Pssst! Vaccines Can’t Guarantee COVID Immunity

Frank Diamond

Frank Diamond has been with Infection Control Today since November 2019. He has more than 30 years of experience working for magazines, newspapers, and television news.

Linda Spaulding RN, BC, CIC, CHEC, CHOP: “There’s not enough literature out there yet to say that once you get the vaccine, you won’t get COVID again, and the literature that is out there says that once you get the vaccine, even if you don’t get COVID again, you can still be an asymptomatic carrier.”

The second point that Linda Spaulding wants to make is that you—you, being infection preventionists and other health care professionals, and the public—is to read the fine print. That is, read all the literature that a health care provider will hand to you when you get either the Pfizer/BioNTech or the Moderna vaccines for coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). The first point—the main point—that Spaulding, RN, BC, CIC, CHEC, CHOP, and a member of Infection Control Today®’s Editorial Advisory Board, wants to make is this: Get the COVID-19 vaccine. She can’t stress that enough. “I think it’s important for everyone to get the vaccine that can get the vaccine,” Spaulding said today in a wide-ranging discussion about the benefit of COVID-19 vaccination.

That discussion (which you can see in the video above) was so wide-ranging, however, that it ranged beyond what the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and many other healthcare experts have been telling the public. Spaulding had just recovered from the side effects of taking the second dose of the Pfizer vaccine. Like many people who get sick, whether from side effects or anything else, Spaulding did a deep dive into the literature. She found that the COVID-19 vaccines cannot:

  • Prevent you from getting COVID-19 again. “The research so far doesn’t know whether you can get reinfected with COVID, although they’re pretty sure you won’t die from COVID even if you get reinfected.” (The lack of research seems to be a sticking point with some experts.)
  • Prevent you from becoming an asymptomatic carrier. Even after you get to 95% immunity, thanks to the second dose, you can still become an asymptomatic carrier of COVID-19.
  • Provide definitive data about what they can and cannot do. Though they’ve been granted emergency use authorization (EUA), the vaccines are still, in a sense, in the experimental stage.

Spaulding says that the makers of the vaccines count on those who get it to help them collect more data. “If you experience any reaction to the vaccine, you scan that barcode on the paper that you’re given when you get the vaccine. It’ll take you to the Pfizer site, and then you have to input the side effects you had from the vaccine. Until this morning, I didn’t know that. And I only know that now because I’m having side effects.”

Spaulding continues: “I just heard it for the first time last night on the news. And it referenced back to the Pfizer and Madonna research studies. But how many people out there get a copy of the research study and read through it? They only take the information that’s coming out in the news media or in person-to-person conversations. And I think what I’m going to do today is I’m going to find those research studies, and I’m going to sit down and I’m going to go through them and find out what else don’t we know.”

Spaulding’s side effects included an upset stomach, headache, and other symptoms “mild enough to make you feel uncomfortable, but not anything that makes you feel super bad. And I have been hearing from some of my co-workers that they’re kind of experiencing similar symptoms anywhere from 1 day to 5 days.” These side effects don’t come as a surprise, really, and they manifested themselves in some volunteers during the testing phase.

Spaulding doesn’t fear that her voicing caveats about the vaccines’ side effects or effectiveness will discourage the public and even her fellow health care workers from getting vaccinated. She wants to stress that you cannot get COVID-19 from the vaccine. Also, a vaccine that protects someone from dying of a disease shouldn’t be that difficult of a sell. And the more people know about the side effects, the better.

“In a way, it’s a good thing if you have some kind of side effects, because you know your body recognized it and it’s starting to protect you,” says Spaulding. “Now one of the things that I heard last night, and I have to look it up and verify it, but it was from a physician. She was saying that in the Pfizer and Madonna studies that they put out on their testing of the vaccine is that the vaccine did not always protect people from getting COVID. That’s why they keep saying even if you get vaccines still wear your mask, because you could still get COVID but you’re not going to have any symptoms. You’re not going to know you have it. And they don’t know if you can still transmit it to other people.”

However, Spaulding said that there is the risk that what appear to be side effects is actually the disease itself. The most notable tell is the loss of taste and smell. When that happens to health care workers, they are tested for COVID-19.

All of Spaulding’s experience reinforces what Anthony Fauci, MD, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, urged last year: That people should continue with masking, hand hygiene, and social distancing even after the arrival of the vaccines.

However, the CDC has not been as forthcoming as it should have been, Spaulding believes. “Get the vaccine but know the limitations of the vaccine,” says Spaulding. “The CDC hasn’t been on top of getting all the information out there about the vaccines that it needs to get out there. Read everything that’s given to you—the literature—when you do get the vaccine. And the vaccine is not a miracle drug. There’s not enough literature out there yet to say that once you get the vaccine, you won’t get COVID again, and the literature that is out there says that once you get the vaccine, even if you don’t get COVID, again, you can still be an asymptomatic carrier.”

The CDC also hasn’t done a good enough job of letting the vaccinated know that they should report any side effects to the drug manufacturers. “This information hasn’t been pushed out there, either,” says Spaulding. “It wasn’t pushed to us when we got the vaccine—and we’re in a health care facility—that you need to read the papers that they gave you. And we encourage you to report your side effects. Because that’s only going to make things better. They may be able to change the vaccine, if it’s a vaccine that we have to get every year, to decrease some of those side effects. But if the general public doesn’t help out and let [the drug companies know] when they have the side effects, then companies can only go by the information that they have.”

Of course, getting buy-in from the public to forward information may take some doing.

“The majority of them get the papers, throw them on the other car seat and probably never, ever looked at them because they got the vaccine,” says Spaulding. “That’s all they were there for. But by putting this information out through [ICT®], then people will be more aware. But it’s still not getting on the news where people watch it.”

The level of immunity that the vaccines offer will vary, says Spaulding. “They say 95%, but that is if you have a super-duper immune system. If you have other issues, you might get to 75% or 85%. So not 100% of the people are going to get a 95% coverage. And in the elderly, it might give 55% coverage. That’s just how vaccines are. It depends on how your body responds to it, how quickly it builds antibodies. And we’re all very different.”

Within 2 or 3 months, researchers may have enough data to be able to address some of the concerns that Spaulding raises. “As more of us get the vaccine, and we report side effects and that kind of stuff, then they will be able to take the research to a different level, to try to determine will it prevent some people from getting COVID at all,” she says. “Or will it just prevent people from dying from COVID. And remember, people from the age of20 to 95, have died from this virus.”

And surviving COVID-19 doesn’t always mean that you’ve dodged it. “A lot of the young people they think, ‘Oh, I can go get infected and get over it.’ But a lot of those people are ending up with lung damage for the rest of their life, heart damage for the rest of their life. If you have the COVID vaccine on board hopefully that will prevent you [from suffering from] the lifelong consequences of it.”

With that Spaulding leaves her second point—read the fine print—and returns to her first and main point. Get the vaccine, especially if you’re a health care professional.

“I wouldn’t play Russian Roulette with this vaccine. Because you want to get it, you want to protect yourself, and especially for nurses, you’re taking care of sick patients. You don’t want to be the person who comes to work and infect your patients and cause an adverse reaction.”