With the spread of the COVID-19 Delta variant across the globe and an uptick in COVID-19 cases that came with it, the public is becoming increasingly alarmed. We are told that vaccines are effective against the Delta strain, yet even those who were vaccinated appear to be getting sick. The question is, did the immune system of these people not respond to the vaccine? Many people think so, claiming that an absence of side effects means that the vaccine didn’t work. Is this true or not?
Are Vaccine Side Effects a Marker of Effectiveness?
Experiencing side effects - such as fever, chills, fatigue, headaches, and muscle aches - is possible after any vaccination, including COVID-19 vaccinations. Of the 15.9% of the world population who have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19 (as of the beginning of August 2021), the most common COVID-19 vaccination side effects are pain, redness, and swelling at the injection site. We are told not to fear these symptoms, as the side effects are an indication that our immune system is building up antibodies against a pathogen.
While this is true, not everyone will experience side effects after getting a COVID-19 jab. The good news is, vaccine side effects and immune responses are not linked according to infectious diseases experts. Dr. William Schaffner, a professor of infectious diseases at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, told Medical News Today that “There is no direct correlation between side effects and protection,” said Prof. Schaffner.
Moreover, data from both vaccine manufacturers and independent researchers have confirmed that Moderna and Pfizer’s vaccines are over 90% effective 2 weeks after the second dose and the remaining 10% have either partial or no protection. Those who may get less protection from the vaccines are people with compromised immune systems, such as cancer patients undergoing active treatment and those who take immunosuppressants. Since vaccines work by making the body produce immune cells against SARS-CoV-2, those with a weaker immune system may not be able to build up complete immunity.
A different reason altogether why immunity against the novel coronavirus may be waning is because COVID-19 vaccines were never suggested to have a permanent effect. Back in April of 2021, Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla said the following in a CNBC interview: “A likely scenario is that there will be likely a need for a third dose, somewhere between six and 12 months and then from there, there will be annual revaccination, but all of that needs to be confirmed. And again, the variants will play a key role.”
It seems that this is exactly what seems to be happening in many vaccinated people right now: the antibody levels in patients who received a vaccine in winter and early have probably started to drop. Signs of this waning immunity can be seen in countries like Israel, with data from the health records of over 1.3 million people vaccinated between January and April 2021 revealed that those vaccinated in the winter were 53% more likely to get COVID-19 in the subsequent months than those vaccinated in March and April.
Mind you, though, that this data doesn’t tell us anything about the severity of COVID cases among vaccinated individuals. Experts point out that vaccines are still highly effective at keeping people out of the hospital. Both real-world studies and the Pfizer and Moderna estimates are in the high 90s at protecting people from severe COVID-19, even 6 months post-vaccination - so there is a silver lining. The bottom line is, don’t worry if you didn’t experience any side effects after getting your COVID-19 vaccine- you are just as protected as those who did experience them.
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