As we forge through this pandemic, new concerns arise every day. Now that the COVID-19 vaccine is becoming available, you may be either hopeful or skeptical of its implications. Most people waffle between the two. Let’s walk through what we know so far.
Both the Pfizer BioNTech and Moderna vaccines are available in the United States under an Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) granted by the FDA. This authorization allows the use of unapproved products in emergent situations if there are no approved products currently available. The manufacturers are required to perform clinical trials, consisting of three phases, to determine the safety and efficacy of the vaccine. For an EUA to be granted, the benefits must outweigh the risks of receiving the vaccine during the third phase of the clinical trial. Because of this, information regarding the vaccines may change as new information is gathered.
How can we trust this vaccine with such an expedited approval process?
Although the research process was expedited for the specific SARS-COV-2 vaccine, scientists have been studying mRNA vaccines for almost two decades. The same rigorous approval process has been carried out with this SARS-COV-2 vaccine, just at a much faster pace. SAFETY and EFFICACY are still top priorities, but we do lack long-term data for the COVID vaccine given we’ve just started. However, we have two decades of efficacy and safety data for other mRNA technologies.
How long does it take to develop immunity after the vaccine and how long does it last?
Immunity takes a few weeks to develop after any vaccine. The Pfizer BioNTech vaccine has been reported to be 54.2% effective approximately two weeks after receiving the first dose and 95% effective one week after receiving the second dose. The Moderna vaccine has been reported to be 80.2% effective two to four weeks after receiving the first dose and 94.1% effective two weeks after the second dose. We are unsure of how long immunity lasts right now because data only exists for how long trials have been going on, which is limited to months, not years. Therefore, it is very important to still adhere to social distancing protocols, proper hand hygiene, and wearing masks.
Who can get the vaccine?
The trials leading to EUA included patients with a wide range of ages, racial and ethnic backgrounds, and comorbidities. Currently, the Pfizer BioNTech vaccine can be given to all patients 16 or older, and Moderna can be given to those 18 and older. More data is needed to confirm the potential risks and benefits of giving the vaccine to pregnant and immunocompromised patients. However, the CDC currently supports the use of the vaccine in these two patient populations.
Can you get sick from the COVID-19 vaccine?
Neither the Moderna or Pfizer BioNTech vaccine use the live SARS-CoV-2 virus. They are mRNA vaccines which basically “tell” our cells how to display immunity towards the vaccine. Because of this technology, these vaccines cannot give you COVID-19.
What are the expected short-term adverse effects with COVID-19 vaccination?
Patients may experience short-term adverse effects following vaccination. Commonly reported side effects include fatigue, headache, fever/chills, and mild to moderate pain/soreness at injection site. Side effects typically resolve in 1–2 days. More information regarding adverse effects will be provided as more patients receive the vaccine. It is encouraged to report all adverse effects to the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System, which can be found at Vaers.hhs.gov.
Can I just receive the 1st dose?
It is very important to adhere to vaccination schedule and receive both doses of the SAME (21 days for Pfizer, 28 days for Moderna) vaccine for maximal immunity benefits. The vaccine works by teaching our body to recognize and fight the virus. The first dose is a “primer” to set the groundwork of fighting the virus, and the second dose is a “booster” to enhance the immune response in place.
Should someone who has already had COVID-19 get vaccinated?
There is still more data needed to determine the benefit of vaccine in patients who’ve recently had COVID. There are no risks from the vaccine after previous infection, however, it may be reasonable to refrain from vaccination until after 90 days, as reinfection during this time is rare.
Why should you get the vaccine?
The vaccine does no good if it remains in freezers… Getting the vaccine will protect you, your loved ones, co-workers, and friends from contracting or will reduce the severity of illness from COVID-19. It is an extremely IMPORTANT TOOL in ending this pandemic!
When and where can I be vaccinated?
The vaccine rollout has been slower than originally hoped. The Health Department is currently taking reservations for front-line health care workers and for those who are over age 65. President Biden has also indicated that he will mobilize more vaccine in his first 10 days in office with the plan of immunizing more at-risk groups. Soon the vaccine should be available at major pharmacy chains as well as other registered vaccination centers, like ours at ZüpMed.
I received my first dose of the Pfizer vaccine as a front-line healthcare worker in December and my second dose just this past week. I’m here to support that the benefits outweigh the risks of vaccination, and I look forward to the day when we can be a bit more free to work, exercise, and live because of improved health and immunity.
“Emergency Use Authorization for Vaccines Explained.” United States Food and Drug Administration. November 20, 2020. Fda.gov/vaccines-blood-biologics/vaccines/emergency-use-authorization-vaccines-explained
Shannon W. Finks, Pharm.D. is the President and Director of Clinical Pharmacy Services of ZüpMed. She is a Professor of Clinical Pharmacy at the University of Tennessee College of Pharmacy in Memphis. She has practiced and taught in private hospitals, Veterans Administration (VA) hospitals, and academic institutions in cardiovascular and other drug therapy for over 20 years. She has additional certifications in Applied Pharmacokinetics and Pharmacogenomics. ZupMed On Demand Concierge Medical Care is located in Laurelwood Shopping Center 4576 Poplar Ave. Call 901.701.7010 or visit Zupmed.com