COVID-19 vaccine FAQ
With the recent release of COVID-19 vaccine availability we have been getting many questions regarding the safety and efficacy of the currently available vaccines. As Pharmacists we would like to share some facts...and help dispel any misconceptions.
I heard the COVID-19 vaccine is utilizing new technology, how can I be sure it’s safe?
The currently available mRNA vaccines, from Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna, give our cells an mRNA blueprint to make a piece of the SARS-CoV-2 "spike" protein. This triggers an immune response within our bodies as the mRNA is then quickly broken down and it doesn't affect our DNA. The vaccine does NOT contain the SARS-CoV-2 virus. Even though COVID-19 vaccines will be the first mRNA vaccines to come to market, it is not new science, scientists have been studying mRNA vaccines for more than 15 years. While the COVID-19 vaccine has been developed at a more rapid pace than what is normally seen with other vaccines, this does NOT mean safety steps have been skipped in order to have another tool to combat our current pandemic situation. The currently available COVID-19 vaccines were studied through phased testing to ensure safety and efficacy before they are made available to the public.
I’m nervous about the potential side effects, what can I expect with the COVID-19 vaccination?
As with any vaccination there are risks of short term side effects, most patients can expect mild to moderate pain or soreness at the injection site, while redness and swelling are significantly less common. Some patients will experience systemic reactions (fatigue, headache, chills), within about two days of vaccination. These usually go away within a day or two. This is a normal response to a vaccine and means the body is building antibodies to prevent infection. Systemic adverse effects may be more likely with the second dose. We suggest getting vaccinated when you will have a few days to rest and recover (i.e., on a Friday if you don’t work weekends). Similar to other vaccines, serious adverse effects from COVID-19 vaccination seem extremely rare.
I’ve already been infected from COVID-19 and recovered should I still get vaccinated?
At this time it is recommended to still get vaccinated even if you have previously been infected with COVID-19. The CDC is advising even those that have had the infection to get vaccinated because COVID-19 is a significant health risk and there have been cases of reinfection. It is not harmful to get a COVID-19 vaccine if you have had COVID-19 in the past. We don’t know how long natural immunity (antibodies from exposure to the virus through infection) or vaccine-induced immunity (antibodies from vaccination) lasts. The only time it would be reasonable to delay vaccination would be during an active COVID-19 infection, we would recommend those that have recently been infected wait closer to 90 days after infection to get the vaccine.
Do I still have to wear a mask and practice social distancing after I get the vaccine?
Yes. Until more is known about “real world” protection provided by COVID-19 vaccines, we advise patients to:
socially distance (stay at least six feet apart from other people)
practice good hand hygiene (e.g., hand washing/sanitizing)
wear a mask/face covering
It is too soon to know if COVID-19 vaccines will stop a person from spreading the virus, even people who are asymptomatic. For example, it may be possible that if someone was vaccinated and then exposed to the virus, though they might not get sick, they could still spread the virus to others. These safety precautions may change over time as we learn more about the protection provided by COVID-19 vaccination. The number of people who get vaccinated and virus spread in local communities may also play a role in determining this.
It’s important to to understand the benefits of the COVID-19 vaccination including:
gets your immune system ready to fight COVID-19 infection if exposed.
reduce illness severity if you become infected with COVID-19.
protect friends, family, co-workers, and close contacts from getting COVID-19.
In summary, there is no way to predict how severe a COVID-19 infection will be for anyone, and infections can be fatal. COVID-19 infection has been associated with long-term consequences, even in young healthy people (e.g., lung, heart, and memory problems; mood changes; kidney damage). Thus, the COVID-19 vaccine is one important tool in the toolbox to end the pandemic.