There are now a few different vaccines available for COVID-19 and two of them have been approved by the FDA for use in the U.S. But what do we know about these vaccines? Are they effective? Are they safe? When will they be available to everyone? Here is some (hopefully) helpful information about the vaccines approved in the U.S.
The only two vaccines currently approved are the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines. Pfizer was approved 12/11/2020 and Moderna was approved 12/18/2020. In comparing the two:
|Currently approved for ages 16+
|Currently approved for ages 18+
|Given in 2 doses, 21 days apart
|Given in 2 doses, 28 days apart
|Demonstrated 95% efficacy in trial with >44,000 participants
|Demonstrated 94% efficacy in trial with >30,000 participants
What is an mRNA vaccine? How is it different from other vaccines?
- Many vaccines we traditionally provide for children are either “killed” or “live” versions of the disease they protect against. The body encounters the virus or bacteria and begins building an immune response. The entire virus or bacteria is injected into the body. mRNA vaccines are a newer vaccine variant that provide only one specific part of the virus, in this case the “spike protein”, which the body encounters and starts building an immune response to. mRNA breaks down very quickly in the body after it delivers the instructions to replicate the spike protein to our body.
This vaccine is brand new, is it safe?
- The vaccines have been undergoing safety monitoring since the early days of the studies and will continue to be monitored in the trials for at least a 2 year period. The CDC has also set up a patient-reported monitoring program called “V-safe” for patients to report any side effects experienced after receiving the vaccine. The only true contraindication to the vaccine is a history of a severe allergic reaction to any component to the vaccine. As has been reported, a few individuals have experienced allergic reactions after receiving the vaccine. If you have a history of allergic reactions, particularly to any other vaccine, discuss the COVID-19 vaccine with your healthcare provider.
What side effects are there?
- The most common side effects reported are arm soreness/redness at the injection site, fatigue, fever, chills, headache, muscle aches, and joint pains. These side effects may be more pronounced after the second dose, but are similar to side effects from other vaccines. After my first dose, I had moderate arm pain for about 2 days and mild fatigue. After my second dose, I had more fatigue and body aches for about a day.
How long will immunity from the vaccine last?
- It’s unclear at this point how long the vaccine induced immunity will last, but studies will be ongoing. The first Pfizer vaccine recipients received their vaccines May 2020.
Can children obtain the vaccine?
- The Pfizer vaccine enrolled participants down to age 12. Moderna is now enrolling children down to age 12 as well. Currently only the Pfizer vaccine is approved for children ages 16+. Studies will continue to enroll younger children gradually and the vaccines may be approved for younger children over the coming months. The American Academy of Pediatrics has advocated for the inclusion of children in vaccine trials.
My child had COVID-19, does he/she still need the vaccine once it’s available for children?
- Yes. It’s unknown how long natural immunity to the virus lasts. The current data from the CDC suggests it is unlikely to get COVID-19 again within 90 days after the initial infection. However, the current recommendation is to obtain the vaccine regardless of prior infection. Per the CDC, if you were treated for COVID-19 symptoms with monoclonal antibodies or convalescent plasma, you should wait 90 days before getting a COVID-19 vaccine. If your child obtains any other vaccines, there should be a 14 day period between those vaccines and the COVID-19 vaccine.
Kids generally are less likely to have severe complications from COVID-19, why should they get the vaccine anyway?
- While generally less severe in kids than in adults, COVID-19 can cause significant illness in children. Per the AAP: “In children for whom COVID-19 caused serious illness, half had an underlying condition, and half did not. This is similar to influenza. We need to vaccinate children because we do not know which children may be at higher risk of serious, possibly life-threatening illness. Children can also transmit the virus, including to more vulnerable adults who are in their family or in their school, so it is important that children be included in the vaccine distribution in order to reduce community spread.”
After the vaccine are face masks and other precautions still necessary?
- Yes! It will be a while before enough of the population can be vaccinated successfully and more data is still needed on whether the vaccine not only provides immunity (95% efficacy) but also prevents spread of infection to others. So for the time being, even after completing the vaccine series, we should all still continue to wear face masks, wash hands frequently, avoid travel and large gatherings when possible, stay home when ill, and social distance as much as able. Hopefully with these measures and the vaccines, life can return to “normal” sooner.
As always, please feel free to discuss any questions or concerns with us in the clinic!