March 5, 2021

COVID-19 Vaccines: Must Know Details

All about the COVID-19 vaccines.

People are finally getting the COVID-19 vaccine, though the rollout has been quite bumpy. Reports of long wait times for appointments, crashing websites, and not having enough doses are plenty. But despite the hiccups, people are getting vaccinated, and there's a hum of optimism that things will get back to normal soon-ish.

People are getting vaccinated, and there's a hum of optimism that things will get back to normal soon-ish.

If you were lucky enough to get the vaccine early, you might already be up to date on the details. For those who are still waiting for their turn, you may have questions about the available vaccines and the possible long-term effects of COVID. Here are some tidbits to help get you up to speed and, hopefully, psyched about getting vaccinated.

How does the COVID-19 vaccine work?

It's complicated, so we'll distill it down to the main point. A vaccine, in general, exposes the body to a virus or parts of it. The body recognizes this virus as foreign and activates the immune system to rev up its defenses against this virus - it activates antibodies, killer cells, and other defenses against infection. This general process is the same for the COVID-19 vaccine, but the different vaccines may differ in the particular parts of the virus it uses or how it's made.
hands making heart

A vaccine activates the immune system to rev up its defenses against infections. Photo Credit.

What COVID-19 vaccines are available?

There are currently three available vaccines:
The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is approved for people age 16 and older, and the Moderna and Janssen (Johnson & Johnson) vaccine is approved for people age 18 and older.
Both the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccine requires 2 doses - 3 weeks apart for Pfizer-BioNTech and 4 weeks apart for Moderna. It's recommended that the same brand be used for both doses since there are no studies to evaluate how the body responds to using one brand for the first dose and then a different brand for the second dose. It's important to note that these vaccines may not be fully effective until after a week or two after the second dose.
The Janssen (Johnson & Johnson) vaccine is only one dose. The Food and Drug Administration approved this vaccine for emergency use on February 27, 2021 and on February 28, 2021, the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices issued an interim recommendation for use of this vaccine in people 18 years and older.

Any possible side effects?

Yes. The side effects are similar to those you can develop with a flu shot: pain and/or swelling in the area where the shot was given and fever, chills, fatigue, muscle pain, or headache after getting the vaccine.

How long can the vaccine protect from COVID-19?

There's no clear information on how long any COVID-19 vaccine can protect from getting COVID-19. Even after getting vaccinated, the CDC still recommends wearing a mask, staying 6-feet away or more from others, avoiding crowds, and practicing good hygiene.

Who can get the COVID-19 vaccine?

This answer can be different, based on the state you live in. Many of the state-specific recommendations are based on the CDC recommendations. Again, state-specific recommendations may vary a little and may even give more information beyond Phase 1.
State-specific sites for COVID-19 vaccine may also provide information on where to get vaccinated and how to set-up an appointment. The CDC recommends the following groups to be eligible for vaccination:

Phase 1a: Healthcare personnel and residents of long-term care facilities.

Phase 1b: Frontline essential workers and people aged 75 or older.

Phase 1c: People age 65-74, people age 16-64 with medical conditions, and other essential workers.

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