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As a former service member in the Army, I’m no stranger to vaccines. And today, as an infectious disease specialist, I’m grateful to be protected against the coronavirus after receiving the COVID-19 vaccine.

As the COVID-19 vaccine becomes more widely available, you may have questions about whether or not you should get vaccinated. To help you make an informed decision about your own vaccination, here are answers to frequently asked questions about the vaccine.

Are you thinking about getting the #COVID19 vaccine? On the #LiveWellHealthy blog, you’ll find answers to FAQs from Infectious Disease specialist Dr. Wortmann to help you make an informed decision: https://bit.ly/2LU4E4v.

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What COVID-19 vaccines are currently available?

There are currently two vaccines available for the COVID-19 vaccine. One is offered by Moderna and the other is offered by Pfizer. Both versions require two doses of the vaccine.

Does it matter which COVID-19 vaccine I get?

It does not matter which COVID-19 vaccine you get, but it is important to get both doses from the same manufacturer. I recommend taking the first vaccine that is available to you.

Why are there two doses to the COVID-19 vaccine?

The first dose is a prime dose to “wake up” the immune system. The second dose is considered a “booster” to give us long-term immunity, similar to many other vaccines we receive throughout our lifetime. It’s critical to come back for the second dose within the recommended time frame to be fully protected.

What is it like to get the COVID-19 vaccine at MedStar Health?

My experience getting the COVID-19 vaccine at MedStar was wonderful. It was quick and convenient to schedule appointments to receive both doses of the vaccine because the online scheduler automatically calculated when I would be due for the second dose.

When I arrived for the appointment, there was no line and everyone I encountered was very pleasant. Following the shot, they have you wait in the office for 15 minutes to ensure you don’t have a reaction.

My arm was a bit sore the evening after the shot, but the discomfort wore off by the next day. And, I had little to no soreness following the second dose of the COVID vaccine. Fortunately, I didn’t experience any other adverse side effects, such as a fever, either time.

Is it common to experience other side effects after the vaccine?

Both Moderna and Pfizer conducted large studies that revealed that the COVID-19 shot can cause reactions similar to the shingles shot. As a result, you may experience more soreness than you would after the flu shot. And, it’s not uncommon to have a mild fever or headache for a day following your COVID vaccine. However, almost all of the side effects in the studies wore off within 24 to 48 hours. Very few people needed to be hospitalized in response to the vaccine.

There have been reports of allergic reactions to the vaccine, which happens with all vaccines and medications, in general. But, the odds are 1 in 100,000 people who get vaccinated. That is far less than the risk of an allergic reaction with common medications, like penicillin.

Does the COVID-19 vaccine hurt?

When Allia Noel, a registered nurse at MedStar Franklin Square Medical Center, got vaccinated, she felt that she actually experienced less soreness in her arm than she did with the flu shot. In fact, she felt so good that she worked the day after her first dose. Because of this, she got a mild headache and nausea but didn’t need to take any medication.

After her second dose, she stayed in bed with mild chills and took some over-the-counter medication to alleviate her headache and she felt better in less than 24 hours. She says that one or two days of discomfort was worth the long-term protection for her overall health and wellbeing. “My chills were minimal compared to what I’ve witnessed from my patients struggling with a COVID-19 positive diagnosis,” adds Allia. “I would do it over and over again.”

How can I be assured that the vaccine is safe?

MedStar Washington Hospital Center Chaplain Tahara Akmal had many concerns about the vaccine before getting vaccinated. She wondered if the speed at which the vaccine was developed would affect its effectiveness and safety. She sought out information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Dr. Anthony Fauci, and experts within the MedStar Health system to better understand the risks associated with getting vaccinated—or choosing not to.

Ultimately, Tahara determined that in order to keep herself, her family, students, patients, and her colleagues safe, she wanted to get vaccinated. She decided that was the best way to protect her health and serve as a role model to those around her.

Can people get the virus in response to the COVID-19 vaccine?

When you get coronavirus, your body responds by breaking down the virus into pieces. One of the pieces of the virus that our bodies develop a response to is called a spike protein.

Rather than using a live virus, the COVID-19 vaccines send messenger RNA which tells your body to respond by making a spike protein. Your immune system thinks that’s part of the virus and responds accordingly, which means it’s primed and ready to fight the real virus if you get it in the future. Since there is no live virus in the vaccine, it’s impossible to develop COVID-19 in response to getting vaccinated.

Why do we need to keep wearing masks and practicing social distancing after getting vaccinated?

There’s still information we don’t know about the virus and its response to the vaccine. For example, if someone coughs on me and I inhale the virus through my nose, my body will prevent the virus from entering my body because I’ve been vaccinated. However, it’s unclear whether or not I could spread the virus to someone else who may not have been vaccinated. We just don’t know yet whether or not the virus could live within the nose for a few days. That’s why it’s important to continue following safety precautions, like mask-wearing, frequent hand-washing, and social distancing. Once more data comes out, this may change.

What is herd immunity?

The vaccines currently offer 95 percent protection and we can’t take a chance in or outside of the hospital. Since we know there are some populations who will choose not to get vaccinated, it’s not safe to lower precautions until we achieve herd immunity.

Herd immunity is when 80 to 90 percent of the population is vaccinated, which means the virus isn’t ping-ponging among the community. At that point, even those who aren’t vaccinated are unlikely to get the virus. If we can get the majority of the population vaccinated, we can potentially protect everybody.

Why is it important to get vaccinated?

Registered Nurse Allia is so grateful to have been vaccinated, as someone who’s seen the COVID-19 surge and witnessed the challenges that COVID-19-positive patients are experiencing. She’s held countless people’s hands who desperately wish that they could have a support person with them, regardless of if they’re in the hospital for COVID-19 or a heart attack. People are sick, afraid, and alone. Seeing the first hand struggle in the hospital gives her the perspective that it’s a privilege to get vaccinated so that we can all get through this and get rid of the virus. Allia says, “Getting a vaccine is not just to protect me but those around me as well.”

For more information from MedStar Health experts on the COVID-19 vaccine, watch our Facebook Live broadcast:

Have more questions about the vaccine? Read part two of the COVID-19 vaccine FAQ series.


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MedStar Health COVID-19 vaccine information

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