What to Know about the COVID-19 Vaccines

As we begin this new year the light at the end of the tunnel is certainly near, signaled by the launch of two COVID-19 vaccines: Pfizer and Moderna. If you have questions about the vaccine, concerns about itsside effects, or are unsure of how willing you are to get it, we’re here to help. Here are some common questions and reliable answers.

How do vaccines work to keep us from getting sick?

When our bodies see something that’s strange, foreign, and doesn’t belong—an “invader” so to speak—our immune systems attack it to get rid of it and prevent it from making us sick. We can think of our immune system as a well-oiled basketball team. There’s a strategy and different players involved that are all part of the same team with a common goal in mind.

In this case, you can consider the vaccine to be like basketball practice, where the body is first encountering an opponent (the germ) and developing a game plan for how to attack it successfully. Consider game day to be when our basketball team (or our immune system) can showcase all the tactics, defense, and hard work it’s prepared by working on the real deal—destroying the COVID-19 virus as soon as it enters our body and before it gets a chance to make us really, really sick.

Our “basketball team” has a good memory from encountering the vaccine before (at basketball practice) and makes sure that if the infection tries to cross us in the future, it fails because the team remembers the strategies and players needed to defeat the opponent on game day (when the virus appears) thanks to the vaccine introducing something virus-related before.

The COVID-19 vaccine works by introducing a protein that’s on the outer layer of the virus itself. This protein is important to the disease because it’s what allows COVID-19 to actually attach to our cells and make us sick. If there’s no protein because our immune system attacks it first, the virus can’t make us as sick.

The vaccine is made of mRNA (instruction manual for our cells) to build that protein. This means that when our body sees this protein for the first time when getting the vaccine, the immune system reacts by saying, “Who’s this jerk? You don’t belong here” and so begins the process of getting together the strategy and different players to attack it. This way, if we get infected with the actual virus itself down the line, before it can even get into our cells our immune system is attacking it because it has the machinery, strategy, and team players in check, prepared to destroy the outer protein and hinder the virus from getting inside.

To read a really awesome, more detailed explanation of how this vaccine works, check out this Twitter thread written by a doctor: https://twitter.com/WheatNOil/status/1339624815137722368.

How effective is the COVID-19 vaccine?

Both the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines show a 95% efficacy rate.

Will the vaccine give me Coronavirus?

No, because the vaccine is made of up mRNA (instructions) to make the protein on the outside of COVID-19, not the actual virus itself. Once again, the COVID-19 vaccines do NOT contain live virus.

What about the side effects of the vaccine?

​Side effects may include mild flu-like symptoms such as arm soreness at the site of the vaccine, body aches, fatigue, or a fever for the first 1-2 days after receiving the vaccine. These are normal signs that your body has encountered this outer protein of the virus and your immune system is getting itself together to fight it off.

How long will the vaccine last?

Time will tell. We’re unsure of how long that memory built up by our immune systems for COVID-19 from the vaccine will last. For some infectious disease vaccines memory is long, and other times it may be shorter and require “booster” vaccines in order to extend that memory—kind of like renewing a subscription and reminding our bodies to keep fighting that germ.

Other times, the virus may change or mutate, so we may need a new vaccine to fight that virus from a different angle or strategy. This is actually why we have to get a new flu vaccine each year. Even though COVID-19 has recently mutated, health experts say the already developed vaccines appear to be just as effective in fighting the disease.

Who can get the vaccine?

Currently, there are prioritized groups for who’s getting the vaccine first. It’s being distributed in phases, beginning with healthcare workers and long-term care residents, followed by essential workers like teachers and grocery store employees, then adults 65 years-old and up, and those with high risk medical conditions.

The vaccines themselves are authorized in those ages 16+ for Pfizer and 18+ for Moderna and will hopefully be made available to the public with time and as quantities are able to accommodate everyone. The vaccines are not authorized in those under 16 years-old.

Will I still have to wear a mask if I get the vaccine?

Yes, it is still important to take precautions such as wearing masks and social distancing for two reasons:

1) It will take time for everyone to get vaccinated. We also don’t know yet if a vaccinated person can still potentially pass it on to another person who doesn’t have the vaccine.

2) It will take time for us to get as many people as possible vaccinated and see how we are making progress collectively. We have to be patient when it comes to safely going back to a more “normal” life. Until then, we must continue to minimize unnecessary risk by wearing masks, socially distancing, and washing our hands.

What’s the difference between the Pfizer and the Moderna vaccines?

The similarities in the vaccines include:

• Both have efficacy of 95%

• Both will require 2 shots of the vaccine

• Both have possible side effects of fatigue, muscle pain, & fever

• Both are equally effective across race and gender

The differences in the vaccines include:

• While they both require 2 shots of the vaccine each, the Pfizer vaccine is given 21 days apart, and the Moderna is given 28 days apart

• The Pfizer vaccine is authorized in people 16 years-old and up, while the Moderna vaccine is authorized in people 18 years-old and up

• The storage and preparation of the vaccines is different. For example, the Pfizer vaccine has to be stored in a special freezer at -94 degrees Fahrenheit, while the Moderna vaccine has to be stored in a regular freezer at -4 degrees Fahrenheit.