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COVID-19 Vaccine FAQ

March 31, 2021

Following months navigating a pandemic, the arrival of vaccines brings us much hope. It also brings many questions, and we’ll answer the most commonly asked ones here.

About the vaccine

  • Emergency use authorization allows the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to permit use of new medical products in emergency scenarios while the standard approval process continues to proceed.

  • Absolutely. The emergency use authorization allows us to protect people now, but research will continue for decades.

  • No. Vaccine development has been led by the world’s best scientists. One reason this came about so quickly is because the mRNA approach to creating a vaccine is highly precise. With new techniques, this sequence was developed in a matter of days. Stage 3 clinical trials testing the vaccines on tens of thousands of people have occurred. These all provide confidence in the safety and effectiveness of the vaccine.

  • No. The COVID-19 vaccine does not contain a live virus.

  • A messenger RNA vaccine, or an mRNA vaccine, is a vaccine that teaches our bodies how to make the protein they need to trigger an immune response to fight off a certain disease. That harmless protein, or even just a piece of a protein, is called the spike protein. It is found on the surface of the disease-causing virus. The vaccine enables your body to make antibodies so that when it sees the virus, it already has the defense mechanisms to attack it.

  • Research shows that the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are 95% effective after 2 doses.

  • This hasn’t been fully studied. We hope that it will, but the 2 vaccines coming out studied symptomatic COVID-19 cases. It’s possible that someone could have a mild or asymptomatic case of COVID-19 and be able to spread disease. It’s why the pillars of infection control remain important even after getting the vaccine.

  • We believe the body’s immune response to the vaccine is stronger than it is to COVID-19 itself, especially if illness was mild. Trials have shown higher antibody concentrations that lasted longer in the trial patient groups than in people who recovered from COVID-19 after experiencing mild or no symptoms.

  • Tens of millions of vaccine doses have become available, and many more are expected in the coming months. It may be the middle of 2021 before the general public has full access to COVID-19 vaccines. Look to your local health department for details on your state’s or county's distribution plan.

  • We don’t yet know these exact details. Distribution is a matter of supply and demand. Today, we do not have the supply to fully meet the demand. This is why national, state and county health departments are working on phased distribution plans that target the highest risk populations first. As supplies increase, we will together be able to meet greater demand.

  • At this time, the vaccine will not be given to anyone younger than 16 years.

  • This is something that the federal government plans for. There is a program that addresses safety and injury claims related to vaccines. There is protection for both those who get the vaccines and the companies that make the vaccines.

  • No. High-risk populations will be targeted first, such as frontline healthcare workers and long-term care facility residents. Here in Kansas, we know we have healthcare workers and long-term care facility residents in each of our 105 counties, both urban and rural. All 105 counties will receive vaccines proportionate to their populations.

  • Not necessarily. Remember, many hospitals have reduced their surgery volumes and postponed nonurgent procedures in order to keep beds, staff and supplies available to care for patients with COVID-19. It will take time to get to the point of vaccinating a large percentage of the general population, and full vaccination requires 2 doses spaced over several weeks. Until we see the effects of widespread vaccination, the best and fastest way to help hospitals return to normal practices is to work together to reduce COVID-19 admissions – by wearing masks, washing our hands, distancing from others and avoiding large gatherings.

  • We hope that it will, because we hope a widely available and widely used vaccine will greatly reduce the number of people hospitalized with severe disease. But if you haven’t been vaccinated and get very sick, those treatments would still be used in the hospital setting. We do also hope there will be more treatments becoming available that could be given on an outpatient basis in cases of mild disease.

    Monoclonal antibody infusions have also been beneficial for eligible outpatients who meet the criteria for treatment. In contrast, ivermectin, while it is being used in some geographies, is not the standard of care here in the United States and not a treatment we use.

  • There isn’t enough data yet to be certain, but we expect the vaccines will offer protection against this mutation. Viruses actually mutate quite frequently. We expect them to. The medical community has been looking at these variations under the microscope since the pandemic began. The fundamental properties of the spike protein we talk about have not changed, so we expect the vaccine to remain effective.

  • Yes, the COVID-19 variant that emerged in the United Kingdom has been identified in a patient in Hays, Kansas. We should all presume this variant is present across the region and in the Kansas City metropolitan area. The most important thing we can all do is remain vigilant in practicing the pillars of infection prevention and control that keep us all safe. Wear your mask. Wash your hands. Keep your distance. Avoid gatherings. Stay home when you can.

    We would advise these behaviors whether or not new strains have been detected in areas close to us. At this very early stage of vaccination distribution with just a very low percentage of the population vaccinated, it is crucial that we continue to practice infection prevention behaviors.

  • No. Unlike vaccines, which are designed to prevent COVID-19, monoclonal antibody treatment is an IV infusion to help fight existing COVID-19 in patients who meet eligibility criteria for this care.

  • Although that has been explored, at this time, we have not seen data to prove that a reduced dose is equally effective against COVID-19. We know that there is an antibody response to the first dose, but the best antibody response comes following the second dose. Data currently indicate that 2 doses are the best practice.

  • It is not true.

  • It is certainly possible that we could see this in the future. Today, with the vaccines being given under emergency use authorization, it is necessary to monitor each person for 15 minutes after they receive the vaccine. That would require a large parking lot for waiting and would be a large distance for medical providers to cover to monitor patients. Today’s vaccines also have rigorous storage and preparation requirements. We may resolve these challenges in the future and be able to increase the ease of access and administration, such as with drive-thru vaccination options.

  • The short answer is yes. We would like to be able to mass-vaccinate groups of young people who often live in close quarters and spend a lot of time socializing. It would be an excellent way to help manage disease spread. But we do not know any timing or specifics as of yet.

  • This is not unheard of. Here’s why it can happen. First and foremost, remember the vaccine itself cannot cause COVID-19. A person may, however, be exposed to COVID-19 just before getting vaccinated and become infected. Also, full protection from the vaccine does not occur until about 2 weeks after the second dose. People who have received only the first dose are not yet fully protected and could be susceptible to infection. This is why practicing the pillars of infection prevention – wearing a mask, washing your hands, keeping your distance, avoiding gatherings – remains critically important.

    We anticipate scenarios like this will occur less frequently as a larger percentage of the population becomes vaccinated.

  • It is natural to hesitate because you have questions. That’s much different than rejecting the science. If you follow the science, you’ll be making your decisions based on repeatable, generalizable information. This is not guesswork. It is certainly legitimate to have questions and feel unsure. We urge you to make decisions based on information from qualified medical experts. Remember, physicians and others in the medical field take an oath to first do no harm. We have a deep understanding of viruses and immunology and the value of vaccines. Like everything in life, there is risk and benefit associated with the vaccine. It is our belief that the risk is much lower and the benefit much higher to getting the vaccine – and the opposite is true should you get COVID-19. You must look at data and determine the risk vs. the benefit to you.

  • Yes. The Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine is a single-dose vaccine that was shown to be 85% effective in preventing severe COVID-19 disease and 72% effective against developing moderate to severe disease. The vaccine also was shown to provide a significant reduction in asymptomatic disease (infected but showing no symptoms) – 75% effective in preventing infection from asymptomatic individuals. Up to 40% of people with COVID-19 can be asymptomatic. Side effects are similar to the other vaccines. Because this is a viral vector vaccine, it does not require the stringent cold storage necessary for the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines.

  • Viral vector vaccines use a modified version of a different virus (such as an adenovirus, which causes cold-like symptoms) to deliver disease-fighting instructions to our cells. With COVID-19 viral vector vaccines, the transporter (in this case the adenovirus) enters a cell in our body and then uses the cell’s internal workings to produce the spike protein, a harmless piece of the virus that causes COVID-19. The cell displays the spike protein on its surface, and our immune system recognizes that it doesn’t belong there. This triggers our immune system to begin producing antibodies and activating other immune cells to fight off what it thinks is an infection. Viral vector vaccines have been previously developed against a number of infectious diseases including Zika virus, influenza viruses, respiratory syncytial virus, HIV and malaria.

Getting the vaccine

  • The first shipments of vaccines will go to frontline healthcare workers and residents of long-term care facilities.

  • The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines appear to be equally effective. Initially, vaccine availability will determine which vaccine people get. As more vaccines are introduced into the market, additional work will be done to optimize the right vaccine for each individual, depending on availability.

    Based on transportation requirements as well as packaging and storage, it seems possible that the Pfizer vaccine will be suited for distribution in hospital settings while the Moderna vaccine will be suited for smaller practices, retail pharmacies or rural settings.

  • Data show it will be an excellent vaccine option. Its efficacy appears to be a bit lower than that of the first-available vaccines – about 68-72% effective for Johnson & Johnson as compared to 96-98% for Pfizer and Moderna – but 68-72% is excellent. It is higher, for example, than the efficacy of the current influenza vaccine. We do not have concerns about the effectiveness of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine once available and look forward to having an additional option in the market to help prevent serious illnesses and deaths. In fact, it is expected to reach full effectiveness in just one dose, and that will offer efficiency and convenience for healthcare providers and patients alike.

  • We are seeing very few, and they are quite consistent with those of other vaccines. Most people who experience any side effects at all will experience some injection-site irritation or mild pain. A few may feel some fatigue, a mild headache or a low-grade fever. The side effect profile is very similar to that of the flu shot. Any side effects should last no more than 24-48 hours.

    Current data show that the side effect profiles for the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are very similar and increase slightly with the second dose.

  • Side effects like arm pain might develop immediately while others may develop over the next 24 hours. Most side effects resolve within 24-48 hours.

  • We’ve learned that chills, muscle aches, low-grade fever, joint pain, muscle pain, mild nausea and fatigue are not uncommon after vaccination, particularly after receiving the second dose. You may just feel mildly unwell. While not pleasant, remember these symptoms indicate your body is mounting the desired immune response to the vaccine. In most cases, these symptoms persist no more than 24-48 hours. If such symptoms last longer, call your primary care provider.

    There is also some evidence indicating that those who have had COVID-19 previously may experience somewhat more moderate side effects following vaccination.

    If you experience trouble breathing, hives, swelling of face, lips or tongue, a rapid heartbeat or significant dizziness or weakness to the point where you can't stand, you should promptly seek medical attention. Call your primary care provider if available or seek emergency care.

  • Not at all. Do not worry if you have no symptoms after vaccination. This does not mean your body is not mounting an immune response. Many people simply do not develop symptoms or side effects.

  • As thousands of people in the United Kingdom began receiving vaccines, only 2 experienced severe allergic reactions. Both individuals had previous issues with severe allergies and already carried EpiPens® with them. We need to learn more about their allergic reaction to truly understand the cause.

    Far more common is some mild irritation or discomfort at the injection site or mild fatigue – not unlike receiving an influenza vaccination. Severe reactions to date have been extremely few. The vaccine continues to look to be very safe.

  • Food allergies, including to eggs, should not prevent you from receiving a COVID-19 vaccine. During clinical trials, there was no difference in the number of allergic reactions that occurred in groups who received the vaccine and groups who received the placebo. There were no cases of severe allergic reaction. And eggs are not used in the production of these vaccines.

    We are monitoring vaccine recipients for 15 minutes after administration. If you have had a severe allergic reaction to a vaccine (or other medicine) such as anaphylaxis, we may monitor you for longer. If you have had a serious allergic reaction to PEG (polyethylene glycol) you should not get the vaccine.

  • We have not seen any reports of deaths from the vaccine. All data continue to support the vaccine being very safe and causing only mild side effects in some people.

    At this time, more than 100,000 people have taken part in clinical trials for COVID-19 vaccines. There have been no deaths from the vaccine in these studies.

  • State health departments are working around the clock to determine the best way to communicate to the public about when it will be individuals’ turns for the vaccine. There will be media outreach. Your providers will be informed. There will be visibility as to who is eligible to get the vaccine when.

  • Vaccine availability differs from state to state. Vaccine doses may be allocated to county health departments, pharmacies or healthcare organizations. We encourage you to sign up on every list you can and to get your vaccine at your first opportunity, no matter the providing organization.

  • Not at this time. The available vaccines have storage and distribution requirements most doctors’ offices would be unable to meet. Vaccine supplies also remain limited, with the majority of doses being provided to county health departments or pharmacies. Doctors’ offices are unable to schedule or administer vaccines at this time.

  • Continue to practice the pillars of infection prevention and control that have been crucially important since the pandemic began. Wash your hands. Keep your distance from others. Avoid gathering in groups. Stay home when you’re sick. Cough or sneeze into your elbow or a tissue. Wear a mask when in public places and anytime distancing isn’t possible – including after you’re vaccinated. These behaviors will continue to protect you and those around you.

  • This will vary depending on which vaccine you receive. Most likely, you will receive the second dose 21-28 days after the first.

  • Nearly all COVID-19 vaccines being studied in the United States require 2 shots. The first shot starts building protection, but the second one is also required to get the most protection the vaccine can offer. We will be scheduling appointments for the second dose of vaccine as we give people their first dose.

    It is recommended that you receive your second dose 21-28 days following your first, depending on which currently available vaccine you receive. But if for some reason you cannot get your second dose precisely within that timeframe – you should still plan to get it as soon as you’re able. It will still increase efficacy even if given outside the recommended timeframe.

  • You should receive both doses at the same location. It is much easier to manage the logistics of a 2-dose vaccination if received from the same provider who has planned this allocation for you.

    At this time, due to state regulations and safety concerns, you cannot receive your second dose at The University of Kansas Health System if you received your first dose at another location.

  • No. Your first and second doses of vaccine should be from the same manufacturer. When you receive your first dose, you’ll be given a card with the vaccine details you can take with you when you receive your second dose.

  • No. You will not be contagious and do not need to quarantine. The vaccine does not contain a live virus. It is designed to trigger an immune response in your body without making you sick.

  • You will be eligible to receive the vaccine. You will not need to take an antibody test.

  • No. This is not necessary.

  • The CDC recommends getting the COVID-19 vaccine even if you’ve previously had the disease. At this time, experts do not know how long someone is protected from getting sick again after recovering from COVID-19. Once you are out of isolation/quarantine and are without symptoms, you can receive the vaccine.

  • We would encourage you to contact your study coordinator for guidance.

  • No. You should not be vaccinated while you have active infection. Wait until 2-3 months after you have recovered.

  • Yes. The only way we can defeat COVID-19 is if we’re all getting vaccinated. That’s how we achieve the herd immunity concept. The majority of a population needs to be vaccinated so we can stop the spread of COVID-19 and return to some normalcy. And remember, even if you become infected with COVID-19 without developing symptoms, you can still pass the virus to others who may become seriously ill. Your vaccination protects not only you, but also everyone around you.

  • The federal government has partnered with CVS and Walgreens to plan vaccination clinic dates for each long-term care facility in the country. Facilities had the option to choose the pharmacy they currently work with, and some did make that choice. But for most, as CVS and Walgreens get their vaccine supplies, they’ll work with the facilities to come out and vaccinate residents.

  • We are seeing very few side effects, and those that have occurred are very mild. We’ve seen a little bit of flushing. We’ve seen a couple of people experience a metallic taste in the mouth. We’ve seen one semi-allergic reaction, but nothing significant. Some people have reported mild symptoms consistent with receiving any vaccine – such as mild pain or irritation at the injection site.

  • If you get the chance to get the vaccine, get it. Don’t wait. Family members should each get the vaccine as soon as each is eligible to do so.

  • There is no proven benefit to taking Tylenol or ibuprofen as a preventive measure. Side effects, if any, are mild in most people. We see no reason to generally recommend a pain reliever be taken before vaccination. We recommend you receive your vaccination and take Tylenol or ibuprofen only if necessary after the fact.

  • There are differences in vaccine distribution plans from state to state. Here at The University of Kansas Health System, we adhere to the guidelines of the Kansas Department of Health and Environment. You can visit our vaccine distribution update page to learn the latest on vaccine distribution in Kansas or visit your state’s local health department’s website.

  • Unfortunately, today, there is not enough vaccine supply to meet the demand. Sites accepting registrations will use that data to contact people eligible to receive vaccines in keeping with the supply of vaccines as shipments are received. Your patience is appreciated as health departments and others work to provide vaccinations as quickly as possible as supplies allow.

After receiving the vaccine

  • Since 2 shots will be required, it will be 6-7 weeks after the first shot until the vaccine is offering full protection.

  • Yes. We must continue to observe the pillars of infection prevention and control. We must continue to protect each other. It will be a number of months before masks are no longer needed. Continuing to observe the pillars of infection prevention and control remains vitally important.

    While we all look forward to regaining the freedoms we miss, our behaviors cannot broadly change until the majority of the population is vaccinated. What we can think about that is very positive is knowing that with each vaccination administered, we will have that much less severe illness, that much less risk of death, and that much less risk of overwhelming our healthcare systems and resources. Regaining full freedoms will take time, but vaccines offer much to feel positive about now.

  • The current thinking is that the COVID-19 vaccine will be an annual shot or shots.

  • We have no data indicating boosters will be necessary this quickly. While still not known for certain, an annual booster is more likely.

  • No. You should still take care. While the vaccine will prevent you from becoming sick or especially severely sick, we don’t know if it will prevent you from becoming infected. It is possible you could carry and transmit the virus without becoming sick yourself. We would advise you to continue practicing the pillars of infection prevention.

  • While there is some evidence for a decrease in antibody response to childhood vaccines after Tylenol or ibuprofen are taken, it is not a clinically significant reduction. When it comes to vaccines in adults, the best studies (those on influenza vaccine) show no significant difference. Additionally, your body develops its immune response over the 7-14 days following your vaccination. The effects of any pain relievers will have worn off long before the body’s immune response is complete. We would cite Tylenol as the preferred pain reliever, as it does not have anti-inflammatory effects.

  • We do not recommend these changes in behavior just because you have all received vaccines. At this time, with only a small percentage of the general population vaccinated, it remains important to wear masks, keep your distance from others and avoid gathering indoors. While you have reduced your own likelihood of becoming severely ill, you may still be able to carry the virus and transmit it to others who have not been vaccinated.

  • Yes. This is not an unusual side effect and should resolve quickly. We definitely recommend you receive the second dose to achieve full protection. You may want to get the second shot in your other arm.

Special considerations

  • Our experts share their informed opinions for a variety of special considerations here, but your doctors know you best. We encourage you to contact your primary care physician or specialist and ask for their recommendations based on your specific condition and needs. Please be proactive about this. Be ready with your providers’ recommendation so you can make the best personal choice as vaccination becomes available to you.

    While your care team always welcomes your calls, we recommend MyChart messaging as the most efficient way to reach out to your provider.

  • Yes. You should be fever-free for 24 hours before receiving the vaccine, but you can receive it while also taking antibiotics.

  • Yes. The vaccine does not contain a live virus and is safe to take.

  • You can safely take the vaccine.

  • Yes, you can safely take the vaccine.

  • Yes. You can get the vaccine.

  • Yes. We would recommend you get the vaccine. There is no medical reason or safety concern against vaccination. What we would pay attention to is whether your body will mount the desired immune response. It is possible the vaccine wouldn’t work because of your suppressed immune system. We would encourage you to talk with your doctor.

  • Our immunology expert is recommending that her mast cell patients receive the vaccine. She recommends her patients remain for monitoring for 30 minutes following each shot and that they keep their EpiPens with them for optimal caution. You may also take Benadryl before receiving the vaccine. You should talk with your doctor.

  • We expect the COVID-19 vaccine to offer safe protection to those who have received kidney transplants. We encourage you to talk with your doctor.

  • Although the vaccine has not been specifically studied in these populations, there is no safety data to suggest any concerns. These vaccines do not contain any virus. We have seen no increase in the occurrence of side effects in this specific population. It is possible if someone has a weakened immune system that they will get less of a response to the vaccine and have less protection.

  • Yes. That is a good indication to get the vaccine. We would recommend it, as long as you are at least 2-3 months beyond your initial COVID-19 diagnosis.

  • No. There is no data to support this currently. The vaccine has not yet been studied extensively in these specialized populations. We do know that patients who have cancers that affect the T cells or B cells, for example, have weakened immune systems, so we don’t know if the vaccine will trigger the desired immunity. We would encourage patients with cancer to talk with their care teams about the vaccine.

  • Yes, we believe it is safe for you to receive the vaccine. What we don’t know is whether your body will mount the immune response we’re looking for, if your immune system is weakened. You should talk with your oncologists.

  • The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists has reported that pregnancy, lactation or the desire to become pregnant are not in themselves reasons to decide against taking the vaccine. It is highly recommended that women who fall into these categories strongly consider getting the vaccine, as long as they meet other eligibility criteria. They are encouraged to talk with their doctors about any concerns.

    The V-safe smartphone-based tool is used for reporting any side effects from the COVID-19 vaccination. As the 20 million frontline healthcare workers in the first phase to receive the vaccine – and invited to register for V-safe – includes 10s of thousands of pregnant women, there will soon be more data available to assess for any concerns about COVID-19 vaccination during pregnancy. In the first week of vaccine availability, more than 500 pregnant women signed up for V-safe. Additional data is coming quickly.

  • You may begin trying to conceive a baby as soon as you want to.

  • We do not know of any such side effects.

  • No. It does not.

  • Absolutely not. The mRNA that forms the vaccine does not enter the nucleus of a cell. It remains in the cytoplasm, makes a protein and then gets broken down. There is no possible way it can be incorporated into your DNA or alter your DNA in any way.

  • We believe the answer to this question is no. The FDA has reported that a select few people who developed Bell’s palsy, a facial paralysis that is typically temporary, while participating in vaccine trials represents a number consistent with the development of this condition in any general population. The individuals also developed the condition at different points in the trials’ timelines. There is no clear causal relationship between the vaccine and the condition.

    In addition, a photo circulating with related headlines has been proven to have been taken in 2019, indicating information that is both misleading and inaccurate.

  • No. We are not aware of any concerns.

  • While it’s quite usual to give multiple vaccines at the same time, we do not currently have data specific to the shingles and COVID-19 vaccines. These will likely be shown to be safe and effective to receive at the same time. But until evidence is available, the guidance is to separate the COVID-19 vaccine from any other vaccine by 14 days. Currently, both the COVID-19 and shingles vaccinations are 2-dose vaccinations. We suggest you separate the first dose of each by 14 days. You can receive the second doses of each as recommended.

  • We expect that it will. Most people who develop these chronic, long-haul symptoms have those symptoms during the disease. Asymptomatic people can develop changes, such as in their lungs, as well. And as the vaccine provides protection from severe disease, we would expect the probability of developing chronic conditions is much reduced with the vaccine.

  • We would always encourage you to talk with your provider, but, generally speaking, yes, we would recommend you get the vaccine and have seen no evidence to suggest any general contraindication against it. ITP is an immunologic disorder, and, thus, people who have it are just the type we want to protect from COVID-19 through vaccination – anyone who has underlying disease that would increase risk for a poor outcome from COVID-19.

  • There are several points to make on this topic. First, there is currently no data indicating there is enhanced risk of receiving an mRNA vaccine among those who have had Guillain-Barré syndrome. Second, by way of comparison to known vaccinations in this population, we do know that having Guillain-Barré syndrome is not in itself a contraindication to receiving an influenza vaccine unless contracting the syndrome occurred within 6 weeks of having received an influenza vaccine previously. And third, as Guillain-Barré is often caused by viral infections, it is likely that getting the vaccine carries lower risk to a person who has had this syndrome than contracting a virus would carry. Please talk with your doctor.

  • We are inclined to yes. We would like you to get the vaccine to reduce your risk for severe illness, as we know patients with blood cancers have a higher risk for worse outcomes if they do become sick with COVID-19. We urge to you proactively talk with your provider about their recommendation for you.

  • The only absolute reason for you to not get the COVID-19 vaccine is if you’ve had a severe allergic reaction to the COVID-19 vaccine or a vaccine component. If you have experienced anaphylaxis to penicillin, which is rare, you should get the COVID-19 vaccine. The observation time we offer following your vaccination may be extended, which would be recommended for anyone who has a history of anaphylaxis. We have administered more than 50,000 COVID-19 vaccines to date and have not seen anaphylaxis, even in those who have a history of anaphylaxis to a number of different substances, including penicillin.

  • No. We want you to be as healthy as possible before you receive your vaccine and that means making sure your allergy symptoms are well controlled. If you currently take an antihistamine for allergy symptoms, continue taking it. Over-the-counter antihistamines such as Allegra, Claritin and Zyrtec will not interfere with your immune response to the vaccine. Antihistamines are not known to interfere with the immune response generated from the COVID-19 vaccine.

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