WWE Superstar Drew McIntyre spent the past year inside to help stop the spread of COVID-19, and he still caught the coronavirus. Now that COVID-19 vaccines are available to almost every age group in the United States, he has a few questions about how effective they are and why everyone should get the shot when they’re eligible.
A two-time WWE Champion, McIntyre has made wrestling with WWE his life, buoyed by the support of fans through the WWE Universe. Last year, he won his first WWE Championship during Wrestlemania 36 when he beat Bobby Lashley. But instead of celebrating his victory to the cheers of thousands of fans in a stadium, McIntyre received his title in the WWE’s Performance Center as viewers watched from home due to social distancing regulations arising from the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Our fans are the most important aspect of our product,” McIntyre said. “We’ve always said that our WWE Universe, what we call our fans, are our No. 1 superstars, our secret sauce, that create the unique atmosphere that you expect from WWE.”
To help put an end to the pandemic and get back to doing what he loves in front of thousands of supporters, McIntyre has been outspoken about the need to listen to public health officials to curb the spread of the coronavirus. Last year, McIntyre and other WWE Superstars joined the Ad Council to share advice on how to protect others from COVID-19.
Now, he has teamed up with Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), to ask common questions people have about the COVID-19 vaccine and understand why it’s vital that as many people get vaccinated as possible to end the pandemic for everyone, everywhere.
Here are the seven biggest questions — and answers — from their conversation.
1. Why should we get vaccinated?
McIntyre opened the conversation with Dr. Collins by asking perhaps the most important, albeit most simple, question: “Why should we get vaccinated at all?”
As head of the NIH, Collins had a hand in making sure the vaccine trials last year were as efficient and comprehensive as possible.
“I’m the guy who runs the National Institute of Health,” he said. “I can tell you the vaccines were tested in the most rigorous way that we’ve ever tested a vaccine.” At least 30,000 people were involved in trials for each of the three vaccines currently available in the United States — Moderna, Pfizer, and Johnson & Johnson.
Not only did the data support the conclusion that the vaccines were safe and effective, but they also underscored the fact that they were the best way for the country to prevent as many infections and deaths as possible.
“The best way for us to get past this is to get as many of us as possible immunized. And then the virus loses the Wrestlemania that’s happening right now between the virus and the country,” Collins joked.
2. How effective will the vaccines be against COVID-19 variants?
Currently, there are six notable COVID-19 variants that have been detected in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), raising concerns about whether the available COVID-19 vaccines will be able to stop the spread of the coronavirus.
“This virus has been so successful in infecting so many people,” Collins said. “If a change happens to make the virus more contagious, that particular viral variant starts to dominate. We’ve seen that happen right now in the United States, where a variant that originally swept through the United Kingdom is now sweeping through the US. More than half of the [COVID-19 cases] we look at now are that very strain.”
The good news is that the COVID-19 vaccines being used in the United States have proven to be very effective at preventing infection and a serious case of COVID-19 from developing. As long as the virus continues to spread, though, more variants will emerge, which is why it’s important to get vaccinated as soon as possible.
“The best way to protect against [COVID-19] is to make sure this virus doesn’t have the chance to keep infecting people and develop new ways of spelling its instruction book,” Collins added. “If we can all get vaccinated and tamp that down, we could see the end of the variants.”
3. Do I have to get vaccinated if I already had COVID-19?
Earlier this year, Drew McIntyre tested positive for COVID-19 and quarantined at home to prevent spreading the virus to anyone else.
“I had a fever one night, was rundown for a few days, lost my sense of smell and taste. Obviously with everything happening to people across the world I got lucky,” McIntyre said, bringing up an important question that millions of people who have been infected with the coronavirus may have: If your body has already developed a natural immunity to the virus, is it necessary to get vaccinated?
“And the answer is, yeah, you have some immunity, but the vaccine gives you a heck of a lot more,” Collins said, encouraging anyone who has already had COVID-19 to get vaccinated. He also encouraged viewers to find vaccines near them by going to vaccines.gov to schedule an appointment.
4. What is mRNA?
With everyone talking about how the COVID-19 vaccines were made, a lot of people are confused about how mRNA vaccines work and led to the development of the fastest vaccine ever created.
“Well, [mRNA] is a way of making a vaccine that happens to be really efficient and turns out to be really safe and really effective,” Collins said.
He broke down how mRNA carries the code for the protein found on the surface of the virus that causes COVID-19 to help our bodies learn how to trigger an immune response.
“RNA is really good at coding for that protein, and the value of that approach is that you can immediately start designing your vaccine as soon as somebody puts up on the internet the actual letters of the code of this virus,” he added.
Scientists have used several techniques to develop vaccines, such as by deactivating the virus so that it’s no longer infectious but will still help our bodies learn how to develop an immune response. While the COVID-19 vaccines use newer mRNA technology, scientists worked from decades of research and testing.
“I think in the future a lot of vaccines will depend on mRNA because it turned out to work so well for COVID-19,” Collins said.
5. When can we get back to normal?
Almost 50% of the United States population has been fully vaccinated against COVID-19, which has enabled the CDC to issue more relaxed guidelines concerning social distancing. Still, COVID-19 remains a threat for those who have not been vaccinated, which is why the fastest way for people to return to their favorite activities safely is to be inoculated as soon as possible.
“People should recognize already when you get vaccinated there’s a liberation that you get to do stuff that previously you didn’t feel was quite safe,” Collins said, sharing that his family was able to host a dinner with another couple that had received the COVID-19 vaccine. These “normal” activities that many people could not participate in for over a year are already possible for those who have been vaccinated.
6. Is the vaccine safe for pregnant women?
Many women of childbearing age have seen rumors and false reports that the COVID-19 vaccine can render them infertile, but Collins shares that the data supports the fact that COVID-19 vaccines are safe for pregnant women and do not cause infertility.
“We have very good data now because there have been so many people who have been immunized, 150 million people in the US and many of them are women of childbearing age,” he said. “First of all, there’s no evidence that this has any impact on fertility.”
Collins also said that many women who were pregnant when they were inoculated against COVID-19 have now had their children without reporting any adverse health effects. He did point out, however, that there are indications that pregnant women who contract COVID-19 may report more serious cases than people who are not pregnant.
“So if you had to balance the risks here, it sounds as if vaccination for pregnant women is probably more of a benefit than a possible risk,” he added.
7. Will the vaccine have negative consequences on people of color?
Marginalized communities that have been hit the hardest by COVID-19 are reported to be more reluctant to get the vaccine, owing to a history of maltreatment by the health care system and compounded obstacles to getting the vaccine, such as language barriers.
Because of structural inequalities that result in health data for people of color being inadequately reported, McIntyre brought up that many people wonder if the COVID-19 vaccines will have unintended consequences for these communities.
Collins called attention to the fact that African Americans, Native Americans, and Hispanic Americans have reported higher levels of hospitalization and death in the United States, making it necessary for the vaccine trials to be representative of the country’s racial makeup.
“I personally spent a lot of my time over the course of the last nine months making sure that the vaccine trials enrolled people from all of those groups,” Collins said. “In the Moderna vaccine trial, for instance, 37% of the participants were people of color.”
“So you can look at the results and say this isn’t just about young, healthy, white people — this is about our country. And you can look at these subgroups and see they all had this remarkable benefit of 95% effectiveness and a very good safety record,” he added.
As Drew McIntyre wrapped up his conversation with Dr. Collins, he pointed out that many of the concerns people have about the vaccines have arisen from misinformation on social media and internet rumors.
“A very common theme of our chat here is: Don’t just believe everything people tell you in the streets, what you read on clickbait,” McIntyre said. “Take the time to look at the actual facts.”
The data concerning COVID-19 vaccinations in the United States is incredibly promising, highlighting the fact that the vaccines work at stopping the spread of the coronavirus. In order to end the pandemic for everyone, everywhere, though, more people need to get vaccinated.
“This is a gift that we’ve somehow been able to put forward through the tools of science,” Collins said. “And why would we not want to unwrap the gift? And that means, roll up your sleeve.”