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If you've heard about the COVID-19 vaccine, you may have questions about safety and effectiveness. Here's what you need to know:
Who should get vaccinated against COVID-19 infection?
Vaccination will be recommended for everyone, but supplies will be limited at first. Federal and state authorities call for health care personnel to be offered vaccine in the first phase of the program, starting with hospital workers, emergency responders and long-term care staff. The initial priority will be to vaccinate our health care personnel who are at high occupational risk for exposure to the SARS-CoV2 virus and those working in roles that are essential to the COVID-19 response. We expect that the program will expand to all health care personnel very soon, and to patients at high risk of COVID-19 infection and complications.
Mayo Clinic will follow the guidance provided by federal and state authorities to prioritize groups for vaccinations. The guidelines have been developed by numerous national bodies, including the Advisory Council on Immunization Practices (ACIP), the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine, and others, to develop a strategy for equitable allocation of vaccine while supplies are limited. Considerations include the risk of acquiring or transmitting infection, risk of severe morbidity and mortality, and risk of negative societal impact. As availability improves, vaccine will be offered to all others in accordance to federal and state guidelines.
When will Mayo Clinic start COVID-19 vaccination?
The first COVID-19 vaccine to be available under federal emergency use authorization is expected sometime in December 2020 or early January 2021. At that time, Mayo Clinic will begin vaccination of it's health care workers at high occupational risk across Mayo Clinic sites. Limited supplies may mean that the program is initially focused on specific high-risk groups but will expand to include all staff and patients. We anticipate having enough vaccine for everyone who wants it during 2021.
Is the COVID-19 vaccine safe?
Mayo Clinic will recommend the use of those vaccines that we are confident are safe. While there are many COVID-19 vaccine candidates in development, early interim data are encouraging for BNT162b2, which likely is to be the first authorized for emergency use by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the late December/early January timeframe. This vaccine was created using a novel technology based on the molecular structure of the virus. The novel methodology to develop a COVID-19 vaccine allows it to be free from materials of animal origin and synthesized by an efficient, cell-free process without preservatives. This vaccine developed by Pfizer/BioNTECH has been studied in approximately 43,000 people.
To receive emergency use authorization, the biopharmaceutical manufacturer must have followed at least half of the study participants for at least two months after completing the vaccination series, and the vaccine must be proven safe and effective in that population. In addition to the safety review by the FDA, the ACIP has convened a panel of vaccine safety experts to independently evaluate the safety data from the clinical trial. Mayo Clinic vaccine experts also will review the available data, and await the outcome of this data. The safety of COVID-19 vaccine is being closely monitored by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the FDA.
What are the side effects of the COVID-19 vaccine?
There are transient Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine reactions that resolve without complication or injury. The early phase studies of the BNT162b2 vaccine show that it is safe. However, about 15% of people developed transient local symptoms, and 50% developed transient systemic reactions — primarily headache, chills, fatigue or muscle pain or fever. These are indicators that your immune system is responding to the vaccine.
How effective is the COVID-19 vaccination?
Although phase 3 trial results are not available, the experimental vaccine interim data indicate 90% efficacy after two doses. Efficacy is the measure of effectiveness obtained from a randomized controlled clinical trial. Further details regarding the effectiveness of the vaccine are not yet available, such as how long the vaccination is protective.
How many doses does COVID-19 vaccination require?
Vaccination with the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine requires two doses given 21 days apart. Most other COVID-19 vaccines that are expected over the next few months are anticipated to be given over two doses 28 days apart. Thus far, it appears there is only one vaccine that may be given as a single dose.
How long will the COVID-19 vaccination protect me?
It is not yet known how long the vaccination will protect you. It remains to be seen whether periodic boosters may be needed, such as with the annual flu shot.
I'm healthy. Why do I need to be vaccinated?
While you may be healthy, many of our patients, as well as many of our health care staff, have risk factors for getting serious complications from COVID-19 infection. Getting a COVID-19 vaccination protects you so you may protect others around you as well. It is the responsible thing to do for Mayo Clinic patients and visitors, yourself, your family, friends and co-workers.
Isn't masking, social distancing and self-quarantining a reasonable alternative to COVID-19 vaccination?
Given the extent of COVID-19 spread in the U.S. currently, masking, distancing and self-quarantining is not enough to contain the pandemic. Developing large-scale immunity in the community through vaccination is key to stopping the pandemic. We will all need to continue taking precautions, like masking and physical distancing, until the spread has stopped. Until then, COVID-19 spread can continue in the community from people who have or don't have symptoms. You may be contagious for as long as 14 days without symptoms. You may develop symptoms but be contagious before the symptoms start. Most healthy adults may be able to infect others beginning two days before symptoms develop and up to 10 days after becoming sick.
I think it should be my choice whether or not I get vaccinated. I'd rather take my chances and skip the vaccination. If I get COVID-19, I will stay home so I won't infect anyone else. May I refuse COVID-19 vaccination?
Yes. You have the choice to get vaccinated or not.
Can I get my COVID-19 vaccination from my primary provider?
Not at this time. The COVID-19 vaccine only will be available at centralized locations.
If I've had COVID-19, can I get the vaccination?
Yes. Mayo Clinic recommends getting the COVID-19 vaccination, even if you've previously had COVID-19. People should wait until they are no longer infectious to get the vaccination.
Can international patients come to Mayo Clinic just to get the COVID-19 vaccination?
Not at this time. Given initial limited supplies, Mayo Clinic is allocating vaccine for patients in its region. Mayo will distribute vaccines to the highest-risk groups based on guidance from public health authorities. As supplies increase in 2021, the program will expand to include more staff and broader patient populations.
Is there a cost for the vaccine?
No, the vaccine will be free of charge. There may be an administration fee for vaccine administration, which will be billed to the patient's insurance.
Can people with an egg allergy have the COVID vaccine?
Yes. Neither the Pfizer nor the Moderna vaccines contain egg.
When reading the side effects, they are the exact same as the virus. So if I get the vaccination and develop side effects (symptoms), would I have to be tested?
Vaccination recipients will be provided with guidance on how to interpret side effects, symptoms and what actions they should take following their vaccination.