olks appear to be getting more and more relaxed and taking fewer safety precautions with regards to safeguarding themselves against getting COVID-19 and its variants as indicated by the rise of infection across the country.  Despite all the public information that has been disseminated about the viruses and the dangers they pose to especially the unvaccinated, only 51 percent of Blacks have received a COVID-19 vaccine.

According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, African Americans are more likely to become severely ill or die due to complications of COVID-19 than other populations. In fact, Blacks account for 15 percent of COVID-19 deaths in this country, though we make up only 12 percent of the overall population and are nearly three times as likely to be hospitalized due to COVID-19 as white people.

We want to get your COVID-19 vaccine questions answered so that you can understand the gravity of the situation and make an informed decision that can be lifesaving.

What are the Available COVID-19 Vaccines?

At this time, there are three COVID-19 vaccines available in the United States: Moderna, Pfizer (Comirnaty) and Johnson & Johnson.

All three have undergone extensive testing and either have been granted full approval by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) or are available under Emergency Use Authorization (EUA). In many ways, these vaccines are alike, including the fact that they were developed using the same rigorous vaccine testing process as all vaccines in the U.S. Most importantly, all three vaccines are highly effective against severe illness, hospitalization and death.

We have historical concerns about the way we’ve been treated in the health care system which is why there is hesitancy with regards to vaccination. Stop the conspiracy theories! There is nothing in the vaccines that is harmful to you. The vaccines are safe and highly effective at preventing the spread of COVID-19, illness, hospitalization and death. The COVID-19 vaccines were studied across diverse and high-risk populations, all of whom bravely volunteered to participate, and the safety and effectiveness have been proven.

How Do the Vaccines Work?

When a person is infected with a germ, whether a virus or bacteria, the immune system creates special proteins, called antibodies, that help protect against future infections from that germ. The next time your immune system sees that germ, it “remembers” and uses the antibodies to fight against the infection. Some antibodies only last a few months, while others can protect you for a lifetime.

Vaccines create antibodies that allow your body to protect itself from future infections without actually getting sick.

Previously developed vaccines contain very small amounts of viruses or bacteria that are dead or greatly weakened. They trick the immune system into believing that the body is being infected. The COVID vaccine is no different in that it creates antibodies, but it uses a different set of tricks than traditional vaccines to create coronavirus immunity.

As COVID vaccines began to be distributed, many wondered how the COVID vaccines work and if they are safe. The COVID vaccines from Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna utilize messenger RNA (mRNA) technology (see below for an explanation) to create their vaccines. This breakthrough technology, which creates immunity in a different way than traditional vaccines, is one reason the COVID vaccine testing and development took less than a year.

Unlike the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines, the Johnson & Johnson vaccine does not use messenger RNA (mRNA) to help the body build its defenses against the virus. Instead, it is an andenovector vaccine. The scientists behind the Johnson & Johnson vaccine added the gene for the coronavirus’ signature spike protein to an adenovirus, a common virus that causes colds or flu-like symptoms. However, the adenovirus was modified so it can enter cells but can’t replicate or cause illness.

How mRNA Vaccines Work

mRNA is a piece of genetic material that cells use as “instructions” to create certain proteins in the body. It is like a bit of computer code.

When it’s not inside a cell, mRNA needs protection to keep it from disintegrating. This is why the vaccines require cold temperature storage. To keep the mRNA from disintegrating when it enters the body, the COVID-19 vaccines use fat bubbles to shuttle the mRNA to certain cells.

The mRNA instructs these cells to create “spike proteins.” These proteins simulate part of the SARS-CoV-2 (novel coronavirus) cell structure and trick the body into believing it’s infected with the virus.

In the case of the mRNA vaccines, your body is never exposed to the germ but is still able to produce an effective immune response.

What’s in the COVID-19 Vaccines?

Like all other vaccines approved by the FDA, COVID vaccines do not contain toxic or harmful ingredients. This is another common vaccine myth.

One of the benefits of using the current COVID vaccines is that they avoid some of the issues some people may have with certain vaccines.

The vaccines aren’t made using egg proteins, so unlike some forms of the flu vaccine, people who have an egg allergy can take the vaccine.

Additionally, human fetal cells aren’t used during the vaccine development process. This makes the COVID vaccines a suitable option for individuals who object to this practice.

Can You Get COVID from the Vaccine?

NO! Vaccines that contain either dead germs or small pieces of germ protein can’t make you sick. This is a common vaccine myth. Some vaccines have some mild side effects, such as fatigue or a low-grade fever. This is a result of the body’s immune system response, not the virus. You cannot get COVID-19 from a vaccine.

All COVID-19 vaccines are inactivated vaccines, meaning they DO NOT contain the virus that causes COVID-19 and will not make you sick.

Did the Government Experiment with Black People and the Vaccines?

There is no experimentation happening with the vaccines Black people. The COVID-19 vaccines were studied across diverse and high-risk populations, all of whom volunteered to participate, and the safety and effectiveness have been proven.

  • For the Pfizer clinical trials, of more than 37,000 participants, 9 percent were Black or African American, 28 percent were Hispanic/Latinx and 21 percent had at least one underlying conditions (for example, diabetes or obesity).
  • For the Moderna clinical trials, of more than 30,000 participants, 10 percent were Black/African American, 20 percent were Hispanic/Latinx, American and 25 percent were 65 or older. The vaccines were proven to be safe and effective for everyone.
  • For Johnson & Johnson (J&J), of the 44,325 participants, 19.4% were Black/African American, 45.3 percent were Hispanic/Latino, 9.5 percent were American Indian or Alaska Native, 0.2 percent were Hawaiian/Pacific Islander and 5.6 percent were multiracial.

While COVID-19 impacts different groups disproportionately, there was no difference in how effective the vaccines are across different demographics.

Is the Booster Shot Safe?

Booster shots are proven to be safe. As with the initial two-shot or single-dose vaccine shots, serious side effects are rare. So far, reactions reported after the booster shot have been similar to those after the first vaccination series, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Overall, side effects have been mostly mild to moderate, the CDC says. Side effects are normal signs that your body is building protection against COVID-19.

Are You Still Fully Protected Without a Booster Shot?

You are still considered vaccinated two weeks after your second dose of Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna or two weeks after your single-dose shot of the Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen vaccine.

However, the booster shot is intended to continue to provide you with the best protection against this pandemic, particularly the variants. It’s crucial to keep updated with your vaccination by completing your booster dose as soon as you are eligible for it.

Does the Booster Work Against Recent Variants?

Data suggest that the Omicron strain is spreading faster than any other COVID-19 variant before it. Omicron first appeared in the United States on December 1, 2021. In January of this year, the CDC reported that Omicron represented 95 percent of new infections in the United States.

Data from recent clinical trials showed that a booster shot increased the immune response to the variant in participants who had been fully vaccinated with Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccine six months earlier or Johnson & Johnson two months earlier. Additionally, clinical trials demonstrated that a booster can help prevent COVID-19 with symptoms.

Should you get a COVID-19 vaccination?

If you are unvaccinated, you are unprotected! It may have looked like the pandemic is winding down, but the virus is still circulating widely in every community. If you are not vaccinated, then you are still just as vulnerable to the disease as ever. And if you only received one dose of a two-dose vaccine, you are NOT fully vaccinated. The risk of getting COVID (and possibly dying from it) is far greater than the risks associated with the vaccine. Allergic reactions and other adverse events from the vaccines are very rare. By choosing to get vaccinated, you are protecting not only yourself and your family but your community as well.

The more people who choose vaccination, the safer we all will be!