What to Know About the COVID-19 Vaccines

Photo courtesy of The Conversation.

By Samantha Milowitz || Op-Eds Editor

With the COVID vaccine becoming readily available to people across the United States, it’s important to know the facts. While I am not a doctor, nurse, or a medical professional in any way, I too like to know what I am putting into my body, so I have assembled this list of common questions about the vaccines available and have researched the answers for you all. My goal here is to help explain misconceptions and facts about the COVID vaccines that even I can understand. In doing so, I hope to give people more reassurance about getting the vaccine. 

1. What are the two vaccines available now?

​​​​Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 and Moderna’s COVID-19 are the two vaccines readily available that have already begun to be distributed across the United States. According to the CDC website, there are also three other vaccines in phase three of four clinical trials, meaning they too could be approved for use in the coming months. 

Pfizer-BioNTech is the one we might have heard about needing to be in a very cold environment, specifically between two to eight degrees celsius (it’s also the one I never know how to pronounce). This vaccine is recommended for people ages 16 and older and is administered through a shot in the muscle of the upper arm. According to the clinical trials, Pfizer is 95% effective at preventing contraction of the COVID-19 virus. 

Moderna is recommended for people ages eighteen and older. It is also administered through a shot in the muscle of the upper arm. According to clinical trials, Moderna is 94.1% effective at preventing COVID-19 illness

2. How do Pfizer and Moderna work to combat COVID? 

Both of these vaccines are mRNA vaccines. Now, what does this mean? According to Chief Medical Advisor to the president Dr. Fauci, mRNA “contains virus genetic information” that “instructs cells how to make antibodies,” which we need to combat illnesses of all kinds. These mRNA vaccines are able to leave a kind of code that teaches the body how to fight off COVID-19. 

If you want to learn more about how mRNA vaccines work, I recommend watching this video from the YouTube channel “Simply Explained”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WOvvyqJ-vwo

3. Do the vaccines give a person COVID? 

No. Since these are mRNA vaccines, they do not contain the actual virus within the vaccine. As you will see if you watch the video I attached above, the mRNA COVID vaccines are designed to only make the “spikes” on the virus, not the virus itself. This means that your body is only receiving a part of the virus so that it can recognize it when it comes into your body, not the whole thing which would make you sick. Other vaccines like the flu vaccine, do give you a portion of the virus. 

4. What might I expect when I go and get vaccinated? 

When you go and get vaccinated, you will receive an informative sheet telling you which vaccine you will receive as well as a fact sheet about the vaccine. After receiving the shot, you will be asked to wait in another room so that you can be monitored in case you experience any reactions. This is to ensure that anyone getting the vaccine receives proper care if they develop hives or any other type of negative reaction to the vaccine. 

5. Do we need to continue to take COVID precautions after getting vaccinated? When can we stop taking precautions? 

Yes. First of all, I don’t think wearing a mask is all that hard (but I know some would disagree with me).  The reason we still have to wear masks is that we can still be carrying the virus and just not appear to have symptoms. According to Dr. Fauci, while the COVID vaccines prevent us from experiencing symptoms of COVID, we can still have it in our system and be able to pass it to someone that has not gotten vaccinated. 

As a country, we can ease up on restrictions and COVID safety protocols once a majority of people have gotten vaccinated and we achieve something called herd immunity. According to Dr. Fauci, this will occur when “the level of virus is so low that it’s not a threat.” 

Once it is available to everyone, if everyone gets vaccinated who should get vaccinated, we can expect to return to some normalcy by the fall, according to Dr. Fauci. This does not mean that we won’t wear masks, but as long as we do, we can participate in all the activities we once did but with less risk. 

6. Why do these vaccines require TWO doses instead of one?

Both Pfizer and Moderna require two does instead of one. After the first dose of Pfizer, one has to wait 21 days before getting the second dose; for Moderna, one has to wait 28 days before receiving the second dose, according to the CDC website. Most of the COVID vaccines require two rounds of shots because the first shot “starts building protection,” but the second “is needed to get the most protection the vaccine has to offer” according to the CDC website. 

7. Are these vaccines resistant to the new mutation of COVID? 

In short, yes. The new mutation of COVID is not any different in terms of the symptoms it gives people, but it is different in how quickly it is transmitted. This means that it is more contagious but not any different in terms of resistance to the vaccine.

8. Are there any symptoms or side effects associated with getting the vaccines? How do we know there aren’t any long term symptoms? 

After getting the Pfizer vaccine, side effects may occur within seven days, according to the CDC website. Side effects may include pain, swelling, or redness in your arm, as well as chills, tiredness, or headache. 

Many, including myself, may be wondering if there are any long-term side effects; as these vaccines have only been around for less than a year. How do we know what will happen in the next ten or sixty years? According to Dr. Fauci, when looking at the trend of all vaccines developed, long-term symptoms occur within the first 30-45 days. This means that if there were any long-term side-effects, we would have already seen them in the clinical trials that took place before the vaccines were issued. To get a vaccine approved for emergency use, the FDA requires a 60 day period after clinical trials, because that is the longest time it could take to see extensive and harmful symptoms. 

9. Are there any people who should NOT get the vaccine?

According to the CDC website, you should NOT receive the Pfizer vaccine if…

  • You have a severe allergic reaction or any kind of immediate reaction to any ingredient in an mRNA COVID-19 vaccine. The list of ingredients can be found here: https://www.fda.gov/media/144414/download 
  • You have a severe allergic reaction or any kind of reaction after getting the first dose of the vaccine.
    • According to US News, only 11 people for every million doses given have had serious allergic reactions and none have been fatal as of January 21. 
  • You are allergic to PEG (polyethylene glycol) or polysorbate. 

According to the CDC website, you should NOT receive the Moderna vaccine if…

  • You have a severe allergic reaction or any kind of immediate reaction to any ingredient in an mRNA COVID-19 vaccine. The list of ingredients can be found here: https://www.fda.gov/media/144638/download
  • You have a severe allergic reaction or any kind of reaction after getting the first dose of the vaccine.
    • According to Sacbee.com, 1 in 100,000 are expected to have an allergic reaction to Moderna. 
  • You are allergic to PEG (polyethylene glycol) or polysorbate. 

Allergic reactions can range from mild to more severe. If you are concerned if you are going to have an allergic reaction, examine the list of ingredients in each of the vaccines and talk to your doctor. Very few people have had allergic reactions, but some cannot even get the vaccine because they have an allergic reaction. 

This is why it is important for people who can get the vaccine to get it; we need to protect ourselves to protect others who cannot get the vaccine. 

10. How were scientists able to make these vaccines so fast? Can we trust them? 

Both Pfizer and Moderna are mRNA vaccines. According to “Simply Explained,” mRNA vaccines are a type that can be developed much more quickly than average vaccines due to technological advancements in mRNA studies. 

These vaccines also went through a series of trials, just like any other medicine or vaccine that needs to be approved for usage in the United States. According to Dr. Fauci, 30,000 people participated in the trials for Moderna and 44,000 people participated in the trials for Pfizer. Since the virus was being so quickly spread at the time of trials, Fauci says that it was easier than normal to see if the vaccines were effective as there was a constant threat of infection surrounding people. 

11. When will these vaccines be open to everyone? 

Dr. Fauci has said that this is most likely to happen in April. The new administration has vowed to distribute 100 million vaccine doses in the first 100 days of office which Dr. Fauci has said is a reasonable goal. If this trend continues throughout the coming months, we should be able to have gotten all essential workers, senior citizens, and anyone else that needs a priority for the vaccine vaccinated. Once all of these people have had both of their doses, we can move on to all of the other people. 

12. Why is it important to get vaccinated if we still have to take precautions?

Getting vaccinated does not only protect yourself but the people around you. 400,000 people have died from COVID-19 and counting. To combat the virus, we must all get vaccinated so that our immune system can begin to learn how to combat the virus

One might be asking, “If I choose not to get vaccinated, isn’t that my choice? How does my not choosing to get the vaccine hurt other people?” Well, to get rid of COVID-19, we as a nation must build up herd immunity which means that about 70-85% of the population needs to be vaccinated according to Dr. Fauci. If we do not get to this percentage, this disease could further spread and take over our lives for much much longer. This means that we all need to do our part and get vaccinated. 

There are still a lot of questions and unknowns about the vaccine, but it is important to educate ourselves on what we do know and weigh the pros and cons. I highly encourage everyone that has questions regarding how the vaccine may impact them to contact their health providers or visit the CDC website:

https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/vaccines/different-vaccines.html

You can also listen in on Dr. Fauci’s reports and interviews. (The one I took the above information was mainly from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NDuaiYf8WDQ )

Dr. Fauci is the Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and has served as a public health official for more than fifty years. 

If you want to learn more about how vaccines work, I recommend watching this video: 

Senior Samantha Milowitz is the Op-Eds Editor. Her email is smilowit@fandm.edu

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