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Understanding the COVID-19 Vaccines

Understanding the COVID-19 Vaccines

As of April 13, the Johnson & Johnson Vaccine has been put on pause. For more details and continued updates, please visit: CDC's Johnson & Johnson's Vaccine Updates

Now that the COVID-19 vaccines are becoming more widely available to U.S. citizens, we’ve noticed that people still have some unanswered questions about the difference between the three vaccines currently available, their effectiveness, and what will happen after getting the vaccine.

Luckily, HealthEZ Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Jacquelyn Conley, is here to answer some of the most common questions and help explain how the different vaccines work.

Who is eligible to get the COVID-19 vaccine?

Dr. Conley: Eligibility for the COVID vaccines still varies from state to state. Most states began by vaccinating anyone over the age of 50 and those under the age of 50 with specific medical conditions that make them high risk for COVID infection. Additionally, certain groups under the age of 50 such as those working in healthcare or schools are eligible. 

The federal government has encouraged states to make the vaccines available to a wider audience, but that decision will be made by state governments and health officials based on their needs and ability to distribute the vaccines. People should check their state government websites to see if they’re eligible.

Will I have to pay for the COVID-19 vaccine?

Dr. Conley: No! The vaccine is free for everyone—even those without health insurance.

How do the COVID-19 vaccines work?

Dr. Conley: Unlike vaccines for some other infectious diseases, which inject a weakened or inactivated germ from the disease into your body, the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines work by injecting what’s known as Messenger Ribonucleic Acid (mRNA) to tell your body to produce the antibodies needed to fight COVID. Your cells take up the mRNA and deliver it to the nucleus of the cell where it acts as a recipe card to tell your cells to make “spike proteins.” These spike proteins are then transported to the surface of the cell and trigger your body to make antibodies specifically for COVID. 

The Johnson & Johnson vaccine works similarly, but a DNA piece is first taken up by the cell before being converted to mRNA. Then, the same thing happens where your cells make the spike proteins and send them to the cell surface to trigger antibody production. 

The vaccines DO NOT inject any amount of living, weakened, or inactive COVID into your body.

Can I choose which vaccine I’ll get?

Dr. Conley: Generally speaking, most people are not able to choose which vaccine they get at this time.

Do the vaccines provide 100% immunity to COVID-19?

Dr. Conley: No. In their clinical trials, which included roughly 30,000 individuals for Moderna and 44,000 people for Pfizer, the two-shot vaccines demonstrated 95% efficacy at preventing symptomatic disease.

The Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which included roughly 40,000 individuals in the clinical trial, demonstrated roughly 65% efficacy at preventing mild symptomatic disease and about 85% at preventing severe symptomatic disease.

Are there any side effects of the COVID-19 vaccines?

Dr. Conley: Most people can expect some pain or discomfort at the injection site. It’s possible to experience some general symptoms like a low-grade fever, headache, fatigue, muscle aches and pains, or mild nausea. This doesn’t mean you have COVID. It means the vaccine is working and your body is producing antibodies.

Will I need to get vaccinated again in the future?

Dr. Conley: At this point, we don’t know how long immunity or protection from the COVID vaccines will last. There are also new COVID variants that the current vaccines might not protect against as effectively.

After I get a COVID-19 vaccine, do I still need to wear a mask? If so, why?

Dr. Conley: Yes. For the time being, it’s recommended that you continue to wear a mask following vaccination. It’s unclear how long this recommendation will be in place. The rationale is that the vaccines protect well against symptomatic disease, however, we don’t know at this time if someone who has been vaccinated could potentially be an asymptomatic carrier of the COVID-19 virus and transmit it to someone who has not either had COVID or been vaccinated.

If I already had COVID-19, do I still need to get vaccinated?

Dr. Conley: The recommendation from the CDC and WHO is that those who have previously contracted COVID-19 get vaccinated due to the fact that we don’t know how long immunity lasts following infection.

Do I have any other options besides the three current vaccines?

Dr. Conley: There are two more vaccines in Phase-Three Trials that are likely to be considered for an emergency-use authorization in the U.S. in the next few months. These are being developed by AstraZeneca, which has already been authorized for use in the UK and other European countries, and Novavax. 

The AstraZeneca vaccine is DNA-based, somewhat similar to the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. The Novavax vaccine is a different type of technology that delivers the spike proteins needed to fight the coronavirus into your body directly, as opposed to triggering your own cells to make the spike proteins. 

We’ll continue to provide updates and information as we learn more about COVID-19 and the long-term effectiveness of the various vaccines.