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Foundation Updates

Getting a COVID Vaccine Protects You and Others in the Parkinson’s Community

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Because of the more contagious delta variant, COVID infections are increasing across the country. The good news is that more and more people are getting vaccinated. But the number of people vaccinated remains low in many areas.

Many people with Parkinson’s disease (PD) were eager to get their vaccine as soon as possible. But some — or their family members, loved ones or caregivers — may still be hesitant.

Parkinson’s experts recommend that everyone with PD get a vaccine. If you have Parkinson’s, a vaccine can provide strong protection against serious infection, hospitalization, or death. (This is especially important for older people with PD.) If you know or care about someone who has Parkinson’s, the vaccine not only protects you, but also your loved one.

As a research organization serving the Parkinson’s community, The Michael J. Fox Foundation — with support of our Scientific Advisory Board and Patient Council — endorses the CDC recommendation that everyone age 12 and older get vaccinated.

Here, we describe what we know and don’t yet know about vaccines.

What we know:

Vaccines are safe.

Tens of thousands of people volunteered to test vaccines in rigorous clinical trials. These studies did not find serious side effects. But the CDC continues to closely monitor safety in the many millions who have been vaccinated to date. (At the time of this writing, 165 million Americans are fully vaccinated and more than 4 billion doses have been given worldwide.)

Real world experience with the vaccine is extensive, and reports of serious events, such as allergic reactions, blood clots, muscle weakness and others, have been rare. (Learn more.)

Your doctor can help you understand your potential risk in the context of your health, medical conditions, or any prior vaccine side effects.

Vaccines are effective.

The vaccines protect against serious COVID infections, hospitalizations, or death. Most people who have recently been hospitalized with COVID are unvaccinated. There is a small chance that a vaccinated person could get an infection. But it’s much less likely to be severe.

Vaccines prevent virus spread.

People who are vaccinated are much less likely to get — and therefore pass on — the virus. It’s true that the delta variant can spread more easily and is causing more infections. But people who’ve been vaccinated are much less likely to get the delta variant in the first place.

Vaccines may cause temporary side effects.

These are normal and expected. They typically go away within a few days. Common side effects include arm soreness, fatigue, headache, and others.

Some people with Parkinson’s report a temporary worsening of their PD symptoms. (For this reason, you may want to enlist extra support or care following the vaccine just in case.) But experts do not currently believe that vaccines affect Parkinson’s or its progression.

Researchers want to learn more about the vaccine experience in people with (and without) Parkinson’s. You can contribute your experience by filling out a questionnaire through MJFF’s online clinical study, Fox Insight.

Vaccines underwent full testing.

Some people worry that vaccines were developed too quickly or that they are not yet fully approved by the FDA. Researchers were able to develop vaccines quickly because the technology was in progress before the pandemic and they had significant resources, including financial support and volunteers for clinical trials.

The vaccines underwent full testing to demonstrate safety and efficacy, as required by the FDA. The emergency use authorization pathway streamlined steps outside of clinical trials so that vaccines could reach the public faster.

Pfizer and Moderna have applied to the FDA for full approval. (Johnson & Johnson plans to apply soon, too.) The FDA now will review all clinical trial and “real world” data as well as information on manufacturing processes. They’ll decide on full approval within the next weeks to months.

What we don’t yet know:

How long vaccines last.

Researchers don’t yet know exactly how long vaccine protection lasts. But they are working to learn more. There has been discussion about whether a “booster” shot may be needed at some point, but more data is necessary to determine who should get a booster and when. (Some countries have made plans to begin booster shots, but the CDC has not yet recommended them.)

How effective vaccines are against new variants.

The vaccines do appear protective against the delta variant. But there are other variants, too. Researchers are learning how much the vaccines protect against these.  

Potential long-term side effects.

If they happen, most vaccine side effects occur within days to weeks. They do not typically happen months or years later or cause long-lasting problems. COVID infection, on the other hand, can lead to long-term problems. After infection, some people experience thinking and memory difficulty, breathing problems, and other changes, for example.

Experts strongly believe the benefits of the vaccine outweigh the risks, especially for people with Parkinson’s. One of the best things we can do for ourselves and for those we know, love and care about who live with PD is get vaccinated. And all of us — vaccinated or not — can continue safety measures, including physical distancing, regular handwashing, and wearing masks inside when in public.

To learn more about vaccines, you can:

Speak with your doctor.

Your personal physician knows you and your medical conditions best. They can answer your questions and address any concerns. If your doctor hasn’t yet suggested the vaccine, ask for it.  

Talk with loved ones and friends.

Ask those you trust, such as your family members, spiritual advisor, and others in the Parkinson’s community, why they chose to get vaccinated and what their experience was.

Visit the CDC and local health department websites.

The CDC, your doctor’s office or medical center, and other health organizations offer trustworthy information about the virus and vaccines. Find credible vaccine information.  

Watch for misinformation.

There are a lot of myths surrounding COVID and vaccines. Maintain a healthy dose of skepticism: Don’t believe everything you read or hear, at least not before checking the source and asking questions. Get more tips to spot misinformation.

Learn more about COVID vaccines.

Find a COVID vaccine near you. (You do not need insurance and there is no cost to you.)

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