Safe, effective COVID-19 vaccines are a major development in our battle against the virus. Curious about how these new vaccines work? The Laurel Health Centers will walk you through the fast facts on COVID-19 vaccine safety, efficacy, who should be vaccinated and why getting the vaccine is so important to getting our communities back to normal sooner.

Vaccine safety

The COVID-19 vaccines are safe. These vaccines were ready faster than most thanks to unprecedented collaboration between organizations and scientists around the world, but they were still subjected to all the same intensive safety trials.

Before being approved for use, the COVID-19 vaccines were:

  • Rigorously studied and tested on thousands of volunteers to ensure safety and efficacy
  • Reviewed in-depth by top clinical experts in the United States and around the world
  • Vetted through all the same intensive clinical trials as every other vaccine
  • Evaluated for safety for months ahead of approval and continue to be closely monitored

The vaccine scheduling process includes a pre-screening survey to ensure it’s appropriate for the person to receive. Recipients are also observed following the shot for any signs of serious reaction. The potential side effects are generally mild and resolve quickly, usually in 1-3 days. There have been no cases of long-term serious side effects, and serious reactions are rare. Most people can safely receive the COVID-19 vaccine, and the research shows that the benefit of being vaccinated far outweighs the much greater risk of contracting COVID-19 and developing serious complications, including death.

Efficacy

Both the Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines are very effective.

The vaccines are 94-95% effective in preventing someone from contracting COVID-19.

Being vaccinated greatly reduces your risk for serious symptoms, complications, hospitalization, or death if you become infected with COVID-19.

The vaccines teach your body how to effectively fight the virus without having to suffer through the symptoms or risk for complications associated with contracting COVID-19.

How it works

The Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines use two doses to teach your body how to fight the COVID-19 virus effectively; you need both doses to get the best protection.

The first shot helps your immune system learn to recognize the virus, and the second shot strengthens your immune response.

You cannot get COVID-19 from the shot as none of the authorized vaccines use the live virus that causes COVID-19.

It typically takes a few weeks for the body to build immunity after vaccination.

You could become infected with COVID-19 just before or shortly after vaccination and still get sick—another reason it’s always important to mask, socially distance and wash your hands.

If you do catch COVID-19 following inoculation, the vaccine greatly reduces your risk of serious symptoms, complications, or death.

Potential side effects

Side effects don’t mean a vaccine is unsafe.

Side effects often mean a vaccine is working well as it indicates it’s stimulating a strong immune response, a necessary part of building immunity.

Reported side effects for these vaccines are mild and temporary with most lasting just 1-3 days.

The most common side effects for the COVID-19 vaccine are similar to the flu shot: temporary pain where you received the shot, sore arm, fatigue and headache.

All medical care carries a chance of side effects and the benefits of being vaccinated and low risk of serious side effects far outweigh the much greater risk of contracting COVID-19.

Who should be vaccinated & why

Everyone aged 16 and up is recommended to receive a COVID-19 vaccine (16+ Pfizer & 18+ Moderna).

Once pediatric safety studies have concluded, guidance for vaccinating children aged 15 and under will be issued.

You should still receive the vaccine if you’ve already had COVID-19.

Having enough people take the vaccine is critical to its success, as the virus can more easily mutate and adapt in a large unvaccinated population.

Some people cannot get certain vaccines due to allergies or immune conditions, so vaccinating everyone that can be safely immunized helps protect them as well.

When you get the vaccine, you aren’t just protecting yourself—you are protecting others, including family, friends and neighbors.

The COVID-19 vaccine is critical to getting our communities back to normal sooner.

Other preventive measures

The vaccine supply is currently limited, and no single tool is 100% effective against COVID-19 alone, so for now, it’s important to continue using our full toolkit of preventive measures:

  • Wearing a well-fitting mask over your nose and mouth when around others
  • Social distancing (staying at least six feet apart from those not living in your daily household)
  • Frequent handwashing
  • Disinfecting commonly touched surfaces/objects
  • Avoiding large groups and gatherings, especially indoors
  • Getting the vaccine when available to you

Everyone, including those who have been vaccinated or have recovered from COVID-19, should continue using all these tools to prevent transmission and protect themselves and others until the vaccine can be administered widely. Due to the current limited supply, Pennsylvania has established a phased rollout plan that ensures the people most at risk for COVID-19 exposure and serious complications receive the vaccine first (e.g., healthcare workers, seniors, and those with underlying health conditions).

To find your COVID-19 vaccine category, visit the PA Dept. of Health website at health.pa.gov. We understand that many people are anxious to know when it will be available to them and their loved ones. Laurel Health has been working hard behind-the-scenes to ensure vaccines are distributed as quickly and efficiently as possible according to the PA Dept. of Health guidelines. We are currently reaching out to first-phase patients directly to schedule them as we receive doses and will keep the community updated as we move through the rollout groups.

For the latest COVID-19 guidance and updates on the Laurel Health Centers’ vaccine rollout plan, visit online at laurelhc.org or facebook.com/laurelhc.

Mark Molckovsky, MD, is a Family Medicine Physician at the Laurel Health Centers.