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What To Know About COVID-19 Vaccines

May 5, 2022
By Spencer Blackman, MD

Updated June 21, 2022.

The unprecedented effort by federal, state and county agencies to distribute and administer COVID-19 vaccines to as many people as possible continues to reduce the risk of severe disease and death from COVID-19. At One Medical, we are committed to keeping our members informed every step of the way.

To stay up to date with our vaccination efforts in your area, please check here for the latest information.

Here are our answers to some of your most commonly asked questions:

How does the COVID-19 vaccine work?

The Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines, approved in December 2020, 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 a harmless cold virus to deliver the information that the immune system uses to create protection.

What are the benefits of the COVID-19 vaccine?

The Pfizer/BioNTech, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson vaccines have been shown to be highly effective in preventing severe illness and death from COVID-19. Over the past year, we’ve learned that this protection fades over time, especially for people who are older or who have health conditions that put them at higher risk for developing complications from COVID-19. The vaccines also substantially reduce the risk of getting any level of infection from COVID-19 for a few weeks after receiving them.

Because this protection fades months after getting the initial vaccine series, the CDC now recommends booster shots for most and a second booster for some individuals. You can find the guidance for when to get a booster based on your specific health risks and vaccine history.

How are the vaccines administered?

The vaccines are administered the same way as the flu shot, injected into the muscle of the upper arm.

What are the common side effects?

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.

In April 2021, the FDA paused J&J vaccination in the US because of 6 cases of rare brain blood clots associated with low platelets in females <50 years old. The experiment panel met again a week later and decided the risk was extremely low and it was safe to continue the J&J vaccine campaign.

How much does the vaccine cost?

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.”

If multiple types of COVID-19 vaccines are available, will I have a choice about which one I receive?

We recommend opting for whatever vaccine is available at the time, as they are considered comparably effective. If more than one option is widely available, then you may be offered a choice. Just remember that if you receive either the Pfizer/BioNTech or Moderna vaccine, all doses in the primary series should be the same type when possible.

For the Pfizer/BioNTech or Moderna vaccine, when can I get my second dose?

After the first dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, a second dose can be given as soon as 21 days and as far out as 8 weeks. For the Moderna vaccine, 4-8 weeks is recommended.

For Moderna and Pfizer vaccines, you can get a first booster shot 4 months after your second shot. For Johnson & Johnson, you can get a booster as soon as 2 months after your first shot.

Can I receive the Pfizer/BioNTech or Moderna vaccine with other vaccines?

The CDC updated their COVID-19 vaccine recommendations, allowing all authorized COVID-19 vaccines to be given alongside other other immunizations (like flu or pneumonia shots).

Once I’m fully vaccinated, will I still need to get tested for COVID-19?

Yes. While the vaccines are highly effective at preventing complications from COVID-19, they only modestly reduce your risk of getting a mild infection. If you have symptoms consistent with COVID-19, we recommend getting tested to determine if your symptoms are being caused by COVID-19. Even if you test negative, consider avoiding crowds or people who are high-risk for COVID-19 complications until you’re feeling better.

I’ve had COVID-19 already. Should I still get a vaccine?

Yes. A recent study from the CDC shows that people who have been previously infected with COVID-19 are more than twice as likely to get re-infected than people who are fully vaccinated. However, if you had COVID-19 and were treated with monoclonal antibodies, you should wait 90 days before getting the vaccine.

How confident can we be that the vaccines used in the United States are safe?

While the specific vaccines are new, the ways in which they create an immune response have either been in testing or in widespread use for many years. The idea of a “never before used” genetic vaccine may seem intimidating, but the underlying technology has been proven safe on thousands of volunteers. Only the specific COVID-19 genetic message is truly new. The safety standards of the FDA remain stringent and the safety of the vaccines will continue to be closely monitored. At One Medical, our own senior clinical advisors regularly review the published safety data carefully, and we only offer vaccines when we strongly believe the benefits unequivocally outweigh any risks. We concur with the FDA that the Moderna, Pfizer, and Johnson & Johnson vaccines safely deliver very high protection from serious disease from this virus.

If I get the COVID-19 vaccine will it affect COVID-19 test results?

No. Per the CDC, the COVID-19 vaccine cannot cause you to falsely test positive or negative on PCR or antigen viral tests, which are used to see if you have a current infection.

What if I’m pregnant, breastfeeding, or have a compromised immune system?

COVID-19 vaccination is recommended for people who are pregnant, breastfeeding, trying to get pregnant, or might become pregnant in the future. Pregnant and recently pregnant people are more likely to get severely ill with COVID-19 compared with non-pregnant people. Getting a COVID-19 vaccine can protect you from severe illness from COVID-19. If you have questions, you should talk to your provider to make an informed decision for your unique situation. More information about pregnancy and the vaccine is available on our blog post here.

Can I vaccinate my child?

If your child is 6 months or older, they are eligible to receive the Pfizer/BioNTech or Moderna COVID-19 vaccine. The CDC now considers receiving the COVID-19 vaccine at the same time as other recommended vaccines to be safe. Research on the effectiveness and safety of the COVID-19 vaccine in children under 5 is currently underway. For more information on COVID-19 vaccines for children, read here.

Will I need a booster shot of the COVID-19 vaccine?

The CDC is now recommending a booster, or third dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech, Moderna, and a second dose of the Johnson & Johnson (J&J) COVID-19 vaccine. Those who are 5 years and older who received a Pfizer/BioNTech are eligible for a booster shot five months or more after their second dose. Booster shots are also recommended for anyone 18 years and older who either received the Moderna vaccine at least six months ago, or received the J&J vaccine two or more months ago.

An additional second booster has also been authorized by the FDA for people 12 years and older and those who are immunocompromised who received their first booster four or more months ago. Guidance from the CDC on who is recommended to get a second booster vaccine is still pending, but expected to be issued very soon. For more on COVID-19 booster vaccines, read here.

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Spencer Blackman, MD, One Medical Provider

Spencer practices relationship-centered primary care, blending a traditional sensibility with up-to-date clinical knowledge and a strong focus on disease prevention. He enjoys getting to know his patients well, educating and empowering them to participate in health care decisions. Spencer completed his residency training at UCSF and practiced primary care, urgent care, sports medicine and adolescent medicine throughout the Bay Area before joining One Medical Group. He is certified with the American Board of Family Medicine. Spencer is a One Medical Group provider.

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The One Medical blog is published by One Medical, a national, modern primary care practice pairing 24/7 virtual care services with inviting and convenient in-person care at over 100 locations across the U.S. One Medical is on a mission to transform health care for all through a human-centered, technology-powered approach to caring for people at every stage of life.

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