Today's Medicine

The COVID-19 Vaccine: FAQs Surrounding #OurBestShot at Ending This Pandemic

Published: Dec. 16, 2020

It’s been more than seven months since the announcement of Operation Warp Speed – a partnership aimed at developing, manufacturing and distributing safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines therapeutics and diagnostics by January 2021. So far, it’s proving successful. The first doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine have arrived at area hospitals and health systems – something many of us in health care have long awaited. But still, roughly 42% of Americans have said they would not get a COVID-19 vaccine if it were offered to them now, citing concerns with:

  • Safety and efficacy
  • The rushed timeline of vaccine production
  • Vaccines in general

Where do you stand? Are you part of that 42%, or are counting down the days until you’re able to roll up your sleeve?

When it comes to getting vaccinated, the choice is your own. But when the opportunity finally presents itself and your time comes, it’s imperative that you have the facts.

Here’s a list of frequently asked questions, designed to help you make the most informed decision possible during this momentous chapter in the fight against COVID-19.

Vaccine FAQs

How many participants received the vaccine in trials, and was it effective?

Pfizer has reported that 43,538 participants enrolled in its trial, and 38,955 received a second dose of the vaccine. The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine was found to be more than 90% effective in preventing COVID-19 at seven days after the second dose of the vaccine. No safety concerns were reported.

Moderna has reported 30,000 enrolled participants, with 25,645 receiving their second dose. Moderna’s trial had intentional enrollment of people over the age of 65, people with chronic illnesses and communities of color. The first analysis resulted in a vaccine efficacy estimate of 94.5% with no significant safety concerns reported.

Efficacy in these two studies was defined by prevention of symptomatic disease. Data is not yet available to determine if the vaccines prevent asymptomatic infection or transmission of COVID-19.

How many doses of the vaccine will be required to be effective?

At this time, the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines require two doses to be effective. As other companies continue to get FDA approval through Emergency Use Authorization, this may change.

Can I receive the vaccine if I have an active COVID-19 infection?

No. In order to prevent the spread of the virus, you should stay home to prevent exposure to others. Following recovery of your infection, you will have some natural immunity. You should consult with your health care provider about getting vaccinated at that time.

Will I experience adverse reactions after receiving the vaccine?

Overall, the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines have been shown to be very safe and effective. Some people have experienced the following:

  • Injection site pain and/or swelling
  • Fatigue
  • Joint and/or muscle pain
  • Fever and/or chills
  • Headache
  • Nausea
  • Swollen lymph nodes

You should anticipate mild symptoms – which are consistent with other vaccines – that last around 24 to 48 hours. These symptoms are normal and signify an appropriate immune system response – or signs that your body is building immunity.

Vaccine side effects can be reported by calling the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS) at 1 (800) 822-7967 or by going online. You can also sign up to receive vaccine reminders and report side effects through your smartphone through the CDC’s v-safe tool.

Should I be concerned about severe allergic reactions?

If you have a history of severe allergic reactions – such as anaphylaxis – after receiving any immunization, you should not receive the vaccine. Consult with your health care provider.

Severe allergic reactions have been reported during mass vaccination outside of clinical trials and would usually occur within a few minutes to one hour after vaccination. Therefore, you should be observed for a short time after receiving the vaccine.

Should I be concerned about the speed at which a vaccine was produced?

The technology used to make the vaccines that the FDA is currently reviewing has been around for years, but it never had to be used in such a way since we've never had a pandemic in the modern era like this one.

Because of the way the vaccine is made, it can be developed and manufactured much faster than traditional vaccines, so that's why we’re seeing this type of vaccine (mRNA) being rolled out before others. 

Will getting the vaccine give me COVID-19?

None of the vaccines currently in development in the United States use live viruses that cause COVID-19. The goal of the vaccines being developed is to teach our immune systems how to recognize and fight the virus.

How much protection from COVID-19 will the vaccine provide?

Just like any other vaccine, each person will have varying degrees of protection. People with stronger immune systems will have more protection. People who are older, have underlying health conditions that affect their immune systems or take medications that suppress their immune systems will not have as much protection.

This is why getting vaccinated if and when you’re able to is important – to protect not only yourself but also those who don’t develop as strong of an immune response from the vaccine. 

In addition, even if you contract COVID-19 following vaccination, the thought is that your case will be milder. That was certainly seen in the vaccine trials: People who received the vaccine did not develop severe cases of COVID-19.

Should pregnant or breastfeeding women get the Covid-19 vaccine?

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends that vaccines should not be withheld from pregnant or lactating women who meet criteria for vaccination based on the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices.

Pregnant health care workers should consult with their OB provider about available data on vaccine safety, risks to pregnant women from COVID-19 infection and a woman’s individual risk for infection and severe disease.

The Takeaway

There’s a lot of information out there, and yes, there are still a lot of unknowns. But here’s a fact that cannot be avoided: There is no way of knowing how COVID-19 will affect you or your loved ones. So, for most people, the benefits of getting vaccinated far outweigh any potential risk associated with the vaccine.

If everyone who’s offered a vaccine gets it and develops some level of immunity and protection, we can stop the pandemic and go back to how life was prior to it. This is our goal. This is the end game. This is our best shot at beating this.

If you still have questions, reach out to your primary care provider for an honest conversation about your current health status and whether the COVID-19 vaccine is right for you.

More Resources

About the Author

Dr. Jessica Jones enjoys helping patients solve their medical problems. Seeing medical care as similar to detective work, Dr. Jones saw becoming an Infectious Disease Specialist as a natural fit. The Creighton University medical school graduate completed her residency at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland. 

You can see Dr. Jones at the Methodist Physicians Clinic Infectious Disease Clinic. 

See more articles from Jessica Jones, MD
Photo of Jessica Jones, MD