What you need to know as COVID-19 vaccines become available

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ST. LOUIS, Mo. – We have collected the answers to the top questions people are searching for as COVID-19 vaccines are distributed.

US gives go-ahead for Pfizer coronavirus vaccine 

U.S. government advisory panel has endorsed Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccine, in a major step toward an epic vaccination campaign that could finally conquer the outbreak. The Food and Drug Administration is expected to follow the recommendation issued Thursday by its expert advisers. The group concluded that the shot appears safe and effective against the coronavirus in people 16 and older. A final FDA decision is expected within days. Shots would then begin for health care workers and nursing home residents. Widespread access to the general public is not expected until the spring.

What happens next?

The federal government plans to release the nation’s first 2.9 million doses within days of the authorization to 64 states, U.S. territories and major cities, as well as five federal agencies. Although the federal government is coordinating distribution efforts, states have the final decision over who gets the first shots. The federal government is sending the first shipments to more than 600 locations.

Who is first in line for a shot?

States are prioritizing healthcare workers and elderly long-term care residents for the first vaccinations. There are about 21 million healthcare workers in the United States and 3 million nursing home residents. Most states anticipate they will be able to vaccinate only between 13% and 18% of their healthcare workers with the first distribution, a Reuters analysis found. The federal government has said it will continue to send out millions of doses each week but has not released exact figures.

Who is next in line?

States have broad discretion over who will get the vaccine next. So far, a panel advising the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has only issued the guidance that healthcare workers and nursing home residents should be first.

The CDC has laid out a possible framework of three distribution phases, suggesting essential workers and people aged 65 and older as the next priority.

Some states have indicated they plan to give essential workers priority after healthcare workers and nursing home residents receive the vaccine.

At least 20 large industries are lobbying states to get their workers classified as essential, a Reuters analysis found, including Uber Technologies Inc, DoorDash Inc, and others.

Will there be enough vaccines to go around?

Pfizer has said it would make 50 million doses this year – enough to inoculate 25 million people – about half of which would go to the United States. Pfizer has an agreement with the U.S. government to supply a total of 100 million doses, enough for 50 million people to be vaccinated. The United States has an option to buy an additional 500 million doses.

An panel of expert advisers to the FDA will review a second COVID-19 vaccine from Moderna Inc next week. If that vaccine is authorized, federal officials have said they will be able to vaccinate 20 million Americans in December, 30 million in January, and 50 million in February.

Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca Plc also have vaccines in late-stage trials. If those vaccines receive authorization early next year, officials said there would be enough doses to vaccinate about 75 million Americans a month by about March or April.

Officials said by the middle of next year, the United States will have distributed enough vaccines for most Americans who want the vaccine to be inoculated.javascript:false

What happens once I get the vaccine?

The vaccine is given in two shots, three weeks apart. Pfizer has said side effects in trial volunteers were mostly mild to moderate, and cleared up quickly. The most severe side effects occurred after the second dose, including flu-like symptoms, fatigue and headache.

Although the vaccine was shown to be highly effective at preventing illness, there is no data yet that suggests it also prevents infection or the ability to spread the virus to others. Mask-wearing and social distancing will likely remain in place until more people are vaccinated or proof emerges that the vaccine also prevents virus transmission.

The Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services also shared the answer to these commonly asked questions:

What do I do if I miss the second dose 21 days after the first dose?

Patients who do not receive the second vaccination dose at 21 days should still receive that second dose as soon as possible thereafter.

Should you get the vaccine if you have already contracted COVID-19?

Yes, but for both symptomatic and asymptomatic COVID-19 patients, you should defer vaccination until you have met criteria to discontinue isolation. 

Can you receive the vaccine if you are pregnant?

Yes, pregnant females are recommended for the vaccine depending on the individual’s risk of acquisition due to the level of community transmission, personal risk of contracting COVID-19 due to occupation or other activities, risks of COVID-19 to the mother and potential risks to the fetus, efficacy of the vaccine, known side effects of the vaccine and the lack of data about the vaccine during pregnancy. Special counseling and a 15-minute observation period after vaccination, if chosen, is recommended.   

Should you have a pregnancy test or antibody test prior to receiving the vaccine?

Routine testing for pregnancy or antibody tests is not recommended in relation to vaccine use. 

Can you get this vaccine if you are in quarantine due to an exposure with a positive COVID-19 case?

You should delay your vaccination if you have had a known SARS-CoV-2 (virus that causes COVID-19) exposure until your quarantine period has ended, unless residing in a congregate setting (health care/long-term care facility, correctional facility, homeless shelter, etc.).

Can you get the flu shot and COVID-19 vaccine at the same time? 

There is no information on co-administration of this COVID-19 vaccine with other vaccines. The Pfizer vaccine should be spaced at least 14 days from any other vaccine.

What are other side effects?

Typical side effects for many vaccines include things like a sore arm from the shot, fever and muscle aches. In the Pfizer study, participants also reported fatigue, headache and chills.

More serious side effects are reported to regulators or health officials for further investigation. But it can often take time to determine if the vaccine caused the side effect or if the person just coincidentally received the shot before becoming ill.

More commonly asked questions about the vaccine:

Are there allergic reactions to the vaccine I should worry about?

Vaccines can sometimes cause allergic reactions, but they are usually rare and short-lived.

British regulators are looking into reports of allergic reactions in two people who received the new Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine Tuesday, the first day of a vaccination program. In the meantime, they’re telling people to skip the vaccine if they’ve had a history of serious allergic reactions.

How soon are you immune to the coronavirus after receiving the COVID-19 vaccine?

Experts say that it starts right away and usually peaks at about two weeks after the injection. Depending on the vaccine manufacturer, at three or four weeks after the first shot, a second injection is administered. It’s a safeguard to make sure immunity lasts.

When can children get the COVID-19 vaccine?

Right now, it appears unlikely that a vaccine will be ready for children before the start of the next school year in August.

Adult trials of the two leading vaccines have had promising results. On Dec. 11, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued an emergency use authorization for Pfizer’s vaccine for people ages 16 and older, and a second vaccine, from Moderna, is expected to be cleared for adult use soon. Vaccinations are already underway in the U.K., and Canada has also authorized the vaccine’s use for the same age range. But clinical trials involving children are only just getting started.

Can I drink alcohol after getting the COVID-19 vaccine?

COVID-19 vaccines are rolling out across the world and in Russia, health officials are warning those getting vaccinated to give up alcohol for about two months. However, the vaccine’s developer says it’s OK in moderation.

You should refrain from alcohol three days after each of the two injections. That advice is the same for anyone getting vaccinated around the world, not just with the Russian version of the vaccine.

Is Bell’s palsy a risk with the COVID-19 vaccine?

As widespread vaccinations begin, the first recipients will be closely tracked by government health authorities, since studies in tens of thousands of people can’t detect side effects that strike 1 in a million. Hanging over the meeting were the British allergic reactions and a warning from authorities there that people with a history of serious reactions shouldn’t get the vaccine for now.

There were also four cases of Bell’s palsy in study participants who received the vaccine and none in the group who got a placebo. The condition causes temporary facial paralysis. At least one of the patients has recovered.

The report to the FDA says that there is no evidence that the vaccine caused the problem, but the committee is likely to recommend long-term follow-up of the potential issue.

Studies suggest AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine safe, effective

New results on a possible COVID-19 vaccine from Oxford University and drugmaker AstraZeneca suggest it is safe and about 70% effective. Some experts say that shows it is likely to win approval. But questions remain about how well it may help protect those over 55. That’s a key concern for a vaccine that health officials hope to rely on around the world because of its low cost, availability and ease of use. Partial results were published Tuesday by the medical journal Lancet.

Can I stop wearing a mask after getting a COVID-19 vaccine?

Even after COVID-19 vaccinations start in the U.S., masks and social distancing will be recommended for some time. The effect of vaccinations generally aren’t immediate, and the first vaccines by Pfizer and Moderna require two shots. People are expected to get some level of protection within a couple of weeks after the first shot. But full protection may not happen until a couple weeks after the second. And even if they’re protected from getting sick, vaccinated people might still be able to get infected and pass the virus on, although it would likely be at a much lower rate.

Will there be a second round of pandemic economic stimulus?

An emerging $900 billion COVID-19 aid package from a bipartisan group of lawmakers has all but collapsed after Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Republican senators won’t support $160 billion in state and local funds as part of a potential trade-off in the deal.

Should I wipe down groceries during the pandemic?

If you’re worried about the coronavirus on groceries or other packages, experts say to keep the risk in perspective. The virus spreads mainly through the respiratory droplets people spray when talking, coughing or sneezing. It’s why health experts stress the importance of wearing masks and social distancing. Tests finding the virus on surfaces might just be detecting traces of it, not live virus capable of infecting people. Early studies finding it could linger on surfaces for days were also conducted under laboratory conditions. So if you have good hand washing practices, experts say wiping down groceries isn’t necessary for most.

Scientists focus on bats for clues to prevent next pandemic

Viruses that emerge from bats are more lethal in humans than those from other species. Scientists are probing the mysteries of bat immune systems and investigating strategies to minimize contact between humans and livestock with bats and other wild animals.

Many scientists believe bats were linked to the COVID-19 outbreak. Their unique immune system protects them against the viruses they may carry. Researchers says rather than vilifying bats, the focus should be on protecting their wild habitats to minimize interactions.

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