Published on Feb 26, 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. Remember, you can email them to me at [email protected], as well as post on WebMD social media, including Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

So let's get to this week's questions. The first one is from Gail. Gail emailed me and asked "Dr. Whyte, I didn't get any reaction, not even a sore arm from my second Pfizer vaccine. Does that mean I had a very low or no immune response? Am I still protected?"

Gail, don't worry. You're likely still protected. The current COVID vaccines are reactogenic. That means they create an immune response that often causes side effects.

The second dose typically results in more intense side effects because it's a boost. You've already primed your immune system. So by the second one, you should develop a more robust immune response. This isn't unusual. Several vaccines are reactogenic, including shingles.

Now, if you didn't get any side effects or only very mild ones, don't be alarmed. It doesn't mean your immune system isn't working. Everyone's immune response is a little different. And less than half of the people in the studies had any side effects.

The next question is from Susan. And she wrote "I have Bell's Palsy for eight years and have read of Bell's Palsy complications from the vaccine, so I'm hesitant to get the shot. What are the chances of a getting worse or affecting another area of my face?"

Reports released from Pfizer and Moderna show that seven COVID-19 vaccine trial participants experienced a type of facial paralysis called Bell's Palsy in the weeks after vaccination. An analysis of the number of Bell's Palsy incidents showed the rates no higher than the number of people who experienced Bell's Palsy in the general population. There is additional research going on, but both the CDC and FDA suggest that if you have had Bell's Palsy, you can still get the vaccine when you're eligible.

Jane wrote me recently and asked this-- "Dear Dr. Whyte, thank you four of the interview with Dr. Ng regarding microbiome and COVID severity. Are there any specific probiotics that you're recommending for patients who are elderly or who have a weakened immune response?"

Hi, Jane. Thanks for watching that interview. We continue to learn about the importance of our gut in our immune system. As to the role of probiotics, healthy bacteria, they're live organisms that when consumed in adequate amounts might help protect you against infections. There's a bunch of research studies going on right now about their possible role in protecting us against coronavirus.

But we don't yet know the answer. And remember, everything has risks and benefits. And people can develop side effects, including an allergic reaction from probiotics.

So right now, the best advice I can give you to protect yourself against COVID is to follow those public health safeguards we've been talking about-- wear a mask, physically distance, avoid crowds, get the vaccine when it's your turn, eat a healthy diet. I promise I'll be on the lookout for the results of the studies on probiotics. And I'll update you when we get it.

And finally, Thomas from Twitter wants to know "can you have had COVID with a negative antibody test?" Thomas, the answer is yes. It's possible to have had COVID and have a negative antibody test. It's unusual, but it can happen.

A lot depends on timing. Remember, the antibody tests don't test for current infection, but rather past infection. If you have antibodies, the test is usually positive. Because it takes time for antibodies to develop, false negative test results can happen if the blood sample is collected too soon after infection, typically a couple of weeks.

Since we don't know how long immunity lasts, it's also possible that if you had COVID last year and you test this year, the test might be negative. What I find exciting is that we're starting to talk about measuring neutralizing antibodies, typically something only done in research. The reason why this is important is it can tell us how effective your antibodies are in blocking the virus to help protect you from another COVID-19 infection. Most labs aren't doing this yet. But I do expect it to change.

OK, that's all the time we have for questions today. Keep them coming and I'll answer more next week. And remember, think positive and test negative. Be well.