COVID-19 vaccine Q&A with Dr. Susanna Block of Kaiser Permanente:
The COVID-19 pandemic has caused incredible hardship for people across the globe. We have lost loved ones, colleagues, employment and educational opportunities. While social distancing, mask-wearing and hand-washing are important measures, having a vaccine is key to ending the pandemic. The 20,000-foot goal is to vaccinate as many people as possible in a short time.
Still, choosing whether to get vaccinated can be a complex decision: As a physician and mother who has worked as a frontline provider throughout the entire pandemic, I know I weighed many factors when making my choice. On one hand, a COVID-19 vaccine is the key to ending the pandemic. Despite doing all we can to stay safe without a vaccine, I have seen the devastating effects of COVID-19 up close when patients and colleagues have become ill. On the other hand, we are not used to receiving a vaccine that is so new. The calculation comes down to comparing the risk of having Covid-19 or infecting loved ones vs. the risk of vaccination. Having a vaccination in such a short time is a tribute to the dedicated scientists who developed it.
I had my first COVID-19 vaccine two weeks ago. Here is some information that helped me make an informed decision.
What vaccines are available at this time?
In mid-December, the Food and Drug Administration issued emergency authorization for two mRNA COVID-19 vaccines: the Pfizer and the Moderna vaccines. Both have good safety and efficacy profiles. The Pfizer vaccine is for people over 16 and Moderna’s is recommended for those over the age of 18.
What are mRNA vaccines?
mRNA vaccines work differently than traditional “live attenuated” viral vaccines. “Live attenuated” viral vaccines cause your immune system to mount a response similar to a natural infection. mRNA, however, instructs the body to make one specific part of the virus called the “spike protein.” The immune system then makes a response to the “spike” vaccine and attacks the Covid-19 virus.
How quickly does the vaccine work, and how long does it last?
The Pfizer vaccine is a two-dose vaccine with doses given 3 to 4 weeks apart. Protection from COVID -19 symptoms is not completely conferred until one week after both doses of the vaccine are given.
Because the first Pfizer vaccine recipients got vaccinated in May 2020, we do not yet know how long the immunity will last. Ongoing studies are working to get more information.
What are the risks?
Like all vaccines, there can be some side effects. Most are very mild including soreness at the site of the injection, fever, and muscle aches. I had no side effects after my first shot. There are rare cases of severe allergic reactions and for this reason it is typical to be observed for about 15 minutes after the injection.
The Pfizer vaccine trials included 44,000 people, all over the age of 16. It excluded people with history of severe allergic reactions or pregnant people. Evaluation included a two-month follow-up. The entire trial was conducted over six months
Who is eligible for the vaccine now?
Washington state’s Health Department has created a phased approach to vaccination and announced an estimated timeline for when people can get vaccinated. Current eligible individuals include those in Phase 1, Tiers A1, A2 and B1. The timing on when the vaccine is available to additional tiers will depend on available vaccine quantities and guidance from the state.
Phase 1, Tier B1 includes people who are:
- 65 and older.
- 50 and older who live in a multigenerational home. (This is defined as a home where individuals from two or more generations live, such as an elder and a grandchild. It does not include a parent or guardian caring for a child or teen.)
Phase 1, Tiers A1 and A2 include:
- Workers in health care settings.
- First responders.
- Workers and residents in long-term care facilities.
If I get vaccinated, can I go back to life as normal?
Studies have found excellent vaccine efficacy in preventing symptoms from COVID-19. We do not yet know if the vaccine prevents the actual infection from the virus or asymptomatic spread. Until we know more, it is still important to continue to wear your mask and practice social distancing.
What about kids?
Participants in Pfizer’s vaccine studies were mostly adults. Since the initial studies, Pfizer has now enrolled children down to age 12. Moderna is about to start a similar study. It will likely be some time before any of the COVID-19 vaccines are authorized for use in children.
For now, it is important to continue to social distance, wear masks and wash hands frequently.
Will there be a vaccine for kids before next school year?
Vaccine trials for children and adolescents are ramping up now. It is not possible to say at this point because recommendations will depend on the results of these studies. When a vaccine to prevent COVID-19 has been shown to be safe and effective, the CDC and the American Academy of Pediatrics will make recommendations about when younger people can get vaccinated.
More questions? Email firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll forward them to Dr. Block for our next installment of Ask the Pediatrician.
This story was first published on Jan. 23, 2021.
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