With COVID-19 vaccinations now open to almost virtually everyone over the age of 16 in the United States, the number of immune adults across the country is steadily increasing. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as of mid-April, 130 million adults have gotten at least one shot of the vaccine. What's better is that one-third of adults, or about 84 million people, have been fully vaccinated with their completed dosage of Pfizer, Moderna, or Johnson & Johnson.
These are statistics that someone hopeful for a coronavirus-free, face mask-free future in the U.S. would usually be happy about; that is, if millions of Americans weren't opting to voluntarily skip the second vaccine dose entirely.
According to newly released research by the CDC, almost 8% of adults — or five million people — who received one dose of Moderna or Pfizer skipped getting their second shot. Their reasons for doing so varied, according to The New York Times, with adults detailing both personal and on-site issues as to why they gave up on their second dose. For one, people are more fearful of vaccine-related side effects; aside from the standard fatigue, nausea, and mild fever being reported, the Johnson & Johnson vaccine being connected to (very few) blood clots, and the subsequent pause on administering the brand, has made people wary.
But the real issue: According to The New York Times, many of these people feel safe enough with one vaccine shot, compared to not being vaccinated at all. This is, perhaps, a response to some people reacting to the first shot and being fearful of getting sick from the second. Medical experts, however, have repeatedly explained that those side effects just mean your body is doing what it needs to do to fight against the virus.
"Your body is primed by that first dose of vaccine," Melanie Swift, MD, a co-chair of the COVID-19 Vaccine Allocation and Distribution Work Group at Mayo Clinic, explained during a Q&A session on vaccine side effects with the clinic. "The second vaccine dose goes into your body, starts to make that spike protein, and your antibodies jump on it and rev up your immune system response. It's kind of like they've studied for the test. And it's acing the test."
People who have only received one dose of the vaccine have also reportedly run into the issue of their original administration site not having enough doses of the brand of vaccine they originally received. Walgreens face this obstacle in March when they began canceling second dose appointments due to not having the same brands patients received the first time. While the CDC has reported that there should be no side effects in mixing vaccine brands, doing so should only occur in "exceptional situation[s]" and within a minimum window of 28 days between the first and second shot.
But beyond that, what doctors and officials have stressed most is how important it is to receive both doses of two-shot vaccines in order to reach immunity. Despite the safety people with just one vaccine dose feel and the fear of post-vaccine side effects, only receiving one shot can ultimately do more harm than good. Just one shot can lead to a weaker immune system, The Times reports, and many can also become more vulnerable to variants of the coronavirus with just one dose, in addition to just not fully being protected against the virus.
"The bottom line is your immunity will last longer and be more robust with a second dose," Dr. Anurag Malani, MD, a medical director of Infection Prevention & Antimicrobial Stewardship Programs at St. Joseph Mercy Health System, told Refinery29 on the topic of delaying second vaccine shots. "And it's best to have the intention of getting that dose on schedule."