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Healthcare volunteer Melissa Lowry prepares a COVID-19 vaccine at a regional vaccination site in Massachusetts. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola) Healthcare volunteer Melissa Lowry prepares a COVID-19 vaccine at a regional vaccination site in Massachusetts. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)

Healthcare volunteer Melissa Lowry prepares a COVID-19 vaccine at a regional vaccination site in Massachusetts. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)

Tom Kertscher
By Tom Kertscher March 31, 2021

No, it’s not safer to skip the COVID-19 vaccine to avoid permanent side effects

If Your Time is short

  • Getting vaccinated reduced the likelihood of COVID-19 infection by as much as 95% in clinical trials.

  • If you get vaccinated and still get COVID-19, vaccines make it less likely that you’ll get seriously ill.

  • There is no evidence of permanent side effects.

One argument for not getting a coronavirus vaccination goes like this:

Even if you get vaccinated, it’s possible to get COVID-19; the vaccines can have "permanent" side effects; so, it’s safer not to get vaccinated. 

The argument is made in a post widely shared on Instagram that says:

"If I don’t take the vaccine, I’m at risk for covid. If I do take the vaccine, I’m still at risk for covid PLUS I’m at risk for permanent vaccine side effects. Therefore I’m reducing my risk by not taking the vaccine. That’s the real science." 

The post was flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Facebook.)

What the science shows is vaccines dramatically reduce the chances of getting COVID-19. And if you do contract COVID-19 even after a vaccine, you’re less likely to get seriously sick, thanks to the work of the vaccine.

As for permanent side effects, this is an area still being studied. But as one virologist put it, the risk "is extremely low to the point of being almost impossible to measure."

Vaccine: High levels of protection

The Food and Drug Administration has granted emergency use authorization to three coronavirus vaccines: one from Pfizer-BioNTech, one from Moderna, and one from Johnson & Johnson. They were authorized following clinical trials that lasted months and included tens of thousands of participants. The FDA found "no specific safety concerns" associated with any of the three vaccines. 

According to the private Mayo Clinic, based in Rochester, Minn., the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is 95% effective in preventing the COVID-19 virus with symptoms; the rate for Moderna is 94% and for Johnson & Johnson, 66%, based on clinical trials.

A federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study published March 29 found that the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines reduce risk of infection by 90% after the full course of two shots and by 80% two weeks after the first shot. The study was done under "real-world conditions": 3,950 health care personnel, first responders, and other essential and frontline workers were tested for 13 consecutive weeks.

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A study published Feb. 24 in the New England Journal of Medicine found that two doses of the Pfizer vaccine provided nearly 90% protection. That study, in Israel, compared 596,618 unvaccinated people with 596,618 people who were vaccinated.

Some people who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 will still get infected — but based on clinical studies, the vaccine can keep them from getting seriously ill, according to the CDC.

Vaccinations are widely recommended because, even though many people with COVID-19 have only a mild illness, others may get a severe illness, have long-term health effects or die — and there is no way to know how COVID-19 will affect you, even if you don’t have an increased risk of developing severe complications, the CDC says.

No evidence of ‘permanent side effects’

Because clinical trials started in the summer of 2020, it’s not yet clear if the COVID-19 vaccines could result in some long-term side effects, but vaccines rarely cause long-term side effects, the Mayo Clinic says.

Although data on side effects "is still emerging, and the CDC is tracking this in the U.S., the risk of permanent side effects is extremely low to the point of being almost impossible to measure," said Angela Rasmussen, a virologist at the Center for Global Health Science and Security at Georgetown University Medical Center. "There is no significant risk of permanent injury with any of the vaccines available in the U.S."

Most cases of severe, systemic adverse events from any of the COVID-19 vaccines currently authorized in the U.S are anaphylactic shock, a severe allergic reaction that occurs in about 1 in 1 million cases, Rasmussen said. It does not cause long-term permanent injury if treated promptly, she said.

"There really have been little to no reports of permanent side effects, conclusively attributed to the vaccines, to date," said Dr. Amesh Adalja, an infectious-disease specialist and senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins University Center for Health Security.

More than 145 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines were administered in the U.S. from Dec. 14, 2020, through March 29. Among them, 2,509 deaths were reported (0.0017%). According to the CDC, reviews by physicians from the CDC and the FDA "revealed no evidence that vaccination contributed to patient deaths."

Our ruling

A widely shared Instagram post stated: "If I don’t take the vaccine, I’m at risk for covid. If I do take the vaccine, I’m still at risk for covid PLUS I’m at risk for permanent vaccine side effects. Therefore I’m reducing my risk by not taking the vaccine. That’s the real science."

Science shows that the three COVID-19 vaccines authorized in the U.S. reduce the likelihood of infection by 66% to 95% — and make it less likely that you’ll get seriously ill if you do contract COVID-19 after being vaccinated. There is no evidence the vaccines cause permanent side effects.

We rate the post False.

Our Sources

Instagram, post, March 25, 2021

U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, "COVID-19 Vaccines Work," March 5, 2021

U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, "Myths and Facts about COVID-19 Vaccines," March 11, 2021

U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, "Selected Adverse Events Reported after COVID-19 Vaccination," March 30, 2021

U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, "Interim Estimates of Vaccine Effectiveness of BNT162b2 and mRNA-1273 COVID-19 Vaccines in Preventing SARS-CoV-2 Infection Among Health Care Personnel, First Responders, and Other Essential and Frontline Workers — Eight U.S. Locations, December 2020–March 2021," March 29, 2021

New England Journal of Medicine, "BNT162b2 mRNA Covid-19 Vaccine in a Nationwide Mass Vaccination Setting," Feb. 24, 2021

Mayo Clinic, "COVID-19 vaccines: Get the facts," March 27, 2021

Email, virologist Angela Rasmussen, Center for Global Health Science and Security, Georgetown University Medical Center,  March 31, 2021

Email, Dr. Amesh Adalja, infectious disease specialist and senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins University Center for Health Security, March 31, 2021

PolitiFact, "COVID-19 vaccine does not cause death, autoimmune diseases," March 4, 2021

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No, it’s not safer to skip the COVID-19 vaccine to avoid permanent side effects

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