Laurel Health expert answers your COVID vaccine questions
Safe, effective vaccines play a vital role in preventing, reducing, and even eradicating disease. The approval of the Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines is a major milestone in our battle against Coronavirus COVID-19, made possible by unprecedented collaboration between scientists and clinicians around the world. The Laurel Health Centers realize you may have questions about the vaccine, so we’d like to take a moment to answer some common questions and share why getting the vaccine is so important to getting our communities back to normal sooner.
Who should get vaccinated for COVID-19?
When you get the vaccine, you aren’t just protecting yourself–you are protecting others, including family, friends, and neighbors. Everyone aged 16 and up is recommended to receive the vaccine even if you’ve had COVID-19. Why 16 and up? Because the rigorous clinical safety trials for the two approved vaccines were studied in populations aged 16+. COVID-19 vaccination in children 15 and under is still being studied, and pediatric guidance will be issued once those studies have concluded.
Having enough people take the vaccine is critical to its success, as the virus can more easily mutate and adapt in a large unvaccinated population. Some people cannot get certain vaccines due to allergies or immune conditions, so vaccinating everyone that can be safely immunized helps protect them as well; the vast majority of people can safely be vaccinated for COVID-19.
How effective is the vaccine?
Both of the two approved COVID-19 vaccines are very effective. They are 94-95% effective in preventing someone from contracting COVID-19 and greatly reduce the risk for serious complications or death if you become infected. The vaccine supply is currently limited and no single tool is 100% effective against COVID-19, so for now, it’s important to continue using our full toolkit of preventive measures: masking, social distancing, disinfecting commonly touched surfaces / objects, frequent handwashing, and getting the vaccine when available to you. Everyone, including those who have been vaccinated or have recovered from COVID-19, should continue using all these tools to prevent transmission and protect themselves and others until the vaccine can be administered widely.
The vaccines were developed quickly — are they safe?
Yes, they are safe. These vaccines were developed quickly due to exceptional collaboration and focus between organizations around the world, and they were still subjected to all of the same intensive safety trials prior to approval. The COVID-19 vaccines have been rigorously tested through all stages of clinical trials on thousands of volunteers, reviewed in-depth by top clinical experts, held to the same thorough testing and monitoring as all other vaccines, and have been repeatedly demonstrated to be safe with no cases of severe long-lasting side effects during months of study. The research shows that the benefits of being vaccinated and the low risk of serious side effects far outweighs the much greater risk of contracting COVID-19 and developing serious complications, including death. Patients are screened ahead of receiving the vaccine to ensure it is appropriate for them, and the vaccines continue to be monitored closely for safety.
But I heard something scary about the vaccines on Facebook…
Misinformation about COVID-19 can cost lives. Be wary of COVID-19 information passed around social media sites like Facebook or Twitter, especially by random users or posts that have been copied and pasted from other sites. Look instead to official sources for COVID-19 vaccine information and guidelines like the PA Dept. of Health (health.pa.gov), the CDC (cdc.gov), your family medicine provider, and the Laurel Health Centers (laurelhc.org).
Why do we need two doses?
Both of the Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines use two doses to teach your body how to fight the COVID-19 virus effectively. The first shot helps your immune system learn to recognize the virus, and the second shot strengthens your immune response. You need both doses to get the best protection.
Are side effects normal?
Yes. Side effects don’t mean a vaccine is unsafe. Side effects often mean that the vaccine is prompting a strong immune response, a necessary part of building immunity and teaching your body how to fight COVID-19. The most common side effects for the COVID-19 vaccine are mild and resolve quickly, similar to the yearly flu shot: sore arm, temporary pain at the injection site, headache, and fatigue. These side effects do not mean you have COVID-19, and they’re over in a couple of days. Serious side effects like allergic reaction are rare, and patients are screened ahead of time to determine if they should receive the vaccine. It’s also important to remember that any medical treatment–be it a vaccine, surgery, prescription, or lifestyle change–can have side effects. Knowing what to expect and keeping in mind the benefit-to-risk ratio can make you feel more confident when making healthcare decisions.
Can I get COVID-19 from the shot?
No. None of the authorized COVID-19 vaccines use the live virus that causes COVID-19. It typically takes a few weeks for the body to build immunity after vaccination, and as a result, you could become infected with COVID-19 just before or shortly after vaccination and still get sick–another reason it’s always important to mask, stay six feet apart from anyone not living in your immediate household, and regularly wash your hands with soap and warm water for a full 20 seconds. If you do catch COVID-19 following inoculation, the vaccine can greatly reduce your risk of serious symptoms, complications, or death.
Should I get the vaccine if I already had COVID-19?
Yes, it is still recommended that you receive the vaccine even if you had COVID-19 because it is unclear how long immunity lasts following infection; the studies conducted thus far on patients recovering from COVID-19 indicate short-term natural immunity. The vaccine is designed to teach your body how to fight COVID-19 more effectively and confer longer-term immunity.
When can I be vaccinated?
Due to the current limited supply, Pennsylvania has established a phased rollout plan that ensures the people most at risk for COVID-19 exposure and serious complications receive the vaccine first (e.g., healthcare workers, seniors, and those with underlying health conditions). To find your COVID-19 vaccine category, visit the PA Dept. of Health website at health.pa.gov. We understand that many people are anxious to know when it will be available to them and their loved ones and how to sign up. Laurel Health has been working hard behind-the-scenes to ensure vaccines are distributed as quickly and efficiently as possible according to the PA Dept. of Health guidelines. We will be reaching out to first-phase patients directly to schedule them as soon as possible when we receive additional doses.
For the latest COVID-19 guidance and updates on the Laurel Health Centers’ vaccine rollout plan, visit us online at laurelhc.org or facebook.com/laurelhc.
Lara Jaussi, DO, Chief Clinical Officer, Family Medicine Physician, Laurel Health Centers