What You Need to Know About the COVID-19 Vaccines

January 8, 2021

In December, the FDA greenlighted the first COVID-19 vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna, bringing a sense of hope to a nation that’s been gripped by the coronavirus pandemic since spring of 2020. Be that as it may, questions still remain regarding the newly approved vaccines, from perceptions on how they were quickly developed to their effectiveness and safety.

So, we’ve gathered some of the most common questions we’ve heard. While we don’t have all the answers quite yet, we hope that your friends at Culbertson can help dispel any misinformation and provide some peace of mind for those with any concerns.

How were the vaccines developed?

According to Alexis Murk, DNP-FNP at Culbertson, SARS-CoV-1 and Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV) started the development of similar vaccines, which allowed for the speedy development of SARS-CoV-2 vaccines. Pre-clinical studies were completed with SARS-CoV-1 vaccines and two vaccines were studied in small human trials, but the research stopped there because that virus did not prove to be as widespread.

What does this vaccine mean for other vaccines?

“The new vaccine technology using mRNA is very effective and exciting for other vaccines — this could change MMR, DTAP and even influenza to boost efficacy. Because it uses mRNA, it does not have all of the preservatives and adjuvants, which allows for the quicker production,” Murk said. “The target for the vaccine is a spike protein, and antibodies bind to this protein and essentially make the virus inactive and prevent its attachment to the host cell.”

What are some common concerns?

“The biggest concern from patients is that we hear is, ‘Will this alter/change my DNA?’ Going way, way, way back to biology, mRNA does not change or edit our DNA,” Murk said. “The DNA is inside the nucleus of the cell, where the mRNA never reaches. Think of it like Snapchat — it’s there temporarily until it deletes itself.”

Another common question we at Culbertson hear is, “So you’re injecting me with the virus?” None of the vaccines slated for deployment were developed with the use of a live virus. Rather, the mRNA vaccines train your body’s immune system to recognize the virus threat and produce antibodies against it. While some patients report flu-like symptoms after receiving the flu shot, these symptoms are not the same as actually contracting influenza; similarly, patients may experience a fever, sore arm and muscle aches after receiving the vaccine, but they will not contract COVID-19 from the vaccine.

What are the differences between the vaccines?

While both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines use mRNA technology to combat COVID-19, there are nevertheless some differences between the two.

For example, the Pfizer vaccines must be stored in an ultra-cold freezer at temperatures between -112 degrees and -76 degrees Fahrenheit (-80 degrees and -60 degrees Celsius), according to the Centers for Disease Control. Before mixing, the Pfizer vaccine may be stored in a refrigerator in temperatures between 36-46 degrees Fahrenheit (2-8 degrees Celsius) for up to 120 hours.

Meanwhile, the Moderna vaccine can be stored in a relatively warmer environment, only requiring a freezer temperature of -13 and 5 degrees Fahrenheit (-25 to -15 degrees Celsius), according to the CDC. Vials of the Moderna vaccine may be refrigerated between 36-46 degrees Fahrenheit (2-8 degrees Celsius) for up to 30 days before vials are punctured.

The Pfizer vaccine will be available to patients ages 16 and older, but patients must be at least 18 years old to receive the Moderna vaccine.

How soon can I get the vaccine?

According to the Illinois Department of Public Health, the first supply of the vaccine began to arrive in mid-December. However, the supply is limited and will consequently be allocated to health care workers and long-term care residents and staff first. The IDPH anticipates the supply should increase enough for all Illinois residents to be vaccinated in 2021.

Where will the vaccine be available?

The IDPH is reporting hospitals — such as Culbertson — will provide the vaccine to healthcare workers first. Then, as the vaccine becomes more available to the general public and more widely distributed by the federal government, several thousand distribution centers will be established. These can include doctors’ offices, pharmacies, hospitals, and “Federally Qualified Health Centers” across Illinois.

How many doses do I need?

Both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines require two doses. The second dose of the Pfizer vaccine will be scheduled 21 days after the first dose, while the second dose of the Moderna vaccine will be scheduled 28 days after the first dose.

How effective are the vaccines?

According to the IDPH, both Pfizer and Moderna have indicated their vaccines are 95% effective.

What are the side effects?

For both vaccines, common side effects include pain and swelling at the site of the injection. Patients may also experience fever, fatigue, chills and a headache.

Is the vaccine safe for children, pregnant women or people with allergies?

At this time, a pediatric vaccine is not available. In fact, according to the IDPH, it could take some time to get a pediatric vaccine approved as clinical trials would need to be conducted with children in order to determine if existing vaccines are safe for children.

As of now, data regarding the safety and efficacy of the vaccine for pregnant women is limited, according to the CDC. Studies in people who are pregnant have been planned, and both Pfizer and Moderna are monitoring people who participated in clinical trials who became pregnant. Experts believe the vaccines are unlikely to pose a specific risk to pregnant women, according to the CDC, but any actual risks to the mother and fetus are unknown at this time. Pregnant women should consult their OB/GYN providers for more information.

Similarly, while experts believe the vaccine should not pose a risk to breastfeeding infants, no data exists for this group, according to the CDC. 

Healthcare providers will know more about contraindications such as now that the vaccines have been approved and deployed. Anyone with any concerns should consult their primary care physicians.

Do I still need to wear a mask and socially distance?

Yes. Unfortunately, the vaccine does not begin working immediately after injection. According to the CDC, the human body needs time to build protection against a disease after any sort of vaccination. As such, you may not be protected until a week or two after your second dose. During this time, you should continue to wear a mask in public, keep a distance of 6 feet from strangers, wash your hands and avoid crowded areas.

 

If you feel you are experiencing COVID-19 symptoms and need to be evaluated, you can find one of qualified providers here or call the Registration Department at (217) 322-4321.

 

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