For a second summer, COVID continues to wreak havoc on the country. Here in Santa Barbara County, after reaching a milestone of 50 percent of the population fully vaccinated, that number has not shown any momentum and is currently at 52 percent. Easily transmissible variants and the resurgence of public gatherings such as Old Spanish Days could create a perfect storm for another wave of active cases.
There is a flood of new COVID-19 information available online and on social media every day, and not all of it is reliable. In this series, the Independent will try to separate common COVID myths and misconceptions from truth using information from the Santa Barbara County Public Health Department, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and World Health Organization, as well as studies from Johns Hopkins and Yale.
The three vaccines with emergency-use authorization have been at the center of a highly polarized public debate, with many public officials encouraging vaccination and concerned citizens vocally opposed to mandates in schools and workplaces.
While it is proved that even with a vaccine, you can still catch COVID-19, the risk to those who are unvaccinated is far greater. A greater percentage of unvaccinated cases end in hospitalizations and deaths, whereas cases among vaccinated individuals are typically milder and do not have the severe consequences.
While these breakthrough cases have shown up in increased numbers across the country, it is important to put this information into context. In the county, cases among vaccinated individuals accounted for 11 percent of those admitted to hospitals. Nationwide, it is estimated that the number is less than one percent.
According to the latest data from the CDC, less than 0.004 percent of people who have been fully vaccinated have experienced a breakthrough case resulting in hospitalization, and less than 0.001 percent have died. Though the number of 35,000 cases in vaccinated individuals may seem high, it pales in comparison to the 35 million active cases in the country.
Also contributing to vaccine hesitancy is the data found in the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS). With this unverified reporting system, it’s also important to understand background context. This system is used to report adverse effects of vaccination but does not determine if a vaccine caused the events that are reported.
The CDC and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which run the system, note the limitations of the data, which is primarily designed as an early signal to detect issues with vaccines. The CDC says on its own website that “reports submitted to VAERS often lack details and sometimes contain errors.”
Those opposed to vaccine mandates in schools or workplaces are also concerned about freedom of choice in health care and vaccines that may have been rushed through emergency approval. A full FDA approval may change some minds, but some may still be morally opposed.
One rumor alleged that vaccines made women sterile. According to the World Health Organization, this myth stems from a petition filed stating that a protein in the Pfizer vaccine is similar to one that can disrupt placental development in pregnant women, rendering them sterile. This was not the case, as the protein in the Pfizer vaccine bears no resemblance to the harmful protein and has no adverse effect on pregnancy.
COVID-19 vaccines are new, and individuals should consult with medical professionals and public health guidance when deciding on a vaccine. Please check countyofsb.org/phd for regular updates.
At the Santa Barbara Independent, our staff is working around the clock to cover every aspect of this crisis — sorting truth from rumor. Our reporters and editors are asking the tough questions of our public health officials and spreading the word about how we can all help one another. The community needs us — now more than ever — and we need you in order to keep doing the important work we do. Support the Independent by making a direct contribution.