Key questions to ask about COVID vaccine

Experts advise public to pay close attention to vaccine review process, listen to doctors

Dr. Frank McGeorge talks about the risks, benefits and the important questions to ask about the COVID-19 vaccine.
Dr. Frank McGeorge talks about the risks, benefits and the important questions to ask about the COVID-19 vaccine.

We’re going to be learning much more about these COVID-19 vaccines in the coming weeks, and I want to strongly encourage everyone to pay close attention.

Many people have concerns about the speed in which these vaccines were developed, and that’s why it’s especially important to make a point of following the FDA review process carefully.

“For total transparency, it’s going to be on YouTube,” said Dr. Arnold Monto, acting chair of the FDA Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee. “And we’re going to hear the data presented by the company. FDA is going to give us their interpretation of the data, it’s all out in public.”

Monto is an epidemiologist at the University of Michigan. He will lead the committee that will advise the FDA on whether or not any of the COVID-19 vaccines should be granted in emergency use authorization.

Two key questions: What are the risks and what are the benefits?

“With anything else that you put in your body, there will be some level of risk, and everybody is going to have to make a determination -- once they can get the vaccine -- on risk-benefit,” said Monto.

Remember, the benefits include not only protecting yourself but also reducing your ability to spread the virus to others at high risk.

The public meeting also will highlight the experts involved in the review process. That’s important to know, said the University of Michigan’s chief health officer Dr. Preeti Malani.

“I would pay attention to who is on the advisory council, who is asking questions and what they’re asking, and also what data are provided by the vaccine manufacturers,” said Malani.

Another important question: What side effects should you expect?

“There are side effects -- people can have flu-like symptoms and fevers, as well as injection site issues. But these are short-lived, and I think that’s an important message also,” said Malani.

Review: CDC’s frequently asked questions about COVID-19 vaccination

Are the experts you trust getting the vaccine? Does my doctor recommend it?

“I hope that we are able to provide good information to primary care providers and physicians and others who might be in a position to make a recommendation to patients about the vaccine, including some who might be hesitant,” said Malani.

It’s also important to ask: What don’t we know?

We don’t know how long the protection will last because that simply will take time to find out. We don’t know if there are one in a million side effects, but there will be systems in place to detect those quickly if they occur.

The bottom line: I hope everyone will listen, learn and ask the questions you need to ask to make an educated decision about the vaccine. Ultimately, a safe and effective vaccine will be our best shot at ending this pandemic.

Related: Will Michiganders be willing to get COVID-19 vaccine? Depends who you ask, study shows


Questions about coronavirus? Ask Dr. McGeorge


About the Author:

Dr. McGeorge can be seen on Local 4 News helping Metro Detroiters with health concerns when he isn't helping save lives in the emergency room at Henry Ford Hospital.