After many months of providing care for coronavirus patients, Carilion Clinic's frontline staff most likely to be exposed to COVID-19 now have access to a vaccine to protect them from it. The initial shipment of 4,000 Pfizer vaccines arrived at Carilion Clinic on Dec. 15.
“The light at the end of the COVID-19 tunnel is getting a little brighter,” said Chad Alvarez, Pharm. D., senior director of Pharmacy and the leader of Carilion’s COVID-19 vaccine task force. “This is an exciting step forward in the fight against this pandemic.”
Carilion officials expect to receive additional shipments in the coming weeks, including the vaccine manufactured by Moderna. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and guidance from the Virginia Department of Health, the general public can expect vaccines to become available beginning in the spring.
“In the meantime, it’s critical to remember that we all must double down on the precautions we are taking to protect ourselves and each other,” said Paul Skolnik, M.D., former chair of Carilion Clinic’s Department of Medicine. “Keep washing your hands, wearing your masks, avoiding large gatherings and remaining distant from each other. Those actions and the COVID-19 vaccines will be what beat this pandemic.”
Read on for answers to some common questions about the vaccine, and be sure to visit CarilionClinic.org/covid-19-vaccine for more in-depth answers and updates as they develop.
How does the COVID-19 vaccine work?
The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines use mRNA to direct our own cells to create a spike protein that resembles one on the virus. Our immune system then responds to that protein by developing protective antibodies.
Does the vaccine contain live virus?
No, none of the vaccines contain live virus.
How is the vaccine administered?
The vaccine is given as a two-dose intramuscular (IM) injection series. The Pfizer vaccine is two doses, separated by 17 to 21 days. The Moderna vaccine is two doses, separated by 28 days.
What if I miss the second dose?
It is important that you get the second dose of vaccine as soon as you can, even if you miss the vaccine timeframes between doses. It is not recommended to restart the series.
Is the vaccine effective?
Both vaccines have shown to be ~95% effective at preventing COVID-19 through initial analysis. The studies also show that the vaccines are effective in preventing symptomatic COVID-19 disease and severe illness.
Is it safe?
It is completely understandable that there may be concerns about safety for a vaccine that was developed so quickly. In general, these vaccines appear to be very safe. This is based on adherence to the FDA vaccine development process, the response of the 70,000+ participants of current trials, and aggressive oversight at all vaccine administration sites.
Is it safe for seniors?
Elderly patients, with and without other illnesses such as diabetes, high blood pressure and being overweight, were included in the clinical trials and the vaccine was demonstrated safe and effective in these patients.
What about pregnant or lactating women?
There is currently no data for the vaccines being given in pregnancy. While mRNA vaccines have not been used widely in pregnancy, they do not contain live virus. Patients who are pregnant and are in a group currently indicated to get the vaccine should consult with their primary care provider or OB/GYN to weigh the risks and benefits.
What are the side effects?
According to the clinical trial data, both vaccines are associated with some mild to moderate fever, headache and muscle and joint aches, most often after the second shot. Most people will not experience these side effects; those who do can expect them to resolve within 24-48 hours after vaccination.
I've already had COVID-19. Should I get the vaccine?
Yes. Patients with previous COVID-19 infection were given the vaccine in the trial. Although small numbers, there were some data to suggest that the vaccine provided additional immunity.
Can I schedule it with my flu shot?
It is recommended that no other vaccine is administered within 14 days, before or after, a COVID-19 vaccination.
Who shouldn't get the vaccine?
- The vaccine is not indicated in anyone less than 16 years of age
- Anyone with a severe allergy to other vaccines or any injectable medication (intravenous or other delivery route) should discuss with their physicians whether to receive the vaccination
- Anyone who received convalescent plasma or a monoclonal antibody intended to treat COVID-19 should wait 90 days before getting the vaccine
Does this mean we won't need to wear masks?
No. While getting the vaccine will protect you from getting ill, it is essential to keep wearing masks, practicing social distancing, washing hands and avoiding large gatherings.
Stay informed by bookmarking CarilionClinic.org/covid-19-vaccine.