The rapid rollout of COVID-19 vaccinations has created a lot of understandable questions about, well, all of it. Dr. Steven Jacobson, medical director with Premera, and clinical pharmacist Emily Tsiao stopped by to answer as many of those questions as they could.
Q: Is the vaccine safe?
A: All signs point to yes.
Dr. Jacobson: “These types of vaccine technologies have been around for many years. These cannot give you the COVID-19 virus. They're all very effective and there's excellent scientific evidence – they've all been tested in large studies involving perhaps 40,000 people.”
Q: How does it work?
A: The power of science! Two of them use an mRNA system, while the other uses a viral vector called an adenovirus.
Dr. Jacobson: “There's actually three vaccines currently on the market and they're all good vaccines by Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson and Johnson. The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines work with what’s called a messenger RNA system. In other words, there's a little particle that is injected into our body, our cells take it up and they actually make a protein that mimics the COVID-19 protein, and then we make antibodies to that and so that if an actual COVID-19 virus comes around then our bodies are prepared to fight it off.
“The Johnson and Johnson vaccine works very similarly, although using a different type of virus vector to bring it into the body. It's a cold virus called an adenovirus which, is the common cold that all of us have had at some point, and they use this common cold virus, this genetic material to make these COVID-19 proteins.”
Q: Why do some vaccines need two shots, and the other only one?
A: It buckles down to the way the scientists designed them.
Dr. Jacobson: “[Moderna and Pfizer] were designed to work with two doses. They found that with this particular type of vaccine that getting that booster, they really work best that way. The Johnson and Johnson team designed the vaccine to just be a single dose, which is nice. A couple of different strategies, they both work well.”
Q: What about these COVID variants I’m hearing about? Will the vaccine keep me safe from those?
A: Things look very promising, but more study is needed.
Dr. Jacobson: “For some of the variants, they appear to be just as effective as against the original virus; for a couple of variants, they may be modestly less effective but still pretty good.”
Q: When can I get the vaccine?
A: It all depends.
Emily Tsiao: “Right now Washington state is in what they call Phase 1B, Tier 2, so overall the vaccine’s really opening up to a wider range of people, and as we go through different phases further along more and more people will have the opportunity to be vaccinated.”
Dr. Jacobson added one way to know if it's your turn is through a tool sponsored by Washington state called the Washington Phase Finder, which is accessible to anyone at FindYourPhaseWA.org.
Q: What about side effects?
A: For the most part, they are pretty mild. Reactions can last a few hours to a couple of days.
Dr. Jacobson: “A common reaction is that there might be some soreness at the vaccine site, or people might feel a little bit chilled or feverish as part of the vaccine response. I tend to look at it as a good thing, that means your body is kicking in and is developing a robust immune response.”
Q: Who should get the vaccine?
A: Just about every adult, with a few exceptions.
Dr. Jacobson: “If you have a concern, speak with your primary care physician, or speak to your specialist and get their thoughts on whether the vaccine’s appropriate for you.”
Q: How can I help the vaccination effort?
A: First, get one! But there are lots of ways to pitch in.
Emily Tsiao: “I volunteered with the Swedish Seattle University clinic last month, and I have to say that it's just been a tremendous effort by volunteers, by organizations within our community, to provide vaccines to as many people as possible. There's opportunities for non-medical folks to participate and contribute to the cause, there's a lot of opportunity for medically trained folks as well. There are still plenty of volunteer spots open in a numerous different settings across the Washington area.”
For more information, visit the Premera website.