The advent of COVID-19 vaccinations is a positive step in the pandemic fight. While more vaccination sites are opening and eligibility for receiving the vaccine is increasing, below are a few basics to know during the vaccine rollout.
It has been a year since the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention identified the first COVID-19 patient in the U.S. and getting the vaccine is an important part of putting the pandemic behind us. Combined with the precautions of hand washing, mask wearing and social distancing, being vaccinated will help us achieve the goal of beating this virus.
Here are a few dos and don’ts to consider when planning for your vaccination.
First, check your eligibility. Go online and check local public health websites or social media for vaccine availability information. Be patient. Know that vaccines are available in limited quantities and demand will be high.
As new sites open for vaccinations, don’t just show up. Please do not arrive at a vaccination site, your doctor’s office or hospital looking for the vaccine. Don’t assume your local provider has vaccine available or that you can be vaccinated right away.
While some may be concerned about vaccine side effects, the reality of the reactions related to the vaccine is that it’s a very small group of patients out of the total number of those vaccinated.
COVID-19 vaccines have gone through the same safety tests and met the same standards as any other vaccines produced through the years. Temporary side effects from vaccination may feel like flu symptoms — sore muscles, feeling tired or mild fever — but they should go away within a few days.
If you have a history of allergic reactions to medications, check with your physician on whether to proceed with vaccination. Even though the number of reactions is small, each vaccination site is well-equipped to handle such a situation.
What to expect when vaccinating
The information below is based on information directly from the CDC, which I hope may help clear up some of your questions about the vaccine and what to expect when it’s your turn to get vaccinated.
Why do I need a COVID-19 vaccine?
To stop this pandemic, we need to use all of our prevention tools. Vaccines are one of the most protective tools to protect your health and prevent disease. Studies show that COVID-19 vaccines are very effective at keeping you from getting COVID-19.
Experts also think that getting a COVID-19 vaccine may help keep you from getting seriously ill even if you do get COVID-19. These vaccines cannot give you the disease itself.
How does a vaccine work?
A vaccine stimulates your immune system to produce antibodies exactly like it would if you were exposed to the disease. After getting vaccinated, you develop immunity to that disease without having to get the disease first. The goal for these vaccines is to teach our immune systems how to recognize and fight the virus that causes COVID-19.
This is what makes vaccines such powerful medicine. Unlike most medicines, which treat or cure diseases, vaccines prevent them.
Is the vaccine safe?
The U.S. vaccine safety system makes sure that all vaccines are as safe as possible. All the COVID-19 vaccines that are being used have gone through the same safety tests and met the same standards as any other vaccines produced through the years.
There is a system in place across the entire country that allows CDC to watch for safety issues and make sure the vaccines are safe.
When is the COVID-19 vaccination available to me?
Because the supply of COVID-19 vaccine in the United States is expected to be limited at first, CDC is providing recommendations to federal, state and local governments about who should be vaccinated first. As vaccine supply increases but remains limited, the CDC will expand the groups recommended for vaccination.
In the weeks and months to come, the goal is that everyone will be able to easily get vaccinated against COVID-19 as soon as large enough quantities are available.
How many shots of COVID-19 vaccine are needed?
The two authorized and recommended vaccines to prevent COVID-19 in the United States both need two shots to be effective. The first shot gets your body ready.
The second shot is given at least three weeks later to make sure you have full protection. If you are told you need two shots, make sure that you get both. The vaccines may work in slightly different ways, but all types of the vaccines will help protect you.
Are there side effects from getting the COVID-19 vaccine?
The side effects from COVID-19 vaccination may feel like flu symptoms (sore muscles, feeling tired or mild fever) and might even affect your ability to do daily activities, but they should go away in a few days.
What happens after I get my first COVID-19 vaccine dose?
You should receive a vaccination card or printout that tells you what COVID-19 vaccine you received, the date you received it and where you received it.
Your health care provider also should give you a v-safe information sheet. This sheet provides instructions on how to register and use v-safe, a free smartphone-based tool that uses text messaging and web surveys to provide personalized health check-ins after you receive a COVID-19 vaccination. And v-safe will also remind you to get your second COVID-19 vaccine dose.
After I get the vaccine, do I still need to wear a mask?
Yes, you will need to keep wearing a mask that covers your nose and mouth, washing your hands often and staying at least 6 feet away from other people you do not live with. This gives you and others the best protection from catching the virus.
Right now, experts don’t know how long the vaccine will protect you, so it’s a good idea to continue following the guidelines from CDC and your health department. We also know not everyone will be able to get vaccinated right away, so it’s still important to protect yourself and others.
Will I have to pay to get the COVID-19 vaccination?
No, cost is not an obstacle to getting vaccinated against COVID-19. The vaccine administration fee is covered by government or private health insurance plans with no patient contribution. For individuals without insurance, the vaccine will also be provided at no cost.
If I have already had COVID-19 and recovered, do I still need to get the vaccine?
COVID-19 vaccination should be offered to you regardless of whether you already had COVID-19 infection. You should not be required to have an antibody test before you are vaccinated.
However, anyone currently infected with COVID-19 should wait to get vaccinated until after their illness has resolved and after they have met the criteria to discontinue isolation.
Additionally, current evidence suggests that reinfection with the virus that causes COVID-19 is uncommon within the 90 days after initial infection. Therefore, people with a recent infection may delay vaccination until the end of that 90-day period, if desired.
For more information, visit maricopa.gov and azdhs.gov.
Dr. Timothy Byrne is medical director of cardiac services at Abrazo Arizona Heart Hospital. Visit abrazohealth.com.