As the new COVID-19 vaccinations become more readily available, we’re finding many people have concerns about their safety and efficacy. Below are answers to some of the most common questions I have been asked about the vaccines in recent weeks.
Are COVID vaccines safe and are there side effects from the shots?
The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines currently available in the U.S. are extraordinarily safe. Many people experience no side effects from the shots. For those that do, the side effects are similar to what you might experience with flu shots — sore arm, mild fever, fatigue and achiness.
Most often, the side effects occur after the second dose and rarely last more than a day or two.
If I have a history of allergies or allergic reactions to medicines and/or vaccinations, should I get the vaccine?
Discuss the risks vs. benefits of getting the vaccine with your primary care provider. Generally speaking, a history of allergic reactions to medications is not a deal breaker but may require you to be observed a little longer — about 30 minutes rather than the usual 15 minutes — after you’ve been inoculated. Severe allergic reactions to these vaccines are extremely rare and almost always occur in the first 30 minutes. Vaccine centers should have medications available to rapidly and effectively treat anyone experiencing an adverse reaction.
Should I be vaccinated if I’m pregnant, breastfeeding or immunocompromised?
While there is less data on those factors, many pregnant or breastfeeding women, as well as immunocompromised patients, have been successfully vaccinated with no ill effects. Talk with your primary care provider about your situation and health risks.
Can children receive the COVID vaccine?
At this time, you must be a least 16 years of age to receive the Pfizer vaccine and 18 for the Moderna shot. Studies are being conducted to determine if the age limits should be lowered. Most children who are infected with COVID typically don’t become as sick as adults and may experience no symptoms at all.
Are the vaccines effective?
Yes. In more than 90 percent of cases, vaccine recipients will not become ill from a COVID infection. In the rare cases where a vaccine recipient becomes infected, it is believed the symptoms and duration of illness should be significantly reduced.
Which is best, the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines?
Because both vaccines are very similar and have been shown to be safe and effective, the “best” vaccine is the one you can get in your arm the soonest.
How long are the vaccines effective and will I need a booster? Are the new variants making the current vaccines useless?
Since the vaccines have not been available for very long, we don’t know for certain how long immunity lasts; however, this is being closely studied. The prevailing opinion is that there will be a need for periodic boosters, but the interval has yet to be determined. So far, it looks like the current vaccines will be effective against the variants we are seeing.
Moreover, the vaccines can be tweaked if needed to cover any new variants, just as flu vaccines change every year based on which influenza viruses are most likely to make people sick.
Once I am vaccinated, can I stop wearing a mask and resume attending activities where there are crowds?
The vaccination should not be considered a substitute for any of the other CDC-recommended precautions. You should still wear a mask, practice social distancing, wash your hands often and avoid large gatherings, especially if they are held indoors.
Dr. Kurt Gambla, a board-certified internist, is the Chief Medical Officer at Beaufort Memorial Hospital.