The COVID-19 vaccine has arrived. Here’s what you need to know.
Nurse Sandra Lindsay made history as the first American to receive the COVID-19 vaccine on Dec. 14, 2020, marking a critical turning point in a pandemic that has claimed more than 361,000 American lives.
Since then, the federal government has distributed roughly 20 million initial doses of the FDA-approved vaccines from Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna across all states and U.S. territories. As vaccination efforts continue to ramp up, we asked Regence medical experts to weigh in and share what you need to know about the COVID-19 vaccines.
Vaccines tested on thousands before approved for distribution
All vaccines must undergo rigorous clinical trials with thousands of people to thoroughly test safety and effectiveness prior to scientific approval and government distribution. Both the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines are 95% effective at preventing mild and severe symptoms of COVID-19.
“Both vaccines have a similar mechanism to produce immunity against COVID-19, and use a fragment of mRNA from the virus that is read by our own cells to express a unique protein,” says Regence Medical Director Dr. Amy Khan, an epidemiologist. “This stimulates an immune response, including the production of antibodies against the viral protein.”
You cannot get COVID-19 from the vaccines because they do not contain any live virus or infectious material.
The vaccine will be distributed in phases, as determined by states
The approved COVID-19 vaccines are rolling out in phases based on state and federal guidance, giving priorities to those most at-risk—including health care professionals, front line workers, and residents of long-term care facilities. At this time, the general public can expect to receive the vaccine as early as late spring of 2021. Vaccines and vaccine administration will be provided at no cost to Regence health plan members.
“This phased approach is in place to give priority to those who are most at-risk of contracting the virus,” says Regence Medical Director Dr. Jim Polo. “While the distribution of the vaccine may seem slow and very limited right now, it will increase over time and be made available to everyone.”
Check in with your state health department, or your doctor or pharmacist, if you have questions about when you can expect to be eligible for the vaccine. Some states have online tools that help you understand when you’re eligible and give you options for email or text messages when it’s your time.
While you’re waiting, it’s a good time to make sure your other immunizations, like flu shots, are up to date. Many pharmacists are now able to give immunization shots, so you don’t even have to go to a doctor’s office. And most immunizations are covered with no out-of-pocket costs.
Regence members can review their health plan benefits by signing in to regence.com, or by calling Regence Customer Service using the phone number on the back of their member ID card. Creating an online member account only takes a few minutes—visit regence.com/member/registration. Or download the Regence app to access your member ID card and benefits on the go.
Most people don’t suffer side effects worse than a sore arm
So far, side effects are minimal. People who have received the COVID-19 vaccine report pain or swelling at the injection site, fatigue, headache, muscle pain, chills or fever that disappear within a matter of hours or days, but Dr. Khan says that this is nothing to worry about.
“If you experience mild effects from a vaccine, it’s actually a good thing. In this case, it shows your body is building antibodies against COVID-19.”
If you have allergies or are immunocompromised, experts recommend you talk with your doctor before getting vaccinated to make sure the proper safety protocols are in place. You may be asked to stay 30 minutes after your vaccination for monitoring; persons with a history of severe allergic reaction to any ingredient in the mRNA COVID-19 vaccine should not take the vaccine.
If you have questions about the vaccine, seek information from trusted sources
False claims about the COVID-19 vaccine have spread rapidly across social media, so check your information sources. This video offers simple ways you can check your sources.
“The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and your state health department should be your go-to resources for any questions related to the vaccine,” says Regence’s Senior Executive Medical Director Dr. Drew Oliveira. “Talk to your doctor or pharmacist if you have more questions or concerns about the vaccine.”
The vaccine is just one important tool to put an end to the pandemic
Even after being vaccinated, it’s important to continue the safety practices we’ve all become accustomed to, especially as new virus strains emerge.
“Over the next few months, we urge everyone to continue to be diligent about safety by wearing a mask, washing hands, staying physically distant and avoiding crowded spaces until the majority of us get vaccinated,” says Oliveira. “We must all do our part to quell this pandemic.”