THE COVID-19 VACCINE: WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW

January 7, 2021

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SAFETY AND EFFECTIVENESS

Q: What’s in the vaccine? How does it work?

A:  Two vaccines have been approved for use and are currently being used to vaccinate healthcare professionals, one developed by Pfizer and one by Moderna. Unlike some other vaccines, these vaccines do not use any live virus.  Both use messenger RNA (mRNA) which is a genetic code that instructs the body’s cells to make the COVID-19 spike protein themselves. The immune system then creates the antibodies that fight COVID-19, providing a significant level of immunity.

Q: Can I get COVID-19 from the vaccine?

A: No. There are no live virus particles and it is impossible to contract the virus from the vaccine.

Q: Will the vaccine cause side effects? If so, are they risky? How long might they last?

A:  As with other vaccines, some people will experience minor and temporary side effects, usually after a second dose. Participants have reported pain at the injection site, fatigue, occasional fever, headache, or aching muscles and joints. These side effects fade within 1-2 days.

These side effects are actually common with all vaccines: they are a sign that a vaccine is working and triggering an immune response. If someone is going to have a bad reaction to a vaccine, it is likely to occur in the first six weeks after vaccination.

 Q: What about long-term side effects?

A: COVID-19 vaccines are still being tested for long-term side effects. None have been detected yet. In the  US, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) are monitoring closely, and as more people get vaccinated, more information will be available and action taken as needed.

Q: Has anyone died or become ill after taking the vaccine?

A: No. Nearly 73,000 individuals took part in clinical trials for the two vaccines. There were no deaths, and nobody reported severe illness following the vaccination.

Q: How effective is the vaccine?

A: Both vaccines have a very high level of effectiveness: Pfizer has a 95 percent rate and Moderna has a 94 percent rate. That means that among people who took the vaccines, there were 94 to 95 percent fewer cases of COVID-19 than among those who did not take the vaccine. While it is difficult to compare vaccines for different diseases, for context, flu vaccines are only 40 to 60% effective in any given year.

Q: Is one vaccine better than the other?

A:  No. The two vaccines use the same mRNA technology and have similar levels of effectiveness. As with many childhood vaccines, both require you to receive two shots, given a few weeks apart. Typically, the second dose gives a longer-term boost. The first shot primes the immune system, helping it recognize the virus, and the second shot strengthens the immune response.  Your second dose must be from the same vaccine as the first.

Q: How long does the protection last? Will I need to get a booster shot every year?

A: It’s possible you may need to get a booster shot. Because the disease is new, we still have more to learn about how long immunity might last. The virus could also mutate as has happened in the UK.

Q: Can I still get the virus even if I take it?

A: Yes. It typically takes a few weeks for the body to build immunity after vaccination.

While the vaccine provides significant protection, it is not 100% effective. There is a slight chance you may still get infected, but it will most likely be a mild case of the virus as opposed to a severe case. Getting COVID without vaccine protection can have potentially deadly consequences – taking the vaccine does not.

Q: Can I still spread the virus even after getting vaccinated?

A: We don’t yet know. Therefore, it is critical that everyone continues to wear masks, socially distance and follow all the necessary public health protocols until a large proportion of the population is vaccinated and we are sure the vaccine provides long-term protection.

Q: Does the vaccine work better depending on age, weight or race?

A: Based on the available data, we know the Pfizer vaccines works well regardless of age, weight or race. Data on the Moderna vaccine is expected to be released soon and we anticipate it will show similar results. Trials for both vaccines included over 25,000 people from the communities most impacted by COVID-19, including Black, Latinx, and older people.

Q: I have pre-existing conditions. Will taking the vaccine have harmful effects?

A: We don’t yet know for certain how individuals with different pre-existing conditions will react to the vaccine. But we do know they are at a higher risk for contracting severe cases of COVID-19 without a vaccine. If you have a pre-existing condition, you should consult your doctor on what’s best for you.

Q: I already had COVID-19—do I still need a vaccine?

A: Early evidence suggests that natural immunity from COVID-19 may not last very long, but more studies are needed to better understand this. The CDC has not issued a recommendation on whether people who had COVID-19 should get a COVID-19 vaccine.

DEVELOPMENT AND APPROVAL PROCESS

Q: The vaccines were made so quickly—how do I know they are safe and not rushed?

A: The mRNA vaccines produced by Pfizer and Moderna were faster to develop because they are not using live virus particles. Instead, the mRNA is easy to make in the laboratory—saving several years for development. mRNA technology has been known to scientists for decades.

These vaccines are carefully studied, tested, and regulated before they can be used. The companies that created the vaccines submit extensive applications to several government agencies and independent bodies of scientific experts, which will only permit the vaccine to be used if the evidence shows it is safe.

Q: Did the clinical trials for both vaccines include people from the groups most affected by COVID-19, especially Black, Latinx, and older people?

A: Yes. While vaccines work the same in people of different races or ethnicities, it is important to make sure vaccines are tested in diverse population groups before they are released.

Q: Who approves the vaccine?

A: In the United States, vaccines are approved – or not – by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) before they can be used. The FDA bases its decision on data from clinical trials. The data is reviewed by independent experts who are not part of the government or the pharmaceutical companies, and by career scientists and physicians at the FDA who are not politically appointed and who are experts in vaccine safety and effectiveness.

Q: I hear that the FDA is granting emergency use authorization status to Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine. What does this mean?

A: Emergency use authorization (EUA) is when the FDA allows a medical product that has not yet been fully approved to be used in an emergency to diagnose, treat, or prevent a serious illness. EUA is issued when the FDA determines that the product “may be effective” against the disease based on all the available scientific evidence. This is a lower standard than what’s required for full approval of a product, but it still uses early data gathered from clinical trials.

VACCINE DISTRIBUTION

Q: Can I be forced by anyone to take the vaccine?  

A: No.  Taking the vaccine is not mandatory.  The public is encouraged to take it to protect themselves and their loved ones, coworkers and neighbors. Mass vaccination is the best way to stop the spread of COVID-19 and return to normalcy once again. Healthcare workers in the US and abroad are already taking the vaccine.

Q: Is the vaccine free? Will my insurance cover it?

A: You will not have to pay for the vaccine. The vaccine itself is free for all Americans (CARES Act 2020).

Q: Can I take the vaccine later if I decline the first opportunity?

A: Due to limited doses of the vaccine, choosing not to take it when it is first available may mean you will have to wait many more months for your next opportunity. We don’t have all the details yet on how many doses will be available in the initial distribution.

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