Infectious diseases specialist explains vaccine benefits


Zachary Hiser

While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and many medical professionals are encouraging constituents to receive their COVID-19 vaccination, many are still wary of the possible side effects.

 While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and many medical professionals are encouraging constituents to receive their COVID-19 vaccination, many are still wary of the possible side effects.   

“Anyone over the age of 16 is eligible to have the vaccine,” Dr. Karen S. Willenburg, Chief of Infectious Diseases, Marshall School of Medicine, said.   

Willenburg said there would be some short-term side effects that are normal.   

“Like with any vaccine, you can get some local pain and redness at the sight of the injection,” Willenburg said. “This vaccine will also give you some swollen lymph nodes under your arm, and then the possible short-term side effects are your immune system reacting to the injection. So, possible side effects are fever, fatigue, headache, you can have some body aches with it.”   

She said the side effects start a few hours after the vaccine is administered and are short-lived.   

“They tend to last for, maybe, 24 hours. They usually start maybe eight to ten hours after the injection, and then they tend to last 24 to 48 hours, and they’re well managed with some Tylenol,” Willenburg said.   

Willenburg said vaccine side effects are most common after receiving the vaccination.   

“If you’re going to see a side effect from a vaccine, it happens soon after the vaccine,” Willenburg said. “These vaccines have been in people’s arms and doing their jobs for at least six months in the trials and the trials, for each vaccine, all involve more than 40,000 people. And the side effects tend to be very early, and within the first three months, you could probably still see some, but it would be less, and after that, a long-term side-effect would be very rare.”  

Willenburg said that having some side effects from vaccines is a good thing.   

“I will say the side effects of the vaccine. I was actually happy to have some symptoms after the vaccine cause that’s how you know your immune system is working,” Willenburg said. “And even if you don’t have any side effects, it doesn’t mean that it didn’t work, but side effects from a vaccine can be reassuring.”   

While the side-effects may be a concern for some, Willenburg said the short-term ones are minimal compared to COVID-19.   

“COVID causes those symptoms and much, much more that last for a very long-time,” Willenburg said. “Two weeks or more, those symptoms can last. And even people who had more of a mild course, they typically don’t feel well for seven days or more after they kind of get over it.”  

She said the COVID-19 could have long-term effects that could last a lifetime.   

“COVID itself can cause a lot of long-lasting effects. We’ve even seen some younger people who had a very mild illness related to COVID and then have long-term cardiac effects because of that,” Willenburg said. “That is really horrifying to think that you’re a young person who could potentially have a debilitating cardiac problem forever.”  

Willenburg said the impact the virus has on lungs is what typically sends people to the hospital from COVID, and they are going to be long-term.   

Willenburg said COVID has two phases.   

“There is a viral phase and an inflammatory phase. And during the inflammatory phase is where you get lung damage that will very likely become long-term,” Willenburg said. “Even young people can have longstanding cardiac effects. And the issue with younger people is that your body is healthy and so you can compensate up to a point, and usually, by the time you hit the point you are no longer able to compensate, things may actually be worse than what you think they are.”  

Willenburg said long-term effects can be cardiac and lung-related, and research has also shown some central nervous system effects. She said the vaccine is effective in preventing these side effects.   

Willenburg said while research shows COVID patients have had around a 90-day immunity, they should still get the vaccine and that there is no need to wait that long.   

“That natural immunity can wane, and you can get the infection again,” Willenburg said. “Usually, with people who have not had COVID, their side effects will be more strong after the second vaccine, which makes sense because that’s your immune boost. But if you’ve had COVID, your side effects may be stronger after the first vaccine, but they’re short-lived side effects, and they won’t give you those long-lasting disease ramifications from actually having COVID.”  

Willenburg said as long as the virus continues, we will continue to see new variants, and the vaccine is the way to stop the spread.   

“The more that a virus is able to circulate, the more it is able to mutate. So as long as it’s circulating, it will continue to mutate we will continue to have new variants but having the vaccine, there’s data now showing the likelihood of asymptotic carriage of COVID-19 after a vaccine is greatly reduced,” Willenburg said.   

Willenburg said the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are mRNA vaccines, where the Johnson and Johnson is a vector vaccine. She said they have all shown effectiveness but cannot be compared.   

As far as needing additional vaccines or boosters, she said those things cannot be predicted at this point. She also said research has not shown any effects on fertility.   

On Tuesday morning, the FDA and CDC paused administration and distribution of the Johnson and Johnson vaccine for further examination. Willenburg said this shows that it should not cause alarm.   

“The Johnson and Johnson vaccine is an adenovirus vector vaccine. The other vaccines available are mRNA vaccines,” Willenburg said. “Over six million doses of the J&J vaccine have been administered. The pause to further evaluate after a very limited number of cases of clotting to further investigate if there is a casual relationship to the vaccine is evidence of the transparency and science surrounding use of the vaccines and the ongoing monitoring of the vaccine after release. It is reassuring that our processes are working. We will eagerly await the outcome of the investigations.”  

Willenburg encourages everyone to watch the CDC or Department of Human and Health Resources data for information regarding these topics. She also encourages those with questions to reach out to their health providers.  

 “They [vaccines] will prevent severe disease and death,” Willenburg said. “At this point in time, any vaccine you are offered is the best vaccine for you.”    

Brittany Hively can be contacted at [email protected].