Now that the vaccine is rolling out to the public, we know many people have questions as they begin to decide whether to receive the vaccine. Most importantly, the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines have been proven safe and effective in large scale testing trials with minimal side effects and will be an important asset in fighting the spread of COVID-19.
Here are some of the most frequently asked questions about the Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines, the only ones currently approved by the Federal Drug Administration (FDA).
Why is a vaccine for COVID-19 important?
The COVID-19 vaccine is an important tool in stopping the mass spread of the coronavirus. Vaccines help boost immune systems by introducing your body to previews of what the real virus looks like, without causing disease. This preview gives your immune system time to design powerful antibodies to fight the real virus if you are ever exposed or infected. If you receive the complete 2 dose COVID-19 vaccine, and then have an exposure to the coronavirus, your body is ready to fight the virus, stopping the disease. Full protection is achieved 2 weeks after the second dose so it is important to continue to take precautions during and after the vaccine process
How effective are the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines?
In large scale clinical trials using diverse populations, after administration of both doses of the vaccine, effectiveness of each vaccine is approximately 95% across all populations enrolled.
How do the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines work?
The coronavirus is an RNA type of virus. RNA, short for ribonucleic acid, like DNA, plays an essential role within your body for coding, decoding, regulation, and expression of genes. Using RNA technology, scientists were able to map the genetic code sequence of an important part of the coronavirus - the “spike” protein, which is often shown in pictures of the COVID-19 molecule.
This genetic code sequence acts as a set of instructions. These “instructions” are coded into messenger RNA (mRNA) for use within the vaccine. All of your cells have naturally occurring mRNA made from your DNA. The life cycle of mRNA in your cells is only a few days. When the vaccine is injected, the mRNA is taken into cells within your body. It does not enter our DNA. It instructs these cells to make copies of the artificial spike protein as if the cells have been infected by the real coronavirus. Your cells are then able to learn about the spike protein and give the immune system a preview of what the real virus looks like. This preview gives your immune system time to design its own natural antibodies that neutralize the real virus if you are ever infected.
It is important to note mRNA technology isn’t new; it has been used safely in the oncology field since 1989 for significant cancer treatment advances.
Will the vaccine protect against the new strains of COVID-19?
There are new strains of COVID-19, which is not unusual for any virus that causes illness. With COVID-19, what has not changed is the way it causes infection, utilizing the spike protein to infect human cells. The vaccines currently approved by the FDA cause the body to make antibodies that identify the spike protein as something to attack. Since that protein has not significantly changed, vaccines will continue to provide a high level of protection.
Is the mRNA vaccine safe?
Yes. The vaccine has been proven safe through large scale clinical trials. Specifically, the Pfizer trial had 44,000 enrolled in their trial and Moderna had 36,000 participants. Enrollees were diverse in age, race, ethnicity, and gender, and were monitored for over 2 months following the second vaccine dose. There have been some reported cases of allergic reaction in people with a significant history of anaphylactic type reactions. The efficacy for these trials did not include children or pregnant women, however, and the duration of protection has not yet been established but is anticipated to be a year or more.
As with any vaccine that is developed, it must undergo rigorous testing before approval. That is the reason for standardized clinical trials involving many diverse populations that are closely monitored for adverse events, side effects, as well as effectiveness. These highly regulated trials are carried out by organizations independent of the vaccine companies and require highly detailed reporting to the FDA prior to formal approval. These currently approved vaccines have gone through the same testing as any other vaccine that is FDA approved.
Can I get COVID-19 from the vaccine?
There is no way the mRNA vaccine can cause a COVID-19 infection as it only uses a very small piece of protein from the virus and not the entire virus itself.
What are the side effects of the mRNA vaccine?
Side effects of the Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 vaccine are very similar to other vaccines you may have received and range from mild to moderate. The most common side effects include injection site redness and tenderness, fatigue, headache, muscle pain, chills, joint pain, and fever. The chance of having a serious reaction was very low (less than 0.5%).
Should I be concerned about potential long-term side effects?
COVID-19 mRNA vaccine studies are ongoing for the next 24-36 months. Historically, however, vaccine studies have shown that 90% of adverse reactions/side effects—both short and long-term—occur within 45 days after the last dose of the vaccine. Both Pfizer and Moderna did not request FDA approval until their phase 3 trial reporting was beyond 2 months after the last doses were administered.
Are their fertility, pregnancy, or breastfeeding concerns with the COVID-19 vaccine?
There is no scientific evidence to suggest that the COVID-19 vaccine could affect fertility. The CDC currently recommends that women do not become pregnant until two months after the second dose of the vaccine and that a breastfeeding mother can decide whether to receive the vaccine. Studies are ongoing related to safety in pregnancy and breastfeeding as well as children.
What specific allergies have been related to a higher chance of allergic reaction to the COVID-19 mRNA vaccine?
The recommendation related to allergy concerns is to not get the vaccine if you have experienced severe allergic reactions in the past related to food, medication, or vaccines. This would apply to people who typically carry an Epi pen for treatment of severe anaphylactic reactions.
Is the COVID-19 vaccine safe for those who are immunocompromised or with autoimmune conditions?
Individuals with autoimmune conditions, on autoimmune medications, or with weakened immune systems should discuss the vaccine with their primary care provider or rheumatologist.
If I had COVID-19 within the last 90 days and I’m fully recovered/showing no symptoms, can I be vaccinated?
Per CDC guidance, anyone that falls into a prioritized group can receive a vaccination even if they already had COVID-19. Anyone currently infected with COVID-19 should wait to get vaccinated until after their illness has resolved and after they have met the criteria to discontinue isolation.
When can I get the vaccine?
We are currently rolling out vaccines as recommended by the Ohio Department of Health in a staged process. This stage 1b is for adults age 80and older. Each week moving forward will include other age groups and those with congenital or early onset medical conditions, and adults working in schools,,. If you fall into one of those populations and would like to receive a vaccine, please fill out a vaccine interest form at fishertitus.org/coronavirus. A Fisher-Titus employee will review your registration information to determine when you will be eligible to receive the vaccine and will call you back to schedule a vaccine appointment.
Once we have completed phase 1B and move to the next phase of vaccine distribution, we will share more information on our social media channels, website, and through local media.
If I get the vaccine, do I still have to wear a mask?
Yes. While experts continue to learn more about the protection that COVID-19 vaccines provide under real-life conditions, it’s important for everyone to continue using all the tools available to us to help stop this pandemic, like covering your mouth and nose with a mask, washing hands often, and staying at least six feet away from others. All these together provide the best protection from getting and spreading COVID-19.