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Are the COVID-19 vaccines safe? A medical expert addresses your concerns

We asked you what your biggest vaccine concerns are. Then, we brought in a doctor to respond to them.

WASHINGTON — Can the coronavirus vaccine change your DNA? Will you have an allergic reaction? Will the vaccine interact with your other medications?

We asked people on social media what, if any, safety concerns they have about the COVID-19 vaccines. Then, the Q&A team brought in a coronavirus expert, Dr. Amesh Adalja of the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, to respond to them.

Q: Were these vaccines pushed through too quickly and without enough testing?

A: It may seem like it, but Dr. Adalja told us the timeline for these vaccines was not as speedy as it seems. 

"What allowed this to go fast wasn't that the clinical trials cut corners, it was the fact that [scientists] were using technologies that had been in development for about a decade - but were poised to be used for the first time," Dr. Adalja said. "And because messenger RNA or mRNA technology allows someone to make a vaccine candidate in a matter of days versus months, you can start clinical trials faster."

Q: But we don't know the long term effects of these vaccines? 

A: That's the case for any vaccine when it's first developed, Dr. Adalja said, and should not be cause for hesitation. "When you weigh the risks and the benefits of the vaccine it strongly favors the vaccine -- even if we don't have complete long term follow-up data, which isn't really possible," he said. Scientific trials to monitor these vaccines' long term effects are already underway.

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Q: How do these vaccines affect people with medical conditions or who are taking medications? 

A:  If you have specific medical concerns, you should talk to your doctor. But Dr. Adalja says there is reason to be optimistic.

"There have been tens of millions of people vaccinated in the United States and we have not seen any drug interactions that have occurred with the vaccine," Dr. Adalja said. "We have not seen anything that appears concerning or frequently occurring in people with comorbid conditions. On the contrary, we've already started seeing benefits in that population." 

Dr. Adalja also told us that most vaccines, even traditional ones, do not interact with medications. But he says the mRNA COVID-19 vaccines are even less likely to have a cross-reactivity because instead of giving you a weakened version of the virus -- like traditional vaccines do -- mRNA vaccines give your cells instructions to make the coronavirus spike protein so they can protect you from future infections.

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Q: What if I'm allergic to the vaccines?

A: "The allergic reaction rate is very low," Dr. Adalja said. "What it appears to be is that there are people who have had allergic reactions to injections or other vaccines that might be at increased risk for that. And that's why we keep people there for 15 minutes after their vaccination to make sure it doesn't occur, these reactions occur pretty much immediately. They're all treatable, none of them have been very severe, and none of them are outweighed by the benefit of the vaccine."

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Q: I've seen viral posts on social media saying that these vaccines can change my DNA. Is that true

A: This is a myth, Dr. Adalja said. You can read his full response below.

 "Remember, your DNA is in a specific compartment of your cell," Dr. Adalja said. "It's in what's called the nucleus and the nucleus is surrounded by a membrane called a nuclear membrane. These mRNA vaccines do not even go into the nucleus, they never leave what's called the cytoplasm of the cell. So there's no mechanism, there's no biological plausibility for it to change your DNA. It is basically a myth ... it's basically an arbitrary statement that's made really in defiance of any evidence, and completely in defiance of the science that we know supports the use of these vaccines."

If you have any other coronavirus questions, text us at 202-895-5599.

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