COVID-19 Vaccine Facts
My name's Kelly Evans-Hullinger. I'm a physician, and I practice internal medicine at the Avera Brookings Medical Clinic. I see all adult patients, and mostly patients over 65. So mostly patients who have been in this high-risk group are people that I'm seeing every day.
How do COVID-19 vaccines work?
It codes for a protein, and that protein is the protein that our cells need to recognize on the surface of the coronavirus. So when that gets injected, our immune system, after it turns into a protein, recognizes the protein, can form antibodies, and remember that response in case we were ever to encounter that other virus again. Our immune system will be prepared to defend itself.
Will the development speed of COVID-19 vaccines affect their safety?
So, we actually have really good safety data on these vaccines. I think a lot of hesitancy has to do with the newness of the technology, and how rapidly they were developed, and I think many of us in medicine shared those concerns initially. The data before these drugs were approved were really good though. I mean, they tested a total between the two big trials of over 90,000 patients, and adverse effects were...I should say severe adverse effects were very, very rare. We now even have better safety data because we've vaccinated millions of Americans between health care workers, and these high-risk populations that have already been vaccinated, and we still have recorded very, very few severe adverse effects.So, I think the safety data was really good even before they were approved, and now we have increasing amounts of excellent safety data.
What are common side effects of the COVID vaccine?
So mild side effects are pretty common with these vaccines, and so patients should expect to maybe not feel the greatest for that one to two days after their vaccine. The most common would be a sore arm at the site of injection, and that happens in about 70% of people. Less common ones include wider spread muscle aches, fever, and just fatigue, and those can occur maybe in 15% to 30% of people. But it's not uncommon to not feel 100% in that one, two, three days after your vaccine.
Should someone still get vaccinated if they already had COVID?
Yeah, so we don't know what long-term immunity after infection from this virus is like. Most data has shown that the majority of people who have COVID-19 if they have a healthy immune system, probably will keep antibodies for three to six months, but that's not true 100% of the time. And we don't really know beyond that if people retain immunity. From the little data we do have, it actually looks like the vaccine will produce better and longer-lasting immunity than the infection itself which is pretty impressive.
How long will the vaccine remain effective?
We don't really know the answer to that question yet, and that's solely because we haven't had people who've had the vaccine, and had it be 6 months, or 12 months, or 24 months out. It's possible that we could see immunity wane, and require a booster of this vaccine in the future, but we won't know that answer for a while.
Can we stop COVID-19 precautions after the vaccine?
So the answer right now is no. The more complex answer is we don't really know yet. What the studies looked for was infection and illness that was caused by COVID-19 after the vaccine. There are studies ongoing to try to find the answer to the question if I've been vaccinated can I still carry the virus around even if I don't get sick. Because we don't know the answer to that yet, we would still recommend that people continue to take precautions knowing that it's possible they could still be an asymptomatic spreader of the virus. It's possible that we may gain evidence in the coming months that, that would be uncommon or not true, in which case, our advice might change.
Why is this vaccine the safest way to acquire immunity from COVID?
As far as safe ways to get immunity, the vaccine is exceedingly safer than getting the virus yourself, and that's true even for younger and lower-risk populations. We have seen numerous individuals that are low risk, and maybe when they got COVID infection they didn't have severe illness. They maybe had a flu-like illness, but we are seeing a lot of those people have long-term effects from it. Maybe they have a lasting cough or shortness of breath, or some people might have some lasting muscular pains or lasting fatigue. Those things are unpredictable, and we do not have any data that the vaccine would cause some of those lasting effects. Really, the side effects from the vaccine that we've seen are overwhelmingly very short-term. So, I think scientifically, the vaccine itself is much safer than the risk of getting the virus.
How will this vaccine help end the pandemic?
Yeah, so this can be a really important piece of ending the pandemic. Vaccine, if we can decrease the amount of virus spreading in our community in any way, and that includes vaccine but it also includes physical distancing and masking and all the things that we've been trying to do for the last year, the lower the rates are, the closer we can become to being able to go about business as usual again. At a larger look at it, one of the most important things the vaccine will do, even short of ending the pandemic will decrease deaths from the pandemic. We know that the vaccine decreases risk of severe infection and death in the data that we have. And certainly with the year that we've had and the number of people that we've lost, that's one of the most important roles it has as well.
Why do you recommend the COVID vaccine?
I hope that members of our community will be enthusiastic about getting their vaccine to protect themselves, and ultimately, as an act of decreasing the effect that this has had on our community, and trying to help us move forward from that. In my own experience, I've been talking to patients in the clinic about this for the last two months. And the patients I see, especially those patients over 65, are overwhelmingly excited to get their vaccine and ready to get it as soon as it's their turn. So, I hope that remains true as we work our way through our risk groups.