States began receiving the first doses of COVID-19 vaccines this week, and more doses will follow. Each state has its own distribution plan, so check with your health department for specific information. Meanwhile, here are answers to some of your general questions about the vaccines.
What’s in the vaccine? I have had allergic reactions in the past to vaccinations — can I still get the COVID-19 vaccine?
The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is the first to be distributed, but others are likely to follow over the coming months, so a lot will depend on the options you have.
The FDA lists 10 ingredients in the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine: mRNA, lipids ((4-hydroxybutyl)azanediyl)bis(hexane-6,1-diyl)bis(2-hexyldecanoate), 2[(polyethylene glycol)-2000]-N, N-ditetradecylacetamide, 1,2-Distearoyl-sn-glycero-3-phosphocholine, and cholesterol), potassium chloride, monobasic potassium phosphate, sodium chloride, dibasic sodium phosphate dihydrate, and sucrose.
Basically, that’s three types of fats, cholesterol, sugar, and four types of salt (including sodium chloride, which is table salt).
If you’ve had allergic reactions to vaccines in the past, you should talk to your primary care provider about the vaccine. People who have had severe allergic reactions may need to be monitored after receiving the vaccine. Polyethylene glycol has been pointed to as what has triggered some anaphylaxis.
The most common allergic reaction — especially in flu shots — are in people with egg allergies. The most common flu vaccines are developed with egg-based technology, but the FDA and CDC said common food allergies and medicines shouldn’t prevent most people from receiving the vaccine.
What if I’m immunocompromised or taking medications that affect my immune system?
The FDA guidance says you should talk to your primary care physician and make that decision with them.
They’ll likely give you the OK, but be sure to bring up these concerns with your doctor to make an informed decision. If your doctor says it’s OK, FDA guidance says to give your vaccine provider a heads up.
Can I get or spread COVID-19 from the vaccine?
There are several different types of vaccines. Rotavirus and MMR vaccines use a live but weakened version of the virus to teach your body to develop long-term immunity to a disease. Flu and rabies shots use an inactive version of the virus, but that’s why you don’t develop long-term immunity from those viruses.
The COVID-19 vaccine doses developed by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna use a new type of vaccine, an mRNA vaccine. This type of vaccine has been in development for about three decades, but is only now being used for COVID-19. According to the CDC, mRNA vaccines teach your cells how to make a protein — or even just a piece of a protein — that triggers an immune response inside our bodies. That immune response, which produces antibodies, is what protects you from getting infected if the real virus enters our bodies.
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That being said, the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines require two doses to be effective — more similar to many childhood vaccinations than getting a flu shot. So, once you do receive a vaccination, you may have to receive a follow-up.
How effective are the vaccines?
Only the Pfizer-BioNTech has been given emergency use authorization by the Food and Drug Administration at this time, though emergency authorization is expected soon for the Moderna vaccine. According to the FDA’s authorization letter, it is 95% effective seven days after the second dose. According to Moderna’s data, it is 94.1% effective.
Why do we have to get a second dose of the vaccine?
If you want the full protection of the vaccine, you’ll have to get the second dose. In an FDA analysis of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, after only one dose, a little more than 50% of participants were still protected from the virus. But that jumped up to 95 percent after the second dose.
That applies to the Moderna and Astra-Zeneca vaccines as well.
If I’ve already had COVID-19, do I still need a vaccine?
Prevailing science says yes for a few reasons: While not common, there have been some reports of reinfection after recovering from COVID-19. The available evidence, according to the CDC, suggests most people who recover from COVID-19 would have a degree of immunity for at least three months following initial diagnosis.
The CDC also says there isn’t enough information about the length of natural immunity — what you’d get from having the virus — and has not made a recommendation yet about whether you’d benefit from getting a vaccine if you’d previously had the virus.
About 5-10% of participants in both the Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech trials included participants who had the virus previously.
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