Answers to your questions about the COVID-19 vaccinations

Published: April 2, 2021 11:31 am

Now that COVID-19 vaccinations will be available to those ages 16 and older beginning April 5, more questions may be popping up as you make the best decisions for you and your loved ones. To find the answers you are looking for, we encourage you to check out this round-up of Q&As with UF Health Screen, Test & Protect Director Michael Lauzardo, MD, MSc, from our series of town halls held last month.

You can also find recordings of answers to questions about vaccines from several UF Health experts, including one we’ve featured below, on this UF Health playlist.

If you have not already done so, you can now schedule an appointment to get vaccinated by logging in to ONE.UF to register, just as you have to schedule a COVID-19 testing appointment.

While you may be excited about the prospect of more faculty, staff and students getting vaccinated, it’s important to remember that, as with any medical information, whether or not someone has been vaccinated is their private information, so please use discretion. Leaders and managers should not ask faculty and staff if they have been vaccinated, and no one should ask students if they have been vaccinated.

Read on for answers to commonly asked questions from UF faculty and staff.

Can I get vaccinated if I recently had COVID?

Yes, it is safe to get the vaccine after you have had COVID. In fact, it is recommended you get vaccinated. However, if you currently have COVID and are within 10 days of your diagnosis, wait at least two weeks after recovering. If you get the vaccine while you still have COVID, it will only make your symptoms worse. Because of this, I recommend you wait a month after recovery before getting the vaccine because of possible side effects. If you are still in isolation after being diagnosed with COVID, do not go to a vaccine site; wait until you are out of quarantine. Otherwise, you could risk infecting people.

If someone gets the first vaccine and then finds out they have COVID, should they get the second vaccine? 

This needs to be discussed with their physician. The guidance is that you need to complete the vaccine series. My personal recommendation is to finish the series based on current data.

Should pregnant women get the vaccine? 

While data on pregnant women are not complete, there’s no biological reason to think the vaccine will cause any problems to the fetus or the woman. That being said, women who are pregnant, wanting to get pregnant or nursing need to weigh the risks themselves along with their physicians. Data are being collected over time to get more clarity, but it’s very early in the process.

Women planning to get pregnant should still take precautions, even if already vaccinated. Continue to wear masks and social distance. You can get together with others who were also vaccinated, but you should still take precautions.

Could you explain mRNA and how it relates to the vaccines?

Pfizer and Moderna are mRNA vaccines. Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca are not mRNA vaccines. They contain an activated virus that is not COVID-19. The mRNA vaccine carries some information and instructions for your body to reproduce. It doesn’t alter your genetic material at all; it just informs your body on how it should respond to the virus.

How long will the vaccine last?
We don’t know yet; some studies say two to three years. Others say one year, but immunity probably lasts longer. I suspect we’ll need boosters down the road.

How soon can we be around other people after getting the vaccine?
The CDC came out with guidance that people who were vaccinated can get together in small groups. I think this was directed more towards families. I’d expect there will be more guidance in the coming weeks. For example, two weeks after the second dose from either Pfizer or Moderna, you can be with a couple of other individuals unmasked. Data are not yet clear, however, on whether vaccinated people are not possible carriers of COVID. Most indoor situations with large groups will still require masks for a bit longer, but we are seeing good signs and we are headed in the right direction. 

Is the vaccine necessary for people under 18?
This group is technically not an efficient transmitter and doesn’t get very sick. That being said, 12- to 18-year-olds in particular can be spreaders of the virus. It’s not anticipated that those under 12 will get vaccinated this fall, though, but we will see what guidance comes down.

What is the vaccine’s effectiveness with the new variants?
Vaccine effectiveness refers to how well it performs in the real world. Pfizer and Moderna were in the mid-90s in terms of effectiveness, and that is remarkable. Right now, Pfizer and Moderna work really well against the UK variant and well again other variants. They seem to also work well against the P1 variant from Brazil. There is cause for concern regarding the South African variant. Pfizer was still effective and worked, but not as well. Moderna and Pfizer 2.0 are currently undergoing trials and we are awaiting data on those studies. The Johnson & Johnson vaccine had a 66% effectiveness. This might make people think it is not the best. But this is not the case. Severe illness was dramatically reduced, and this is what really matters.

Keep in mind that uncertainty is not the same thing as bad news. Numbers in the U.S. continue to drop even with the variants already here. We have to trust the experts who analyzed these data. The only reason you would choose one over the other is the practicality of two doses vs. one dose.

What is vaccine efficacy?
Efficacy refers to the degree the vaccine will prevent disease. Right now, the vaccine to get is the vaccine you can get tomorrow. We’re not trying to sound flippant but it’s not fair to compare Pfizer with Johnson & Johnson. They were studied in different environments, at different times and with different populations. Also, keep in mind that no one has died of COVID who received one of the approved vaccines. If you have the chance to get a vaccine, get it regardless of which one it is.

We need to have a degree of trust in the people who are creating the vaccines. The Johnson & Johnson vaccine is a game-changer and provides options that Pfizer and Moderna don’t currently provide.

Will UF require employees to get the vaccine?
The state will determine this once all the vaccine is rolled out. Whether you’ll need it for other things like flying, travel to another state, etc. is yet to be determined.

Can patients who are on immunosuppressants get the vaccine?
Yes, there is no problem with them getting the vaccine.

If a person has immunological health issues, is one vaccine better than another?
No. None of the vaccines are live virus vaccines. Your immune status should not prevent you from getting the vaccine. We encourage folks who are immunosuppressed to get the vaccine — whichever one you can get when you can get it.

Can supplements help fight COVID?
Vitamin D is not bad to take if needed, but ultimately there is no evidence to suggest they are effective or better than the vaccine. They are just supplements.

How can I persuade others who dont want to get the vaccine?
First, don’t get into a “convincing” mode. This is not successful. Instead, you can share the facts and point others to resources that will help inform them and build trust. Americans are independent-minded, but vaccines are something that will ultimately help our community. People don’t like being talked down to, so don’t do this. Point them to the right information and give them resources from various places. Generally, people will do the right thing. Try to provide a counter to the negative narratives that are out there.

We all benefit when we get the vaccine. If you create enough dead ends, you no longer have this widespread infection. You can protect your community by getting vaccinated.

Can we expect all faculty to be able to be vaccinated by the fall?
I hope so. Supply is a bit limited but I hope that by April or May everyone will be able to get the vaccine.

With so many people traveling for commencement, how do we handle that?
UF is coming up with plans. My concern doesn’t lie with commencement or even athletic events that are outside. The risk is at the dining room table with people who may not be safe. Super-spreader events are things like weddings or other gatherings where masks are not being used and where caution is not taken.

Can a person test positive for COVID after getting the vaccine?
Once you are fully vaccinated, there is no routine testing and the vaccine will not alter a COVID test result. We don’t use anti-body testing for anything at the moment. Bottom line, the vaccine will not give you COVID.

Can you become infertile from the vaccine?
No, this is an urban legend. There is no biological reason why this would happen. There are a lot of studies looking at safety.

Are there differences in side effects among the vaccines?
Right now, no. There are no clear patterns in one compared to another. Many people might have arm pain or body aches, but almost everyone is better by the morning or within two days. Generally speaking, mild side effects are more common than serious side effects. You can report your symptoms and contribute to a national database through the V-safe app. You can download it from the CDC website: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/vaccines/safety/vsafe.html.

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