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SMH Experts Address COVID-19 Vaccine Concerns

SMH Experts Address COVID-19 Vaccine Concerns

With SMH Infectious Disease specialist Manuel Gordillo, MD, & Infectious Disease Pharmacy Manager Jamie Kisgen, PharmD

Fear. Uncertainty. Hope. Frustration. The COVID-19 rollercoaster twists and turns, and feels unending.

With every day that passes, we inch closer to the pandemic “finish line.” Yet the optimism initially sparked by the COVID-19 vaccines’ launch can seem like its waning — due in part to widespread “quarantine fatigue” and dissatisfaction with the sluggish vaccine rollout. 

So how can we maintain the optimism? Be patient. We’ve come too far to give up now. 

How can we overcome the uncertainty and fear? Stay informed. 

Dr. Manuel GordilloCOVID-19 information is continually changing. Monitor trusted sources — like the Centers for Disease Protection and Prevention (CDC), Sarasota County / Sarasota Department of Health and smh.com/covid19 — to be sure you have the latest info. 

Ask questions. Talk to your doctor, your pharmacist or reach out to our team of medical experts (askanexpert@smh.com). The more you know, the more comfortable you’ll be making healthcare decisions for yourself and your family.

Below are some of the most common vaccine questions we’ve gotten, with answers from SMH Infectious Disease specialist Manuel Gordillo, MD, and Infectious Disease Pharmacy Manager Jamie Kisgen, PharmD.

Getting Vaccinated

Can I take Tylenol or Ibuprofen to relieve side effects?

While taking Tylenol or Ibuprofen to prevent post-vaccination symptoms isn’t recommended, you can them to manage side effects after vaccination, if not contra-indicated by your doctor. We recommend waiting until symptoms arise after the injection to take any over-the-counter medications for relief.

Likewise, taking antihistamines before vaccination to prevent an allergic reaction is not recommended.

Should I be worried I could have a serious allergic reaction to the COVID-19 vaccine?

Severe allergic reaction (anaphylaxis) to the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines have been rare, averaging just 2 per 1 million vaccinations with the Moderna vaccine and 5 per 1 million vaccinations with the Pfizer vaccine. To put that in perspective, anaphylaxis to penicillin occurs in 1 in 25,000 recipients. 

But if you have concerns, certainly talk to your doctor and plan to wait 30 minutes after getting your shots for observation.

After I get vaccinated, will I still have to quarantine if I’m exposed to someone who has COVID-19?

Once you are fully vaccinated (2 weeks after receiving your final dose), you’ll no longer be required to quarantine following a COVID-19 exposure, as long as you have remained asymptomatic since exposure and it’s been 3 months or less since you received the last dose in the vaccination series. (Patients and residents in healthcare settings must meet additional CDC criteria.)

I tested positive for COVID-19. How long should I wait before getting vaccinated?

There’s no minimum waiting period for vaccination after having a COVID-19 infection, according to the Centers for Disease Protection and Prevention (CDC). As long as you’ve recovered from the virus and self-isolated for the recommended time period, you can be vaccinated. 

With vaccine still in short supply, however, you may want to defer getting vaccinated for a few months — until you’re more likely to get re-infected — to allow a higher-risk person to get the dose.

Note that if you were treated for COVID-19 symptoms with monoclonal antibodies or convalescent plasma, you should wait 90 days before getting a COVID-19 vaccine.

Is it OK to donate blood or convalescent plasma after getting the vaccine?

People who get the Moderna or Pfizer vaccines can continue to give blood without a waiting period; however, vaccinated blood donors who do not know the type of COVID-19 vaccine they received must wait 4 weeks before giving blood. 

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently revised its guidance on when COVID-19 vaccine recipients can donate convalescent plasma. To be eligible for convalescent plasma donors, vaccine recipients must:

  • Have had symptoms of COVID-19 and a positive test result from an FDA-approved diagnostic test
  • Have received the vaccine after being diagnosed with COVID-19
  • Have recovered from COVID-19 in the last 6 months (complete resolution of symptoms). 

Individual donation centers may have additional criteria, so check with your local center for guidance.

COVID-19 Vaccine Basics

* COVID-19 vaccines DO NOT use live virus and cannot give someone COVID-19.

* Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccines require 2 shots, given 3 to 4 weeks apart. These mRNA vaccines are not interchangeable; both doses must be of the same vaccine.

* To get maximum protection from the Moderna or Pfizer vaccine, both doses are required. The first shot helps the immune system recognize the virus; the second shot strengthens the immune response. Skipping the second shot means you would not have the vaccine’s full protection, increasing your risk for COVID-19 infection.

* The Janssen / Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine, which was recently given Emergency Use Authorization, requires only one injection. (Click here for information on this single-shot vaccine.)

* There isn’t enough data to determine whether a vaccinated person could be a virus carrier and spread it to others, even if he or she doesn't become sick. More research is needed.

* Because you could still pose a health risk to those who are unvaccinated, continue to follow safety precautions until more is known about the immunity the vaccines provide.

Vaccine Efficacy

Do the vaccines really work? I know people who developed COVID-19 after getting vaccinated.

With the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines, it takes about 2 weeks after getting your second dose for your body to build up full protection. That means for several weeks after the first dose, vaccine recipients have similar infection risk as those who are unvaccinated. With the single-dose Janssen / Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine, it also takes about 2 weeks after the final injection to have full protection.

The risk of getting sick from COVID-19 after that timeframe is very low, but it is still possible: The Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine is 95% effective in preventing COVID-19, and the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine is 94.1% effective in preventing the virus. 

Will the current vaccines protect us against the new, mutated coronavirus strains?

The COVID-19 vaccines have been tested for their ability to neutralize multiple mutant strains, and to date, scientists have found consistent coverage of all the strains tested. Although there is no reason to believe the antibody response achieved from the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines will be compromised by the new strain, both companies are collecting data from people who have received the shot and are running tests on the new strain to prove the vaccines’ effectiveness.

Vaccine Safety & Side Effects

What are potential vaccine side effects? Could it cause a mild case of COVID-19?

The COVID-19 vaccines do not contain any of the actual virus, so there’s no chance that getting vaccinated can infect you or those around you (via vaccine “shedding”) with COVID-19. 

With any vaccinations, mild side effects are normal signs that your body is building protection. Side effects of the COVID-19 vaccine mirror those of other vaccines and can include fever, chills, headache, fatigue, joint pain and soreness/pain at the injection site. The symptoms may feel like a mild case of flu, but they should go away in a few days.

I’ve heard reports of people dying after getting the vaccine. Should I worry?

There is a difference between a death occurring after something and a death occurring because of something. What you are referring to are deaths that occurred after a vaccine was given — just like deaths occur every day after people have breakfast or take a shower. 

When you vaccinate 30 million people, most of them older than 65, there will be a fair number of deaths — heart attacks, strokes, other diseases — among those people over the following 2 weeks, vaccine or no vaccine. 

There is correlation but no causation. This is a critical, very important issue that epidemiologists have to deal with all the time. The CDC carefully tracks these deaths for unusual signals or patterns.

Is it OK to get vaccinated if I'm pregnant, breastfeeding or planning a pregnancy?

We know pregnant women face increased risk of severe illness from COVID-19, but because the vaccines currently available have not been tested in pregnant women, there’s no safety data specific to use in pregnancy. The mRNA vaccines are not live-virus vaccines, so they cannot give someone COVID-19; nor are they thought to be a risk to a breastfeeding infant. In general, we advocate vaccination among pregnant women and those planning to get pregnant, but it is a personal decision. We encourage women to discuss their concerns with their OB-GYN or a specialist in maternal-fetal medicine.

Now What?

Stay the course, and get the COVID-19 vaccine when it's your turn. Continue the precautions you’ve used all along: Wear a mask (properly); avoid large gatherings and stay at least 6 feet from people you don’t live with; wash your hands frequently; and avoid touching your face. No one tool alone is going to stop the pandemic.

We can only achieve herd immunity once enough people have gotten vaccinated or actually gotten the disease. Widespread vaccination is the safest way to do this.

Stay healthy. Be sure you and your family are up to date on your other vaccinations and preventative health to-dos, including flu shots, and regular checkups and screenings.

And stay tuned to smh.com/COVID-19 for updates on vaccines and SMH’s response to the continued pandemic. 

 

** NOTE: This content was last updated March 3, 2021; it was originally posted Feb. 23, 2021. Information related to the COVID-19 virus and vaccines is continually evolving. For the most up to date info, we recommend visiting the CDC’s website and the FDA website.

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Posted: Feb 23, 2021,
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Author: Ann Key
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