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10 Ways to Track Everything You Should Know About the COVID-19 Vaccines

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As we turn the corner into 2021 so many people have high hopes for the year. And much of that is centered on the release and distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine. But there remain many questions about the vaccine. Is it safe? What are the side effects? When can I get it? What if I’m immunocompromised?

It’s important to know that in the United States there are two versions of the vaccine being used: one is made by Pfizer and one by Moderna. Which one you get won’t really make a difference, as they have each been proven to be more than 94% effective against COVID-19, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

The Pfizer vaccine is administered in two shots in the arm, 21 days apart, while the Moderna vaccine is given in two shots 28 days apart. Each have potential side effects including pain, redness or swelling at the injection site, chills, fatigue and headache.

There is a wealth of information about the vaccines and the distribution process available. If you’re thinking about getting it or want to know when you might be eligible, we recommend you start with these resources:

1. Where can you get the COVID-19 vaccine?

As part of their overall information about the pandemic, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has set up a vaccine distribution tracker that lets you see where doses are being administered. It includes information about how many doses have been distributed by state versus how many doses have been given. Many are critiquing the rollout, noting the large discrepancy in the numbers. Specific vaccine rollout has been delegated to each state.

Visit the CDC vaccine tracker here.

2. What’s the difference between the COVID-19 vaccines?

Both vaccines use mRNA – messenger RNA – technology, which helps the body produce antibodies to the COVID-19 virus. If someone is exposed to the virus, the antibodies are already in place to defend against it. The vaccine produced by biotech firm Moderna was the first one approved for clinical trials, back in March 2020. More than 30,000 people were included in their phase-3 clinical trials. Pfizer enrolled 44,000 people in its phase-3 clinical trials. Both vaccines have similar effectiveness, but the Moderna vaccine doesn’t have to be stored as cold as Pfizer’s, which makes it easier to distribute to parts of the country with less resources.

Get additional details on the vaccine differences here.

3. Is the COVID-19 vaccine safe if you take immunosuppressants?

The vaccines work by helping the body create an antibody response to the COVID-19 virus. That process can be challenged if you are taking immunosuppressants, which prevent the immune system from doing just that. But no less than Dr. Anthony Fauci advises that people who are on immunosuppressants should still get the vaccine. He told a group of hematologists gathered for a remote conference:

It is clear that if you are on immunosuppressant agents, history tells us that you are not going to have as robust a response as if you had an intact immune system that was not being compromised. But some degree of immunity is better than no degree of immunity. So, for me, it would be recommended that these people do get vaccinated.

In a separate interview, Fauci also said neither Pfizer’s or Moderna’s vaccine are live attenuated, meaning they don’t contain any of the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19.

Read Dr. Fauci’s thoughts on vaccines for the immunosuppressed

4. When can I get the COVID-19 vaccine?

It’s all well and good to know about the vaccine but for many people the biggest question is when it will be available to them. With health care workers and elderly people in group settings topping the list for vaccines, and distribution being delayed across the country, it’s hard to gauge when you might be eligible. The New York Times has created a handy calculator that will help you estimate. Plug in your age, health risks and county and it will return information on how many people are ahead of you in line.

Try the vaccine eligibility calculator here.

5. What are the side effects of the COVID-19 vaccines?

It is normal to have some small reaction to a vaccination. After all, your body is hard at work building defenses to a disease. But for a vaccine to be approved for use the side effects need to be minimal in most people. The COVID-19 vaccine is no different. The CDC reported that common reactions to the shot include pain or swelling at the site of injection, and a feeling of chills, fever, tiredness or headache. These should clear up after a few days and your body should have built up protection against COVID-19 about a week after your second shot.

Read more about what to expect after you get the vaccine here.

6. Are the COVID-19 vaccines safe?

Because the COVID-19 vaccine was developed so quickly some people may have questions about its safety. After all, the operation to develop it was even dubbed “Warp Speed.” But it’s important to know that the vaccine has undergone testing and development every bit as rigorous as any other vaccine. According to Johns Hopkins, there were many things that contributed to the speed with which the vaccine was able to be developed. Chief among them were that China shared information about the SARS-CoV-2 virus early on in the pandemic, which gave scientists key details to pursue.

Scientists were also able to use a new approach to vaccines that includes mRNA, a faster route to vaccine development than traditionally used. The mRNA technology isn’t new — it’s been in development for the last decade. And researchers were able to enroll people in studies quickly due to the reach of social media and the commonality of the virus worldwide. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) moved this vaccine into an emergency use category, which allowed for it to be bureaucratically approved faster than normal. No steps were skipped or corners cut in developing a vaccine.

Read more about how the COVID-19 vaccines were created here.

7. Are there other COVID-19 vaccines in development?

Pfizer and Moderna are getting all the buzz right now but there are many COVID-19 vaccines in development around the world. In fact, several other countries are leading their vaccination efforts with entirely different vaccines, made by companies like Sinopharm and Oxford-AstraZeneca. This is a good thing, as no single company would be able to produce enough doses of a vaccine for everyone in the world. It will take many companies, working independently and in conjunction, to provide enough of a vaccine to reach herd immunity.

Find out what other vaccines are in development here.

8. How many people have gotten the COVID-19 vaccine so far?

The U.S. government had a goal to vaccinate 20 million people before the end of 2020, which would be undertaken by each state. As of the first week of January 2021, only about 9 million had received at least the first dose of a vaccine, according to the New York Times. That’s concerning because the government says more than 25 million doses have been sent to states and agencies. So, what’s the delay? Right now, the only answer seems to be a delay in the CDC’s data reporting and challenges some U.S. territories are having in getting their numbers reported to the government. Rest assured that everyone is working hard to determine where exactly the rollout is compared to goals and how to make it move more quickly.

See where your state is in the vaccine rollout here.

9. Why are women skeptical of the vaccine?

A poll done by Pew Research showed a 13-percentage point gap between women and men when asked if they would get the vaccine. Fifty-four percent of women said yes, compared to 67% of men. That’s surprising, since women are much more likely to take preventative measures like wearing a mask and disinfecting, according to the Washington Post.

While some people speculate about conspiracy theories, it seems that women are simply being cautious. Particularly women of childbearing. Other reasons are likely more complicated — women are often focus on their whole family, putting others ahead of themselves. Still other women are skeptical of male-dominated medical advancements. Experts did take care to enroll a diverse group of people in the COVID-19 vaccine trials and evidence suggests the vaccine is safe for women, though pregnant and lactating women were excluded from initial clinical trials.

Read more about COVID-19 vaccines and women here.

10. Why do Black people have reservations about the COVID-19 vaccine?

In a study done by the Kaiser Family Foundation, Black Americans were significantly less inclined to get the COVID-19 vaccine than Hispanic or white adults. Just 17% of Black people surveyed said they would definitely get it, and 50% said they would “definitely” or “probably” get it. By comparison, 60% of Hispanic adults and 65% of white adults responded in the affirmative.

That reluctance may be traced back to inequities like the Tuskegee syphilis study that began in 1932. In that incidence, Black men with syphilis were recruited into a study by being told they would be treated. In reality, researchers had no intent of treating them, but rather wanted to study if syphilis progressed differently in Black versus white men. Though an effective medication was available, many Black men died.

Indeed, when asked why they would turn down the COVID-19 vaccine 35% of Black adults say it’s due to distrust of the health care system, the government or vaccines. Just 6% relate their reluctance to get the COVID-19 vaccine to concerns over the vaccine’s development.

Read more about why Black people have concerns about the COVID-19 vaccine here.

If you have questions or are seeking more information on COVID-19, check out The Mighty’s Coronavirus community.

Header image via Mongkolchon Akesin/Getty Images

Originally published: January 12, 2021
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