The COVID-19 Vaccine
Everything You Need to Know and Want to Know about the Vaccine
Written by Alisa Hopkins
Let’s be honest, we’ve all heard the stories, read the headlines, and asked the questions. What is the new COVID-19 vaccine and what is it all about? We have the straightforward information that you need to know and – just as importantly – what you want to know about the vaccine.
First, what you need to know:
There are currently two COVID-19 vaccines available in the United States. The vaccines are manufactured by Pfizer-BioNTec (“Pfizer”) and Moderna and received Food and Drug Administration (“FDA”) emergency use authorization (“EUA”) in December 2020.
As the first phase of vaccine distribution has just recently commenced, supplies are limited and in high demand. Currently, vaccinations are prioritized for individuals medically classified in the “highest risk” category, nursing home residents, and frontline healthcare workers. As distribution progresses vaccine allotment will expand into essential frontline workers, first responders, those with chronic medical conditions, adults over the age of 65, and finally, the general public.
The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are both administered through two separate shots to the upper arm. The second shot is administered after 21 days after the first Pfizer vaccine and 28 days after Moderna. Individuals should use the same manufacturer for both doses of the vaccine.
How does the COVID-19 vaccine work?
The COVID-19 vaccine helps your body develop proteins called antibodies that make you less susceptible to the disease.Both Pfizer and Moderna are mRNA vaccines. They contain the portion of mRNA that encodes the spike protein, the button on the surface of the SARS-CoV2 virus. It is not a live virus, cannot replicate itself and is quickly destroyed in the cell shortly after translation. Once the spike protein is translated by the mRNA, an immune response is elicited, resulting in production of antibodies against the spike protein. When the SARS-CoV2 spike protein is bound up by antibodies, it cannot attach to and infect human cells.
Is the vaccine safe?
COVID-19 vaccines in the U.S. are authorized after meeting rigorous scientific standards for safety. The first authorized COVID-19 vaccine, manufactured by Pfizer-BioNTech, was studied in more than 40,000 people, and 30,000 people were studied in the Moderna vaccine, to ensure they meet safety standards. The FDA will continue to monitor the safety and effectiveness of authorized vaccines through ongoing clinical trials and vaccination data.
Could the COVID-19 vaccine cause an allergic reaction?
Allergic reactions to vaccines, in general, are rare. Some people have reported severe allergic reactions to the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, but these appear to be rare. People who have experienced severe reactions to prior vaccines or injectable drugs may still be able to get the Pfizer vaccine for COVID-19, but should discuss the risks with their doctor and be monitored for 30 minutes afterward. Professionals administering vaccines are prepared to handle allergic reactions. Talk to your doctor if you have a history of severe allergic reaction to a vaccine.
Will the vaccine cause side effects?
As with other vaccines, it is normal to experience some pain, redness or swelling at the injection site, fatigue, headache, muscle aches, or low-grade fever following the vaccination, which should go away on their own in a day or two. This does not mean that the vaccine has given you COVID-19. These symptoms are typical reactions to most vaccines and are a sign that your immune system is doing exactly what it is supposed to do — building up protection to the disease.
Do I still need the vaccine if I’m not high risk?
COVID-19 can be severe in any age group. In the Moderna trial, severe infections occurred in 15% of cases in the placebo group, but there were no severe cases in the vaccine group. The protection you get from the vaccine is not just for yourself but for others who are susceptible around you. Getting vaccinated is doing your part in getting to a goal of herd immunity. The more individuals who are immunized, the less effectively the virus can transmit.
Will I be able to afford the vaccine?
Vaccine doses purchased with U.S. taxpayer dollars will be given to the American people at no cost. However, vaccination providers may be able to charge administration fees for giving the shot. Check with your health insurance company and location where you will be vaccinated about the cost, if any.
Next, let’s address what you want to know about the vaccines.
There have been many questions regarding the differences in the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines and which one may be the better option for the individual. The table below is a breakdown of the most frequently asked questions comparing the vaccines.
PFIZER | MODERNA
95% effective | 94.5% effective
30 mcg doses given 21 days apart | 100 mcg doses given 28 days apart
5 dose vials | 10 dose vials
Must be diluted with 0.9% sodium chloride | No dilution required
Stored at -112 to -76℉ | Stored at -13 to -5℉
36,621 trial participants | 30,350 trial participants
Approved for use in people over the age of 16 | Approved for people over the age of 18
The vaccine was made so fast, how do I know it’s safe?
While COVID-19 vaccines are being developed more quickly than we typically see, scientists are relying on more than adecade of research to help speed the process without a need to cut corners. The vaccines are being tested in large clinical trials to make sure they meet safety standards. The CDC developed an additional layer of safety monitoring called V-safe, an after-vaccination health checker for COVID-19 vaccine recipients to rapidly detect any safety issues.
How was the vaccine approved so quickly by the FDA?
The FDA is responsible for approving drugs and vaccines in the U.S. In December 2020, the FDA issued EUAs for two COVID-19 vaccines, manufactured by Pfizer and Moderna. EUA is an authorization process used by the FDA if there is an emergency and enough evidence that the vaccine will be safe and helpful. Vaccines authorized for EUA still need to meet the FDA’s rigorous standards for safety, effectiveness and quality.
Will the vaccine give me the virus?
No. The vaccines contain a portion of mRNA, but not live virus. After the spike protein is produced, the mRNA is degraded. A normal immune response can lead to low grade fever or achiness, but this is not harmful. The full benefit of immunity won’t occur until a couple weeks after your second dose (booster dose). The risk of getting infected from someone who is infectious won’t diminish right away after vaccination.
If I get the COVID-19 vaccine, will I test positive for the virus?
No. Positive tests for viral proteins (antigen tests) or nucleic acid (PCR tests) are due to COVID-19, not vaccine. A positive antibody test can be from infection or immunization.
Do I need the vaccine if I already had COVID-19 and recovered?
Immunity does develop after COVID-19 infection. Re-infection is uncommon but is thought to develop as immunity wanes in the months following infection. Vaccine may be helpful to prevent reinfection if it has been more than 3 months since you tested positive.
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