Doctors answer questions about COVID-19 vaccines

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category icon Columns, COVID-19 coverage

The distribution of COVID-19 vaccines has accelerated across the country, including in Washington State, where vaccine eligibility will expand to all Washingtonians over the age of 16 years old on April 15. However, many community members still have questions, need support navigating misinformation, and assistance accessing resources or the vaccine.

Community Health Plan of Washington (CHPW) and Sea Mar Community Health Centers recently hosted a virtual conversation in both English and Spanish with local health experts to address questions and concerns. Following, Dr. Paul Sherman, the chief medical officer of CHPW, Dr. Julian Perez, a physician from Sea Mar, and Dr. Helen Stankiewicz Karita, an infectious diseases doctor at the University of Washington, answer Washingtonians’ questions about the COVID-19 vaccines:

Question: I’m hearing about a lot of different theories about the vaccine, and I’m not sure if they’re true. Who should I believe?

Answer: Distrust in COVID-19 information has been spreading online, and it can make many people confused. You can always trust Washington State’s Department of Health, and the department has plenty of resources and information on the department’s website. Another great source is the U.S. Center for Disease Control’s (CDC) website, which provides guidance in many spoken languages.

It is also recommended that if you hear a conspiracy theory not to spread it. This can cause unnecessary harm.

Question: What would you say to someone who is pregnant and wants to wait to get the vaccine until there’s more research?

Answer: You know your health best, and it’s important that you make decisions that are best for you. If you’re pregnant, your trusted healthcare provider can provide guidance and all the information available. This includes the information provided by the CDC in multiple languages on how the vaccines work.

While there is currently limited data on the COVID-19 vaccines in pregnant people, we do know pregnant people are more susceptible to severe illness from COVID-19. This can impact the pregnant person’s health and increase the risk of adverse pregnancy outcomes.

Question: What are the differences between all of the vaccines?

Answer: You can find facts about vaccine ingredients and their technology for each of the vaccines approved in the U.S. for use on the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) website.

As an overview, there are three vaccines approved in the U.S., the Johnson & Johnson, Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, and any vaccine that you have access to is FDA approved and has made it through clinical trials. All three vaccines prevent hospitalizations, completely prevented deaths in the clinical trials, and help you fight the virus.

Question: I can’t find much information about the vaccines. Where can people go to get more accurate information that is in their language?

Answer: Both the CDC and Washington State Department of Health websites have information in multiple languages. If you go to CDC, just click on the drop-down menu called “Languages,” and it will provide the same information in your preferred language. Washington State’s Department of Health has a Spanish language option titled “Espa?ol” in the right-hand corner.

Question: How can I prepare for the COVID-19 vaccine and are there side effects?

Answer: Try to wear a short sleeve shirt or loose clothing underneath your layers because the vaccine will go into the deltoid muscle of your arm. It is also suggested that people avoid anti-inflammatory pain relievers unless prescribed or on a regular dosage. After you receive your vaccine, you will be asked to stay onsite for 15 minutes to make sure you don’t have any reactions, which are extremely rare.

A common side effect includes a sore arm, so choose to get the vaccine in the arm you are less dominant in. Other side effects are a headache, fatigue, or fever, which are all normal side effects and a good sign that the body’s immune system is building up protection.

While symptoms should go away within a week, contact your healthcare provider if side effects feel severe. Or contact them if the redness and/or tenderness where you got the shot increases after 24 hours.

Question: I’ve had my first shot and I’m waiting to get my second one. How well protected am I right now in the meantime?

Answer: The first of a two-dose COVID-19 vaccine, like the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, does offer some protection but not nearly as much as you will receive from both doses. For example, the Pfizer two-dose vaccine has 95-percent effectiveness at preventing symptomatic COVID-19 infection, but studies show that the first dose is only about 52 percent effective. This is why it is important to schedule your appointment for your second dose as soon as possible after receiving your first dose. It’s also critical that you maintain social distancing and mask-wearing.

The Johnson & Johnson vaccine only requires one shot, and it will typically take about two weeks for the body to build protection after vaccination.

Question: I want to get the vaccine, but I’m having trouble registering. Where should I go for help?

Answer: The best place to schedule a vaccine appointment is at the Washington State Department of Health’s vaccine finder website. Since phone lines are busy, it is best to schedule your appointment online and follow the directions. If you are still having trouble navigating or finding a place to get the vaccine, connect with your local community health clinic or health plan. You can reach Community Health Plan of Washington at 1-800-440-1561.

Question: I have difficulty breathing and I think it may be COVID-19, but my vaccine appointment is tomorrow and I’m waiting on my test results. What should I do?

Answer: If it is urgent, please contact 911. If your symptoms are mild and you think you have COVID-19, do not get the vaccine. You should wait till you are better and can discontinue isolation before you get your vaccine, even if you are scheduled to get your second dose.

You know your health and your family’s needs best, and by reviewing local health information and guidance, you can make the best-informed decisions. To access resources available to you, visit CHPW and Sea Mar’s resource centers.

Dr. Helen Stankiewicz Karita is an infectious diseases doctor at the University of Washington; Dr. Julian Perez is a physician from Sea Mar, and Dr. Paul Sherman is the chief medical officer of Community Health Plan of Washington.