(Updated August 25, 2021)
It’s no secret that the past year+ has been overwhelming. So it’s only natural for the rollout of the COVID-19 vaccines to come with its own set of new questions. Please take a moment to review this important information that our clinical team has compiled about the COVID-19 vaccines to date.
Who can get vaccinated?
As of April 19, 2021, everyone over the age of 16 in the US is eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine. On May 10, 2021, the FDA expanded the emergency use authorization of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine to include adolescents 12 through 15 years of age, and as of May 12, 2021, the CDC now recommends that this vaccine be used among this population, and providers may begin vaccinating them right away.
On Thursday, August 12, 2021, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) amended the emergency use authorizations (EUAs) for both the Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines to allow for the use of an additional (third) dose in certain individuals with weakened immune systems. And on Wednesday, August 18, 2021, the CDC released the Administration’s plan for COVID-19 booster shots for all American people.
On Monday August 23, the FDA fully approved the first COVID-19 vaccine for the prevention of COVID-19 disease in individuals 16 years of age and older. The vaccine also continues to be available under emergency use authorization (EUA), including for individuals 12 through 15 years of age and for the administration of a third dose in certain immunocompromised individuals.
Where can I get vaccinated?
The following resources will help you figure out where and how to get vaccinated in your state:
What is it?
Two of the FDA-approved vaccines available are from Moderna and Pfizer, which are both mRNA vaccines. Think of mRNA vaccines as instruction manuals for your immune system to create the antibodies needed to fight off COVID-19. The vaccines are given as two injections three to four weeks apart. The third vaccine that was just approved at the end of February is a single-dose adenovirus-based vaccine from Johnson & Johnson. Unlike the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, which store the virus' genetic instructions in single-stranded RNA, the Johnson & Johnson vaccine uses double-stranded DNA, added to another virus called Adenovirus 26.
How do I know it's safe?
All three vaccines are FDA-approved for emergency use authorization, which means they met the rigorous standards established by the FDA during their clinical trials. Additionally, data has shown that the vaccine’s benefits far outweigh the potential dangers of COVID-19.
What about the Johnson & Johnson vaccine?
Johnson & Johnson briefly paused their vaccine administration due to a rare side effect that involved blood clots and low platelets. This occurred in a small number of individuals under the age of 50 within two weeks of receiving the dose. The FDA lifted the pause on the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, saying its benefits outweighed the risks. However, if you are at increased risks for blood clots, we recommend choosing an alternative vaccine.
Please seek help immediately if you received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine and are experiencing any of the following symptoms:
Are there side effects?
As with most vaccines, there is always potential for side effects to occur. While there are no known lasting side effects, initially, after receiving the vaccine, you might experience:
If you have a history of severe allergic reactions, you will be closely monitored for at least 30 minutes after getting the vaccine. All other people should be monitored for at least 15 minutes after getting the vaccine.
Why should I get vaccinated?
Studies have shown that getting vaccinated could reduce your risk of contracting COVID-19 or experiencing a severe case of COVID-19, which can help prevent hospitalizations and even death.
What if I already had COVID-19?
After you contract COVID-19, your body creates antibodies to help you fight the infection. However, these antibodies wear off over time. That's why we recommend getting vaccinated even if you had coronavirus in the past. You can wait up to 90 days after infection to receive your vaccine. While not mandatory, waiting decreases your chances of experiencing more severe side effects.
I am fully vaccinated, can I still get COVID-19?
Fully vaccinated people do have a small chance of getting COVID-19. Their chance is lower if they live in an area of high vaccination rates such as Vermont where 77% of adults are vaccinated. Their chance is higher if they live in an area of low vaccination rates, such as Louisiana, Mississippi, and Arkansas, where vaccination rates are less than 50%. If a person who has been fully vaccinated with any of the 3 vaccines and they get COVID, they will have mild symptoms and more than likely will not need hospital level treatment. Those who are unvaccinated or incompletely vaccinated are at the highest risk for transmitting the virus and succumbing to severe illness and hospitalization.
Do I need to wear a mask after I get the vaccine?
As of July 27, 2021, the CDC has released new guidelines for fully vaccinated people.
If you are fully vaccinated, you can participate in many of the activities that you did before the pandemic, HOWEVER, to maximize protection from the Delta variant and prevent possibly spreading it to others, wear a mask indoors in public if you are in an area of substantial or high transmission.
Wearing a mask is most important if you have a weakened immune system or if, because of your age or an underlying medical condition, you are at increased risk for severe disease, or if someone in your household has a weakened immune system, is at increased risk for severe disease, or is unvaccinated. If this applies to you or your household, you might choose to wear a mask regardless of the level of transmission in your area.
You should continue to wear a mask where required by laws, rules, regulations, or local guidance. You are considered fully vaccinated two weeks after receiving the 2nd dose of the Moderna or Pfizer COVID vaccine, or a single dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
What’s all the commotion about the Delta variant?
There is an increase in cases across the country and in other countries led by the Delta variant. In mid July, as predicted, this variant, first identified in India in late 2020, became the dominant strain of COVID-19 in the US. This naturally brings up questions around how this happened, what is the risk to vaccinated individuals, are the vaccines we know about still effective, and what individual people can do to avoid this more infectious strain.
Almost all viruses and most bacteria mutate under the right conditions. They will mutate because of random chance. There are millions of proteins that need to be perfectly copied for viruses to replicate. If there is a small error in that replication, because even viruses aren’t perfect, then the random mutations will change the behavior of the virus. This phenomenon is called “antigenic drift.” The new viruses start to look and behave differently than the original viruses and sometimes the virus can become more infectious, or be able to “unlock” areas in the human body that they could not before, causing worsening disease.
As of July 27, 2021, 51% of the total US population has not been fully vaccinated. Nearly all the hospitalizations and deaths from COVID-19 since May 2021 are in those who are unvaccinated or incompletely vaccinated. Since the Delta variant is more contagious, it poses a greater threat to those that have no immunity or incomplete immunity, and the overwhelming evidence thus far indicates that the vaccines administered in the U.S. continue to provide strong protection against illness and death from every variant of concern.
What about “breakthrough” infections?
Breakthrough infections refer to people who are fully vaccinated and test positive for COVID-19. No vaccine is 100% effective, and the COVID-19 vaccines, though incredibly effective, are no exception. The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines have a 95% and 94% efficacy against symptomatic COVID-19. Of those with symptomatic COVID-19, almost none had a severe infection.
We are here for you
Our number one piece of advice during this time is to GET VACCINATED. And if you are not fully vaccinated, continue to wear a mask in indoor settings and seek medical attention if you become ill. If you are fully vaccinated, pay attention to the advice from public health officials in your area about masking.
And lastly, be sure to reach out to your care team with any questions through the Firefly app. Not a member yet? Get started by signing up on our website, or giving us a call at (855) 869-9284.
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