COVID-19 Vaccine FAQ
The COVID-19 vaccine has officially arrived in Oregon, and the first wave of immunization for vulnerable and high-risk groups has begun. Now that help is here, we’re all feeling a little more hopeful and less anxious than we have in a long time, and also wondering about this new vaccine and what it means for our families. To help answer some of your questions, we’ve put together an FAQ that we’ll update regularly as more information becomes available. Our providers are also happy to answer any questions you may have related to this vaccine, or vaccines in general.
Read on to learn more about the COVID-19 vaccine and how your family can get protected in the coming months.
Q: Is the COVID-19 vaccine FDA-approved?
A: The FDA has issued emergency use authorizations (EUA) for two COVID-19 vaccines: one from Pfizer-BioNTech for people age 16+ and the other from Moderna for people age 18+. This means these vaccines can begin distribution in the United States because they meet the FDA’s strict EUA standards for safety, effectiveness, and manufacturing quality. Both vaccines will likely go on to pursue FDA approval after more clinical trials to obtain additional safety and effectiveness data. In the meantime, if any safety concerns arise as the vaccines are administered, the EUA can be changed or revoked.
Q: Is the COVID-19 vaccine safe and effective?
A: The FDA has determined that both the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines are safe and 94-95% effective at preventing COVID-19. Other countries, including Canada and the United Kingdom, have also reviewed and evaluated the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine by their own regulatory standards and found it safe and effective for use in individuals age 16+. The Moderna vaccine is currently under review in other countries.
Q: What are the side effects of the COVID-19 vaccine?
A: Like any vaccine, the COVID-19 vaccine may cause soreness at the injection site, fatigue, headache, and fever. Allergic reactions are also a possibility—a few anaphylaxis reactions have been reported. We’re keeping a watchful eye on possible safety concerns as the vaccine is administered to people here and abroad. We also want to assure you that the vaccine cannot give you COVID-19. Your body’s immune response to the vaccine may make you feel slightly off for a couple days, but those are symptoms of your body learning to fight the virus (making antibodies), not of infection.
Q: Who will have access to the COVID-19 vaccine first?
A: Because the initial vaccine supply is limited, it will be given to vulnerable and high-risk people first. Right now, the vaccine is available to frontline health care workers and caregivers and residents in long-term care facilities. As the supply increases, the vaccine will be more widely available. In Oregon, we expect the vaccine to be available to the public by spring 2021.
Q: What are the benefits of getting the COVID-19 vaccine?
A: Vaccines are one of the safest, most effective ways to prevent disease. They work so well that many of us will never see the devastating effects of polio or measles firsthand. Like all vaccines, the COVID-19 vaccine will prevent infection or limit the severity of disease should you get it. The benefits of getting immunized also extend beyond the individual recipient. If enough healthy people get immunized, it slows or stops the disease from spreading, protecting those who are too young or unable to be vaccinated due to various health reasons.
Q: When will my family be able to get the vaccine?
A: In Oregon, we expect the vaccine to be available to the public by spring 2021. We’re not sure if a vaccine for children will be ready at the same time. Vaccine trials are currently underway for kids age 12 and older. Testing for younger children has not begun in the United States yet.
To help save lives and end this pandemic, we encourage everyone to get vaccinated when they have the opportunity. We will keep you updated about vaccine availability at Metropolitan Pediatrics, so we can help your family get protected.
Q: How do mRNA vaccines work?
A: mRNA vaccines are a new type of vaccine, but the research behind them has been going on for decades. Unlike traditional vaccines that introduce a weakened or inactivated germ to our bodies, mRNA vaccines teach our cells how to make a protein. In the case of the COVID-19 vaccine, our bodies will be given instructions to make the spike protein on the surface of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. Our bodies will then develop an immune response to this foreign protein, making antibodies that will protect us if we ever encounter the actual virus.
mRNA vaccines do not contain the live virus that causes COVID-19, so it is impossible to get sick from the vaccine. They also do not affect or interact with our DNA in any way because mRNA never enters the nucleus of a cell, where DNA is kept.
Q: How long does protection from the COVID-19 vaccine last?
A: Vaccines provide different levels of immunity, with some lasting 10 years or more and others requiring an annual booster (like the flu shot). At this point, we are unsure how long protection from the COVID-19 vaccine will last. For initial administration, the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines require two doses given about one month apart.
Q: Do I still have to wear a mask after receiving the COVID-19 vaccine?
A: Until we know more about the extent of protection from the vaccine, it’s important to keep using all available COVID-19 precautions. Please continue wearing face masks, physical distancing, washing hands, and following official guidance to keep yourself and those around you safe.
Q: Should I get the COVID-19 vaccine while pregnant or breastfeeding?
A: There is currently no data on the safety of COVID-19 vaccines in pregnant or lactating women. People who are pregnant or breastfeeding and meet criteria to be vaccinated should discuss their options with their health care provider. It’s important to remember that neither choice is without risk; to vaccinate with limited data or choose not to and possibly contract COVID-19. A conversation with your doctor will help you make an informed decision.
Here is the most current guidance on COVID-19 vaccination and breastfeeding:
- From the Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine: “During lactation, it is unlikely that the vaccine lipid would enter the blood stream and reach breast tissue. If it does, it is even less likely that either the intact nanoparticle or mRNA transfer into milk. In the unlikely event that mRNA is present in milk, it would be expected to be digested by the child and would be unlikely to have any biological effects.”
- From the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists: “ACOG recommends COVID-19 vaccines be offered to lactating individuals similar to non-lactating individuals when they meet criteria for receipt of the vaccine based on prioritization groups outlined by the ACIP. While lactating individuals were not included in most clinical trials, COVID-19 vaccines should not be withheld from lactating individuals who otherwise meet criteria for vaccination. Theoretical concerns regarding the safety of vaccinating lactating individuals do not outweigh the potential benefits of receiving the vaccine. There is no need to avoid initiation or discontinue breastfeeding in patients who receive a COVID-19 vaccine.”
- From the Society of Maternal-Fetal Medicine: “In general, SMFM strongly recommends that pregnant and lactating people have access to COVID-19 vaccines and that they engage in a discussion about potential benefits and unknown risks together with their healthcare providers regarding receipt of the vaccine. As stated previously, counseling should balance the lack of data on vaccine safety for the fetus, risks to pregnant people from COVID-19 infection, and a person’s individual risk for infection and severe disease.”
- From the CDC: “There are no data on the safety of COVID-19 vaccines in lactating women or on the effects of mRNA vaccines on the breastfed infant or on milk production/excretion. mRNA vaccines are not thought to be a risk to the breastfeeding infant. People who are breastfeeding and are part of a group recommended to receive a COVID-19 vaccine, such as healthcare personnel, may choose to be vaccinated.”
- From the FDA: “Data are not available to assess the effects of Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine on the breastfed infant or on milk production/excretion.”