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8 common vaccine questions answered by an NGHS infectious disease expert
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Lanier Technical College student Diana Gomez gets set to deliver a COVID-19 vaccine Wednesday, Feb. 17, 2021, during the Hall County Health Department's vaccine clinic at the Chicopee Woods Agricultural Center. - photo by Scott Rogers

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The Northeast Georgia Health System’s director of infectious disease medicine, Dr. Supriya Mannepalli, held a virtual information session Tuesday, Sept. 14, providing the latest information on COVID-19 vaccines, answering several common questions. 

When will my child (under 12) be able to get vaccinated?

The Pfizer vaccine is currently the only vaccine available for people aged 12-18. Mannepalli said the FDA could approve shots for children under 12 years old by early winter this year. 

How effective are these vaccines compared with other common infectious disease vaccines?

“What we have observed for years in the case of flu vaccination is that even if those are mismatched strains, even with the low compatibility, even if someone develops symptomatic infection, the vaccine is very effective in preventing severe infection or hospitalization or death,” Mannepalli said. 

Typically flu vaccines are 40-60% effective in preventing illness from the flu and prevent millions of cases each year, according to research from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The Pfizer vaccine was about 95% effective in preventing COVID-19 infection for the earlier alpha variant of the virus, and Moderna was about 94.1% effective, according to the CDC.

“When it comes to Pfizer or Moderna, studies have shown, multiple studies across the world, they are effective in preventing symptomatic infection and also progression to severe disease and death,” Mannepalli said. 

In a multi-state study from Jan. 1 to June 22 of this year, the mRNA vaccines (Pfizer and Moderna) were 89% effective against COVID-19 infections leading to hospitalization, 90% effective against infection leading to intensive care admission and 91% effective against infection leading to emergency department or urgent care visit. The Johnson & Johnson vaccine was 68% effective in preventing infection leading to hospitalization and 73% effective against infection leading to an emergency department or urgent care visit during the same period, Mannepalli said. 

Are these vaccines still effective against the delta variant?

There has been some drop in effectiveness against the delta variant compared to previous strains, such as the alpha variant, which was the dominant strain in the United States during the January peak. The effectiveness for the Pfizer vaccine for those who had two doses is about 88% among those with the delta variant, Mannepalli said. Recent studies from the United Kingdom show that the Pfizer vaccine is 96% effective against hospitalization after two doses for those with the delta variant, she said. 

Overall vaccine effectiveness against COVID-19 associated hospitalization visits from June through August was about 86%, according to a nine state study, Mannepalli said. Vaccine effectiveness was lower among adults aged 75 and up at 76% than those 18-74, who saw 89% effectiveness from vaccines. Across all ages, vaccine effectiveness was highest among Moderna vaccine recipients at 95% than Pfizer (80%) or Johnson & Johnson vaccine recipients (60%), according to the study. 

How frequent are breakthrough cases?

Breakthrough cases remain rare among those who are fully vaccinated. In Georgia, about 4.5 million of the state’s 10.4 million people were fully vaccinated as of Sept. 7. Of the fully vaccinated, 40,174 have tested positive for COVID-19 (0.87%). Only 1,414 fully vaccinated Georgians have been hospitalized and tested positive for COVID-19, and there have been 277 COVID-19 related deaths among those who are fully vaccinated. 

From Jan. 2 to Sept. 7, 7,558 unvaccinated Georgians have died from COVID-19. In the same span, 702,951 unvaccinated people have tested positive for COVID-19, more than 17 times the amount of vaccinated people who have tested positive. 

How long should I wait after having a COVID-19 infection to get my vaccine?

Even if you have had COVID-19, you should still get vaccinated, Mannepalli said. People who have had COVID-19 should wait until they do not have symptoms to then get vaccinated against COVID-19, she said. 

This applies to people who get COVID-19 before receiving any vaccine dose and to those who get a COVID-19 infection between their first and second shot. 

Should I still get the vaccine after receiving antibody treatment?

Yes. Those who receive monoclonal antibody treatment, including Regeneron, should wait at least 90 days after treatment until getting vaccinated, Mannepalli said. 

What side effects could I get from a COVID-19 vaccine? And could I have an allergic reaction?

People may experience headaches, a fever, fatigue and nausea after getting vaccinated. For more adverse side effects, people may report to the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System. 

Mannepalli said she has received questions about myocarditis, inflammation of the middle layer of the heart wall, following vaccination. VAERS reporting shows that more than 177 million people have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine and, as of Aug. 25, 1,377 people reported myocarditis or pericarditis among those aged 30 younger following vaccination. Most cases have been reported after receiving an mRNA vaccine (Pfizer or Moderna) particularly in young males. 

The CDC and FDA have confirmed 798 of these reports through follow ups and review of medical records. 

Very few people have reported having allergic reactions to a COVID-19 vaccine, about two to five people per one million vaccinated, Mannepalli said. 

Will I need a third shot?

A third shot is already approved for those with certain medical conditions that make them more susceptible to COVID-19. Those people may get a third shot 28 days after the second dose. 

More research is needed before it is known if the rest of the population will require a booster shot, Mannepalli said, citing a recent Mayo Clinic Health System study, which suggests vaccine effectiveness may wane slightly over time and with the delta variant increasing in prevalence. 

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