Our mission here is to educate readers and viewers on the most important questions on everyone’s minds during the pandemic.

Hopefully, we will be able to convince some people who are on the fence and feeling hesitant to get vaccinated. Together, after getting vaccines and social distancing for few more months, we can put an end to this pandemic and get back to our original lives.

1.    Which vaccines are available?

-       Even though many vaccines are in development, they all share one thing in common: they all stimulate a primary immune response so that the body can develop memory B and T cells to fight against the SARS-CoV-2 virus. 

-       Pfizer and Moderna vaccines have been approved for Emergency Use Authorization by the FDA. They both show excellent safety profile and effectiveness of up to 95 percent. 

2.    Where do we go to get vaccinated? 

-       Hospitals, outpatient clinics and pharmacies like Walgreens or CVS will have these vaccines available based on the allocations from their state. 

3.    How many shots of the vaccine are required? 

-       Both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines require 2 doses for optimum effectiveness.

-       After the first dose, the body generates a primary immune response which is slow and weak. 

-       The second dose, administered after 21 days for Pfizer and 28 days for Moderna, will boost the immunity by developing secondary immune response which is stronger and quicker than the primary immune response. This will result in higher antibody concentrations to eliminate the virus more quickly, as well as reducing symptoms and the severity of COVID-19. 

4.    What are the common side-effects/reactions to the vaccines?

-       Please consult your doctor if you have a history of allergic reactions to vaccines

-       The majority of the vaccine trial participants did not experience any symptoms, however, some of the reported reactions to these vaccines include pain at the injection site within 7 days – it was the most commonly reported local reaction – and less than 1 percent of the participants across all age groups reported severe pain.

-       Systemic reaction: fatigue, headache, fever and muscle aches were mainly reported by younger individuals especially after the second dose.  We would like to emphasize that the benefit of receiving the vaccine and the protection that it could provide against contracting a serious COVID-19 infection or death far outweighs the risk of moderate side effects. 

5.    If I recovered from COVID-19, do I still need to take the vaccine? 

-        Yes. Even if you have recovered from COVID-19, it would be beneficial to take the vaccine for the following reasons:

-        First, we do not know how long the immunity from a natural infection lasts.

-        Second, there are documented cases of re-infection among people who have already recovered from COVID-19.

-        Third, during the clinical trials on these vaccines, patients with prior infection with COVID-19 were excluded. So we do not have enough data on this, and to err towards caution, the FDA states that previously infected people could benefit from vaccination.

 6.    After I receive 2 doses of the vaccine, do I still need to wear a mask and avoid close contact with others? 

-        Yes.  Even if we have received 2 doses of the vaccine, we still need to wear a mask and avoid close contact with others until we have achieved an adequate herd immunity by vaccinating at least 75- 80 percent of the population. Also, it takes time for our body to develop immunity after vaccination so there is still a chance that a person can get infected with COVID-19 even after vaccination. 

-        I often use the example of the Swiss Cheese theory, where just one intervention, such as the vaccine by itself, will not achieve the desired outcome of ending the pandemic. It will need multiple layers of interventions such as masks, social distancing, and the vaccine to achieve the desired outcome. 

7.     How can we be sure that a COVID-19 vaccine is safe? 

-        COVID-19 vaccines have been developed under strict and stringent safety protocols from the FDA. The speed at which these vaccines were developed reflects an advancement of science, and it was not at the cost of compromising the safety. This has been ensured by several independent reviewing agencies such as the Vaccine Review Committee, CDC, and the FDA. For ourselves and our families, we don’t doubt the safety or efficacy of the vaccine. 

8.     If I am vaccinated, can I still contract COVID-19 and transmit it to others? 

-        It is still possible that we can contract an infection and transmit it to others after receiving the vaccine, but its probability will be low, and the infection would be milder. We need more time and data to evaluate this. That is the reason we should still continue to wear a mask and practice social distancing until we have more data available. Based on the data we have so far, we can conclude that our chances of getting a serious COVID-19 infection will be drastically reduced after vaccination.  However, vaccinated people may still be carrying the virus and can spread it to others to some extent. We just do not know at this point. 

9.     Is there any data on how long the vaccine will be effective once administered? In other words, how long does the immunity last after vaccinated? 

-        This is another thing we do not know yet. We do not know how long the immunity will last after vaccinated, and how frequently, or, if at all we will need to get vaccinated again.  Hopefully, the vaccine will provide us long-lasting immunity, or immunity at least as good as what people get after recovering from COVID-19.

10.         What are the special considerations on who should get the vaccine first? 

-        Although the CDC’s advisory committee has given general guidelines, the individual states will have the final authority to decide how they want to prioritize groups for vaccination.

-        In general, the top priority for early vaccination will be for people who are considered part of high-risk groups. This includes frontline healthcare workers such as ER and ICU nurses, physicians, and other medical staff directly involved in taking care of patients infected with COVID-19, as well as residents of long-term nursing care facilities. These two groups of people are included in the highest priority group 1a.

-        I believe this will be followed by non-healthcare essential workers and persons age 65 and older in the next phase, phase 1b.

-        This will be followed by those with underlying medical conditions putting them at high risk for serious COVID-19 infections in phase 1c.

The content presented here reflects our own opinion and interpretation of available scientific data we have to date. It is not sponsored by Moderna, Mercy Medical group or Dignity Health Foundation. Please always refer to your primary care physician for advice related to your personal situation. 

(Dr. Darshan Dhingani, a pulmonary critical care physician at Mercy Health Foundation, answers questions asked by most patients in a conversation with Satish Shah, an author, speaker, senior community leader and phase-3 trial volunteer for Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine. The views expressed here are solely those of the authors.)

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