COVID-19 Vaccine FAQs
Is this vaccine safe?
While we do not yet know the long term effects of the vaccine, vaccines are generally considered safe and the mRNA technology has been studied for about 10 years and used in other applications such as cancer treatment without significant safety concerns. Adverse reactions from vaccines are typically in the short term, not in the long term.
What is mRNA, and will it alter my DNA?
An mRNA (messenger RNA) vaccine is essentially a set of instructions that teaches your immune system how to recognize and fight the SARS-CoV2 virus. The mRNA itself does NOT enter the cell nucleus (where your DNA lives) and does not affect or change DNA. The vaccine contains no SARS-CoV2 virus at all, just the “recipe” for it. Furthermore, mRNA itself is extremely fragile and disintegrates completely after just a few hours, once it has passed on its message with “instructions” to your cells. That is why the vaccine has to be kept frozen, because mRNA does not last long at room temperature and even less so at body temperature.
So, am I protected now? Can I stop wearing my mask?
Both the Pfizer and the Moderna vaccines are a 2-dose series. You MUST get the second dose in order to be protected! Your scheduled date is on the back of your vaccination card. The Pfizer doses are 21 days apart, and the Moderna doses are 28 days apart. It is important that you try your best to get the second dose on schedule, since that scheduling is how the vaccine studies were conducted. However, if you are late getting the second dose, there is no need to restart the series.
Protection begins about 10-14 days AFTER your second dose.
While we know that this vaccine is extremely effective at preventing severe illness with COVID-19, we do not yet know whether you may still be able to transmit a mild or asymptomatic infection. For this reason, it is very important that you continue to wear masks, observe social distance, avoid gatherings with non-household members, practice good hand hygiene and cough etiquette, and disinfect surfaces. You could unknowingly give COVID-19 to an unvaccinated person, causing them to possibly become very ill or even die.
We will need to wear masks at least until the majority of the population has received the vaccine, which, given shortages and vaccine hesitancy, may be a very long time. Don’t expect things to change in your day to day life for now, but know you are doing your part to put an end to the pandemic by becoming vaccinated.
Will I need to get re-vaccinated periodically, like with the flu shot?
Because the virus is so new and the vaccine trials so recent, data about the durability of our immune response is not yet sufficient to be able to answer this question.
What can I expect during my vaccine appointment?
You will be asked to remain at the vaccination site for 15 minutes after your vaccine in order to be observed for any immediate reactions.
If you have a history of severe (anaphylactic) allergic reactions to ANYTHING, please let your vaccination provider know. They may require a longer post-vaccine observation period.
If you are allergic to any of the vaccine ingredients or have had a reaction to polyethylene glycol (PEG) or polysorbate, you should NOT get this vaccine.
What can I expect AFTER my vaccine appointment?
After dose 1 of the vaccine, most people report soreness in the injection arm for 1-2 days. It is typically not incapacitating. If it becomes severe, you can take Tylenol or ibuprofen, provided that you have no contraindications to those medications.
After dose 2, about 50% of people report some fatigue and headaches for 1-2 days, again mostly not severe enough to interfere with your daily function. About 20% of people also experience chills, muscle, and joint aches, and about 15% of people may develop a low-grade fever. You may also notice your lymph nodes (or “glands”) becoming temporarily swollen or tender, especially on the side of your body where you received the vaccine.
Younger people may experience more intense side-effects than elderly or immunocompromised people who may have a weaker immune system, since these symptoms are a sign of a robust immune response to the vaccine.
If you need to, you can take Tylenol or ibuprofen to relieve these symptoms, again provided that you have no contraindications to those medications.
Can I pre-medicate to avoid uncomfortable side effects?
No data exists for this particular vaccine, but extrapolating from what we know about other vaccines, it is NOT recommended to take Tylenol or ibuprofen BEFORE the vaccine since it may interfere with your immune response. However, again from other vaccines, there seems to be no adverse effect from taking medications AFTER the fact, but only if needed. In short, do not take medicines to prevent side effects, take them to treat side effects if they occur.
What about allergic reactions?
Like with any vaccine, a small subset of people may experience a delayed localized allergic reaction, which can be as late as over 7 days after the vaccine. Mostly this presents as a red, raised or indurated (hardened) area that may be itchy or somewhat painful. Please see your medical provider if this reaction is very bothersome. Most of the time, it responds to over the counter antihistamines such as Allegra, as well as ice to the affected area and ibuprofen if needed for pain. If you had this reaction with your first dose, you can still get the second dose on schedule. However, please notify your vaccine provider since they may recommend using your other arm for the second dose.
Most severe or life-threatening reactions occur within a few minutes until about an hour after receiving the dose, but ALTHOUGH EXTREMELY RARE, LIFE-THREATENING ALLERGIC REACTIONS CAN OCCUR EVEN AFTER YOU LEAVE THE VACCINATION SITE. IF YOU DEVELOP DIFFICULTY BREATHING, SWELLING OF YOUR FACE OR THROAT, A RACING HEARTBEAT, A BAD RASH ALL OVER YOUR BODY, OR DIZZINESS AND FAINTING, PLEASE CALL 911 TO BE TAKEN TO YOUR NEAREST EMERGENCY ROOM.
How can I prove that I have received my vaccination?
When you are vaccinated, you will be given a vaccination card that has your name, date of birth, type of vaccine received, the date you received it, as well as the vaccination location and the vaccine’s lot number.
Please make sure you don’t lose this card, as you will need to bring it on your second vaccine appointment, at which time the information for your second dose will be added to the card.
This card is your only tangible proof of vaccination. A good way to ensure you always have the information is to take a photo of the card with your phone and keep it in your phone and/or computer (or “cloud”) for reference.
If you receive your vaccination through a site other than your primary care provider, please do let your PCP know so they can update your records.
Can I get the vaccine if I had or have COVID?
You can get the vaccine as soon as you meet criteria to discontinue isolation. That is, for mild to moderate illness, it has been at least 10 days since the onset of your symptoms (or since the date of your test, if you are asymptomatic) AND you have gone at least 24 without a fever (without the use of fever-reducing medications) AND your symptoms, if any, are improved. For severe/hospitalized COVID, the length of time is at least 20 days since onset, and the other criteria are the same.
If you received antibody therapy for your illness, whether in the form of convalescent plasma or monoclonal antibody infusion, you should wait at least 90 days since the end of your treatment before getting the vaccine. Receiving what is known as “passive antibodies” may interfere with vaccine efficacy.
Where do I go to get vaccinated?
Different communities have different approaches to their vaccine rollout. Most involve phases, which are based on risk. Please go online to your local health department’s website or social media pages to find out information specific to your location.
Where can I get more information?
You can find more information on the CDC website and on Pfizer’s and Moderna’s websites.