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About the COVID-19 Vaccine

Many questions come with the development of the COVID-19 vaccine. Below, KHF has tried to answer some of those questions to make people more familiar with the science, distribution and rationale behind the vaccine.

OVERVIEW

Since the beginning of the pandemic, health experts have pointed to a vaccine as the major turning point for returning lives to some sense of normalcy. Yet, with this development has come many valid questions. Below, KHF has attempted to share answers to many of these questions. Much of this material comes from the Kansas Department of Health and Environment (KDHE) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

For these and additional questions, please see KHF’s Vaccine Handout.

WHAT IS A VACCINE?
At its most basic, a vaccine is a shot given to prevent illnesses before they occur. According to the CDC, a vaccine “stimulates your immune system to produce antibodies, exactly like it would if you were exposed to the disease. After getting vaccinated, you develop immunity to that disease, without having to get the disease first.”

IS THERE A VACCINE FOR COVID-19?
On December 11, 2020, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued the first emergency use authorization (EUA) for a vaccine for the prevention of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19).

There are currently three vaccines approved:

  • Pfizer-BioNTech: 2 doses given 21 days apart
  • Moderna: 2 doses given 28 days apart
  • Johnson & Johnson: Single dose

WHAT’S DIFFERENT ABOUT THESE VACCINES?
Both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines utilize what is known as mRNA technology. The use of mRNA is new to vaccines and does not utilize any of the live virus. Instead, according to the CDC, these vaccines “teach our cells how to make a protein—or even just a piece of a protein—that triggers an immune response inside our bodies. That immune response, which produces antibodies, is what protects us from getting infected if the real virus enters our bodies.” The CDC says the COVID-19 vaccines cannot make you sick with COVID-19, because they do not contain the live virus that causes the disease.

More information about this new type of vaccine can be found here.

Instead of using mRNA, the Johnson & Johnson vaccine uses a disabled adenovirus to deliver the instructions. This adenovirus is in no way related to the coronavirus.

WHEN DOES THE VACCINE START WORKING?

The CDC indicates “it typically takes a few weeks for the body to build immunity (protection against the virus that causes COVID-19) after vaccination. That means it’s possible a person could be infected with the virus that causes COVID-19 just before or just after vaccination and still get sick. This is because the vaccine has not had enough time to provide protection.”

ARE THERE SIDE EFFECTS?
The most common side effects in clinical trials for the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines were like the flu shot: pain or redness at the injection site, fever, headache, chills, muscle and joint pain.

Much media attention has been paid to possible side effects from the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. Following a temporary pause to study reports of possible blood clots, the CDC has now given the green light for the vaccine to be used once again. Still, the CDC has offered the following guidance: “For three weeks after receiving the vaccine, you should be on the lookout for possible symptoms of a blood clot with low platelets. These include: Severe or persistent headaches or blurred vision, shortness of breath, chest pain, leg swelling, persistent abdominal pain, easy bruising or tiny blood spots under the skin beyond the injection site. Seek medical care right away if you develop one or more of these symptoms.”

WHEN AND WHERE WILL I GET A VACCINE?
After initially offering the vaccine to essential workers and high-risk individuals, Kansas has now moved into Phase 5 of its official vaccination plan. In this phase, all Kansans ages 16 years and older are eligible to receive a vaccine. This includes all groups who were eligible in phases 1-4. To learn more about where to get a vaccine, check with your local health department, pharmacy or use the federal vaccine finder.

You can learn from KDHE here, and see a chart showing the phased approach to vaccines here.

HOW MUCH WILL THE VACCINES COST?
The shot is free, but some health care providers might charge an administration fee, which likely will be covered by your public or private insurance or for the uninsured. Health officials say no one will be turned away because of inability to pay.

IF I HAVE ALREADY HAD COVID-19 AND RECOVERED, DO I NEED TO GET A VACCINE?

The CDC indicates the COVID-19 vaccination should be offered to you regardless of whether you already had COVID-19 infection. Evidence suggests reinfection with the virus that causes COVID-19 is uncommon in the 90 days after initial infection. Therefore, people with a recent infection may delay vaccination until the end of that 90-day period if desired.

WHERE CAN I LEARN MORE INFORMATION ABOUT THE VACCINE?
There are many accurate and trusted information sources to learn more about the vaccine and its distribution. Below are several sources providing either a general or state-based perspective.

  • KDHE provides weekly vaccine updates on its website, coronavirus.kdheks.gov.
  • Vaccine information specific to Kansas can be found at kansasvaccine.gov.
  • Comprehensive vaccine information, provided by the CDC, can be found here.

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