Encore Years

What to Know About the Coronavirus Vaccines

Encore Years

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOTV)- Need to make an appointment to get a Covid-19 vaccine? Our Encore years expert Jennifer Feuerstein from AARP Michigan is here to help.

Watch in the video player above

Here are steps to take to receive a vaccine:

  • Call your county health department, community health centers or local hospitals to see if appointments are available.
  • Contact retail pharmacies such as Meijer or Rite Aid for available slots
  • Dial up your state Covid hotline. (888)-535-6136
This picture taken on November 17, 2020 shows a syringe and a bottle reading “Vaccine Covid-19. (Photo by JOEL SAGET/AFP via Getty Images)

Key COVID-19 Information, Resources & FAQ

  • Breakthrough COVID-19 possible, but rare. Even as the data show that the COVID-19 vaccines authorized by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) are effective in preventing infections, some people who are fully vaccinated have still tested positive for COVID-19. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), of the more than 75 million people fully vaccinated as of April 14 (meaning they have had both shots of the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccine or the one-shot Johnson & Johnson product), 5,814 had been infected, based on reports from 43 states and territories. CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said Monday that of those who reported a breakthrough infection, 30 percent had COVID-19 symptoms. She also said that the fact that those people had been vaccinated contributed to these cases being either asymptomatic or not serious. The CDC data show that 45 percent of breakthrough infections were among people age 60 and older and that 65 percent of such cases occurred in women. Walensky also said that since not all states have reported their breakthrough cases, the 5,814 figure is probably an underestimate.
  • Majority of adults have gotten at least one shot: As of April 18, 50.4 percent of Americans age 18 and over have received at least one COVID-19 vaccination shot and 32.5 percent have been fully vaccinated, according to CDC data. And 81 percent of people 65-plus have received one dose and nearly 66 percent have been fully vaccinated. As of April 19, the federal government says all Americans age 16 and older are eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine.
  • Moderna effective after six months. New data released from Moderna show that the COVID-19 two-dose vaccine was more than 90 percent effective at protecting against the illness and more than 95 percent effective against severe disease up to six months after patients received the second dose. The data was based on following participants from its phase three clinical trial and includes more than 900 cases through April 9. This could put Moderna closer to filing for full approval for its vaccine. The FDA issued an emergency use authorization (EUA) for the vaccine in December 2020. The agency usually requires six months of data when a company applies for full approval. The Moderna announcement follows a similar announcement from Pfizer about its Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, which also is operating under an EUA.
  • FDA, CDC urge pause of J&J vaccine. The FDA and the CDC issued a joint statement on April 13 recommending that use of Johnson & Johnson’s single-dose COVID-19 vaccine be paused “out of an abundance of caution” while the agencies investigate six cases of a rare and serious type of blood clot, in combination with low levels of platelets, in women in the United States. As of April 12, more than 6.8 million doses of the J&J vaccine had been administered, so these incidents “appear to be extremely rare,” the statement says. The six women who experienced the clot are between the ages of 18 and 48 and the clots occurred between six and 13 days after they received the J&J shot. The statement urges people who have received the J&J vaccine and develop severe headache, abdominal pain, leg pain, or shortness of breath within three weeks after their vaccination to contact their health care provider. The J&J vaccine was created using a different technology than the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines, and the federal agencies are not recommending any pause of those two products.
  • More health centers getting vaccine. The federal government has expanded the Health Center COVID-19 Vaccine Program to include all 1,470 sites nationwide. These centers are typically located in underserved and minority communities. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), about 70 percent of those who have received a vaccine through this program so far are racial or ethnic minorities. Here’s a list of centers participating in the program.
  • Vaccine eligibility wide open by April 19. All Americans age 16 and older should be eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine by April 19, President Joe Biden said on April 6 at the White House. Biden’s new direction to the states updates his earlier request that they make all U.S. adults eligible for a vaccine by May 1. Biden attributed the ability to move the eligibility date up by two weeks to getting enough vaccine supply, creating more places to get vaccinated and enlisting more people to provide the vaccinations. The administration had already announced that by April 19, 90 percent of all Americans would live within 5 miles of a vaccination site and 40,000 pharmacies would provide vaccines.
  • CDC: Fully vaccinated folks can travel. The CDC issued a long-awaited recommendation on April 2 that people who have been fully vaccinated for COVID-19 can travel safely within the United States. Someone is considered fully vaccinated two weeks after receiving the last recommended dose of a vaccine — meaning two doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccine or one shot of the Johnson & Johnson product. The CDC suggests that fully vaccinated individuals still wear a mask, avoid crowds, socially distance and wash their hands frequently while traveling. The new guidance does not change the advice for people who are not fully vaccinated. The CDC still recommends against nonessential travel for them. When it comes to international travel, the CDC still recommends some added precautions for fully vaccinated people because, agency officials say, of the emergence and potential spread of COVID-19 variants, the differences in how much infection is present in other countries as well as the availability of vaccines throughout the world. When traveling overseas, fully vaccinated people don’t need a COVID-19 test before, unless the country they are going to requires it. But they should still have a negative COVID-19 test result before boarding an international flight to come home and get another test three to five days after returning. 
  • HHS launches vaccine confidence campaign. The federal government announced the creation of the COVID-19 Community Corps as part of an effort to instill confidence among Americans in the three vaccines authorized for use in the United States. It comprises more than 275 organizations — including health professionals, community groups, faith-based groups, businesses, rural organizations, unions, veterans and sports groups. According to HHS, these messengers will be provided with information they can share with their communities, including weekly scientific and medical updates, talking points about the vaccines, suggested social media posts, fact sheets and other tools to help them get the word out about the vaccines. Any member of the public can become a Community Corps member by signing up online at hhs.gov/covidcommunitycorps.
  • Older adults will get transportation help to vaccine sites. Vulnerable seniors and people with disabilities who are having trouble getting to a COVID-19 vaccination site will get help, including transportation assistance. When introducing the effort, President Biden said transportation should not be a barrier to any senior getting a vaccination. He also said that he is directing his COVID team to make sure there is a vaccination site within 5 miles of 90 percent of Americans by April 19. To make that possible, he said, the number of pharmacies doing vaccinations will go from 17,000 to 40,000. In addition, 12 more federally run mass vaccination sites will be added around the country, mostly in minority communities. States will also get increased funding to allow them to expand community vaccination sites.
  • CDC study: Pfizer, Moderna vaccines effective. The Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines are effective in preventing COVID-19 infections, based on a CDC study of about 4,000 health care workers, first responders and other essential workers between Dec. 14 and March 13. The study found that both vaccines reduced the risk of infection by 80 percent after one shot and by 90 percent 14 days after the second dose. These findings confirm other studies — in Israel and Great Britain, and of health care workers at the University of Texas and at two university medical centers in Southern California — as well as the clinical trials data used by the FDA to grant emergency use authorizations to the two vaccines in December. The CDC study tracking the real-world impact of the vaccines will continue.
  • CDC issues guidelines for the vaccinated. Individuals who have been fully vaccinated for COVID-19 can visit indoors with other people who have been completely vaccinated without wearing masks or staying 6 feet apart, the CDC recommended on March 8. And fully vaccinated people do not have to quarantine or get tested if they are exposed to someone who has COVID-19, as long as the vaccinated individual isn’t symptomatic. The CDC says someone is considered fully vaccinated two weeks after they receive both shots of the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccine or the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine. The long-anticipated guidance from the agency is a little more complicated when it comes to how people who have been vaccinated should interact with people who have not gotten their shots. Someone who is fully vaccinated can visit with unvaccinated people from one other household and do so indoors without wearing masks or socially distancing if, the CDC says, everyone in that household is at a low risk for severe COVID-19 disease.
  • Vaccine finder inaugurated. The U.S. public can search for approved COVID-19 providers at vaccinefinder.org, a website where consumers can enter their address or zip code and get a list of vaccine providers and links to where they can schedule a shot.
  • CDC data show that the vaccines are safe. Data from the CDC reveals that the side effects from COVID-19 vaccines were as expected and not serious among the vast majority of the first 22 million people who received either the Pfizer-BioNTech or the Moderna version. Symptoms most frequently reported were headaches (22.4 percent), fatigue (16.5 percent) and dizziness (16.5 percent). Cases of anaphylaxis allergic reactions were very rare — 4.5 cases per million doses administered. The incidence of side effects was greater for the second dose of the Pfizer vaccine, with nearly 79 percent of recipients saying they didn’t experience any serious symptoms, compared with nearly 94 percent who said they didn’t have any major issues after the first shot. Data was not available for the Moderna vaccine, the second shot of which is not given until 28 days after the first. The data collected was for the first month of vaccinations, from Dec. 14 to Jan. 13. CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said at a COVID-19 briefing that the fact that more people tend to have a stronger reaction to the second shot should not deter Americans from getting the second dose.
  • Second dose timing. The second dose of either the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccine may be scheduled for up to six weeks after the first shot, according to an update posted by the CDC. When the FDA authorized the two vaccines for emergency use late last year, it said that the second dose of the Pfizer vaccine should be administered in 21 days while the Moderna protocol is for the second shot to be given in 28 days. The CDC still says that while the “second dose should be administered as close to the recommended interval as possible,” if that is not feasible, the second dose can be received up to 42 days after the first one.
  • Vaccines and underlying health conditions. The CDC has issued guidance for those with underlying health conditions, saying they can receive the COVID-19 vaccine as long as they have not had a severe allergic reaction to any of the ingredients in the vaccine. Additional guidance is available for people with HIV or who have weakened immune systems; people with autoimmune conditions; people who have previously had Guillain-Barré syndrome; and people who have previously had Bell’s palsy.
Photo courtesy of getty images

Researchers around the world have been working at record speed to develop vaccines to combat COVID-19. Less than a year after the start of the pandemic, that goal is now a reality. Three vaccines — one from Moderna, another from Pfizer-BioNTech and a third from Johnson & Johnson — are now being distributed in the U.S.

All three vaccines received an emergency use authorization (EUA) from the FDA. An EUA is a green light, of sorts. It is not the same as official approval.

During a public health emergency, such as the coronavirus pandemic, the FDA can authorize in a timely manner previously unapproved medical products to diagnose, treat or prevent the illness of concern when there are no other approved or available alternatives. The EUA process is faster than standard FDA approval, which can take six to 10 months. However, data proving safety and effectiveness are still required for authorization, and the FDA and an advisory committee of experts use this data to weigh the risks and benefits of the product in question.

What, exactly, is a vaccine?

A vaccine is something that helps a person build up immunity to an infectious disease. It works by intentionally introducing the body to an inactive form of a disease-causing germ, or something similar to it. This then stimulates the immune system’s production of antibodies, the proteins that help to protect the person from a future infection if he ever comes across the real germ.

Think of it like a workout for your immune system: You’re “sending it to the gym and preparing it to be able to do something when it encounters the real thing in the future,” says Tony Moody, associate professor of pediatrics and immunology at Duke University School of Medicine and a principal investigator at the Duke Human Vaccine Institute. “Essentially, what a vaccine is doing is teaching the immune system how to handle something before you actually encounter the real thing — so that, hopefully, when you do encounter the real thing, you’re able to deal with it quickly and get rid of it.”

In the case of the new coronavirus, a vaccine makes a person resistant to an infection from the virus and the illness it causes — COVID-19 — or, at least, enables a person who becomes infected to have “a shorter course [of disease] or not as many complications,” Moody adds.

What coronavirus vaccines are available now?

The three vaccines that have received EUAs – Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson – are so far the only products available to Americans.

Pfizer’s vaccine was given emergency authorization by the FDA for use in people 16-years-old and older, making it the first coronavirus vaccine available to the American public.

Moderna and J&J’s vaccines have now been authorized for people 18 and older.

The three vaccines have been found to be highly effective at preventing COVID-19 in clinical trial participants. Pfizer-BioNTech’s two-dose vaccine is about 95 percent effective against COVID-19, regardless of age, race or other risks for severe illness from an infection, an FDA analysis shows. And Moderna’s proved to be about 94.5 percent effective against COVID-19 in people of all ages, genders and ethnicities. J&J’s product has been found to be 66 percent effective overall and 72 percent effective in the United States.

Photo courtesy of Getty images

Are the vaccines safe?

Safety is a key concern among health officials and experts. Participants in the Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson trials experienced side effects after vaccination, including injection-site pain, fever, chills, headaches, muscle aches and joint pain. These symptoms are temporary and are in line with side effects some people experience from other vaccines, including the flu shot and the vaccine to prevent shingles.

More serious reactions are rarer, but they do occur. On April 13, the CDC and FDA recommended that U.S. vaccination sites pause their use of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine while the agencies review data involving six reported cases of a rare but serious type of blood clot, called cerebral venous sinus thrombosis, in individuals after they received the vaccine. One case was fatal and one patient is in critical condition.

All six cases occurred in women between the ages of 18 and 48, six to 13 days after vaccination. People who recently received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine and develop symptoms of severe headache, abdominal pain, leg pain or shortness of breath within three weeks after vaccination should contact their health care provider, officials say.

Also, providers should be on the lookout for patients who present with these symptoms and be advised that “treatment of this specific type of blood clot is different from the treatment that might typically be administered,” according to a joint statement from the CDC and FDA. “Usually, an anticoagulant drug called heparin is used to treat blood clots. In this setting, administration of heparin may be dangerous, and alternative treatments need to be given.”

The CDC is planning on an expeditious review of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine and will update its guidance as soon as possible.

To date, no cases of cerebral venous sinus thrombosis have been linked to the Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines. However, a small number of allergic reactions, including anaphylaxis, have been reported, according to early safety monitoring data from the CDC. Though an anaphylactic reaction is potentially life-threatening, it can be quickly halted as it was in these six cases, with medicines such as epinephrine. Because of this, the CDC is recommending that anyone who has ever had a severe allergic reaction to any ingredient in a COVID-19 vaccine abstain from receiving it. If you have a history of severe allergic reactions to other vaccines, ask your doctor if you should get a COVID-19 vaccine, the agency advises.

After a vaccine is authorized, many vaccine safety monitoring systems watch for adverse events, according to the CDC. If one is discovered, “experts quickly study it further to assess whether it is a true safety concern” and then adjust vaccine recommendations as needed, the agency explains.  

How are the vaccines being distributed?

The federal government is overseeing the distribution and tracking of coronavirus vaccines in the U.S., but state and local officials are prioritizing who gets the vaccine in their jurisdictions. The government is also partnering with private companies to ensure high-risk individuals can easily access a vaccine. Some states have started to open up vaccines to younger Americans, and the president says all American adults will be eligible for a vaccine beginning April 19.

Officials predict it will take several months to vaccinate everyone who wants a vaccine, even as production ramps up and more vaccine candidates clear authorization.

There are logistical considerations, including the need to ensure proper transportation and storage for the vaccines. Both the Pfizer and the Moderna vaccines require cold storage at specific temperatures, but the J&J vaccine is able to be shipped and stored at conventional refrigeration temperatures.

Photo courtesy of Getty images

How much does the vaccine cost?

The federal government pre-purchased hundreds of millions of vaccine doses with taxpayer money, and Americans will not have to pay to receive them.

Vaccine providers are able to charge an administration fee for giving the shot, but this fee should be covered by public or private insurance, or by a government relief fund for the uninsured.

Can I still get COVID-19 after getting the vaccine?

A few cases of infection post-vaccine, called breakthrough cases, have been documented but are rare. “We see this with all vaccines in clinical trials. And in the real world, no vaccine is 100 percent efficacious or effective, which means that you will always see breakthrough infections regardless of the efficacy of your vaccine,” Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, explained in an April 12 briefing.

Breakthrough cases can happen when the body “doesn’t amount an adequate immune response,” or if immunity fades over time, Fauci explained. A vaccine may also fail if a person is exposed to a new or different variant.

“That’s something that the recipients will have to understand when they get the vaccine,” says William Schaffner, an infectious disease specialist and professor of preventive medicine at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine. “The vaccine provides protection, but it won’t be like a suit of armor.”

Schaffner’s main message: Just because you roll up your sleeve and get the shot doesn’t mean you can throw away your mask and disregard other prevention efforts such as social distancing and handwashing. Those will be crucial “for quite some time” in order to get control over the virus, Schaffner says.

Are both doses really necessary?

Both the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines require two doses and following through with both doses is necessary to ensure effectiveness. The J&J vaccine only requires one dose.

According to the CDC, the first shot starts building protection, while the second shot “is needed to get the most protection the vaccine has to offer.”

Do I need the vaccine if I have already had COVID-19?

The verdict is still out when it comes to how long you are protected from COVID-19 after a previous infection — what’s referred to as natural immunity. In fact, “early evidence suggests natural immunity from COVID-19 may not last very long,” the CDC explains. Because of this, “people may be advised to get a COVID-19 vaccine even if they have been sick with COVID-19 before,” the agency states.

Health officials will keep the public informed of any developments and recommendations as more is learned about the duration of natural immunity.

(Sponsored by AARP Michigan)

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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