There’s no doubt that 2020 was a very difficult year, but some of the year’s most hopeful news came as the year was winding to a close. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved two COVID-19 vaccines, one from Pfizer-BioNTech and one from Moderna. Since then, the FDA has approved additional options, including a one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine, Pfizer options for kids ages 5-17, and booster vaccines.
Clinical trials showed that the vaccines are highly effective at preventing serious illness from COVID-19. Researchers are developing and testing additional vaccines, including one at UVA that won't be impacted by heat.
COVID Vaccine Q&A
As the rollout continues, you're probably wondering about vaccine benefits, safety, side effects, and availability, among other things. Here are answers to six common questions about the new vaccines.
Why should you get vaccinated against COVID-19?
Vaccines are powerful tools because they prepare your immune system to fight against viruses and diseases. Getting vaccinated against COVID-19:
- Makes it far less likely you’ll be infected by COVID-19
- Helps prevent serious illness even if you do get COVID-19
- Protects others because it slows the spread of the virus
Preventive measures such as wearing masks and social distancing have not done enough to stop the spread of COVID-19, which can cause serious illness and death. Vaccination is an important tool in stopping the global pandemic. The only way to get back to some sense of normalcy in our lives is for the vast majority of the population to be vaccinated.
Is the vaccine safe?
Due to the public health emergency, the FDA granted emergency use authorization (EUA) for the Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines. Before allowing EUA, the FDA had to determine that each vaccine’s known and potential benefits outweighed any known or potential risks.
Clinical trials showed that both vaccines are safe and more than 94% effective at preventing serious illness from COVID-19.
How do the vaccines work?
Both the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines contain messenger RNA (mRNA), which trains the cells in your body to make a protein that will activate your immune system to fight the coronavirus. This will leave cells (T-lymphocytes and B-lymphocytes) with a memory of how to fight the virus if they encounter it in the future.
This makes it less likely that you'll be infected if you are exposed to COVID. If you do get it, you'll be less likely to experience serious symptoms or complications from the virus.
What should you expect when getting the vaccine?
The Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines are given in a two-shot sequence, three or four weeks apart. After each shot, you’ll likely be monitored on site for 15 to 30 minutes to check for allergic reactions. Severe allergies to the vaccine are rare.
You can’t get COVID-19 from the vaccines because they do not contain the live virus. Mild side effects are normal and show that the vaccine is activating your immune system. Common side effects include:
- pain and/or swelling in the arm where you got the shot
Call your doctor if side effects last longer than a few days or if they’re causing concern. If you have severe allergies to ingredients in the COVID-19 vaccine, you should not get the vaccine. If you have known severe allergies to other vaccines or injectable medicines, talk to your doctor before getting the vaccine to decide if it’s right for you.
Is the vaccine available to everyone?
Not yet. Since initial supplies are limited, experts recommended that the first round of vaccines go to healthcare workers and residents of long-term care facilities.
In Virginia, frontline essential workers and people ages 65+ and older are next in line, followed by:
- People ages 16-64 who have underlying conditions that raise their risk for serious COVID-19 complications
- People living in correctional facilities, homeless shelters, and migrant labor camps
As the vaccine becomes more widely available, more people will be able to get it. But the exact timeline and rollout is still somewhat unclear.
Learn more about vaccine availability in your area.
Is it necessary to wear a mask and practice social distancing after getting vaccinated?
Yes. Experts still recommend preventive measures such as wearing masks, social distancing and frequent hand washing to protect yourself and others from the coronavirus.
It takes time to develop antibodies after the first dose, and the vaccine offers better protection after the second dose. Although the vaccines are highly effective at preventing severe illness, we need more studies to determine how effective they are at preventing COVID-19 infection over the long-term.
Watch UVA Employees Get the Vaccine
We began vaccinating our employees in mid-December. Hear from them about why they chose to get it.
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