The Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines, approved in December, use messenger RNA (mRNA) which delivers a small genetic “message” that causes your own cells to make a protein that resembles the spike on the outer shell of the tiny COVID-19 virus. Your immune system then recognizes this protein as foreign, and produces specific antibodies and specialized immune cells (T-lymphocytes and B-lymphocytes) that quickly spring into action if the virus itself shows up in the future.
The Johnson & Johnson vaccine does the same thing, but instead uses an inactivated cold virus to deliver the information that the immune system uses to create protection. Unlike the mRNA vaccines, the J&J vaccine does not need special freezers. Instead, it can be stored in a normal fridge, allowing for much easier access to the vaccine across a variety of locations.
Both the Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna vaccines have been shown to be over 90% effective in preventing illness from COVID-19. How long this protection lasts is currently unknown. The J&J vaccine is slightly less effective in preventing illness; however, what is more impressive is that it is virtually 100% protective against severe disease leading to hospitalization or death.
Once fully vaccinated (which means 2 weeks have passed after you received your final dose), for the first 3 months afterwards, you do not need to quarantine if you are exposed to someone with COVID-19.
The vaccines are administered the same way as the flu shot, injected into the muscle of the upper arm. Both the Pfizer/BioNtech and Moderna vaccines require two doses for a full immune response. For Pfizer/BioNTech, the second dose is 21 days after the first, with a full immune response 14 days after the second dose. For Moderna, the second dose is 28 days after the first with a full immune response 10 days post second dose. Johnson & Johnson requires only one dose, with a full immune response 28 days after.
Common side effects may include pain around the area of the injection, feeling tired, headache, muscle aches, and less commonly, fever. So far, severe side effects have been reported to be very rare with these current COVID-19 vaccines. As with all vaccines, there have been rare reports of serious allergic reactions to the vaccine. If you have ever had a severe allergic reaction or anaphylaxis to any ingredient in either of the COVID-19 vaccines, it is not considered safe to get that specific vaccine. If you have a history of severe allergic reactions, please speak to your healthcare provider for guidance before being vaccinated.
The federal government has said it will cover the cost of all vaccines, and intends to vaccinate everyone who requests it. According to Operation Warp Speed (OWS), a partnership between the Department of Health and Human Services, the CDC, and the Department of Defense, the objective is to ensure that “no one desiring vaccination will face an economic barrier to receiving one.”