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COVID-19 Vaccine FAQ

May 18, 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. It was not rushed. 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, which has been in place for more than a decade, is highly precise. With new techniques, this sequence was developed in a matter of days. Stage 3 clinical trials testing the vaccines on 10s 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, 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. 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.

  • This question is still being studied. Studies on the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines have looked at 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.

  • 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.

  • At this time, the vaccine will not be given to anyone younger than 12 years.

  • Yes. Children receive the same dosage levels as adults.

  • 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.

  • We believe so, but studies of this continue. Viruses mutate 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 have not changed, so we expect the vaccine to remain effective.

  • 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.

  • It is not true.

  • 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 large, indoor gatherings – remains critically important.

  • 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.

    If you continue to hesitate, talk to your doctor about your concerns.

  • 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. The single-dose J&J shot is considered a viral vector vaccine.

Getting the vaccine

  • All of the vaccines available in the U.S. are effective. Vaccine availability will determine which vaccine you receive.

  • We are seeing very few, and they are quite consistent with those of other vaccines. Most people who have side effects will experience injection-site irritation or mild pain. A few may feel fatigue, a mild headache or a low-grade fever. The side effects are very similar to those of the flu shot. Any side effects should last no more than 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 early on, 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 rare. The vaccine is very safe.

  • Food allergies 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 and other foods are not used in the production of these vaccines.

    We monitor vaccine recipients for 15 minutes after administration. If you have had a severe allergic reaction such as anaphylaxis to a vaccine (or other medicine), 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 credible 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. Deaths that occur after vaccination are due to another cause.

    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.

  • Vaccine availability differs from state to state. Vaccine doses have been allocated to county health departments, pharmacies and healthcare organizations. We encourage you to get your vaccine at your first opportunity, no matter the providing organization.

  • Possibly. Check with your healthcare provider to learn more.

  • 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. You should continue these behaviors even after you're vaccinated. They 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.

  • 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 herd immunity. 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.

  • If you get the chance to get the vaccine, get it. Don’t wait. Family members should each get the vaccine as soon as they can.

  • There is no proven benefit to taking Tylenol or ibuprofen as a preventive measure. Side effects of vaccination, 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.

After receiving the vaccine

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

  • Yes, in many situations – especially indoors. We must continue to observe the pillars of infection prevention and control. We must continue to protect each other until we reach herd immunity.

    Wearing a mask outdoors is not necessary after you are fully vaccinated, unless you are in a crowded setting such as a concert.

  • 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.

  • Sometimes. After being fully vaccinated, you can feel comfortable sharing time indoors with another fully vaccinated person. But limit these indoor interactions to 1 person or family at a time.

    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 advise you to continue practicing the pillars of infection prevention.

  • No. The effects of any pain relievers will wear 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.

  • Yes, but do not gather people from multiple households at the same time. Limit your encounters with 1 group of people who live in the same household at a time. While vaccination reduces 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, including children.

  • 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.

  • 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. If you have concerns, speak to your healthcare provider.

  • You can safely take the vaccine.

  • Yes, you can safely take the vaccine.

  • Yes. You can get the vaccine.

  • Yes. We 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 as well because of your suppressed immune system. We encourage you to talk with your doctor.

  • Our immunology expert recommends 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 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 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.

  • Yes. The CDC recommends that pregnant people get a COVID-19 vaccine after research showed that the inoculation doesn’t pose additional risks for mothers or babies. The guidance is based on a study published April 28, 2021, in The New England Journal of Medicine, which indicated that the Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines don’t pose heightened risks during pregnancy. Pregnant people who develop COVID-19 are at high risk for serious medical problems – far outweighing the risk of vaccination.

    In the peer-reviewed paper, the CDC’s COVID-19 Pregnancy Registry Team looked at self-reported data from nearly 36,000 people who were either pregnant or soon-to-be pregnant. They reported side effects after getting a Pfizer or Moderna vaccine, which appeared to be typical, such as pain at the injection site, fatigue, headaches and muscle aches. The data “did not show obvious safety signals among pregnant persons” or additional risks, the researchers wrote.

  • Yes. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists has reported that 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.

  • 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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