Addressing 15 questions and concerns about Covid-19 and its vaccines [Free]

As some healthcare workers get queued up for their second dose of the Covid-19 vaccine, individuals 65 and older are receiving first-dose shots. (Port City Daily/Courtesy of New Hanover County)

SOUTHEASTERN NC — There’s a lot of information flooding the world on Covid-19, its vaccines, new mutations and strains, protocols to continue practicing after infection and inoculation, and the like.

Sometimes it can lead to more questions, like: Do I have to wear a mask and social distance after I’ve been vaccinated? How long should I wait after having Covid-19 to get the vaccine? Are the new strains of Covid-19 more contagious?

Port City Daily researched trusted medical schools and journals, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, World Health Organization, and trustworthy news sites to address common concerns and questions people seem to be having about the virus and the vaccines.


As scientists continue to study SARS-CoV-2 viral load, makeup, mutations and the effects it has on the public at large, the data may shift too. After all, Covid-19 is a new virus, so what is known is limited and ever-evolving. But, so far, this is what we have found.

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If I get Covid-19 once, can I get it again?

Yes.

The Center for Disease Control has stated Covid-19 reinfections are rare. Yet, they still happen. “Based on what we know from similar viruses, some reinfections are expected,” CDC notes under its information on “When to Quarantine.

After I get Covid-19, am I immune?  

Possibly — immunity varies with each person.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), medical professionals and scientists still are learning about immunity with Covid-19, including how long antibodies last after getting infected. 

Some doctors are saying patients recovering from Covid-19 have immunity 30-90 days. However, second cases of Covid-19 have been reported within that time frame. 

MIT Medical School has reported not knowing how long or if immunity lasts after having the virus.

Are the new strains of Covid-19 more contagious than the first?

Yes.

It’s common for viruses to mutate (think of the flu) and Covid-19 has a few new strains circulating the globe already. And it is likely mutating every few weeks, according to Samuel Scarpino, assistant professor at Northeastern and director of the Emergent Epidemics Lab.

The first Covid-19 mutation was found in the fall of 2020 in the U.K., with another variation coming from South Africa and Brazil by the end of 2020. Essentially, in these new strains, Covid’s spike proteins can attach to cells quicker and replicate more efficiently, creating a heavier and more contagious viral load.

Johns Hopkins is reporting that the U.K. strain, B.1.1.7, is suggestive of being more contagious, though not proven. South African scientists, including its leading infectious disease expert Salim Abdool Karim, has confirmed its strain, 501Y.V2, is more contagious. As well a strain in Brazil, P1, also has been detected as more contagious and as of Jan. 25 was reported in the U.S. in Minnesota.

Scientists and medial professionals have not found whether the strains are more lethal.

Do the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines provide immunization against the new strains of Covid-19?

Pfizer-BioNTech revealed data that its vaccine would neutralize the U.K. and South African strains still.

Moderna has released data suggesting its vaccine will work against the new mutation in the U.K.; however it has a six-fold weaker response against the South African strain. Moderna is creating boosters to battle mutations.

At the very least the vaccines can lessen symptoms and impact of the virus.

If I’ve already had Covid-19, do I still need to get the vaccine?

Yes.

Immunity after contracting the virus is not guaranteed, with reinfection possible. For those who do get immunity, the length to which they’ll have it is questionable. As the duration and effectiveness of immunity becomes more understood, vaccination criteria may change

How long should I wait after having Covid-19 before getting the vaccine?

As long as you’re not contagious or sick any longer, you can get the vaccine anytime after having Covid-19, according to the CDC.

Though the CDC says patients that had monoclonal antibodies or convalescent plasma should wait 90 days before getting the vaccine “as a precautionary measure.” It’s unknown if the therapies would interact with the vaccine’s effectiveness.

Am I immune after the first shot? 

No. 

According to The New England Journal of Medicine, the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine doesn’t take effect until 12 days after the first injection. It then takes a few more weeks to reach 52% efficacy. 

Twenty-one days later, when patients receive a second dose, it won’t reach 95% efficacy until one week after it’s administered. So patients aren’t fully immune until 39 days after the first shot.

The Moderna vaccine takes two weeks after the first dose before reaching a 51% efficacy rate. Twenty-eight days later patients can receive a second dose, which takes two weeks to hit the 94% efficacy rate. So patients won’t be fully immune until 35 days after the first shot. 

Keep in mind, the duration of immunity from the vaccine is still unknown for both approved brands. 

After receiving both doses, can I still get sick from Covid-19?

Possibly.

The vaccine isn’t 100% effective for either Moderna or Pfizer-BioNTech. However, your chances are better for not contracting Covid-19 if you get the vaccine. 

In the Pfizer-BioNTech study, 18,198 participants received the vaccine with 95% effectiveness. Of the participants who received the vaccine, eight contracted Covid-19, with one of those cases categorized as severe.

The Moderna trials administered the vaccine to 14,134 participants with 94.1% effectiveness. Eleven participants contracted Covid-19 after receiving the vaccine, one being a severe case. 

Both Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech followed a similar study and approval trajectory. Each gave its first dose to humans in mid-March, with mass trials permitted in late July. While both brands obtained emergency use approval from the FDA in mid-December to administer the vaccine, the studies are still ongoing. 

Once I get the series of shots — or have antibodies from the virus — can I still be a carrier that passes Covid-19 onto others?

Unknown.

MIT Medical School reports it’s unknown whether someone with antibodies can contract Covid-19, be asymptomatic and still carry it to others. However, a study conducted by public health in England found some can carry the virus in their throat and nose, making it transmisable to others. 

According to NPR, the FDA, in an attempt to speed up the process through its emergency use authorization, only asked manufacturers whether the vaccine keeps people from getting sick. They wanted a narrow focus on the experiment to keep it simple for time’s sake, as viral spread was increasing and the death toll was rising (and continues to) across the U.S.

Thus the FDA did not ask manufacturers whether the vaccines prevent individuals from being carriers. Therefore, the FDA is unsure if people who get vaccinated could be symptom-free carriers of Covid-19 and contagious to others.

The vaccines only focus on preventing individuals from getting sick with severe Covid-19 symptoms. Thus the vaccine can only create individual immunity. 

Since the vaccine was approved quickly, does that mean it’s not safe?

No.

The science behind the vaccines was not rushed. Johns Hopkins Medicine reports the vaccines went through appropriate clinical trials and tests, plus were monitored fully by an independent safety board before the FDA approved them.

That SARS already was being studied by scientists helped as well, since a lot of the vaccine development was in its early stages by the time China shared new information about SARS-CoV-2.

According to Johns Hopkins, “Some types of COVID-19 vaccines were created using messenger RNA (mRNA), a new technology [that has been in development for a while now] that allows a faster approach than the traditional way vaccines are made.”

Some of the bureaucratic red tap was cut, which helped speed up the process. For instance, the the government paid vaccination developers ahead of time, which normally doesn’t happen. Some companies even had vaccines manufactured ahead of approval so they could roll them out quickly to the public once cleared.

Will the vaccine give me Covid-19?

No.

Johns Hopkins explains that Covid-19 vaccines were created with messenger RNA (mRNA), which means it doesn’t use the virus itself but a synthetic, lab-produced spike-like protein that mimics Covid.

mRNA is said to be more effective than a virus’ weakened or dead cells, which often are used in other vaccines. 

Does the vaccine have side effects?

Possibly.

The CDC reminds the public that almost all vaccines have some short-term side effects, which vary by person. Most folks have reported a sore arm or low-grade fever, but it doesn’t last more than a day or two.

As for long-term side effects, it’s still to be determined.

What if I have allergies? Should I still get the vaccine?

Consult your doctor.

Folks with allergies to certain foods, insects or latex could experience aftereffects. However, patients with severe allergies should consult their doctors first about vaccination risks.

Is it safe for children, people with suppressed immune systems and women who are pregnant?

Only teenagers, ages 16 or 18 and up are approved, depending on the vaccine.

The CDC has acknowledged the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine can be administered to folks 16 years and older, while Moderna can be given to ages 18 and older.

As for the immunocompromised and pregnant women, Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech did not conduct studies for these specific groups of people in its trials. That’s commonplace practice in trials approved by FDA emergency use authorization, as vaccines are studied to be effective on large groups. It’s best to consult your doctor.

So, I can live mask-free and stop social distancing once I get the vaccine, right?

No.

There is still a 5% to 6% chance of being infected even after you’ve been vaccinated. You may be safer than most people from getting physically sick once the vaccine takes effect, but you’re not 100% safe.

Also, it’s unknown if you could still be a carrier and thus risk passing the virus onto others.

It’s important to continue wearing a mask and social distancing, as well as washing your hands frequently. 


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