Good news at last: on Monday, American healthcare workers all over the country began receiving the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine. The vaccine was granted emergency approval on December 11 and Pfizer wasted no time in starting to ship stock to all 50 states. The Moderna vaccine is also expected to get approval at the December 17 meeting of the Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee.
According to Dr. Moncef Slaoui, head of US coronavirus vaccine efforts, 40 million vaccine doses will be distributed by the end of the year. That said, even with two vaccines available, it will be months before all Americans have the opportunity to get the COVID-19 vaccine. With over 100,000 people hospitalized with the virus and over 300,000 deaths so far, COVID-19 is still a major threat to the United States. We can’t let down our guard yet.
Unfortunately, with a vaccine comes yet another obstacle to beating COVID-19: a new wave of misinformation. Social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram are hotbeds for conspiracy theories, allowing false claims to spread like wildfire and skewing legitimate research into contextless half-truths. While a Kaiser Family Foundation poll found 71% of Americans are willing to be vaccinated, Dr. Fauci recommends at least 85% of Americans get the shot. There is still work to be done against misinformation.
For that reason, we’re sharing some relevant facts about the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine here.
How much will the vaccine cost me?
According to the CDC, the vaccine itself is being purchased with taxpayer dollars and will be free to all. Some healthcare providers may charge a fee for administering the vaccine, however. While insurance should cover these administration fees, uninsured patients may wish to seek out providers who have already committed to providing completely free inoculations, like Rite Aid.
When will I be able to get the vaccine?
Most likely you’ll need to wait. Right now the vaccine supply is limited, so most states are distributing the vaccine based on risk level. For that reason, most of the doses already shipped are going to high-risk healthcare workers. Nursing home residents will also be prioritized. In general, people who are not high-risk will not be eligible for the vaccine until late March 2021 at the earliest.
How many doses will I need?
The Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine consists of two doses given three weeks apart. Not all vaccination locations may be able to provide reminder calls or texts, but you should be given a card that will show you the date to return for your second dose. Bring the card with you; this will also ensure that you receive the right manufacturer’s vaccine if multiple are available at the time.
When it becomes available to me, where will I go to get the vaccine?
Anywhere that you can get a flu shot should also have the COVID-19 vaccine. Pharmacies will be a good place to go. Independent and chain pharmacies like Rite Aid, Walgreens, Walmart, and Kroger have been preparing for the vaccine for months by installing special freezers and training pharmacists to give the shot. Many have also been developing ways to easily follow up with patients to ensure they return for their second dose of the vaccine.
Is the vaccine safe?
Yes. This cannot be stressed enough: while the timeline of the vaccine was accelerated, none of the required steps were skipped. By September, 44,000 volunteers had received the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine as part of clinical trials and no serious safety concerns were reported.
What kind of side effects should I expect?
The reported side effects tend to be typical of vaccines: soreness at the injection site, headache, fever, fatigue, joint pain, etc. A considerable number of Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine trial participants did report feeling stronger side effects after their second shot. However, these side effects are not COVID-19. They are a natural immune response and go away quickly.
Remember that nothing is without risk, and that includes over-the-counter painkillers like Tylenol and supplements like vitamins. In this case, the risk of side effects is outweighed by the potential to end the rising rates of hospitalization, long-term suffering, and death caused by COVID-19.
Could the vaccine give me COVID-19?
No. The Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine contains mRNA, not the SARS-CoV-2 virus. It is meant to instruct your immune system on how to fight the virus rather than providing an example of the virus itself. There is no way for the vaccine to give you COVID-19.
Can I stop wearing a mask after I get the second shot?
No. While we know the vaccine will protect the vaccinated person from having symptoms, we don’t yet know whether vaccinated people could be asymptomatic carriers. Masks aren’t for your protection: they’re for everyone else, especially people who cannot be vaccinated due to health conditions, allergies, or age.
Will I be forced to get the vaccine?
No one will be forced to get the vaccine. Some employers may require it (e.g. hospitals), but even in that case employees can seek medical and religious exceptions.
But it would be a good idea to get the shot. COVID-19 is not the same as a cold or the flu. People of all ages and qualities of health have died from it. At the very least, protect yourself from the virus.
I have more questions!
Talk to your healthcare provider, read the FDA fact sheet, or try the hotline specifically for the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine: 1-877-829-2619.
There is, unfortunately, a lot that we still don’t know about the novel coronavirus or the new vaccines. Conspiracy theorists will capitalize on that. Sowing doubt is easy; proving the efficacy of a brand new immunization is much harder. But the new COVID-19 vaccine has been proven safe, and it’s the first chance we’ve been given to change the state of the pandemic. Let's take it.