It’s been exhausting to separate fact from fiction in the middle of the pandemic when the internet and social media are awash with misinformation. And the lightning spread of the delta variant filling hospitals with sick patients across the U.S. this summer is only making things harder.

Here then, are the latest facts verified by Novant Health COVID experts. And remember, people in North Carolina are reading up and listening to their doctors. Vaccinations numbers are rising again. Meet people who changed their mind about getting the shots here.

We keep hearing about “breakthrough” cases in which vaccinated people get COVID. Does that mean the vaccines don’t work as well as promised?

No vaccine is 100 percent effective. But the COVID vaccine protects the vast majority of recipients from severe illness from COVID-19. Some 97% of hospitalizations and 99.5% of the deaths due to COVID occur among the unvaccinated.

Dr. Charles Bregier
Dr. Charles Bregier

Much has been made of the fact that those who got breakthrough cases can infect others. That’s true. “But if you get vaccinated, you are much less likely to become infected and infect others,” said Dr. Charles Bregier, Novant Health’s medical director of corporate health. So yes, there will be breakthrough cases, but getting the vaccine will greatly reduce your chance of becoming infected by someone who has a breakthrough infection. The biggest danger from breakthrough infections is to the unvaccinated.

One more key point: If you get vaccinated and have a breakthrough case, your chances of becoming seriously ill are greatly reduced compared to those who are not vaccinated. Remember: Some 97 percent of hospitalized patients are unvaccinated.

We keep hearing rumors about the vaccines posing dangers to women’s fertility. What’s the truth? And what about the future fertility of children?

There are no links to fertility problems and the vaccine, said Dr. Pamela Oliver, an ob-gyn with Novant Health WomanCare in Winston-Salem and president of Novant Health Physician Network. “There's nothing even theoretical about this, or any, vaccine, causing infertility,” she said. “Anything you hear or read to the contrary is absolutely unfounded.”

Dr. Pam Oliver
Dr. Pam Oliver

The mRNA technology shows the cells how to make a protein – think of it as a blueprint – that triggers an immune response. And then it disappears. “There is no plausible mechanism by which an mRNA vaccine could affect future fertility of children,” said Dr. Catherine Ohmstede, a pediatrician and Novant Health leader.

What about pregnant women and breastfeeding mothers?

On Aug. 11, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention strengthened its guidance on pregnant women, recommending they get vaccinated. The announcement came with the release of new safety research. The CDC had already recommended the vaccine for women who are breastfeeding.

One of the largest professional organizations guiding women's health in the United States, the Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine (SMFM), endorses the Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines for use in pregnancy, lactation or in those considering pregnancy.

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) also states the vaccine should not be withheld from pregnant women. Both ACOG and SMFM support vaccination of nursing mothers without discarding breastmilk and support getting the vaccine even if you are trying to conceive. They also recommend the vaccine for those who are pregnant.

‘I already had COVID. That means I’m immune. I don’t need the vaccine.’

“People who have had COVID-19 often have some immunity after recovering, but the level of protection varies from person to person and we don't know how long this protection lasts,” said Becky DeCamillis, a physician assistant with Novant Health Infectious Disease Specialists in Winston-Salem.

While we're still learning about the role of natural immunity in COVID infection, vaccination of those who've had COVID has proven to be highly effective, particularly against severe illness, hospitalization, and death.

Bottom line: "Vaccines have proven to be life-saving, and I recommend for all my patients to be vaccinated if eligible," DeCamillis said. "Those with previous COVID infection are in the unique position to maximize their protection by getting vaccinated as well."

You're doing your homework. That's great. One more thing….

Get your shot

Historically, vaccines have taken years to develop. How do we know this is safe?

Yes, the vaccines are new, but the mRNA technology is not new. It’s been in development for over a decade. The COVID vaccine was tested on 70,000 people before it was made available to the public. Government and independent scientists — all free from political influence — carefully researched and reviewed all the science and findings behind development of the vaccines before declaring them safe. More than 4 billion doses have been administered worldwide.

'The vast majority of people infected with COVID have survived. I’m willing to take the chance.'

Dr. Megan Donnelly
Dr. Megan Donnelly

The odds of skating through COVID unscathed aren’t as strong as some might think. Within six months of contracting COVID, 1 in 3 survivors is diagnosed with a brain, mood or psychiatric disorder, according to a study in Lancet Psychiatry. (The study was conducted before the delta and omicron variants.) “I would say the actual numbers are much higher for COVID survivors experiencing neurological effects post-COVID,” said Dr. Megan Donnelly, a women’s neurologist at Novant Health Neurology and Headache – SouthPark.

“Among other issues we’re encountering in patients are acute delirium or encephalopathy – which essentially means brain fog, confusion or general inability to focus,” Donnelly said. Other post-COVID fallout includes: fatigue and heart palpitations, ringing in the ears, longer-term loss of sense of smell and depression.

'It’s my choice. If I get sick, I’m hurting no one but myself.'

It’s your choice, to be sure. But Ohmstede, the pediatrician, reminds us: Babies and children under 12 are not eligible for the vaccine yet. When we choose not to get vaccinated, we also choose to increase our odds of becoming sick and spreading the disease to others who are not able to protect themselves.

“It’s time for us all to do our part to keep our friends and family safe,” she said, “end this latest pandemic surge, and provide the life we want for our children.”