What You Need to Know About the COVID-19 Vaccines

March 12, 2021

The introduction and approval of several COVID-19 vaccines by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has created a light at the end of the tunnel for many, but questions continue to linger about the creation, safety, and overall effectiveness of the vaccines themselves. Questions like:

> Is the vaccine safe?
> How does the vaccine work?
> What long-term side effects might exist that we don’t know about?
> When can I get a vaccine?

Memorial Healthcare’s medical experts have weighed in on these questions and more so you can make a fully educated decision about the vaccine.

ARE THE COVID-19 VACCINES SAFE?

Yes! The vaccines currently available in the United States have undergone stringent testing and were found to meet the rigorous standards for safety and effectiveness set forth by the FDA for approval.

“As with any medication or treatment option, the risk of an adverse side effect exists – but these are rare with the COVID-19 vaccines,” says Dr. Hassan Nasir, an allergy and immunology specialist with Memorial Healthcare. “If you have underlying medical conditions and are concerned about receiving the vaccine, consult with your primary care physician first to discuss your options.”

HOW CAN WE KNOW THE VACCINES ARE SAFE WHEN THEIR DEVELOPMENT WAS RUSHED?

The pace at which COVID-19 spread across the globe called for immediate, yet diligent, action.

“The term ‘rushed’ is misleading when it comes to the COVID-19 vaccines,” Dr. Nasir says. “Before receiving FDA approval, each vaccine underwent the same strict testing criteria used to determine the safety and effectiveness of any vaccine or new medication.”

The swift development for the vaccine can be attributed more to the removal of bureaucratic barriers, as well as financial and logistical issues that typically hamper vaccine development. No corners were cut when it came to determining the safety and validity of the vaccines through development and clinical trials.

WHAT ABOUT LONG-TERM SIDE EFFECTS WE MAY NOT KNOW ABOUT BECAUSE OF SWIFT DEVELOPMENT?

As Dr. Nasir previously mentioned, there is always a risk of patients experiencing side effects from a medication or treatment. However, these side effects are rare, and it is more likely a patient experiences side effects shortly after receiving the vaccine instead of long-term.

“Soreness, fatigue, and even low-grade fevers are all common short-term side effects of the vaccines,” Dr. Nasir says. “The vaccine gets into your body, does its work, and gets out – leaving a slim chance for severe long-term issues.”

Dr. Nasir points out we also don’t fully understand the long-term impact of contracting the virus itself, and likely won’t for decades to come.

“We’ve seen examples where symptoms of COVID-19 in a patient – like fatigue or shortness of breath – persists for months after diagnosis,” says Dr. Nasir. “We don’t know how long those symptoms may persist, if they will become permanent, or if they may lead to greater health complications later in life.”

IS THERE A MICROCHIP IN THE VACCINE?

No. A full list of ingredients for the Moderna, Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson vaccines can be viewed at the links below:

WHEN CAN I GET THE COVID-19 VACCINE?

While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has issued guidelines for dispersal of the vaccine to different patient populations, it’s ultimately up to each state to determine who should receive a vaccine and when.

Memorial Healthcare is currently offering vaccines to:

  • Healthcare personnel
  • Pre-K – 12 teachers
  • Childcare workers
  • Adults ages 65 and older
  • Jail/Prison employees
  • State/Federal essential workers
  • Agriculture and food processing workers
  • Adults ages 55 with risk factors/pre-existing conditions
  • Family members and guardians who care for children with special health needs
  • Beginning March 22, 2021 – age 50 and older and those 16-49 years of age with certain medical conditions/disabilities.
  • Beginning April 5, 2021 – anyone age 16 and older.

“There’s a limited supply of vaccines right now, which may impact your ability to get the vaccine even if you fall into one of these categories,” says Megan Smith, MSN, RN, Associate Vice President of Quality & Safety for Memorial Healthcare.

Smith urges patients to call your local health department to determine if you’re eligible to receive the vaccine and, if so, where/how to schedule an appointment.

Patients in Shiawassee County can follow Memorial Healthcare Facebook, Twitter and website at www.MemorialHealthcare.org for updates on eligibility and availability of the vaccine.

WHEN AM I CONSIDERED “VACCINATED” AGAINST COVID-19?

The Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines currently require two doses. Patients are not immune after the first dose, or even immediately after the second dose. The Johnson & Johnson vaccines is just one dose.

“A good rule of thumb is to consider yourself fully protected two weeks after your second dose,” says Memorial Healthcare Laboratory Director Nick Decker, MLS (ASCP) “By that point, the vaccines have reached their full effectiveness.”

 ARE THE COVID-19 VACCINES EFFECTIVE AGAINST THE NEW VARIANTS?

“Mutations are common in viruses and can cause new variants to emerge over time – which is why you have to get a flu shot every year, because the virus changes,” says Dr. Nasir.

There are currently three prominent variants circulating globally: The so-called UK, South African, and Brazil variants. All three of these seem to spread more easily from person to person, but according to the CDC, “currently, there is no evidence that these variants cause more severe illness or increased risk of death.”

There is no data to indicate the vaccines are any less effective against these variants. However, easier transmission of the virus could lead to more hospitalizations and greater strains on our healthcare systems. Everyone should remain vigilant by continuing to wear masks and social distance.

AM I REQUIRED TO GET COVID-19 VACCINES EVERY YEAR?

Most vaccines require periodic “boosters” to help with their effectiveness. For instance, if you went to the doctor to treat any type of cut or laceration recently, they probably asked when your last tetanus shot was. If it was more than 10 years ago, they likely gave you a booster to help protect your body from developing tetanus.

Similarly, it’s recommended you get a flu shot every year as the virus mutates and changes, requiring boosters specifically targeting the new strains of the flu.

It’s uncertain yet if the same type of annual or semi-regular booster will be required with the COVID-19 vaccines. Scientists will need more time to study the effectiveness of the vaccines to determine how often – if at all – boosters will need to be administered.

SHOULD I GET THE COVID-19 VACCINE?

This is ultimately a personal decision, but the threat of COVID-19 is very real and has accounted for more than 530,000 deaths in the U.S. alone.

Despite what you may have heard, the CDC says experts do not know how many people need to be vaccinated in order to generate herd immunity. What we do know, however, is every single person who receives the vaccine is actively helping to reduce its spread and impact on our way of life so we can return to normal as soon as possible.

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