After many months of waiting, the light at the end of the tunnel is finally here in the form of a COVID-19 vaccine.
Yes, it looks like the coronavirus pandemic won’t be following us into the end of 2021 due to the efforts of companies such as Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech. The vaccines they’ve developed will undoubtedly save countless lives and help restore a sense of normalcy to the world.
But most vaccines take years to develop. The ones currently being distributed went through the entire process–research, development, and FDA approval–in only months. As a result, people are asking questions. Is it safe? What’s in it? Were any corners cut?
Skepticism surrounding the issue is a given, especially since COVID-19 is a very new disease that we’ve only begun to understand. But there’s no reason to pass on either vaccine and here are the reasons why–in comprehensive Q&A format:
Q: I read that the COVID-19 vaccine has side effects. Is that true?
A: Yes, COVID-19 vaccines can lead to side effects. But so can any other vaccine. Commonly reported side effects of the coronavirus vaccines include mild fever, headache, fatigue, chills, and perhaps a sore arm. These effects typically last a day or two. Side effects of the virus itself, on the other hand, can be much more serious.
Q: How can the vaccine be safe if it only took a few months to make?
A: A few factors have contributed to the speedy rollout of the COVID-19 vaccines. The main ones include:
- The coronavirus vaccines currently being given out weren’t made from scratch. Other coronaviruses, like SARS and MERS, gave scientists a foundation for their COVID-19 vaccines, since the diseases are related.
- The United States government allocated billions in funding to companies that were developing vaccine candidates as part of a program called Operation Warp Speed, which allowed companies to speed up development.
- The COVID-19 vaccines use a newer technology called mRNA, which does not require any of the virus to be effective. This significantly lessened development time.
Q: Does the COVID-19 vaccine contain the actual virus?
A: No. mRNA vaccines (which Pfizer’s and Moderna’s are) contain a genetic sequence that instructs the immune system to start making antibodies against the virus. You can’t get COVID-19 from the vaccine.
Q: What’s in the vaccine?
A: The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines contain mRNA (as mentioned above) as well as a combination of various fats, sugars and salts. The latter ingredients are added to help protect or stabilize the mRNA as it enters your body, so it can work properly.
Q: Can kids get the vaccine?
A: Currently, only adolescents aged 16 and up are eligible to receive the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine, while Moderna’s vaccine is only available starting at age 18. However, vaccine trials including younger children are ongoing.
Q: Do I have to pay to get vaccinated?
A: Getting a COVID-19 vaccine is free, but depending on your healthcare provider you may still be charged for having it administered to you.
Q: Pfizer and Moderna both have COVID-19 vaccines. Which one is more effective?
A: Both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines have an efficacy rate of over 94 percent, meaning they both create an immune response against the coronavirus.
Q: How long does immunity last after getting vaccinated?
A: Studies suggest that COVID-19 antibodies last for at least several months, but more research is needed to determine an exact figure.
Q: I already had COVID-19, so do I still need to get vaccinated?
A: Those who have previously been infected with the virus should get the vaccine anyway, as reinfection–although rare–could be possible.
Q: I have an immunocompromising condition. Can I still get the vaccine?
A: The current recommendation for immunocompromised individuals is that they should be vaccinated like everyone else. Since the Moderna and Pfizer COVID-19 vaccines do not contain any of the virus itself, they don’t pose a risk of infection.
Q: I’m on various medications. Does the vaccine interact with any drugs?
A: To date, the COVID-19 vaccines have not shown to interact with any medications. But experts recommend discussing with your doctor beforehand, just to be safe.
Q: Should pregnant women get the vaccine?
A: Currently, it’s not known if it’s safe for pregnant women to get the COVID-19 vaccine, although studies are being planned. The CDC officially states that it’s not likely that a mRNA-based COVID-19 vaccine would pose a risk to pregnant women, but nonetheless, potential risks are unknown. If you’re pregnant and considering the vaccine, the best course of action would be to discuss the issue with your healthcare provider.
- CDC: What to Expect after Getting a COVID-19 Vaccine
- ABC: COVID-19 vaccine: Scientists credit collaboration, prior research for speedy development
- HHS: Fact Sheet: Explaining Operation Warp Speed
- Houston Methodist: How Was the COVID-19 Vaccine Developed So Fast?
- CDC: Understanding mRNA COVID-19 Vaccines
- Business Insider: Coronavirus vaccines don’t contain microchips
- FDA: Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine Frequently Asked Questions
- ABC: Comparing the Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines
- ABC: How long does the COVID-19 vaccine last?
- MDedge: COVID-19 vaccines: Safe for immunocompromised patients?
- CDC: Vaccination Considerations for People who are Pregnant or Breastfeeding