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Frequently asked vaccine questions

I’ve written a lot about COVID-19 vaccines in the past few weeks. Supplies are limited and guidelines from the federal government and the state keep changing. While I’ve been focused on sharing updates about local vaccine allocations and distributions, I haven’t had much of a chance to write about the vaccine itself.

So I went to the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (NCDHHS) website. There’s a “frequently asked questions” section about the vaccine which has a lot of great information. For my column this week, I want to share some of the most important answers to those questions.

According to the website, more than 70,000 people volunteered for the clinical trials of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines before the FDA authorized them to be distributed to the public. Those volunteers included people of all races, and the results showed that the vaccines are 95 percent effective in preventing COVID-19 infection.

How do the vaccines work? There is no virus in the vaccine, so you can’t get COVID-19 from getting the shot. Instead, the vaccines help your body make a protein which, in turn, helps your body make antibodies against the virus to fight off potential infections. Your body then naturally breaks down the protein afterwards.

Does the vaccine work against new variants of COVID-19? The answer is that scientists are still studying any variants that pop up to find out more information. People are advised to continue hand washing, social distancing, and wearing a mask to protect themselves.

What chronic conditions increase the risk for severe illness from COVID-19, making a person a higher priority for vaccination? As defined by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), those conditions include cancer, chronic kidney disease, COPD, heart conditions, immunocompromised from organ transplant, pregnancy, sickle cell disease, smoking, and type 2 diabetes.

Do you need to sign a consent form for vaccination? Do you need an ID? Verbal consent is fine, and an identification card is not required by the state. Some providers, however, may request written consent or ID.

How much does the vaccine cost? The vaccine is free to everyone, even if you don’t have health insurance. The federal government is covering the cost, and no vaccine provider should be charging anyone to receive the vaccine.

What are the side effects? Temporary reactions, more common after the second dose, include a sore arm, headache, or feeling tired and achy for a day or two. Tylenol or ibuprofen are fine to take if you’re feeling those side effects. No serious side effects were reported in the clinical trials.

What’s the risk of an allergic reaction? Vaccine providers will watch patients for 15-30 minutes after vaccination to make sure there are no problems. Severe allergic reactions to the vaccines have been very rare. People who have had severe allergic reactions to any ingredient in the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine should not get that vaccine. People are encouraged to talk to their healthcare provider about the risks and benefits.

Can you get the COVID-19 vaccine if you’ve recently received a vaccine for something else? People should wait at least 14 days after a vaccination before getting the COVID-19 vaccine. If a person is planning to get other vaccines after their COVID-19 shot, they should wait 14 days afterwards.

What happens if you don’t get your second dose on the right day? People should get their second dose as close to the recommended time as possible. If you don’t get your second dose at the recommended time, you should still get it. Both vaccines may be scheduled up to six weeks after the first dose.

How long does it take for the vaccine to work? Both vaccines provide full protection from the virus two weeks after receiving the second dose.

Can children get the vaccine? Children won’t receive vaccines until clinical trials are completed to make sure they’re safe and work to prevent illness in children. The Pfizer vaccine can be given to teenagers 16 and older.

Should pregnant women be vaccinated? They can, but it’s recommended that pregnant women talk to their doctors before making the choice.

Do people who’ve already had COVID-19 still need to be vaccinated? Yes, the vaccine works to protect you against a future infection.

There are plenty more questions and answers on the website, and I highly recommend you go read the rest for yourselves. I only have enough space here to share the most important highlights. The NCDHHS website (covid19.ncdhhs.gov/vaccines) also has a lot of other information about vaccines, including information about which group you’re in to receive your shot.

I know some people are wary about the vaccination which is why I think it’s important to gather as much information as possible. It’ll be a while before it’s my turn to get my shot, but I definitely want to do my part to protect myself and others.

Holly Taylor is a Staff Writer at Roanoke-Chowan Publications. Contact her at holly.taylor@r-cnews.com 252-332-7206.