What you should know about the COVID-19 Vaccine and Other Common Patient Questions
Orhan Hakli, RN, MS-FNP-C, associate dean at the School of Nursing and Health Sciences at Manhattanville College.
Information, news stories, articles and advice are coming at Americans from all sides these days when it comes to COVID-19, its spread, prevention, and especially about the vaccines, their effectiveness, who is eligible and how to get one.
There’s a lot to know and it is vitally important that we share accurate, credible and reliable information.
As an RN, MS-FNP-C and an assistant dean at the School of Nursing and Health Sciences at Manhattanville College, and a certified Family Nurse Practitioner in private practice who has worked in various areas of health care, I’d like to share some questions I’ve been receiving in recent days from patients, and provide some answers.
When will the corona virus disappear?
Based on our experiences with other pathogens, it is safe to say that coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) is here to stay. This does not mean that we will never go back to normal, rather we will learn how to live with this virus like any other viruses in our lives. It is very likely that we will see Covid-19 pandemic turning into an endemic. We most likely see the number of cases decreasing and plateauing (hopefully at a very small number) but coronavirus will not disappear completely.
Will we ever go back to normal again?
The short answer is yes! But, new normal, initially, may look little different where people might be more conscious about social distancing, frequent hand washing and even, for some, holding on to their face masks for a while. This actually is not necessarily a bad thing when transitioning to a post covid-19 world. But as time passes and the number of cases and the hospitalization rate starts to go down, COVID-19 will leave the public stage.
I keep hearing about the term “mRNA” vaccine. What is it and how is this different than the other vaccines?
Vaccines work by teaching the body how a particular infectious agent looks and how to fight against it.
In the case of traditional vaccines, this education is done by introducing weakened version or the protein coat of this infectious agent to stimulate the immune system. In mRNA vaccine, a strand of genetic material called messenger RNA is being given that has the basic blueprint of how to make a spike protein of the virus. This genetic material is delivered in a special coating which protects material being broken down before it gets the job done.
Will the mRNA vaccines change my DNA?
No. Absolutely not. This is one of the most common questions I get from my patients. My answer is very simple, since it never enters the nucleus of the cell it cannot alter one’s DNA.
What type of COVID-19 vaccines are available in US?
We have, currently, two vaccines available in the US; Pfizer-BioNtech and Moderna. Both of these vaccines use the same mRNA technology, require two doses and provide very similar protection. Johnson and Johnson has also applied for emergency authorization use for their vaccine candidate which will require only one dose and is 72% effective, but has not yet been approved.
I got my second COVID-19 vaccine few days ago. Is it time for me throw away my masks?
No, not yet. First, you do not get the full benefit for about 7-10 days after the second dose. So it would be best to be very careful for a week or two (depending on the vaccine) after the second dose. Second and more importantly, we are still not clear on if vaccinated people still can transmit the disease. When you are exposed to coronavirus it will go up to your nostrils and start to replicate to make you sick. Since you are vaccinated chances of getting sick are extremely low, but you can still expose others. So, when you get vaccinated you are protected, but you still need to protect the people around you.
How bad are the side effects?
Obviously, it varies from person to person, but the most common side effects reported are pain at the injection site, muscle aches, mild fatigue, headaches and joint pains. These side effects are reported to be more common, and more pronounced after the second dose.
Also, it is important to note that it is expected that young adults may have more side effects than older adults since young adults tend to have stronger immune systems. Either way, this is good news because these side effects are telling you that your immune system is at work and doing what it is supposed to do.
Which Vaccine should get?
Any vaccine as soon as it is available! That is the only way we will get out of this pandemic.
What about the Variants? Should I be scared?
We in the medical community, knew this was coming. It is a normal progression for any pathogen to mutate. You should still get vaccinated since they still have very good protection against all variants. We should all be cautions until we have more data on how available vaccines work against these variants, but so far it appears that effectiveness of current vaccines are slightly lower, but still give you very good protection.
So get vaccinated as soon as you can, and continue to practice social distancing and other precautions even afterwards.