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From Our Experts: Ed Dix, PharmD., RPh, CCP, CIP, MTM-C
Inspira Medical Center Mullica Hill's Director of Pharmacy Ed Dix discusses mRNA vaccines, side effects and the importance of getting vaccinated to fight the COVID-19 pandemic.
How do vaccines work?
Vaccines introduce either a small portion of a virus or a bacteria into a person so that their own immune system can learn that and it can defend itself and build an immunity against it. As of January 2021, the two FDA-authorized COVID-19 vaccines, Pfizer and Moderna are mRNA vaccines. mRNA vaccines are a lot easier for our body to develop an immunity against and do not contain any portion of a virus or bacteria.
Why do I need to receive multiple doses of these vaccines?
Multiple doses or series of vaccines are very common. The first dose gives you an initial immunity. From the COVID-19 Pfizer vaccine clinical trial, recipients of the first dose will see about 52% effectiveness in preventing SARS-CoV-2 or COVID. The second dose is called a" booster." It boosts your immune system and gets the efficacy of the vaccine to 95%.
Should I be concerned about side effects?
To an extent, any drug that we introduce into a body could have potential side effects. After receiving the vaccine, you could develop a headache, a fever, chills or some joint pain. This is nothing to be alarmed about. Minor to moderate side effects prove that the vaccine is working. It's showing that your body is starting to generate immunity to it. If you experience prolonged side effects or they worsen, you should contact your healthcare provider.
If I have previously had COVID, is it safe for me to get the vaccine?
Yes, it is safe for your to get the vaccine.
If I am on an immunosuppressive drug or have an immunosuppressive disease or an auto-immune disease, is it safe to receive the vaccine?
These mRNA vaccines are perfectly safe for people to take with immune suppressive diseases. That being said, you may not develop as robust enough of an immune response as those who are not immunocompromised. The level of immunity you reach is dependent on the nature of your own immune system.
What is herd immunity?
Herd immunity occurs when you have a large percentage of a population that becomes immune to a specific disease. Once everyone develops an immunity, there is no host for the virus or the disease to jump from person to person. There are two ways to become immune: You can contract the virus and beat it, or you can get vaccinated.
Why do I still have to wear a mask after I receive the vaccine?
Studies have shown that you're not going to develop any immunity from COVID-19 until about 12 to 14 days after that first dose. And even at that point, it's only about 52% effective. Once you get that second dose, the vaccine reaches its maximum efficacy—about seven days after it's administered. This means any time shortly before that first dose through your second dose, you could potentially contract COVID-19, or transmit it to others as an asymptomatic carrier. That's why it is very important that we continue to wear masks until we get to our level of herd immunity to prevent the spread.
Why is vaccination important?
It's critical that everyone receive a vaccine to achieve the optimal level of herd immunity to prevent the spread of COVID-19. If only 30% of the country gets vaccinated, it really isn't going to change much of the unfortunate percentage of people who are contracting the virus.