I would like to discuss the vaccines and try to dispel any misunderstandings/misinformation around the vaccines, or what it means to be vaccinated and what you can and cannot safely do, and assuage any fears about getting vaccinated. By the way, I myself have been fully vaccinated since February, and am happy to discuss my personal experience with anyone who is curious.
Can I get COVID-19 from the vaccination?
No, you cannot. Unlike some vaccines from the past, you’re not getting the live virus when you’re vaccinated. The COVID-19 vaccines that have been approved for emergency use simply teach our bodies to protect us from future infection. They do not contain the live virus in any form.
Can I trust the COVID-19 vaccine?
Yes. m‑RNA Research has been in development for decades. The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines were developed in record time considering the history of vaccine development. I myself was skeptical, but upon further research, I learned that these new types of vaccines which utilize a new pathway to induce an immune response, have been under investigation for decades. Their mechanism of efficacy is revolutionary, profound, safe and effective.
Instead of using m‑RNA, the Johnson & Johnson vaccine uses a disabled adenovirus to deliver the instructions. This adenovirus is in no way related to the coronavirus. It is a completely different virus. Although it can deliver the instructions on how to defeat the coronavirus, it can’t replicate in your body and will not give you a viral infection of any kind. Again, safe and effective! And with the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, you only need a single dose. Sweet!
Which vaccine should I get? Is there a ‘best’ vaccine?
The best vaccine to get is the one that you can get the soonest! All 3 of the currently approved vaccines in the US are highly efficacious at preventing serious symptomatic illness and keeping you out of the hospital.
What about side effects? Should I be worried?
No! Mild to moderated short-term side effects are much preferable to actually getting COVID!!
A COVID-19 vaccine can cause mild side effects after the first or second dose, including:
- Pain, redness or swelling at the injection site
- Muscle pain
- Joint pain
You will be monitored for 15 minutes after getting a COVID-19 vaccine to see if you have an immediate reaction. Most side effects happen within the first three days after vaccination and typically last only one to two days. Many people have no side effects. Either way, the vaccine is protective. If any questions or concerns about getting the vaccine, please speak with your primary care doctor.
The vaccine does not prevent you from catching COVID-19, BUT: The vaccine keeps you from getting seriously ill, needing hospitalization or dying! Good!! Really good!!!
Can I still get COVID-19 if I’m vaccinated?
Yes, you can still catch and transmit the virus once vaccinated. When fully vaccinated, you will not get seriously or deathly ill, but you can still be a carrier of the virus and spread it to others. You could have mild symptoms or no symptoms, and be able to transmit the virus to others. Not good.
When am I considered fully vaccinated?
Fully vaccinated means two weeks after your final dose. Full immunity from any of the vaccines does not kick in until two weeks after your final dose (or single dose if you receive the Johnson & Johnson vaccine). The two-week marker is important; your body should have enough time to develop antibodies to SARS-CoV‑2 after that timeframe. Before then, you won’t necessarily have the built-up immunity you need to fight off an infection.
BECAUSE OF THE ABOVE, socially distancing, wearing masks, and hand washing is still very important to prevent the ongoing spread of COVID-19 even once you are fully vaccinated! Be thoughtful of others who may not be vaccinated or may be more vulnerable than yourself.
The importance of maintaining social distance, mask wearing and hand washing cannot be overstated.
Continue to mask, social distance when in public places, even outside. We are not even close to the luxury of, for example, grocery shopping without masks. This is not the time to let our guard down or ignore the safety of others.
In fact, because the variants that are circulating in the US are considered to be 50% more transmissible than the already highly contagious COVID-19 strain that began this whole pandemic, the CDC recommends double-masking when in public places.
Should I still get vaccinated even though I already had COVID?
Yes! According to current data, the protective antibodies that our immune system develops to guard us from future infections do not last into perpetuity. Just like you can catch a cold every year because antibody effectiveness wanes over time, you can get Covid again. OR you can get infected with a variant. So yes please get vaccinated even if you have previously been infected!
What is a breakthrough COVID-19 case?
According to the Oregon Health Authority, a breakthrough case is defined as someone who has detectable levels of SARS-CoV‑2, the novel corona virus, in their body at least 14 days after they’ve been fully vaccinated against COVID-19. This means they received both doses of either the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccine, or Johnson & Johnson’s single dose vaccine.
Why do breakthrough COVID-19 cases happen?
Experts expect that some people will still test positive after being fully vaccinated. What the scientific community is interested in is whether these cases are mild, symptomatic, or asymptomatic. The breakthrough cases that have occurred have been mild and associated with low viral loads.
No vaccine has 100% efficacy. But the vaccines are very effective at what they’re meant to do, which is to block symptomatic, and especially severe, COVID.
More research is needed to understand if highly infectious variants of the virus may be behind the breakthrough cases. It is crucial to study breakthrough cases to understand their severity, their contagiousness, and what role variants may be playing.
How safe is it for vaccinated people to get together?
The decision for vaccinated people to get together involves mental “calculus”. It should take into account how likely anyone is to be exposed to the virus, vaccinated or not, because there is still a small chance even a vaccinated person could become infected and therefore transmit the virus. And we are still learning about how efficacious the vaccines are to the current variants that are circulating in the population.
A Note About Herd Immunity:
Herd immunity thresholds for COVID-19 are only estimates at this point. But experts generally agree that somewhere between 75% and 85% of the population must be vaccinated to suppress the spread. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said that that estimate is dependent on significant numbers of Americans being willing to be inoculated. If vaccination levels are significantly lower, 40 percent to 50 percent, Fauci said, it could take a very long time to reach that level of protection.
The youth of our nation: The youth of our nation (18 years old and younger) are 25% of the total US population. We cannot reach herd immunity without this population being able to get vaccinated. Moderna has started clinical trials and is now in phase 2/3 trials looking at the safety and efficacy of their vaccine in ages 6 months to 12 years of age. This is a very important step to help us move toward herd immunity. Pfizer, just this past week began its’ clinical trials to determine safety and efficacy in youth 6 months to 11 years of age. Fantastic!
Adults hesitant or unwilling to get the vaccine: There is still a significant portion of the adult population that is unwilling or on the fence about getting vaccinated. It is important to ask questions before debating or refuting. Ask about their reservations, ask what their goals are for health. Ask about their biggest worries about getting vaccinated. Ask about their sources of information. If you don’t have answers, try to guide them to someone who will listen and respect their concerns. Again, we all need to continue to be in this together!!!
Without the Threshold for Herd Immunity: The longer we are unable to vaccinate enough people to reach herd immunity (see Youth & Adults above), the more of the population that remains vulnerable, AND the great and increasing opportunity the virus has to create variants.
COVID Variants and the evolving edge of the unknown: There is still much to be understood about the virus!! How long does immunity last? Are the vaccines effective against the current variants – current data suggests that they are. Will we need new vaccines against future variants? Will we need boosters?
The more people that do not get vaccinated, the more population the virus has to exploit and to continue to develop new variants: It is very important that as many people as possible get vaccinated to help minimize a surge in COVID variants that will continue to evolve in the unvaccinated population. This is what viruses do. This is a potentially very dangerous public health situation. We don’t know what those future variants could pose to global health. Is the worst over? I don’t know. Will there be another surge? Possibly. Can we expect more scary variants? Maybe.
Please Get Vaccinated!
It is likely that as more people get vaccinated that we will have a phased transition to pre-pandemic times. A vaccine is not a get-out-of-jail-free card, but it is certainly a pathway back to normalcy and our friends and loved ones. Patience and persistence, and getting vaccinated, will get us closer to the life we all want.
Let’s pause from all the worrying for a moment, and celebrate where we are now: safer than we have been in months!!