So, if I get the vaccine the week of Christmas, is it ok to go ahead and have a large group of people over for Christmas dinner? Unfortunately, the answer is no. It takes your body between 10-14 days to build up enough antibodies to be protective. And, with the first injection, that only produces about 50% immunity (this goes up to 95% after the second injection). So, Christmas will need to be a much lower-key version of the holiday this year. Just know that EVERYONE is just as sick of COVID as you are, and we all want this to be over soon. But, it can only be over if we all take responsibility and do the right thing. You and your family are not alone. You have to think of the good of society as a whole.
If I have had COVID or received the monoclonal or polyclonal antibodies do I still need to get the vaccine? If so, how long should I wait before getting the vaccine? Simple answer: yes, you still need to get the vaccine. We know that immunity acquired from having had COVID wanes over a period of three months. Up until early December, we had no way of checking the amount of antibodies that someone has (this is called the quantitative titer). We were only able to check a qualitative test to see if someone had any antibodies at all. Regardless, people have been getting the vaccine since June and July and still have antibodies, so we are hopeful that the vaccine is going to provide much longer lasting immunity than having gone through the horrible disease itself. There is no specific period of time that you must wait between having had the infection and getting the vaccine. Likewise, if you have gotten the antibody infusion, there is no designated time period that you must wait before getting the vaccine.
Should I take the vaccine if I’m pregnant or breastfeeding? Yes. The American College of Gynecology (ACOG) issued a blanket statement regarding this, and they stated that the COVID vaccine should not be withheld from those who are pregnant or lactating and meet priority criteria for receiving the vaccine. They go on to state that pregnant women are usually deemed a “priority group” for getting vaccinations in general, as pregnancy in and of itself does cause some degree of immunocompromise, and pregnant women who get COVID are at increased risk of developing severe illness and have increased risk of negative pregnancy outcomes, including but not limited to preterm birth. ACOG states that “theoretical concerns regarding the safety of vaccinating lactating individuals do not outweigh the potential benefits of receiving the vaccine. There is no need to avoid initiation or discontinue breastfeeding in patients who receive a COVID-19 vaccine”. Neither of the vaccines enter the nucleus of human cells and neither alters the human DNA in any way, thusly, a mRNA vaccine cannot cause any genetic changes. Given that pregnant women were not included in the phase 3 trials, ACOG does state that women should be given the choice as to whether or not they receive the vaccine. But, you should weigh the consequences of not getting the vaccine, given the above information. There is also some suggestion that there may be transfer of protective antibodies to the babies, but more research needs to be done regarding this.
What if I am taking immunosuppressant drugs, have a compromised immune system, or an autoimmune disorder—can/should I take the vaccine? Yes. People who have any immunocompromising condition are at a much greater risk of developing severe disease if they get infected with COVID. We know that their immune systems do not respond as robustly to any vaccination, as would someone with a normal immune system. Therefore, even though they get a vaccine, it doesn’t mean that they will be completely protected; however, at least some protection is better than none.
Can I get COVID from the vaccine? Absolutely not. Let’s look at different types of vaccines:
Live-attenuated vaccines: A person is injected with a live, but weakened version of the disease that it is meant to be vaccinated against—essentially we infect them, so that their body can respond to the foreign invader, attack it, form memory cells and antibodies so that it can fight the infection if it enters the body again. It creates a very strong immune response. Examples include: MMR, Smallpox, Chickenpox, and Yellow Fever vaccines. These types of vaccines are not suggested for people who are pregnant or are immunocompromised! You can catch the disease from this type of vaccine.
Inactivated vaccines: A person is injected with dead particles of the germ. Your body recognizes these particles as foreign invaders, attack it, and create memory cells and antibodies directed against the germ. The immune response is not as robust or as long-lasting as with a live vaccine. Examples of these include the seasonal flu vaccine (injected form only), hepatitis A vaccine, polio vaccine (injected form only). Anyone can receive an inactivated vaccine. You cannot catch the disease from this type of vaccine—impossible.
Recombinant vaccines: A person is injected with specific pieces of the germ, which only that germ possesses. This creates a robust immune response, but may need boosters. Examples of these include hepatitis B vaccine, HPV vaccine, pneumonia vaccine, and meningitis vaccine. Anyone can receive these vaccines. You cannot catch the disease from this type of vaccine.
Toxoid vaccines: A person is injected with the toxin made by a germ that causes disease. It’s directed toward the toxin made by the germ, and not the germ itself. These need boosters. An example of this is the Tdap (Tetanus, diphtheria, and acellular pertussis) vaccine. Anyone can receive these vaccines. You cannot catch the disease from this type of vaccine.
mRNA vaccines: A person is injected with a specific messenger RNA protein that codes for the spike protein on COVID. The mRNA is converted into the spike protein, essentially. There is no way to just inject the spike protein into your body. The mRNA is not converted to COVID. Once your body recognizes the foreign substance, it attacks it and forms memory cells and antibodies. The immune response to this type of vaccine is rather robust—meaning you will have symptoms simulating the virus for the first 24-48 hours. Anyone can receive this type of vaccine. You cannot catch the disease from this type of vaccine.
If I get vaccinated, can I give COVID to others just from getting the vaccine? No, you are NOT contagious from the vaccine alone. However, if you have been exposed to someone with COVID in the time period around which you were given the vaccine, then you may have COVID and be contagious from that aspect. But from the vaccine, the answer is NO.
Do I still have to wear a mask and do social distancing after I get the vaccine? Yes. Mask use, frequent hand washing/sanitizing, and social distancing is going to remain part of our lives until at least Summer 2021, and maybe even into Fall. Until enough people have been vaccinated and the case numbers have dropped significantly, we cannot let down our guard. And remember, just because you get the vaccine does NOT mean that you can’t still get the virus. Your case of the virus will be MUCH less severe than if you hadn’t gotten the vaccine, but regardless, you can still get the virus and, thusly, can give it to others.
Will I have symptoms after getting the vaccine? Yes. Expect it. If you go into it with the attitude that you expect that you will have some symptoms, then you will be much better off.
I had symptoms after getting the first dose of the vaccine, so I’m not going to get the second dose. Is that ok? After the first dose of the vaccine, you only have approximately 50% immunity. After receiving the second dose (21 days after initial dose for Pfizer and 28 days after initial dose for Moderna), you should have 95% immunity. So, you MUST get BOTH doses. We are honest about the fact that you will likely have symptoms of mild COVID for the first 24-48 hours after getting the vaccine, so you know what to expect.
Are there any people with medication allergies or previous vaccine reactions who shouldn’t take this vaccine? No. This is not like the flu vaccine, which is egg-based. Most people who have reactions to vaccines have them within 30 minutes to 1 hour after getting the vaccine, and it is usually a reaction to what the vaccine is mixed with. There can be acute allergic reactions with any vaccine, which is why we observe you for 30 minutes to 1 hour after getting the vaccine.
Can I develop Bell’s Palsy from the vaccine? In the trials, 4 out of 40,000 people developed a temporary case of Bell’s Palsy. 35 out of every 100,000 people develop Bell’s Palsy in the U. S. each year. That means that 4 out of 40,000 people is EVEN LESS than what we see in regular people in a normal year, who haven’t gotten a vaccine. Therefore, it CANNOT be said to be directly related to the vaccine, given how common of a condition that it is in regular, everyday people who haven’t had a vaccine.
I’ve been working around COVID patients since March and have been exposed multiple times. I trust my immune system and that it’s built up enough resistance that I’m not going to get it. (Please cue buzzer sound) Wrong. You haven’t caught it yet because you have been lucky. You build up antibodies after exposure to the disease by vaccine, or if you actually have the disease—that’s it. And, remember, that the antibodies you get from having had the disease are usually gone within 3 months after having had it.