COVID-19 Vaccines: Your questions, answered. CVS Health, Registered Trademark. Sree Chaguturu, Medical Doctor, Senior Vice President and Chief Medical Officer, CVS Caremark
Hi, my name is Dr. Sree. I'm here to answer your questions about safety and side effects of the COVID-19 vaccines.
The vaccine was made very quickly. Did this compromise safety?
The vaccines were created quickly. However, one of the questions that people have been asking is did that compromise safety and the answer is no, it did not. When we set out to study these vaccines, the FDA was clear about their expectations of the number of individuals and how closely we needed to track the safety events during these trials. 30 to 60,000 people were involved in these trials, and the safety events were tracked closely across those trials. In addition, we are tracking safety events moving forward after the authorization. The safety events appear to look very similar to the flu vaccine with some mild irritation, sometimes flu-like symptoms for a day or two after, but in general, these appear to be incredibly safe vaccines, similar to the flu vaccine. So yes, they were created quickly, but they also appear to be very safe.
Can I get the vaccine if I have underlying health conditions or if I’m immunocompromised?
You might be wondering, “Should I get the COVID-19 vaccine if I have an underlying health condition or I'm immunocompromised?” Ultimately these are discussions that you need to have with your primary care physician or your treating provider. The COVID-19 vaccine prevents you from getting symptomatic or severe COVID-19, and if you have an underlying health condition or immunocompromised, that protection is likely to be better for you than foregoing the COVID-19 vaccine and potentially getting sick from COVID-19 with your underlying health conditions or being immunocompromised. Again, these are discussions that you need to have with your primary care provider, but given the overall safety of these vaccines, they appear to be a really prudent choice for most individuals to get the vaccine than to forego getting vaccinated if you have underlying health conditions or immunocompromised.
Can I get the vaccine if I’m pregnant, trying to conceive, or breastfeeding?
If you're trying to conceive, are pregnant or breastfeeding answering the question of whether or not to get the COVID-19 vaccine, again is one that you should have with your physician. These vaccines were not studied in any of those conditions. However, the overwhelming safety of the COVID-19 vaccines has led the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists to advise that most patients would likely benefit from getting the COVID-19 vaccine during conception, pregnancy or breastfeeding. Again, have the discussion with your provider. However, the benefits of the COVID-19 vaccine during pregnancy, breastfeeding or conception likely are much more beneficial than foregoing the vaccine.
What are the short- and long-term side effects of COVID-19 vaccines?
What are the short and long-term side effects of the COVID-19 vaccine? The most common side effects that people experience after getting the vaccine is some injection-site pain, so where the needle was injected into your arm, you may experience some soreness for about a day after you've received the COVID-19 vaccine. The number of other individuals might experience low grade fevers, chills, body aches, pains. But again, these usually resolve after about 24, maybe 48 hours with no intervention, just a matter of time.
If it's a two dose vaccine like Pfizer and Moderna, people are more likely to experience, or may have more of those side effects after the second dose. But, again, they tend to resolve after 24 to 48 hours.
So in terms of long-term side effects, we still don't know if there are any long-term side effects from the currently authorized vaccines. However, we don't really think that there will be any significant long-term side effects. We're continuously monitoring to make sure, and tracking data regarding long-term and short-term side effects. The overall profile of these vaccines look incredibly safe and if you do experience any side effects they're usually manageable with just a matter of time of 24 to 48 hours.
How will the health care system track and study the side effects of the COVID-19 vaccine?
One of the questions that people are asking is, “How are we going to track side effects, short and long-term?” There's really two major ways that we're tracking. One is from the providers of the vaccines, and we're using a system called the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System from the Centers for Disease Control. It’s also known as VAERS. The VAERS system allows us as vaccinator, to report whenever we have any adverse events so that the CDC can understand what might be happening across the country. In addition, when you receive your vaccine, you will get an information sheet, which allows you to report if you were to have any adverse events to the Centers for Disease Control. And that also allows you to have a code to an application called, V-safe; if you have a smartphone, which allows you to download V-safe and report on your smartphone or to use non-smartphone ways of reporting as well. And all of that will be detailed out in your information sheet. But again, we will be tracking as a health care system both providers of vaccines when we see adverse events, as well as if you experience any side effects through the V-safe program, and reporting that, and we'll have a better understanding of any side effects that we see across the country.
Should I be worried about having an allergic reaction to the vaccine?
Allergic reactions to the vaccine have been incredibly rare. And it appears that the individuals who are having allergic reactions in these rare cases are because they have an allergy to the specific ingredient called polyethylene glycol. You'll be asked about your history of allergic reactions to vaccines. And when you get that vaccine administered, you will also be observed for 15 minutes. And if you've had any history of allergic reaction in the past to vaccinations, you'll be observed for a longer period of time. So by both asking you the question, “have you had an allergy?” as well as the procedures that we're going to have to make sure that we're monitoring how you react to the vaccine will help us to ensure that we can react if there is an allergic reaction. And when you get vaccinated, all of the individuals have been trained on how to manage those allergic reactions, and they have the medications necessary to be able to manage the allergic reactions. So all of these things combined, asking you questions, observing you after the vaccination, and having the right medications, and policies, and procedures and training in place will ensure that we protect your health when you get the vaccine.
If I am vaccinated against COVID-19, can I spread the virus to others?
If you've received the COVID-19 vaccine, can you still spread the virus to others? It's a good question and one that we don't know the answer to just yet. We are studying this question, but what we do know is that the COVID-19 vaccine prevents you from getting severe COVID-19 or symptomatic COVID-19 disease. We are trying to figure out and studies are underway, on whether or not it will prevent the spread of the virus to others. What we do know is that there's layers of protection. The vaccine is one layer of protection. But in addition to that, all of the other things that we've been doing to date, hand-washing, wearing a mask, social distancing will help us protect all of us against the spread of the virus. So again, the vaccine helps you protect against symptomatic disease. We'll have a better understanding of whether or not it will protect us from the spread of the virus. And once you get vaccinated, continue to do all the things that you've been doing to date, hand-washing, social distancing, mask wearing, and together we’ll help prevent the spread of the virus to others.
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