Dear Patients and Community Members:
I realize the flood of information regarding the approval of COVID-19 vaccines is both hopeful and overwhelming. Below you’ll find answers to some of the most frequently asked questions we’re hearing from patients regarding the safety, efficacy, and distribution of the approved Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines. Please keep in mind the situation is extremely fluid and a lot of what is being shared now can change.
Distribution is being directed by DHEC and smaller practices such as ours will likely not be able to meet the minimum requirements in order to allow the vaccine to be given in our building. While this is an inconvenience, SCMA & SCHA have been working closely with DHEC in order to make sure viable distribution sites are available in all areas of our state.
When can I get my COVID-19 vaccine?
Governor Henry McMaster and SC DHEC announced that beginning Wednesday, January 13th, any SC resident aged older than 70 years old, regardless of health status or preexisting conditions, can begin scheduling their appointment to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. A map with current locations accepting vaccine appointments will be available at scdhec.gov/vaxlocator beginning 01/13/21.
I am a high-risk patient. Is there a waitlist I can join to get my vaccine faster?
I encourage everyone to be vaccinated and I received my first injection in late December (it felt no different than any other vaccine…no problem!). Please know that I have no way of getting you a vaccine sooner or prioritizing patients. The prioritization plan the CDC and DHEC recommends helps all of us by making sure we can receive medical care in the hospital if we need to, with enough doctors, nurses, and support staff. Protecting nursing home residents and staff makes sense because it saves the most lives.
Is the COVID-19 vaccine safe?
Experience with the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines is limited, but enough for the CDC to approve them for use. They do not contain any type of virus particles, so you cannot catch COVID-19 from it. There have been a few significant allergic reactions, primarily in individuals with a history of serious allergic reactions in the past. The most common side effects experienced were pain, redness, or swelling at the injection site, fever, fatigue, headache, or muscle and joint pain. No other major safety events were noted but may become apparent as more people are immunized. These side effects may be more prominent than what is experienced after a flu shot, but they are not dangerous and indicate the vaccine is activating the body’s immune response.
How do these vaccines work?
These vaccines use a sequence of mRNA to direct our cells to make a harmless piece of the “spike protein” found on the surface of the coronavirus. Then, the presence of the spike proteins triggers a natural immune response, producing protective antibodies to recognize and fight off the real virus should it enter our bodies. The history behind these mRNA vaccines is fascinating; for additional information on how they were developed, you may want to read this recently published interview with vaccine expert Dr. Paul Offit.
Is the vaccine effective, and for how long?
Preliminary reports from Pfizer and Moderna indicate their vaccines are highly effective but it is not yet known for how long. The vaccine has been shown to start working within 10-14 days of receiving the first dose; you are fully vaccinated one to two weeks after receiving the second dose. Studies have measured antibodies that persist for at least several months after vaccination, but this is not the only way disease is prevented. Studies are ongoing to determine how long these vaccines provide protection.
How many vaccine doses do I need, and will it need to be repeated every year, like the flu shot?
The first vaccines will require two doses separated by at least three or four weeks depending upon which vaccine you receive. At this time, it is not known if follow-up vaccinations will be required for COVID-19, as they are for influenza. Studies are in progress to answer this question.
Once I am vaccinated, can I still spread COVID-19 to others?
We know the vaccine protects against symptomatic and severe disease with COVID-19. It is not yet known whether it is possible for someone who has been vaccinated to still acquire and spread COVID-19 to others. That is why it will remain essential to continue to wear a mask, avoid crowds, practice physical distancing, and wash your hands until broad public immunity is achieved.
If I have tested positive for COVID-19 in the past, should I get the vaccine?
For most, the answer is “Yes.” The vaccine is advised even if you previously had COVID-19 and have recovered, especially if the symptoms were mild or if it has been longer than 60-90 days since the infection. It is unclear how long immunity lasts after a COVID-19 infection and it may vary by individual. In addition, it appears your age may play an important role.
Can I take the vaccine if I have a weakened immune system as a result of receiving chemotherapy or taking immunosuppressive medication?
To date, no problems have been seen to suggest that immunosuppressed individuals should not take the vaccine.
I will continue to provide updates by email and website postings as further vaccine information becomes available. As always, I encourage you to call the office with questions or concerns. I am grateful for the opportunity to guide, advise, and care for patients during this challenging period, and look forward to better times just ahead. Please continue to wear masks, social distance, and avoid group gatherings.
Please stay safe and stay well,
Mayes DuBose, MD
Suggested websites to check regularly for the latest information:
South Carolina Department of Health