August 23, 2021
COVID-19 Vaccine Safety and Effectiveness
What are the COVID-19 vaccines?
There are two types of COVID-19 vaccines.
Both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines use messenger RNA (mRNA) to encourage your body to make proteins that activate an immune system’s response to COVID-19. Our bodies’ cells use the mRNA instructions to recognize COVID-19 and make antibodies to respond. Both vaccines require two shots for maximum effectiveness because the second shot ensures the development of “immunological memory” of the virus. Immunological memory is our bodies’ ability to remember the virus and respond quickly if infected.
The Johnson & Johnson (J&J) vaccine uses a modified version of another virus instead of mRNA to carry the instructions to our bodies’ cells. In this vaccine, the virus used is adenovirus type 26 (Ad26), belonging to a family of viruses responsible for the common cold. The process is otherwise the same. Our bodies learn to recognize COVID-19 and make antibodies to fight it. The Johnson & Johnson vaccine achieves its current effectiveness with one dose.
Are COVID-19 vaccines safe?
Each COVID-19 vaccine currently in use has gone through rigorous studies to ensure they are as safe as possible. Systems are in place across the country that allow the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) to monitor for safety issues. This is how the Johnson & Johnson vaccine distribution was paused so quickly (update on J&J vaccine below). Clinical trials for each of the vaccines were required to meet safety criteria and show effectiveness before being authorized for use.
How effective are the vaccines?
During clinical trials, the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines were, respectively, 95% and 94.1% effective at preventing COVID-19 infection. Since then, real-world data continues to support these initial results of 90% effectiveness. J&J results have been closer to 72% effective.
Available evidence suggests the currently authorized mRNA COVID-19 vaccines (Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna) are highly effective against hospitalization and death for a variety of strains, including Alpha, Beta, Gamma, and Delta.
Evidence indicates that people fully vaccinated with an mRNA vaccine (Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna) are less likely than unvaccinated persons to contract COVID-19 or to transmit it to others.
What are breakthrough infections?
You’ve probably heard about “breakthrough infections” in the news. A breakthrough infection is when someone who has been vaccinated for COVID-19 gets infected due to exposure from family, friend, or in their community.
It’s important to know that the risk for COVID-19 breakthrough infection in fully vaccinated people cannot be eliminated as long as there is continued community transmission of the virus. Some of the COVID-19 variants, like the Delta strain, have caused some people to exhibit stronger symptoms including a higher fever, fatigue, cough, sinus, and nasal symptoms.
Across studies, antibody reactions from vaccinated people were generally higher than antibody reactions observed in people who have recovered from COVID-19, meaning vaccinated people’s bodies were better able to quickly fight off the infection and recover.
What percentage of vaccinated people are getting the Delta variant of COVID-19?
Current studies indicate that approximately 2% of vaccinated individuals get a breakthrough infection, or contract COVID-19 after being fully vaccinated. However, these people usually experience mild or no symptoms. Getting sick enough to be hospitalized after being fully vaccinated is extremely rare. Vaccinated individuals who have required hospitalization tend to be older than 65, immunocompromised, or have health conditions that put them at greater risk.
CDC reports that asymptomatic fully vaccinated individuals can spread the illness to other people, regardless of their symptoms. (Source: CDC)
How can the vaccine be safe and effective when it was produced so quickly?
There are many reasons the vaccines were able to be produced so quickly and effectively. These are the primary two:
- Resources. It is unusual to have thousands of scientists around the world working on the same problem at the same time. Instead of trying one solution at a time, hundreds of solutions were being tested all at once. Additionally, many corporations, foundations, and government entities all contributed financial resources that are usually not available to researchers. These resources allowed researchers to move much more quickly and efficiently through the standard vaccine research and production process.
- Scientists had a head-start on developing the COVID-19 vaccines due to previous experience and research on other coronaviruses like the MERS and SARS viruses. After the outbreak of the MERS coronavirus in 2012, researchers continued to study the virus and look for ways to develop a vaccine. In 2016, Wang Nianshuang, then a postdoctoral researcher, found a way to stabilize the shape-shifting spike protein of a coronavirus, which turned out to be a key component in engineering effective COVID-19 vaccines. While development seems fast, in many respects, it took years of research between 2012-2016 to be able to have these vaccines today.
What personal information do I need to provide to receive the vaccine and what information is shared with the federal government?
Name, address, date of birth, vaccine type, and vaccine lot number are collected in the State Vaccine Database when you receive your vaccine at KC CARE. This is the same information that KC CARE, and all other healthcare providers, gather regularly in normal circumstances. This is also the same information collected by the government when infants receive routine immunizations.
Vaccine recipient information is collected so patients may access their vaccine record, if needed. No other personal health or medical information is shared.
What are the side effects of the COVID-19 vaccine?
The most common side effects are typically very mild and include pain or swelling at the injection site. Some people have reported experiencing fatigue, mild fever, and muscle aches, similar to the flu shot side effects. These side effects usually only last for 24 hours.
What do I do if I have significant side effects?
Call your primary care provider if you are concerned about your side effects. Drink plenty of water and rest as much as possible.
Can I spread COVID-19 after receiving a vaccine?
Recent studies show the risk of you carrying the virus in your nose (the most common place for spread) after vaccination is reduced by between 80 and 94%, meaning that you are less likely to spread the virus, though it is still possible. This is why it remains important to wear a mask and socially distance if you are unsure of the vaccination status of those around you. (Source: Consider This)
What’s going on with the Johnson & Johnson (J&J) vaccine?
Earlier this year, the CDC and FDA recommended a brief pause in the use of J&J’s vaccine out of an abundance of caution. Vaccine safety measures reported a small number of people (16 individuals, at the time of this update) who got this vaccine experienced a rare and severe type of blood clot with low platelets.
If you got this vaccine, your risk of developing a blood clot with low platelets is very low. However, please pay attention to possible symptoms—severe headache, abdominal pain, leg pain, or shortness of breath—and seek medical care right away if you experience them.
The CDC and FDA have ended the pause on distributing the J&J vaccine. The risk of experiencing this clotting disorder is very low. If you were assigned female at birth and are under 50 years old, you may choose to receive the Moderna or Pfizer vaccines instead of the J&J vaccine. Ask your doctor if you are unsure or have concerns.
Deciding to get vaccinated
Most people recover from COVID-19 infection. Why do I need to get a vaccine if I’m not at risk for severe symptoms?
There are three major reasons:
- There are still many unknowns about the long-term effects of the virus. While many people have fully recovered from COVID-19, some have experienced long-lasting symptoms.
- Many young, healthy people (including children) have been hospitalized with COVID-19.
- You may get COVID-19 and recover quickly, but you risk spreading the virus to others while you are sick (and before you experience symptoms). When you get vaccinated, you are not only protecting yourself but also your loved ones and those you encounter in daily life who may be at higher risk than you for severe illness.
If I already had COVID-19 and recovered, do I still need to get a COVID-19 vaccine?
Yes. There are severe health risks associated with COVID-19, and reinfection with COVID-19 is possible. If you were treated for COVID-19 with monoclonal antibodies or convalescent plasma, you should wait 90 days before getting a vaccine. Talk to your doctor if you are unsure what treatments you received.
Who can get a vaccine?
In Missouri, everyone age 12 and older is eligible to receive the vaccine. If you are pregnant, breastfeeding, or chest feeding, talk to your doctor about if the vaccine is right for you.
Is it safe for me to get a vaccine if I have an underlying medical condition?
Yes. Adults with underlying medical conditions are encouraged to receive a COVID-19 vaccine because they are at increased risk for severe illness from COVID-19. Ask your doctor if you are unsure or have concerns about your health conditions.
Can I get COVID-19 from the vaccine?
What if I don’t trust the vaccine?
Due to a long history of injustices and systemic racism in medicine that continues today, it is natural for black, indigenous, people of color (BIPOC), and others to be wary of the COVID-19 vaccines. We strongly encourage you to speak with people you know who have been vaccinated to learn about their experiences. Here is some information and sources that may help you decide how you want to protect yourself from COVID-19.
- Communities of color, especially Black and Brown communities, have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic, with a higher incidence of infection and severe illness from COVID-19. (Source: Kaiser Family Foundation)
- The trials for the COVID-19 vaccine were diverse and found the vaccine was equally effective among different demographics, including race and ethnicity. (Source: John Hopkins Medicine)
- There is a lot of misinformation circulating about the vaccine making it even more difficult to know what is true. (Source: The New York Times)
Is there a microchip in the vaccine?
No. There is no microchip or tracking device in the COVID-19 vaccine doses. If you are interested in more information, this article Debunking the COVID-19 vaccine microchip tracker conspiracy theory (abc4.com), explains more about the origin of this conspiracy theory.
Should I get the vaccine if I am pregnant, breastfeeding, or chest feeding?
The FDA has not excluded pregnant and lactating individuals from getting the vaccine. While there is currently no known risk to the pregnant parent or the fetus, the vaccine has not been extensively studied in pregnant or lactating individuals. It is normal to experience hesitation or uncertainty around getting the vaccine. Here are some information and sources that may help you make a decision. As always, talk with your doctor about what is right for you.
- New findings show that pregnant people vaccinated against COVID-19 are able to pass antibodies to their newborns through the placenta and breast milk. (Source: The Harvard Gazette)
- The CDC is closely monitoring the vaccine side-effects of people who said they were pregnant at the time of vaccination. The latest report (Feb. 19) monitored 232 live births with no statistical difference in pregnancy outcomes or complications compared to average rates.
If you are interested in the CDC’s effort to monitor pregnant individuals receiving the vaccine, visit https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/vaccines/safety/vsafepregnancyregistry.html.
Getting the COVID-19 vaccine
Does it hurt?
The vaccines are delivered like a typical shot with a needle injection. Everyone experiences the moment of injection slightly differently, with some people saying they didn’t even feel it and others saying it felt like a sharp sting, but only for a second.
Can I take over-the-counter medications to alleviate the symptoms?
Before you get the vaccine, no.
The CDC recommends against taking any pain relievers before you get a COVID-19 vaccine because we do not know yet how pain relievers will impact the effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines.
After the vaccine, yes.
While you can take pain relievers after you get vaccinated, you should wait until you feel side effects. Some people found they did not need any pain relief medication at all. Additionally, if you take pain medication before you feel your any side effects, it will be difficult to know how long your symptoms have lasted and if you should be concerned.
For most uncomfortable side effects like a headache or muscle aches, you can take acetaminophen (Tylenol) or a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug such as ibuprofen (Advil or Motrin), if you have no other medical reasons that prevent you from taking these medications normally.
When should I be concerned about the side effects?
The CDC recommends calling your doctor or healthcare provider if:
- The redness or tenderness where you got the shot gets worse after 24 hours
- Your side effects are worrying you or do not seem to be going away after a few days
What if I have an allergic reaction?
After receiving a COVID-19 vaccine at KC CARE, you will be monitored for 15 minutes in case of an allergic reaction. If you think you might be having a severe allergic reaction after you’ve left the vaccination site, seek immediate medical care by calling 911.
How long will I be protected from COVID-19 after I receive a vaccine?
Current data says at least six months, but doctors are optimistic that it will extend further than that. Studies of the longevity of the vaccine against the virus continue. As time goes on, effectiveness will continue to be tested, and this time frame will be updated.
Should I get vaccinated for a COVID-19 vaccine at the same time I get another vaccine?
It is recommended that you wait at least 14 days between receiving different vaccines at this time.
Can I get the vaccine now?
Yes! All Missourians aged 12 and older may receive a vaccine. If you are interested in scheduling an appointment with us, visit https://kccare.org/covidvaccine/.
When can kids receive the vaccine?
Anyone 12 and older can get the Pfizer vaccine. Anyone 16 and older can get any of the COVID-19 vaccines, Pfizer, Moderna, or J&J.
When do I get the second shot?
The Pfizer vaccines require 21 days between shots, while the Moderna vaccines require 28 days between shots. These shots should not be given earlier than these time frames but can be administered a few days after. At KC CARE, you will receive a follow-up card with the date and time of your second shot during your first appointment.
Do I really need both shots?
Yes, both shots are necessary to achieve the maximum benefit.
How much will my vaccine cost?
There will be no cost for vaccines provided by the federal government. Your doctor’s office may charge an administration fee to help with their staffing and facilities costs. Most insurance companies will cover this fee.
Will I get to choose which vaccine I receive?
Ask which vaccine your doctor has available. If you have a preference about which vaccine you would like to receive, call several vaccination locations such as local pharmacies or walk-in clinics and determine where you can access the vaccine you’re interested in.
Do I need to quarantine after I get the vaccine?
No. However, you should still follow CDC protocol if you are exposed to the virus.
Why would I still need to wear a mask and social distance if I received a COVID-19 vaccine?
Unvaccinated individuals are still at risk of illness from COVID-19, so it is still good to take precautions like wearing a mask and social distancing in public spaces.
What happens if you have lost your vaccination card?
You will need to request a copy of your vaccination record from the place of service. If your vaccine was obtained through KC CARE, you can access your information through Healow (KC CARE’s patient portal) or email email@example.com to obtain a What happens if you have lost your vaccination card.
Reputable sources used throughout this FAQ:
- Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC): https://www.cdc.gov/
- Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP): https://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/acip
- Missouri Department of Health & Senior Services (MODHSS): https://covidvaccine.mo.gov/