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Frequently Asked Questions

The long-awaited COVID-19 vaccine finally arrived in December, offering hope at the end of a long and difficult year. Below are responses to frequently asked questions with the best information we have at this time.

Why Vaccinate?

  • Waiting for “herd immunity” to develop naturally in an entire community means many senseless deaths will occur.
  • Herd immunity will not eradicate the infection. This is clearly shown by the examples of polio and smallpox, which caused devastating illnesses for centuries until vaccines were developed.
  • While we are still learning how long COVID-19 immunity produced by vaccination will last, vaccine-based immunity is highly likely to save lives.
  • Current bed/nursing ratios at our hospitals show that we are in the midst of a crisis.

How do vaccines work?

Vaccines stimulate the human body’s protective immune responses so that, if a person is infected with a pathogen, the immune system can quickly prevent the infection from spreading within the body and causing disease. In this way, vaccines mimic natural infection but without actually causing the person to become sick.

COVID-19 vaccines help our bodies develop immunity to the virus that causes COVID-19 without us having to get the illness. Different types of vaccines work in different ways to offer protection, but with all types of vaccines, the body is left with a supply of “memory” T-lymphocytes, as well as B-lymphocytes (defensive white blood cells) that will remember how to fight that virus in the future.

It typically takes a few weeks for the body to produce T-lymphocytes and B-lymphocytes after vaccination. Therefore, it is possible that a person could be infected with the virus that causes COVID-19 just before or just after vaccination and then gets sick because the vaccine did not have enough time to provide protection.

Sometimes after vaccination, the process of building immunity can cause symptoms, such as fever. These symptoms are normal and are a sign that the body is building immunity

Learn more from the CDC about how vaccines work.

What Vaccines are Available?

  • The Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine, now marketed as Comirnaty, is the first FDA-approved COVID-19 vaccine for adults 16 and older. The vaccine also continues to be available under emergency use authorization (EUA), including for individuals 12 through 15 years of age.
  • Pfizer’s vaccine has been shown to be 95% effective. It is given in a 2 shot sequence, approximately 21 days apart.
  • Moderna’s vaccine and Johnson & Johnson have now also received EUA from the FDA.
  • Moderna’s vaccine has a 94.1% efficacy rate. It is administered in 2 shots, approximately 28 days apart. It is available for ages 18 and up.
  • It will be administered in 2 shots, approximately 28 days apart.
  • 94%-95% efficacy is outstanding. For example, the flu vaccine is often around only 60% effective.
  • Johnson & Johnson is a single-dose vaccine. It has been shown to be 66.3% effective. It is available for ages 18 and up.

How did the process of approving the vaccine move so quickly

Traditionally, it has taken many years to develop a vaccine, confirm its safety and efficacy, and manufacture the vaccine in sufficient quantities for public use. This timeline has been shortened for the COVID-19 vaccine. There are several ways this has been made possible.

Some clinical trials have combined Phases 1 and 2 to assess the safety and immune responses.

Due to the high number of new cases of COVID-19 in many places, differences in disease risk between those who received the viral vaccine and those who received the placebo or comparison vaccine can be measured more quickly than in the absence of a pandemic.

The United States government and others have heavily invested in building the manufacturing capacity to produce large numbers of vaccine doses before the findings of the Phase 3 trials are available. Vaccine manufacturers typically wait until the Phase 3 trial is completed and shows safety and efficacy before making such a large investment in manufacturing capacity.

None of the factors listed above that contribute to the accelerated development of a vaccine for COVID-19 imply that safety, scientific or ethical integrity is compromised, or that short-cuts have been made.

What is an emergency use authorization?

According to the FDA, an Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) allows the FDA to make a product or drug – whether new or not yet proven for a given use – available during an emergency, provided there are data to suggest that it is reasonably safe and effective. The basic requirements for a EUA are:

  • a public health threat exists;
  • there is reason to believe that the product will be effective in diagnosing, preventing, or treating the illness;
  • the known or potential benefits outweigh the risks; and
  • there are no adequate, approved, available alternatives

Is the Vaccine Safe?

  • It might appear that vaccine development has been rushed, but it’s important to know that many new scientific developments over several decades have led to this moment. The healthcare community is confident in this scientific process.

When developing the vaccine, the following were accelerated:

  • Review and approval to begin development
  • Funding for development
  • Prioritizing development of the vaccine
  • Identification and selection of candidate vaccine targets that produced immunity

What wasn’t accelerated:

  • Execution of clinical trials
  • Interpretation of clinical trial results
  • Review of safety

Clinical trials have NOT compromised safety and each has included tens of thousands of volunteers.

Can you get COVID-19 from the vaccine?

No, it is not possible to get COVID-19 from vaccines. Vaccines will use an inactivated virus, parts of the virus, or a gene from the virus. None of these can cause COVID-19.

Are There Side Effects?

  • In clinical trials, the vaccine has been found to be well-tolerated.
  • After you receive the vaccine, the recipient will be directed to sit and be monitored for 15 minutes (30 minutes if the recipient has a history of anaphylaxis) to ensure he or she does not have an immediate allergic reaction or other negative response. This length of time is pursuant to FDA guidelines.
  • As with all vaccines, there can be injection site reactions (redness, swelling and pain) as well as fever, fatigue, headache, chills, vomiting, diarrhea, muscle pain and/or joint pain. These symptoms mean your immune system is reacting to the vaccine as designed. They should be mild and short-lived, i.e., one to two days.
  • Side effects may be a bit stronger after the second dose, which isn’t uncommon.

What if Someone has Already had COVID-19? Are They Immune or Should They Get the Vaccine?

Experts do not yet know how long you are protected from getting sick again after recovering from COVID-19. Even if you have already recovered from COVID-19, it is possible—although rare— that you could be infected with the virus that causes COVID-19 again. Studies have shown that vaccination provides a strong boost in protection in people who have recovered from COVID-19.

There is not enough information currently available to say if or for how long after infection someone is protected from getting COVID-19 again. Early evidence suggests natural immunity from COVID-19 may not last very long, but more studies are needed to better understand this.

If protection only lasts for several months, vaccination could be of benefit.

How Soon After Getting the Vaccine Will I be Protected?

  • We do not know how long protection will last following vaccination, but long-term protection will be measured in Phase 3 trials and other groups prioritized for early vaccination. There have already been cases where individuals are infected twice but most often the second illness was mild or without any symptoms. This can be expected with an immune response that protects against disease but not infection.

Once I’m Vaccinated, Will I Still Need to Wear a Mask/Practice Social Distancing?

  • Yes! Vaccines boost the immune system so it is ready to fight the virus if you are exposed, but we don’t yet fully know whether vaccinated people could still be able to transmit the virus even if they themselves are not made ill by it. Since we won’t have enough vaccine to protect everyone right away, you will still need to wear a mask and follow other precautions such as practicing social distancing and frequently washing your hands to help reduce your chance of being exposed to and spreading the virus.

What if Someone Has an Underlying Health Condition, Auto-Immune Ailment, Severe Allergies or is Pregnant, Lactating or Concerned About Fertility. Should They Still be Vaccinated?

  • Anyone in these situations should check with their healthcare provider prior to vaccination.
  • In general, for those with underlying health conditions/auto-immune ailments, the risk of getting the disease is usually considered worse than any risks that might come from the vaccine.
  • Anyone with a history of immediate-onset anaphylaxis to a food, drug or vaccine should not receive the vaccine. A second dose of the vaccine should not be given to anyone who experiences anaphylaxis to the first dose.
  • While research is still being conducted, this vaccine is not currently recommended during pregnancy or breast feeding and it is recommended that women of childbearing age avoid pregnancy before vaccination and for at least two months after their second dose.

Who is paying for the COVID-19 vaccine?

Vaccine doses purchased with U.S. taxpayer dollars will be given to the American people at no cost. However, vaccination providers will be able to charge an administration fee for giving the shot. Vaccine providers can get this fee reimbursed by the patient’s public or private insurance company or, for uninsured patients, by the Health Resources and Services Administration’s Provider Relief Fund.

Will the flu vaccine protect me from COVID-19?

A flu vaccine will not protect you from getting COVID-19, but it can prevent you from getting the flu at the same time as COVID-19. This can keep you from having a more severe illness. The CDC believes it’s likely that flu viruses and the virus that causes COVID-19 will both be spreading throughout winter. That means that getting a flu vaccine is more important than ever.

What is herd immunity?

Herd immunity is a term used to describe when enough people have protection—either from the previous infection or from vaccination—that it is unlikely a virus or bacteria can spread and cause disease. As a result, everyone within the community is protected even if some people don’t have any protection themselves.

What percentage of the public need to be vaccinated to have herd immunity to COVID-19?

Experts do not know what percentage of people would need to be vaccinated to achieve herd immunity to COVID-19. The percentage of people who need to have protection to achieve herd immunity varies by disease.

What’s in the COVID-19 vaccine?

According to Pfizer and BioNTech, the Pfizer BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine includes the following ingredients: mRNA, lipids ((4-hydroxybutyl)azanediyl)bis(hexane-6,1-diyl)bis(2-hexyldecanoate), 2 [(polyethylene glycol)-2000]-N,N-ditetradecylacetamide, 1,2-Distearoyl-sn-glycero-3-phosphocholine, and cholesterol), potassium chloride, monobasic potassium phosphate, sodium chloride, dibasic sodium phosphate dihydrate, and sucrose.

What is mRNA?

According to the CDC, messenger RNA, or mRNA vaccines, teach our cells how to make a protein that triggers an immune response inside our bodies. That immune response, which produces antibodies, protects us from getting infected if the real virus enters our bodies.

mRNA Facts:

  • They cannot give someone COVID-19.
    • mRNA vaccines do not use the live virus that causes COVID-19.
    • They do not affect or interact with our DNA in any way.
  • mRNA never enters the nucleus of the cell, which is where our DNA (genetic material) is kept.
    • The cell breaks down and gets rid of the mRNA soon after it is finished using the instructions.
    • Learn more from the CDC about mRNA vaccines.