Read This Before Getting The COVID-19 Vaccine

Read This Before Getting The COVID-19 Vaccine

It might not have looked like much when 90-year-old Margaret Keenan stepped up to the blue armchair. But hers was what the Associated Press called “the shot watched round the world” when she became the first person to receive a tested and “broadly tested and independently reviewed” vaccine against COVID-19. It might feel much longer, but because we’ve only been living with the pandemic for a year, there are still many things we don’t know about this particular coronavirus in general, and about the approved Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine specifically. 

Nonetheless Keenan felt there were many reasons why she should celebrate being first. “I feel so privileged to be the first person vaccinated against COVID-19,” Keenan says. “It’s the best early birthday present I could wish for because it means I can finally look forward to spending time with my family and friends in the New Year after being on my own for most of the year.”

Here at home, a poll conducted by YouGov shows the number of Americans willing to take the COVID-19 vaccine when one is made available is now at half of the registered voters who were polled. It may not sound like much, but it is the highest percentage of respondents to date, and represents twice as many people who have said they don’t want to get vaccinated.

Turley: "Speak to your doctor before you get the COVID-19 shot"

Healthcare workers at the frontlines of the fight against COVID-19 say there are a few things you need to know before you take the shot. One of those is Dr. Christine Turley, vice-chair of research at Atrium Health Levine Children’s Hospital and founder of the STRIVE Vaccine team. She is leading the COVID-19 vaccine research and development work at Atrium Health.

In an interview with The List, Dr. Turley says it may be a while before those of us who don’t sit within the high-risk group will be able to get a number to get in line for the shot. But she says if you get the chance, it is important to speak to your doctor about what getting a vaccine means.

“If you are in a group that is being prioritized, it would be very important to talk to your doctor about your risks from COVID-19 and consider getting it carefully when it becomes available. If you are not in one of the groups, then you should wait until more vaccine is available, and more data is available. Your risks, if you got COVID-19 infection, may not be as severe as those who are prioritized before you,” she says. That conversation should also address any potential allergies you might already have, or could be prone to developing as a result of the vaccine.

Turley: "Expect a fever, fatigue, achiness"

Dr. Turley says doctors know about the short-term side effects of the vaccine, which were seen during trials involving 30,000 people. “All of these individuals had to get through the 2 doses of vaccine and be followed,” she says. “We know that getting vaccines can cause soreness in the arm, fever, fatigue, achiness, or headaches. These problems are usually mild and seen in the first week after getting a vaccine. Some people get some redness where they got the shot. Some people don’t get any of these side effects.”

But Dr. Turley says there are actually positive takeaways from the vaccine’s side effects. “These effects are a signal that our bodies are responding to the vaccine and our immune system is learning about how to respond to the part of the COVID virus that was included in the vaccine,” she tells The List. “This is not the COVID-19 infection. The vaccines being tested each include some different part of the virus that has been human made. These parts are not able to cause the COVID-19 illness. It would be like getting the handlebars of a bike— you wouldn’t be able to ride anywhere, with just the handlebars.”

Turley: "We won't know much about the vaccine even when it becomes available"

Other than the side effects, because the vaccine is being distributed under an emergency use authorization, there is plenty we don’t know about the vaccine, just as there is plenty we have yet to learn about the virus that causes COVID-19. “The vaccine is NOT going to be available before we know its effectiveness. The key endpoints of these studies are focused on how well the vaccine can protect from infection and how well the vaccine protects from severe COVID-19 illness,” Dr. Turley tells The List. “These targets were set up before the vaccines were even ready for testing, and agreed upon by experts from around the world, so that the results of all of the studies could be compared. The targets of how effective the vaccines are were set far in advance of the start of the studies.”

“However, the studies will continue for 2 years to look for other additional information, and if the vaccines protect well from COVID-19 infection, it would not be ethical to keep it from those with high risk while we wait. Some groups are suffering so much from COVID-19 that the only ethical choice is to make the vaccine available if it is shown to be so effective,” she adds.

Turley: "We need to remain vigilant"

But even if all of us are vaccinated, Dr. Turley reminds us that it will take a while before we know if these shots will actually work. Before that, there is a need to keep our guards up. “It will take many months for enough of the community to get the two doses of vaccine. Because of this, it will still be very important to continue to wear a mask and practice social distancing. We are currently estimating that about 70 percent of the community will need to have good levels of protective antibody to have community immunity (or ‘herd’ immunity) and stop the spread of COVID-19,” she says.

On top of that, Dr. Turley says: “It will take some time for us to learn all the effects of the vaccines. We don’t know yet if they will prevent us from carrying COVID-19 without being sick, and passing it to others. So it is very important for each of us to remain vigilant now and for the foreseeable future.”

Turley: "Seek out good, credible information"

While we could all engage in rounds of debate over whether or not it is a good idea to get the shot, Dr. Turley The List’s readers with this bit of advice: “The main ‘job’ we all have now is to seek out good, credible information in order to learn enough about how the vaccines are being made and tested to feel confident in our decisions. The process of how vaccines are developed and tested is complex. It is not necessary for each of us to become a vaccinologist to make these decisions,” she says.

“Because there are so many unknowns with COVID-19, we should all protect ourselves from the culture of fear. Instead, we should try to arm ourselves with knowledge, ask good questions and listen carefully to the answers so that we can make strong decisions that will help protect ourselves, our loved ones, and our community. It is also super important to remember that we all have the same shared goal—to move forward to our lives beyond COVID-19 as quickly and safely as possible.” So keep masking up, and stay safe.

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