With the upcoming Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval and release of the COVID-19 vaccines, many of you have lots of questions.
Roll up your sleeves and I’ll share some answers with you. These answers focus on the Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna vaccines since they will be the first ones released.
- Are the vaccines safe? Yes, they appear to be safe. The Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine (one of four in development for the U.S. and Europe) has been given to more than 44,000 people and only two experienced an allergic reaction. Results from the other vaccine candidates are similarly promising. Some of our local medical providers volunteered to be in the initial vaccine trials and reported no issues. The CDC page Ensuring the Safety of COVID-19 Vaccines in the United States has more info on vaccine safety.
- Will they work? Yes, The Pfizer and the Moderna vaccines alone are reported to be more than 94% effective in preventing COVID-19 in trial participants. This means there’s a 94% chance that if you get the vaccine you’ll be protected.
- Can the COVID-19 vaccines give me COVID-19? No. The vaccines do not contain live viruses, so they can’t give you COVID-19.
- How do the vaccines work? The vaccines are messenger ribonucleic acid, or mRNA for short, vaccines. Messenger RNA teaches the body to mount an immediate immune defense against any of the live viruses it sees.
- Does the vaccine change my DNA? No, it absolutely does not change your DNA, contrary to many posts on the internet.
- Are there side effects to the vaccine? Yes, some recipients reported mild discomfort at the injection site. Others reported low-grade fever, some fatigue, headache, or muscle aches. Side effects were mild and very short, one to two days at most. Many recipients have reported no symptoms at all. A December 8, 2020, Associated Press article states, “As for safety, the FDA found no serious side effects among the more than 37,000 volunteers who have been tracked for at least two months after their last dose, the period when vaccination problems typically appear.”
Those who receive the vaccine will receive complete information on potential side effects before receiving the vaccine. As the inconvenience of side effects is considered, please also consider the potentially severe symptoms of contracting COVID-19 and the potential that being vaccinated could be lifesaving. Many public health leaders have indicated that side effects are a sign that the vaccine is working and building immunity against COVID-19.
- I’ve heard you can get COVID-19 more than once. If natural immunity does not last, how long will the vaccine work? We don’t know the answer to that yet. Patients in the studies will have their immunity followed closely for at least the next two years, so we should know fairly quickly if booster doses are needed.
- How long will it take after getting the vaccine to be protected? The good news is studies show that you start developing immunity within 10 days of the first dose (you will need two doses about a month apart). After both doses, patients reach more than 90% immunity.
- Will I need to continue to wear my mask after I receive the vaccine? Yes, for now, the CDC continues to recommend wearing a mask (and practicing social distancing and handwashing).
- When can I get the vaccine? The CDC has determined that medical personnel on the front lines and nursing home residents will receive the vaccine first. It will begin rolling out to our more vulnerable populations as soon as possible, likely in January. It is hoped that the majority of Americans can be vaccinated by midyear.
I hope these answers give you some peace of mind about the vaccines. I urge you to ignore any vaccine news or (dis)information on the internet unless it comes from a reputable source. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has created a Frequently Asked Questions About COVID-19 Vaccination web page available here. You can also talk to your primary care physician or healthcare provider.
Dr. Beth Hodges, MD is a family practice and palliative care/hospice physician in Asheboro, N.C., as well as a part-time medical director for HealthTeam Advantage.