I got the flu vaccine or the COVID vaccine, and I still got the illness.’ But the illness is mild and won’t you need to go to the hospital. Then the vaccine is considered a success.”

Here are some highlights of the question-and-answer portion of the webinar during which questions from viewers were presented to the panel (view the full webinar here):

Question: There has been quite a few spikes in COVID-19 cases since last year. Do you predict another spike later this year?

Dr. Gaviria:
“I am optimistic, I think that is unlikely. I think that especially with the vaccine rollout and as hopefully more and more people become vaccinated. We could get close to the point that we have herd immunity. We are still far away from that, I believe at this point, because the people who have been vaccinated in the U.S. is (about 50 percent). But we need around 75 percent or so vaccinated for herd immunity. I hope that more people get vaccinated and hopefully we won’t see any spike. I doubt that will happen. Of course, it depends a lot on the behavior of people, transmissibility and how many more people get vaccinated.”

Question: As a person who has been vaccinated, is it really safe to go “back to normal” and stop wearing a mask as the CDC suggests?

Dr. Amaya:
“The reason why we have vaccines is to go about our normal life as we used to. So, there are several other diseases and viruses that we take vaccines for in childhood so that we don’t have to wear a mask when we feel comfortable going out. Obviously nothing is 100 percent, but it does a pretty good job at 90 to 95 percent of leaving us rest assured. We can’t go along living a life being scared of becoming infected with a disease or a virus or bacteria. That’s why we have vaccines and that’s why we’re all here giving this presentation today to kind of rest assure everybody that vaccines are good.

“We have lots of previous experience with other vaccinations that prevent infection and the transmission of them. Although I can’t give you a 100 percent answer like — you’re going to be a 100 percent safe — the vaccines do a pretty good job of making you really, really safe.”

Question: Can the vaccines affect fertility?

Dr. Williams:
“It doesn’t affect fertility. There is confusion about that after a false report serviced on social media. The doctor that did make that false report … doesn’t specialize in virology or infectious diseases. She made a claim that was completely inaccurate and she said that the spike protein has something to do with the attachment of the placenta, but it doesn’t. The vaccine is really just a set of instructions that teaches your immune system how do you excite proteins to protect yourself from the virus? There’s nothing that has proven to affect fertility, even in the trials of patients that got involved with the initial trial to get the vaccines on the market, there was multiple women in the trials that got pregnant and they have had no issues.

Question: Regarding blood clots: If I get the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, how would I know if I get a blood clot?

Dr. Gaviria:
“The number of blood clots that have been reported have been relatively few. Most of the blood clots have been in the abdomen, and they usually present with other symptoms … abdominal pain, nausea and vomiting, or in the brain where they may present with headaches. That’s usually the way that they present. But they found that — when they went back into the cases — they found that there was no increase in the number of cases compared to the general population.

“We have to keep in mind, blood clots happen to people in the general population every day in a small amount, of course. Always when this happens after a medication or a vaccine, we have to include that context with what happens in the general population. So, there was no increase in the number of cases (blood clots).”

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With internationally renowned centers of excellence, 12 hospitals, more than 27,000 employees, 4,000 physicians and 200 outpatient centers, urgent care facilities and physician practices spanning across Miami-Dade, Monroe, Broward and Palm Beach counties, Baptist Health is an anchor institution of the South Florida communities we serve.

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