With its availability becoming more widespread, Carl Vartian, Chief Medical Officer and Infectious Disease Specialist at HCA Houston Healthcare Clear Lake, answers some commonly asked questions about the COVID-19 vaccine.
Can I get COVID-19 from the vaccine? What are the side effects?
No, you absolutely cannot get COVID-19 from the vaccine. The way the current vaccines that are being developed are manufactured is they take a fragment of genetic material from the virus, so it’s not even the entire virus. This fragment of RNA is actually injected into us. So there’s absolutely no live virus that’s given to us, or even really a whole virus, even an inactivated virus. It’s really just a fragment, and should be perfectly safe to receive.
Now, the vaccine has some side effects. It’s an injection in the arm. You can have a sore arm for a couple of days afterwards. Some people feel a bit fatigued, a little achy, but that’s something that can be relieved easily with ibuprofen, or Tylenol, or something like that. It’s a very safe vaccine.
How many doses of the COVID-19 vaccine will be required, and how long will immunity last?
The number of doses of the vaccine depends, actually, specifically on the vaccine. The two that are closest to being in widespread use both require two injections. The Pfizer vaccine has two injections, three weeks apart. The Moderna vaccine is two injections, four weeks apart.
If you miss that second dose, you really will not get full immunity. Both vaccines are about 95% effective if you get two doses, but like any other vaccine that requires more than one dose, if you only get one and you miss the second one, you may not actually achieve full immunity. We really recommend that even if you should miss it, that you have a catch-up that you get at a later time.
If I have already had COVID-19 and recovered do I still need to get the vaccine?
We really don’t know. All we can extrapolate is that for most infections, if you get it naturally you are immune to it, and you don’t have to get it again. But with the coronavirus, we really aren’t sure. Just as with influenza, you can have influenza one year and you still have to take the shot the next year. That may be the case for the coronavirus vaccines. We just have to wait and see.
How long will my immunity last once I receive both doses of the vaccine?
This vaccine has really not been around long enough for us to know for certain; actually, even COVID-19 has not really been around long enough. We don’t have years of experience. We’re hoping it’s prolonged, at least, for several months or even longer, but we just don’t know yet. That’s why studies are continuing.
Can I stop wearing a mask and avoiding close contact with others once I have received both doses?
You absolutely should not change any of the protective behaviors such as masks, social distancing, hand hygiene. We know after you get the vaccine, you’re not fully protected. It can take, as I said, that second dose, and even then, we’re still not talking about 100%, which is really what you would need to be able to forego any of these measures. So we really need you to protect yourself and protect others.