We have a vaccine! In fact, we have three — with more on the way. It’s a medical marvel that we have gotten to this point so quickly.
After a grueling, scary and disruptive 2020, 2021 came out of the gate with the reassurance that progress is being made. Now that we have vaccines, the question in everyone’s mind is, “So when can we finally get back to normal?”
To help respond to this important question, we spoke with Dr. Ayrn O’Connor, director of the medical toxicology fellowship at Banner-University Medical Center Phoenix. Throughout the pandemic she has helped to study the most effective tools in our fight against COVID-19, including the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines.
Do I still need a mask?
We know masks, social distancing and hand washing are absolutely vital in slowing the spread of COVID-19,” emphasized Dr. O’Connor. “We anticipate that the vaccines will make the possibility of spread less likely, but that has yet to be proven. Although the vaccines are very effective, their peak protection is not reached for 2 weeks after the second shot.”
Furthermore the duration of the vaccine’s protection is an area of ongoing study. While we work toward getting everyone vaccinated and achieving herd immunity it is important to keep practicing the public health measures that we know will keep us, our neighbors, friends and loved ones safe.
Can I get together with friends now?
Like masks, social distancing continues to be one of the most important ways to slow the spread. If you and all of your friends have been vaccinated, your likelihood for spread should be much lower. But your risk is not zero.
As worldwide trends continue to see spikes in new cases and deaths, we all need to be diligent in practicing the healthy habits that have protected us thus far. This includes social distancing, frequent hand-washing and avoiding crowded indoor spaces when possible.
What side effects could I experience?
Side effects of the vaccines vary from one person to the next.
Most people experience one or more of the following, most symptoms will typically subside within 24 hours.
• Some soreness and/or swelling at the location of the shot;
• Muscle aches;
Dr. O’Connor offered some perspective regarding the side effects.
“The vaccines trigger a response from your immune system, essentially teaching your body how to fight off COVID-19 in a controlled, safe way. The expected side effects are evidence that your vaccine is working. Although uncomfortable, try to take comfort in knowing the effects are temporary and remember without a vaccine, the symptoms of COVID-19 would be much more severe, and possibly deadly.”
You can contribute to the gathering of important safety data by enrolling in the V-safe, a smartphone-based program that checks in with you to help track your side effects post-vaccination.
Do I need two doses for the vaccine to be effective?
For those receiving the Moderna or Pfizer vaccines — yes — two doses of the vaccine are required to have full effect. Dr. O’Connor explained the first shot is considered a primer and the subsequent shot is a booster. Both doses include the same active ingredients, but a primer without a booster will not be as effective.
For those receiving single-dose vaccines, like the Johnson & Johnson (Janssen) vaccine, only one dose is needed to be fully effective. However, like the first two vaccines, waiting two weeks post vaccine is required to ensure full protection.
What to do after your vaccine
Dr. O’Connor emphasized the importance of a vaccine in returning us to life as we knew it. “Once you’ve received your vaccine, be sure to share your experience with others. If you have a friend that is nervous about the side effects or the vaccine itself, your story could be all it takes to help them feel better about their own vaccination.”
Until we have widespread acceptance of COVID-19 vaccines, we will need to continue in our current state of social distanced living. Stay positive and continue to do your part. We’re almost there.
Bobby Boland is a contributing writer for Banner Health.