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Guest column, Sergio Angel: The COVID-19 Vaccine: What you should know
Dr. Sergio Angel

Have you ever actually thought about breathing? Well, I want you to think about it as you read this article. 

As we know, our nation and world are currently battling the COVID-19 pandemic. This virus has completely changed our world — from how we socialize and attend family functions to even how we go to a doctor’s appointment. We are all having to adjust one way or another. 

The USA is one of the leading countries with the highest number of cases and deaths related to COVID-19. There have been more than 520,000 people who have lost their lives due to this pandemic in the USA alone, as of early March 2021. 

Since COVID-19 generally attacks the respiratory system, it is likely that most of those individuals who died were struggling to breathe. Fortunately, there’s a solution to help minimize the spread of COVID-19, we have a vaccine!

The COVID-19 vaccine front is changing rapidly. The FDA had approved three vaccines for use here in the U.S. The manufacturers of these vaccines are Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen division. 

Beware, the FDA and CDC recommend that the Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen vaccine not be given to anyone at this time while they monitor and investigate the rare and severe type of blood clot found in a small number of reports. 

The Pfizer vaccine has an efficacy of 95% with two doses, while Moderna has a 94.1% efficacy with two doses in preventing mild to moderate cases. The Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen vaccine has a 66.9% efficacy in preventing moderate to severe cases, with just one single dose. 

What happens if I don’t get the vaccine? 

If one chooses not to be vaccinated, you may contribute to perpetuating the pandemic, put yourself at risk of infection, and you increase the potential for missing work/family activities due to illness. Subsequently, you risk the potential of development of serious complications from COVID-19, which may include respiratory failure that could require you being placed on a ventilator to help you breathe. Suffering from low oxygen levels, development of blood clots, liver damage, and kidney damage are some of the more serious complications. 

Unfortunately, death from COVID-19 is a reality in some cases. Receiving the COVID-19 vaccination reduces your chances of getting the infection, much like getting the flu, as the flu vaccine reduces your chances of getting the flu. 

What are the side effect of COVID-19 vaccine? 

The main side effect of the COVID-19 vaccine is arm soreness, redness, and pain at the injection site. Headache, body aches, chills, diarrhea, nausea, and fever have also been reported as possible short-term side effects, just like with the flu vaccine. 

Many people have a misconception that getting the vaccine makes them sick with the COVID-19 virus because they experience some of the above symptoms. Just to be clear, the vaccine cannot give you the COVID-19 infection. 

The vaccine may cause you to experience the side effects as mentioned above as your body ramps up its immune system in response to being vaccinated. These symptoms tend to be temporary and generally only last a day or two. Many have reported no symptoms at all. 

It is also important to know that experiencing these symptoms after the vaccine are less harmful then being infected with COVID-19. 

Now that I received the vaccine, does this mean I won’t get COVID-19? 

After getting your COVID-19 vaccination it is important that you know that your body is gearing up its immune system to prepare for any potential fight with the virus if you are exposed. Two weeks after your vaccination, the body is considered to have some degree of immunity and is ready for combat if you should come in contact with the virus. 

As to being “fully” immune, that is not quite how it works since most vaccinations are not guaranteed to give 100% immunity. However, your body’s immune system is now better prepared to fight than it was without the vaccine. 

How was the vaccine made so fast and can I trust it? 

This question is commonly asked, and I hope to provide you with some answers and reassurance. 

The vaccine is made using genetic technology. Both Pfizer and Moderna use a similar type of genetic technology, but the Johnson & Johnson vaccine uses a different type. 

Basically, the COVID-19 vaccines are manufactured using pieces of genetic material seen on the COVID-19 virus. This genetic material is incorporated into the vaccine and once injected it helps our own immune system recognize and attack the virus in a very efficient way if ever exposed. 

This unique vaccination process has been studied for decades. One of the many advantages of these genetic-based vaccines is that they can be manufactured more quickly than traditional vaccines and can be altered quickly to more specifically meet the vaccination challenge at hand. This technology is revolutionizing the way we vaccinate.

I hope that you found the article informative and reassuring, and hopefully I was able to provide you with some answers. We all have something to look forward to as the world builds immunity from the vaccines, and that is salvation and brighter times ahead. 

Dr. Sergio Angel is a part of the family medicine resident program at Northeast Georgia Health System. Columns publish monthly from residents in the program. 

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