Questions Answered on the COVID-19 Vaccines
As the COVID-19 vaccines continue to roll out, millions of people continue to say they will not get vaccinated. Leading medical voices are recognizing and addressing concerns while informing people on how vaccines work, COVID-19 risks, and how vaccines can help people protect themselves and their families.
Dr. Helen Boucher, Chief of the Division of Geographic Medicine in Boston at Tufts Medical Center, was a guest on the 95.3 WBCK Morning Show with Tim Collins. She is also Board Member of the Infectious Diseases Society of America (IDSA), a partner of the Partnership to Fight Infectious Disease.
Q: Dr. Boucher, now that millions of people have been vaccinated, what have we learned about vaccine safety and side effects so far?
A: The good news is that we haven't seen any new or unexpected side effects. We've seen very few severe allergic reactions and some milder side effects. Those include a sore arm, muscle aches, and maybe a fever for one to two days following the vaccine and we’re seeing these more often in younger folks.
Q: If you had to put a percentage on it, how many have side effects?
A: Data gathered in the clinical trials showed about 16 to 17% of individuals had a fever one to two days after their second dose of the vaccine. And again, that was more common in younger individuals. That's the highest number that we've seen, and so far the data from the CDC is bearing that out. We’ll get an update very soon from the CDC, but the snapshot is that it's very much in line with what we've seen in the clinical trial.
Q: You know, what's worrying me is that if I get the shot and develop a fever, then I won’t be able to pass the medical assessment that I have to fill out every morning to be able to go to work. What should I do?
A: The muscle aches, the low-grade fever, and the sore arm are all very classic of a vaccine and not concerning for other things. If the fever is higher, it is potentially more concerning and many employers would ask us to stay home until that passed. So for that reason, some folks are needing to stay home for one to two days after that second dose.
Q: Would it make sense to try to plan to get vaccinated on a Friday so you can have a couple of days to recover, in case you should among the 17% with those side effects?
A: Exactly. And you know, what we did in the hospital was we kind of spaced them out so that the nurses and doctors and other workers from the same unit got them on different days so that if the side effects happened, they would be spaced out and relatively easy to manage.
Q: What's the difference between the two vaccines that we have approved, Moderna and Pfizer?
A: They're very similar. They're both using mRNA technology. They're both a two-shot series. They both require freezers. The Pfizer requires an even more special deep freezer to maintain the vaccine. That does affect where we can deliver it. The Pfizer regimen is two doses, three weeks apart. The Moderna vaccine is administered in two doses, four weeks apart. In terms of their efficacy, it’s 95% for both and their safety is remarkably similar.
Q: Is there a concern that people get that first shot and then there might be a supply chain issue that might not allow a person to get the second shot on time. What if that's delayed?
A: Oh, great question. And you know, there has been a lot of, kind of chatter about this over the last few weeks. And I would say that the news over the last few days is very reassuring. Every indication is that we have adequate supply and that that second dose will be there. And so our recommendation is to get your shot when it's offered. If there was a reason that it was delayed by a few days or even a few weeks, the CDC has provided guidance. They say it's okay to get that second dose as long as six weeks out.
Q: Dr. Boucher, do we know if a person who's been vaccinated with both shots can still carry and spread the virus?
A: Great question, Tim. So we know that the vaccine is 95% effective in preventing getting sick from COVID. We are learning about whether and how much it prevents actual viral transmission. So until we have a better handle on that, and really until we have better control on the virus, in our populations, it's very important that we follow those mitigation measures, wearing a mask and will with anyone, with whom we dealt with washing our hands. Watching our distance avoiding crowds and not going to work or school.
Q: We’re hearing about people who are getting impatient and maybe letting their guard down a little bit, especially after getting that first shot. What about that?
A: This is not the time to let our guard down. It's still winter. We still have way too much virus circulating and there is concern about these variants coming along. It's really important not to let our guard down and to remember that the vaccine efficacy doesn't kick in until two weeks after the second dose. And even when it does, 95% is not a hundred percent.
Q: So, with 3-4 weeks between shots, depending on which one it is, plus another two weeks, do we have to allow 6 weeks from the time of the first shot to be protected from COVID-19?
A: Well you won't be fully protected, but there will still be some protection. But the full protection is two weeks after the second dose.
Q: What about the variant? Have you seen it?
A: We know it's in at least 22 states in the country, and we believe probably more. We need to be extra vigilant because it's believed that these variants are more infectious and more contagious.
Q: Will the virus that we have right now prevent those variants?
A: Well, we have evidence that the monoclonal antibodies are effective against the UK variant, and that the vaccines are effective. There is some concern that one of the monoclonal antibodies may not be as effective against one of the other variants that have not yet been detected in the United States, but it's very important that our scientists continue to investigate for the emergence of new variants and that we do all we can.
Q: What advice would you give friends and family members who don't want to get the shot?
A: I think we can be reassured now that we're several weeks in and we have many people now who have gotten both doses of the vaccine, that indeed it is 95% effective and that it is quite safe. With more than 23 million doses, we have a lot to go on now. And don't forget that the clinical trials that were done were very large, 43,000 plus in one 37,000 plus and another.