How does this vaccine work? Why is it special?
This vaccine relies on an innovative approach using mRNA (messenger RNA). These are tiny snippets of genetic code that teach our own cells how to make a protein that triggers an immune response against the coronavirus. That immune response protects us from getting infected when we are exposed to the actual virus.
As opposed to other vaccines of the past, this vaccine doesn’t use any actual parts of the virus. The Pfizer, Moderna and the Johnson & Johnson vaccine work in this same way.
The mRNA in the vaccine is degraded very rapidly after entering our cells, and does not affect our own DNA in any way.
How effective is this vaccine?
The vaccine is 95 percent effective after the second dose. It is only 53 percent effective after the first dose, making it very important that everyone receives both doses of the vaccine within the recommended time frame.
What is the immunization schedule for the vaccines?
The vaccines should be given on the following schedules:
- Pfizer – the second dose should be given three weeks after the first dose
- Moderna – the second dose should be given four weeks after the first dose
- Johnson & Johnson – this vaccine requires just one dose
More specific information about vaccine timing will be given once vaccines are available.
*Note that if the second dose is delayed, it is not recommended to restart the series.
Is the vaccine safe?
All data we have from the clinical trials (which included more than 40,000 people, in the Pfizer trial, and more than 30,000 people in the Moderna trial) indicate that the vaccines are safe. No severe side effects were seen, and the mild or moderate side effects nearly always resolved within a few days. The FDA is continuing to monitor vaccine recipients to ensure ongoing safety. Safety has been a top priority while federal partners have worked to make COVID-19 vaccines available for use in the United States.
Why should I get the vaccine?
Vaccines stimulate your immune system to prepare your body’s defense to fight off the virus. The vaccine significantly reduces your risk of getting infected after exposure to the virus and it is highly recommended, especially if you are elderly, or have an underlying health problem like heart disease, lung disease, diabetes, and obesity. People with these conditions are more likely to get very sick from COVID-19. It’s important for us all to do everything we can to end this pandemic which also includes social distancing, wearing masks, frequent hand washing and getting the vaccine.
Does this vaccine mean I can stop wearing my mask and go back to life as usual?
No. Until enough people have received the vaccine, we must continue to follow all guidelines on mask use and social distancing. It remains unknown whether the vaccine prevents transmission of the virus to others.
The vaccine is very effective, but there are a small percentage of people (less than 5 percent) who may not be completely protected. In order to help protect them, we will need to continue taking precautions such as wearing masks and social distancing. Lastly, until enough people are vaccinated, it will be important to use these precautions until the COVID-19 virus is much less prevalent in the community.
Can pregnant women and children get the vaccine?
Although studies are still underway to measure vaccine safety and effectiveness in pregnant and breastfeeding women, COVID-19 infection can cause severe disease in pregnancy, and may increase risk of pre-term birth and stillbirth. Pregnant and breastfeeding women should discuss the risks and benefits of vaccination with their providers, and make an informed choice that is best for them. Women who are planning to get pregnant may receive the vaccine, but should also discuss risks and benefits with their providers.
Trials are also underway to measure safety and effectiveness in children and adolescents. We will send out updated messaging as soon as more information is available for all of these populations
Are there any side effects?
Similar to the more common flu vaccine, side effects include soreness, redness and swelling at the injection site. Other less common side effects include fever, chills, fatigue, headache and muscle or joint pain. These symptoms usually indicate your immune system is working, and resolve on their own within a couple days. If they persist longer, you should contact your provider. As with all medications and vaccines, there is always a rare chance of an allergic reaction.
The vaccine should not cause respiratory symptoms, or loss of smell or taste. If you have any COVID-19 symptoms after receiving the vaccine, you should let your provider know. Remember that the vaccine does NOT cause infection, and it takes 1-2 weeks after the second dose to have its full effect.
Will I get COVID-19 from the vaccine?
No, the vaccine does not cause COVID-19 infection. If you experience respiratory symptoms or loss of taste or smell, you may have been exposed to the virus through another source that is unrelated to the vaccine. In this case, we would encourage you to get in touch with your healthcare provider.
Should I get the vaccine even if I had confirmed or suspected COVID-19 infection?
Since the virus is new, it is not known how long immunity from natural infection lasts. Therefore, it is recommended that those who had COVID-19 infection still get the vaccine to protect them from reinfection. You should wait until you have cleared the isolation period before undergoing vaccination and, of course, check first with your provider.
How long does immunity last?
Pfizer reports their vaccine is 95% effective and Moderna reports 94% efficacy. As of yet, studies have not shown how long immunity from the vaccine will last.
What if I am currently infected with COVID-19 or I have another respiratory illness? Should I still get the vaccine?
You should wait until you no longer have symptoms and are cleared by your provider before scheduling your first vaccine appointment. If you develop new symptoms before your scheduled vaccine appointment, be sure to notify your provider.
Can I receive other vaccines at the same time as the COVID-19 vaccine?
At this time, there is a lack of data on the safety of the vaccine being administered at the same time as other vaccines. The CDC recommends against co-administration of the vaccine with other different vaccines. It is recommended to space the COVID-19 vaccine apart from all other vaccines by at least 14 days.
If I have had an allergic reaction to a vaccine in the past, should I still get this vaccine?
Individuals with a history of severe allergic reaction (anaphylaxis) or immediate allergy (e.g. hives, wheezing) to another vaccine or an injectable medication should consult with their provider first before undergoing vaccination.
For those with a history of allergy to oral medications, non-severe allergy to vaccines or injectable medications, or any food/environmental/other allergies, you may receive the vaccine.