For this month's Health and the City article, Nebraska public health expert Dr. Bob Rauner answers frequently asked questions about the new coronavirus vaccines.
Rauner received his Doctor of Medicine degree from the University of Nebraska Medical Center, and his Master of Public Health from Johns Hopkins University. He is president of Partnership for a Healthy Lincoln and chief medical officer for OneHealth Nebraska.
His YouTube series of COVID-19 Updates have been viewed over 400,000 times. Rauner was recently named the 2020 Family Physician of the Year. Additional information is provided courtesy of the University of Nebraska Medical Center.
Who should get a vaccination for COVID-19?
The Pfizer vaccine is approved for people ages 16 and older, and Moderna for ages 18 and above. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists says the vaccine should not be withheld from pregnant women, and this should be a discussion between a pregnant woman and her doctor. Most experts advocate for vaccinating women who are breastfeeding.
Are the vaccines safe?
Yes. Both Moderna and Pfizer vaccines completed Phase III trials, which showed both safety and effectiveness. Since their release, more than 18 million people have already received an initial dose. Post-release monitoring is in place and so far has only demonstrated a few severe allergic reactions, all of which were treated successfully. These allergic reactions are very rare and are similar to reactions that can happen with other vaccines, medications or some foods.
Mild systemic side effects are most common after the second dose and include tiredness, body aches and headaches, most of which last only 1-2 days and are treated with rest or over-the-counter medications. The vaccine does not alter your DNA, cause infertility or cause you to contract COVID-19.
Why do we need two shots?
Two shots are needed to achieve 94-95% effectiveness. There is some immunity after just one dose, but both doses are needed.
Is the vaccine effective immediately?
No, some immunity is detectable within 1-2 weeks of the first dose, but full immunity takes about 2 weeks after the second dose.
Will the vaccine protect people from the newer strains of the virus?
So far, the data shows the vaccine is effective against the newer strains.
If a person has already had and recovered from COVID, do they still need to get vaccinated?
Yes. Most experts recommend getting vaccinated once 90 days have passed from a prior infection. This is because data shows that some people with mild infections do not have full immunity, so those people may benefit from a booster vaccine to strengthen their protection against reinfection.
What does it cost to get vaccinated?
Vaccine doses purchased with U.S. taxpayer dollars will be given to the American people for free. Vaccine providers are allowed to charge an administration fee for giving the shot to someone. This fee will be paid by your insurance provider or Medicare. If you do not have health insurance, the vaccination is free.
When can I get vaccinated?
The state is vaccinating Nebraskans based on prioritization because of either their risk of dying from the coronavirus, like those in nursing homes and the elderly, or because of their risk of exposure, like health care providers. The state is working out the details on how and where vaccinations to others will be available.
Do we have to continue health measures like wearing masks, social distancing, hand sanitizing, and avoiding crowded and confined spaces after being vaccinated?
Yes. Although the current vaccines are 94-95% effective, they are not 100% effective, and full immunity is not present until several weeks after the second shot. Until community spread drops to very low levels, people will need to wear masks when they are around people outside of their household. A similar approach for influenza (combination of masks plus vaccination) has almost completely eliminated the spread of influenza this year.
Are we required to get the vaccine?
No, but our best chance to return to "normal" is by keeping ourselves, our loved ones, our community, and our economy safe and healthy. However, employers may require employees to get vaccinated, similar to how many health care facilities may require their employees to be vaccinated for Hepatitis B or Influenza.
When might we expect to go 'back to normal'?
Once we achieve "herd immunity" (meaning over 80% of our population is vaccinated) and community spread drops to very low levels, then we can return to normal. With any luck and vigilance, this summer.
Partnership for a Healthy Lincoln (HealthyLincoln.org) and LNKTV Health (LNKTVhealth.lincoln.ne.gov) bring you Health and the City, a monthly column that examines relevant community health issues and spotlights local organizations that impact community wellness. Direct any questions or comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.