Published on Feb 19, 2021

Video Transcript

[MUSIC PLAYING] JOHN WHYTE: Welcome, everyone. I'm Dr. John Whyte, chief medical officer at WebMD. And you're watching Coronavirus in Context. Today, I'm going to answer your questions. You've been e-mailing me. You've been posting on social media. And I'm going to take the time to answer what's on your mind.

So let's start off. Our first question is from Annette on Facebook who writes, Dr. Whyte, do we have to get the COVID-19 vaccine every year like the flu vaccine? Does it help protect against the new strains of COVID? Well, Annette, we're still figuring out for sure whether we're going to need vaccination every year. What we think right now is that it likely gives protection immunity for at least several months, maybe even several years.

The strains, those mutations, though, are causing us some pause because what we've seen is we know the mRNA vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna do protect against all the variants although less protection but still enough for the South African variant, AstraZeneca not as much protection for the South African. So we're going to have to see. It's likely that we may all need a booster shot to protect against those variants especially if we don't pick up the pace of vaccination.

Mutations don't happen if the virus doesn't survive. So the quicker we get everyone vaccinated, the more likely we're going to be protected from those variants. And if that happens, then we're not going to need a shot every year or booster. So we'll still have to wait and see. I don't know the answer for sure. I'm hoping that we don't. But we're going to need to watch those variants.

All right, our second question is from Garden also from Facebook. And she says, what about those with autoimmune diseases? Anything like a vaccine greatly stirs up my antibodies and wreaks havoc on my body. I'm fearful of both COVID and the vaccine.

Garden, what we do know is that those people with autoimmune diseases often are at greater risk if they catch COVID of having a bad outcome. That's the real concern. And remember, it's not just about death. It's also about long haulers having complications from COVID for many months and possibly even years. So that's why the CDC basically recommends vaccination for everyone other than those who have had anaphylaxis, a severe allergic reaction, to some component of the vaccine. And that includes people with autoimmune diseases.

And what you're talking about is in many ways your body overreacts, something called cytokine storm. And it attacks the good cells as well as the bad cells. The good news is that these vaccines really are an aspect of precision medicine. They're very precise in terms of developing antibodies to the spike protein.

So we haven't seen any evidence in tens of millions of doses in the United States of anyone developing this over-response in terms of immunity. So you always still want to check with your doctor. But the recommendation is that you go ahead and get vaccinated.

Our third question is from Caroline. And she writes, Dr. Whyte, do we know if there's going to be long-term effects from the coronavirus shot? Caroline, we have excellent safety data. In terms of vaccines, where we see problems, it's usually in the first few days, at the most the first two weeks. We don't see complications months later, years later. And we have lots of good safety data.

So I'm not at all concerned about any long-term complications because we would have already seen problems already. And the number of serious adverse events is very, very low. So it's always a risk versus benefit. Your risk of having a serious side effect from the vaccine is much less than your risk of getting COVID and having a bad outcome.

Our next question is from Joe. And Joe writes, I was on an antibiotic when I got my first shot. Does that make it any less effective? Joe, being on an antibiotic doesn't make the vaccine less effective.

We have started to see some data about the use of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory diseases and steroids because those could decrease your immune response. And some people have even suggested-- because we know people are getting some side effects, some arm soreness, headache-- maybe you should take NSAIDs, Motrin, ibuprofen before you get the vaccine so you weaken any type of side effects you have. You might also be weakening the immune response. So I'm not worried about antibiotics or anything. But I would say maybe hold off on nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories and steroids when you get the vaccine.

And finally, our last question is from Twitter. And Uche asked, does the vaccine cure COVID-19? Remember, vaccines are to prevent disease. It's not for treatment. And if you actually have COVID, we recommend that you wait typically around 90 days before you get vaccination. It's the way to prevent it, not to treat it or not to cure.

Those are the questions we have this week. I want to thank you all for sending them in. Remember, you can email me at [email protected] and post it on our social properties Thanks for watching.