There is a great deal of information available about the vaccines developed to combat COVID-19—as well as a great deal of misinformation. And, as with everything related to this virus, what we know is constantly being updated.
Here’s what we know today.
When will we reach herd immunity?
Experts remain unsure of the number of vaccinated individuals needed to reach herd immunity—the level at which a large enough percentage of the population is protected from contracting COVID-19, either by prior infection or vaccination. When enough of the population has achieved immunity, it’s difficult for the disease to spread. This protects everyone, especially those who cannot have the vaccine, such as newborns and children.1
Still, there is promising news! In the first seven weeks of vaccinations, more Americans received at least one dose than have tested positive for the virus since the pandemic began.2
How were these vaccines developed so quickly?
Every country in the world has been affected by this pandemic, leading to unprecedented collaboration between nations in the race for an effective vaccine. Studies were able to enroll tens of thousands of participants and results were fast tracked to be analyzed in months instead of years.
It’s important to note that scientists have been studying coronaviruses for over 50 years, so they already had data on the structure, genome and life cycle of this type of virus.3 Thanks to advances in genomic sequencing, researchers successfully uncovered the viral sequence of SARS-CoV-2 in January 2020, roughly 10 days after the first reported pneumonia cases in Wuhan, China.3 In addition, the U.S. Emergency Use Authorization was approved, allowing for side effects to be studied for a shorter period of time before review and authorization by the FDA.
Nearly 70 vaccines are in clinical trials worldwide, with 20 in the final stages. At least 89 more are in earlier stages of investigation. 4
How does the coronavirus vaccine work?
Different types of vaccines work in different ways to help the body recognize, remember and combat disease. While most traditional vaccines deliver an infectious pathogen (or a part of it) to train the immune system to fight off future exposures, the COVID-19 vaccines given today work differently. 5
Currently approved Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are “mRNA vaccines.” These carry strands of genetic material called messenger RNA, or mRNA, inside a special coating that prevents the body’s enzymes from breaking it down. Simply put, mRNA instructs the cell in how to make a piece of the spike protein—the protruding cells that allow the virus to penetrate and infect the body’s cells—that is unique to the COVID-19 virus. Because only part of the protein is created, the vaccine stimulates an immune response without the risk of causing illness. Once the necessary piece of the spike protein is made, the mRNA strand is broken down and disposed of by the body, without entering the cell’s nucleus or affecting a person’s genetic material. The partial spike protein triggers the immune system to begin producing antibodies, priming the body to protect against future infection.6
The Johnson & Johnson vaccine awaiting approval is a “vector vaccine.” This starts with a virus for the common cold, using it as a vector to enter cells in the body and produce a harmless version of the COVID-19 spike protein described above. This causes the body to produce antibodies and a resulting immune response without any risk of contracting COVID-19.7
Who can get vaccinated?
The Pfizer vaccine has been authorized for use in people 16 and older, while the Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines are cleared for those 18 and up. Moderna is currently testing on kids as young as 12. For the time being, children will not be getting the vaccine, which makes achieving herd immunity even more important.
Vaccines are being rolled out on a state-by-state basis, generally focusing on people over 65, healthcare professionals, long-term care residents, essential workers and high-risk groups first.
Can I receive the vaccine if I am pregnant or breastfeeding?
Yes! Pregnant and breastfeeding women are groups including in early vaccination phases. Please consult with your own doctor for guidance.1
How soon after the vaccine will I develop immunity?
Generally, studies are showing an effect after about two weeks. However, it’s important to get the second dose, as both doses are necessary to achieve the level of protection necessary.6
What are the side effects?
The most common side effects are pain or swelling where you received the injection, or tiredness, headache, fever or chills. Your doctor may recommend an over-the-counter medicine to treat any pain.
These side effects occur because your immune system is ramping up—they’re not signs of a problem, so don’t skip your second shot. Any flu-like symptoms or pain should go away in a day or two.8
Is the vaccine dangerous?
Like any medication, there’s always a risk that someone may be allergic to the vaccine. The CDC estimates that out of every million people, two or three will have a severe allergic reaction to the Moderna vaccine and around 11 will have a severe reaction to the Pfizer vaccine. So far, the CDC hasn’t identified a single death caused by the vaccine.9
If I already had COVID-19, do I need to be vaccinated?
Yes. Right now, experts don’t know how long you might be protected from getting sick again after recovering from COVID-19, but some early evidence suggests it isn’t very long. The immunity gained by having an infection also varies from person to person. Due to the severe health risks associated with COVID-19 and knowing that reinfection possible, vaccination is still a good idea.1
I currently have COVID-19. Can I still get the vaccine?
Yes. You will have to wait at least 10 days—until you finish your required isolation. Vaccination is important, because variants of the COVID virus are continuing to emerge. Talk to your doctor or your local health department.
Should I get a COVID-19 test after vaccination to be sure it worked? Will I test positive if I do?
No. The vaccines in development won’t cause you to test positive on a viral test—the kind used to see if you have a current infection. If your body develops an immune response as intended, you may test positive on an antibody test. These gauge whether you have developed the antibodies that show you have some level of protection against the virus. 10
Why do I still have to wear a mask after receiving the vaccine?
Doctors don’t yet know if the vaccine will prevent you from spreading the virus to other people. It’s possible that a vaccinated person could have the COVID-19 virus in their upper respiratory tract, even though they don’t get ill from it. For the time being, masks remain important in the battle against the spread of COVID-19.1
If you have any other questions—or to consider COVID-safe training for your employees—reach out to Creative Workforce Solutions today.