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What To Know About COVID-19 Vaccines

  • 2020-12-07
  • Author: Heather Ramsay

Original article published on Dec 7, 2020 by Spencer Blackman

Throughout the pandemic, scientists, biotech companies, and the federal government have been working around the clock to make a COVID-19 vaccine available as soon as possible. While much is still unknown about the distribution of these vaccines, we want to keep our members informed every step of the way.

Here are our answers to some of your most commonly asked questions about COVID-19 vaccines:

  1. When will One Medical have a vaccine?

We are working with local, state and national authorities to ensure that we have a supply of COVID-19 vaccines as soon as possible. However, we recognize that vaccine production will be limited at first, and distribution will be determined by local authorities based on prioritization of those at highest risk: frontline health care workers and people living in nursing homes, prisons and other high-density housing. We’ll continue to update our members with the latest information.

2. Who will get the vaccine first?

When the first vaccines receive their emergency use authorization (EUA) status from the FDA, there will still be significant constraints on how many doses are available. Through a framework developed by the CDC, vaccines will be allocated to several high priority groups including healthcare workers, people most at risk of severe complications from COVID-19, people over the age of 65 who live in group settings, and essential workers. It will likely take several months after EUAs are issued to work through those high-priority groups and also get enough vaccines produced and distributed for the broader population. There are additional groups, like kids and pregnant women, that the FDA will need more safety data on before the EUAs are extended to them. Insurance status is unlikely to play a role given the guidance from the government on it being at no cost to individuals.

3. What is in the COVID-19 vaccine?

Two of the most promising candidate vaccines (those made by Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna/NIH) use messenger RNA (mRNA), delivering a small genetic message that causes your own cells to produce a protein resembling the spike on the outer shell of SARS-CoV-2. Your immune system then recognizes that protein as foreign, and produces antibodies as well as specialized immune cells (T-lymphocytes and B-lymphocytes) that will quickly spring into action if the virus itself shows up in the future. The AstraZeneca vaccine uses a weakened cold virus that’s been modified to carry the same spike protein of SARS-CoV-2, leading to the same production of protective antibodies by your immune system.

4. How will the vaccine be administered?

Generally speaking, you’d start by getting a first shot. These will be administered the same way as the flu shot. Then, three to four weeks later (depending on which vaccine you’re getting), you’d get a second injection. Maximum effectiveness is thought to be reached two weeks after your second dose.

5. What will side effects be?

Common side effects may include pain around the area of the injection, feeling run down, headache, muscle aches, and less commonly, fever. So far, severe side effects have been reported to be very rare with these current COVID-19 vaccines.

There have also been rare reports of serious allergic reactions to the vaccine. These have happened in people with personal histories of severe allergic reactions in the past, so individuals who have experienced anaphylaxis are being advised to avoid this vaccine for the time being. If you have a history of severe reactions, please speak to your healthcare provider for guidance around the COVID-19 vaccine.

6. How much will the vaccine cost?

The U.S. federal government has said it will cover the cost of vaccines for all Americans. According to Operation Warp Speed (OWS), a partnership between the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, including the CDC, and the Department of Defense, the objective is to ensure that “no one desiring vaccination will face an economic barrier to receiving one.” In a report outlining its vaccine strategy, OWS said that various plans are under development to ensure that no American will be charged any out-of-pocket expenses for the vaccine, its distribution, or its administration.

7. If there are multiple vaccines approved, will people have a choice about which one they would want?

As soon as you meet the criteria to receive a vaccine, we recommend you get whatever vaccine is available at that point, as all FDA approved vaccines are considered highly effective. If more than one option is widely available, then yes, you'll probably have a choice. Just remember that your second dose of the vaccine must match your first.

8. If I get the vaccine, can I stop wearing a mask?

Based on early data, the vaccines look like they're extremely effective, so once you've received the full course of vaccinations (likely two steps) and your immune system has had a few extra weeks to respond, you're likely be protected from getting sick or spreading the virus. But since no vaccine is 100% effective, and since strangers won't know if you've been vaccinated, we'll all need to continue wearing masks when out and about and maintaining physical distance from others well into 2021. Wearing a mask is also a courtesy to people around you who may not know you have been vaccinated.

9. I’ve had COVID-19 already. Should I still get a vaccine?

Yes. At this point, there is not enough evidence to know how long immunity from a COVID-19 infection lasts. It’s also not clear yet whether vaccination or infection produces the strongest immunity. While more information is needed to better understand the benefit of vaccination for those who have already been infected, we currently think it’s safer to get the vaccine even if you have already had a COVID-19 infection.

10. Does each state determine how the vaccine is rolled out?

To our understanding, the CDC will oversee distribution of the vaccine to each state’s Department of Public Health, so there is some room for each state to have a more detailed distribution plan from there. The high level concept of targeting the highest priority groups first will likely hold consistent, though.

11. These vaccines were developed very quickly. How confident can we be in their safety?

While the specific vaccines are new, the platforms behind them (i.e. the ways in which the vaccines are administered and induce an immune response) have either been in development and testing or in widespread use for many years. The idea of a “never before used” genetic vaccine may seem intimidating, but the underlying technology has been thoroughly studied and proven safe on thousands of volunteers; only the SARS-CoV-2-specific genetic message is new. The safety standards of the FDA remain stringent and the safety of the vaccines will continue to be closely monitored even after the vaccines are released. At One Medical, we review the published safety data and analysis carefully, and we only offer vaccines when we strongly believe the benefits massively outweigh any risks, which we expect to be the case for FDA EUA-approved COVID-19 vaccines.

12. Can I sign up for a vaccine waitlist?

At One Medical, we will offer vaccination to everyone we can, according to the frameworks established by our public health partners, so a waitlist isn’t needed. We’ll let all our members know as soon we have vaccines available — something that is too early for us to predict right now. In the meantime, please continue to check back in here for the latest information.

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