Understanding the COVID-19 Vaccines

Click to enlarge a quick rundown of the vaccine

When the novel coronavirus pandemic began, vaccine trials quickly followed to aid in the fight against COVID-19 in our communities. Most recently, the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines received approval for emergency use authorization from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

While this is exciting, hopeful news, it’s understandable that you may have many questions regarding the new vaccines, just as you did when first learning of the novel coronavirus. Here’s a brief overview of what we know about the COVID-19 vaccines, and more information can be found here.

 

What is the vaccine distribution plan?

The Texas Department of State Health Services guiding principles for vaccine distribution use a phased and tiered approach. Vaccine distribution will be prioritized in the following way:

  • 1A Direct Care: Hospital, Long-Term Care, EMS, Home Health, Outpatient, ER/Urgent Care, Pharmacies, Last Responders, School Nurses
  • 1A Long-Term Care: Residents of Long-Term Care Facilities
  • 1B Persons: Individuals age 65+ or 16+ with at least one chronic medical condition

Can I sign up on a waitlist for a COVID-19 vaccine?

Yes, North Texans can sign up through their county health department website (CollinDentonDallasTarrant). Information for additional counties is located on the state Health and Human Services website. As vaccine supply becomes more readily available, access will increase. Texas Health is a community vaccination hub provider for Tarrant County only. If you are a Tarrant County resident, be sure to sign up here. State vaccine information is available here.

As available, vaccines will also be distributed through Texas Health primary care offices across North Texas. Following the tiering determined by the state of Texas, the current focus is vaccination for Phase 1A and 1B individuals. Texas Health Family Care, Texas Health Internal Medicine, and Texas Health Adult Care patients should watch for messages about the vaccine from their doctor.  These Texas Health primary care practices will be working to vaccinate patients as quickly as possible. Patients do not need to sign up for the vaccine or call the office as physicians already have contact information.

Vaccinations are available by appointment only, regardless of whether you are obtaining your shot via the county health department or through your physician’s office, and are not available at hospitals or physician offices on a walk-in basis.

 

How were the vaccines tested?

Clinical trials are evaluating investigational COVID-19 vaccines in tens of thousands of study participants to enable the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to determine safety and effectiveness. These clinical trials are being conducted according to the FDA’s rigorous standards.

The trials are conducted in three phases:

  • In phase 1, the vaccine is given to a small number of generally healthy people to assess its safety at increasing doses and to gain early information about how well the vaccine works to induce an immune response in people.
  • Phase 2 studies include more people with varying health statuses and from different demographic groups receiving various dosages. These studies provide additional safety information and may provide initial information regarding the effectiveness of the vaccine.
  • In phase 3, the vaccine is administered to thousands of people in randomized, controlled studies involving broad demographic groups. In a randomized, controlled study, individuals are assigned at random to receive the vaccine and are compared against those in the study who did not receive the vaccine. Study participants do not know if they are receiving the vaccine or the placebo in order to ensure accurate information, critical information on the effectiveness and additional important safety data. It provides additional information about the immune response in people who receive the vaccine compared to those who receive a control, such as a placebo. (FDA)

 

What are the side effects of the vaccine?

Side effects are expected to be similar to, but perhaps more pronounced than, the side effects some people experience following the flu vaccine. Both Pfizer and Moderna have said their vaccines were “well-tolerated” in clinical trials. Commonly reported adverse effects of the vaccine have been called “mild and nonspecific.” These include fever, chills, headache and injection site reactions (soreness/pain, redness, muscle aches). The manufacturers said the vaccines are safe and effective, and that most of the side effects resolved shortly after the shots were administered.

Moderna has disclosed some reports among trial participants of “severe” side effects, or those that could impede daily activity. Significant side effects from the first dose included injection site pain, but more felt worse after the second shot — reporting fatigue, muscle and joint pain, and headache, among other symptoms. In the Pfizer trial, participants reported fatigue and headaches after getting the second dose. (The Washington Post, Pfizer and Moderna news releases)

If symptoms worsen or do not resolve after one week, contact your primary care physician and seek medical attention.

 

If I’ve already had COVID-19, would the vaccine be helpful?

Due to the severe health risks associated with COVID-19 and the fact that re-infection with COVID-19 is possible, people may be advised to get a COVID-19 vaccine even if they have been sick with COVID-19 before.

At this time, experts do not know how long someone is protected from getting sick again after recovering from COVID-19. The immunity someone gains from having an infection, called natural immunity, varies from person to person. Some early evidence suggests natural immunity may not last very long.

People who are known COVID-19 positive should wait to receive the vaccine until they have recovered from their acute illness and no longer require isolation. There is no minimal interval between infection and vaccination, but current evidence suggests reinfection is unlikely within 90 days, so if someone wishes to do so, the vaccine may be deferred until the end of the 90-day period.

 

The Takeaway

It’s natural to have questions, fears or apprehensions about a new vaccine, just as we all did at the beginning of this year as the novel coronavirus spread globally. We hope the information provided here helps answer your questions and helps you make the best decision for you and your family’s health.

While vaccines are currently being sent out and the first wave of recipients are beginning to receive them, it’s important to remember that the fight is not over yet; we must remain vigilant when it comes to social distancing, hand hygiene, mask-wearing and other important health measures until everyone who would like to receive the vaccine can get one.

More information on what we know now about the COVID-19 vaccines can be found here and is being updated regularly, so check back often.

This content is subject to change as additional data become available.

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