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COVID-19: Frequently Asked Questions

COVID-19 Vaccine FAQs

When can I get vaccinated?

The federal government has invested in vaccine manufacturers in order to continually increase supply of the vaccine. As soon as large quantities of the vaccine are available, the goal is for everyone to be able to get a COVID-19 vaccine from doctor's offices, pharmacies, health clinics and hospitals.

Initially, however, there will not be enough doses available for everyone to get vaccinated at once, and so residents will get the vaccine in phases. Following recommendations from the federal government, the CDC, and the Massachusetts Vaccine Advisory Group, the state has developed a Vaccine Distribution Plan with 3 phases for vaccination, in order to protect the most vulnerable in our communities, maintain health care system capacity, and ensure fair and equitable distribution.

Is the vaccine safe?

Per the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, a vaccine will not be distributed in Massachusetts until the FDA determines the vaccine is safe.

It’s important to know that vaccines go through more testing than any other pharmaceuticals.  Before any vaccine is made available, it must go through rigorous development and testing. Manufacturing is critical — every dose must consistently be high quality. Additionally, extensive testing in clinical trials is conducted to prove safety. First, small groups of people receive the trial vaccine. Next, vaccine is given to people with particular characteristics (e.g., age and physical health). Then, vaccine is given to tens of thousands of people, with a similar group in size and demographic make-up receiving a placebo (they did not get the vaccine), and tested for effectiveness and safety.

Both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, the two vaccine makers closest to final approval (Pfizer was just approved on 12/11/20), showed around 95% effectiveness, which means that of the people who became infected with COVID-19, 95% received the placebo but only 5% received the vaccine.

After the large 3rd phase trial, the data is reviewed by the FDA, which approves the vaccine, and by an independent board, CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP), which will make its recommendations for use. These bodies are the final safeguards for the public ensuring any vaccine is both safe and effective.

I’ve heard that the technology for the first two COVID vaccines is new vaccine technology. How does it work?

First, vaccines being developed for COVID-19 work in a similar way as all vaccines do, by creating the ability to fight the virus (immunity) that causes COVID-19.  Most vaccines, including the vaccines for COVID-19, trigger a person’s body to make antibodies that protect them in case they are exposed to the virus. Additional information about How COVID-19 Vaccines Work is available on the CDC website.

However, unlike most vaccines that work by injecting inactivated virus or a small amount of live virus, the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines both rely on a relatively new technology and are made using messenger RNA, or mRNA. An mRNA vaccine teaches our bodies to make a small amount of protein that is found on the surface of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19. Our immune system then mounts a response to that protein and generates an immune defense so the body develops immunity to the COVID-19 virus without ever having been infected by virus.

Is there a chance that I might get COVID-19 from the COVID vaccine?

No, you cannot become infected with COVID-19 by taking the vaccine. First, unlike other vaccines, this vaccine does not contain a virus at all. There is no weakened version of a live virus or an inactive, dead version of the virus in this vaccine. The mRNA in the vaccine is rapidly degraded by the body after infection. Furthermore, mRNA is not infectious, nor can it be integrated into anyone’s DNA. So there is absolutely no way you can get COVID-19 from the COVID-19 vaccine.

When it’s available, can everyone get the vaccine?

The Moderna and Pfzier vaccine trials did not extensively test children under the age of 16 or woman who are pregnant or breastfeeding. At this time, therefore, a COVID-19 vaccine is not available for children 15 years of age and younger.  

People who are immunocompromised, pregnant, breastfeeding or have had a previous, severe allergic reaction to a vaccine should speak with their doctor and discuss the risks and benefits of getting the COVID-19 vaccine based on their personal medical situation.

What can I expect when I get the COVID-19 vaccine? Are there side effects?

Both the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines require two shots given 3-4 weeks apart. While the first shot starts building protection and is about 50% effective against getting COVID-19, the second dose is required to reach the 95% effectiveness and protection the vaccine can offer. The full benefit is achieved 7 to 14 days after that second dose is given.

Similar to getting any other vaccine, you could experience some discomfort and soreness from the injection site as well as non-serious side effects like fever, chills, fatigue and headache. In the studies performed on the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, many vaccine recipients developed mild symptoms including achiness and fatigue which was overall mild, and fewer recipients developed fever, chills, or headache.  The side effects occurred more frequently after the second dose of the vaccine.

Should I get vaccinated if I already had COVID-19?

Yes, it’s recommended that people who have had COVID-19 get the vaccine. However, if you’ve had COVID-19 within the last 90 days, you can delay vaccination for at least 90 days after infection, as current evidence suggests reinfection is uncommon during that time period. 

Will I still need to wear a mask and socially distance after getting vaccinated?

Yes. Wearing masks, social distancing and washing your hands will continue to be important even after you’re vaccinated – here’s why:

  1. Based on the studies, we have very strong evidence that the vaccine reduces the risk of developing disease related to COVID-19, but we don't yet know whether the COVID-19 vaccines prevent asymptomatic infection, prevent illness in those infected, or both. We do know that almost all other vaccines we've used in the past have prevented transmission, so we expect that there will be a decreased risk of transmission with these vaccines as well.
  2. It’ll take time to immunize enough of the population to stop the virus from spreading extensively. The percentage of a population that needs to be immune to a disease so that the disease is unlikely to spread, also known as “herd immunity,” is around 70 to 80%. In the U.S., that would be between 230 and 260 million people.

So we will need to continue these safe practices for some time. Learn more about our Commitment to Safe Care to protect you and our staff.

Additional COVID-19 FAQs

I heard on the news that people who are pregnant might be at increased risk related to COVID. Is that true?

A recent report from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reported on COVID infection among a large group of women between the ages of 15 and 44. The study did not find an increased risk of developing COVID for women who were pregnant versus those who were not pregnant, but did suggest that there was a disproportionate rate of COVID infections among women who self- identified as Black or Hispanic. We are fortunate that here in Massachusetts, the rates of COVID have dropped dramatically, and right now the risk of contracting COVID is low, and can be further reduced with a few safety measures.

Do pregnant women have a higher rate of bad outcomes if they become infected with COVID compared to women who are not pregnant?

In the report, some of the findings included increased risk of hospitalization among people who were pregnant and developed infection with COVID as well as an increased risk of being admitted to the ICU and requiring mechanical ventilation (breathing support) when compared with non-pregnant women. One limitation of the study is that while hospitalization occurred in a significantly higher proportion of pregnant women than non-pregnant women, the study did not include information about whether hospitalization was for COVID-19 or pregnancy-related conditions. Furthermore, these findings may be related to a lower threshold for admitting pregnant patients or for universal screening and testing policies that some hospitals have implemented for women admitted to the labor and delivery unit. There was no increased risk for death among women who were pregnant and diagnosed with COVID compared with women who were non-pregnant and diagnosed with COVID.

If I am pregnant, what can I do to remain safe from COVID?

Pregnant women should do all that they can to not skip prenatal care appointments. Atrius Health offers and encourages virtual prenatal appointments when clinically appropriate. As applies to the general population, pregnant women should limit interactions with other people as much as possible, take precautions to prevent getting COVID-19 when interacting with others including avoiding contact with people who may be sick, trying to wear a mask and keep physically separated from other people when going out and practicing good hand hygiene. It is also important to be sure to have at least a 30-day supply of medicines on hand, and talk to your health care provider about other things you can do to stay healthy during the COVID-19 pandemic. Also do not hesitate to share with your providers if there are things that make it difficult for you to stay safe.

What is COVID-19?  

COVID-19 is a respiratory illness that can spread from person to person and has spread worldwide over the past few months. Although there are many types of human coronaviruses, including some that commonly cause mild upper-respiratory tract illnesses, COVID-19 is a new disease, caused by a novel (or new) coronavirus that has not previously been seen in humans.

What are the symptoms of COVID-19 and what happens if I get it?

Most people who develop COVID-19 develop an illness that may be very similar to the flu with fever, cough, and shortness of breath. If you’d like to check your symptoms online, MyHealth Online users can now log in and use our custom developed symptom checker for COVID-19. Just click on ‘Symptom Checker’ and answer the questions. Depending on your current symptoms and history, the checker may direct you to continue monitoring symptoms at home, call our COVID Resource Center team, or schedule a virtual video visit with a clinician for further evaluation. If you have not yet signed up for MyHealth, you can also try this COVID-19 symptom checker from Buoy Health. It will also help you to assess your risk and symptoms.

The CDC believes at this time that symptoms of the new coronavirus may appear in as few as two days or as long as 14 after exposure. With rest and supportive care at home (e.g., drinking plenty of fluids, acetaminophen or Tylenol as directed, etc.), most people recover within the course of several days to 1-2 weeks. Stay in touch with your primary care provider’s office for more individually tailored supportive care advice.

Some people are at higher risk of experiencing more severe symptoms with a COVID-19 infection: people with lung or heart disease, smokers, people with weakened immune systems due to illness or medications, and more generally people over the age of 65. Since people with these conditions could develop more severe symptoms, it is important for them to self-monitor closely for the onset of flu-like symptoms and to contact their doctor’s office for the best way to get evaluated, even when your symptoms are mild.

How is COVID-19 spread?

Based on our best science to date, it is believed that COVID-19 is spread through respiratory secretions, namely droplets that come from a cough or a sneeze. Since the virus can live in droplets that land on a table, phone, or railing, we can catch this virus by touching our mouth, nose, or eyes after coming in contact with these droplets. This is why it is really important to wash our hands frequently and thoroughly for at least 20 seconds. 

Social distancing is in the news right now, and it means keeping a safe distance from one another to try to minimize the chance that you will catch or spread COVID-19. In general, staying 6 feet apart is considered a safe distance. Further, Governor Baker issued an order effective Wednesday, May 6 requiring face masks or cloth face coverings to be worn in public places where social distancing is not possible.

When we physically distance ourselves from other people and reduce the opportunities to spread the virus, we can hopefully slow the rate of new cases and help our healthcare system better keep up and care for those who get infected, a concept known as “flattening the curve.”

What can be done to prevent the spread of coronavirus?

Consistent hand hygiene and cough etiquette are the best way to prevent the spread of respiratory viruses like COVID-19. We strongly recommend the following:

  • Limit contact with others to help “flatten the curve”
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after going to the bathroom; before eating; and after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing.
  • Wear a cloth face covering or face mask
  • When coughing or sneezing, always cover your nose and mouth with a flexed elbow or tissue. Wash your hands after every time.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.
  • Avoid close contact with individuals who are ill
  • Stay at home when you are ill; except when seeking necessary medical care

Who should get tested for COVID-19?

At this time, testing is strongly recommended for all patients with symptoms of COVID-19 (fever, cough, congestion, wheezing, sore throat and/or shortness of breath) as well as asymptomatic people in the following groups:

  • Pregnant patients planning a Caesarian section or scheduled induction who are unable to have pre-admission testing done at their delivery hospital
  • Patients who reside or work in high-risk congregate settings where there is evidence of outbreak (i.e., nursing homes, skilled nursing facilities, homeless shelters, group homes) OR who are sent by the Department of Public Health or a residential facility for testing as a part of an investigation
  • Patients who require testing as a part of return to work criteria
  • Patients who have a planned, aerosol-generating or direct airway procedure such as Endoscopy, Ear, Nose & Throat (ENT) procedures, and dental procedures.
  • Patients who may have been exposed to COVID-19 and meet any of the following criteria:
    • Have received a text message or letter from the Massachusetts COVID Team or their local board of health informing them they were identified as a close contact of a COVID-19 case.
    • Believe to have been exposed to COVID-19 through a household member (e.g., child, parent, sibling diagnosed with COVID-19 in the household).
    • Had close contact with a confirmed individual with COVID-19 (workplace or community exposure) and had been within 6 feet of the individual for >=15 continuous minutes without personal protective equipment.
    • If required for the purposes of visiting long-term care facility residents, attending daycare or summer camps, or travel to a destination where testing results may impact on quarantine requirements.

How is the COVID-19 test done?

The test for COVID-19 requires us to take a swab and insert it into your nose to get a sample of secretions from the back of your nose. The person taking your swab will be wearing protective equipment including a face shield, mask, gown, and gloves.   

Should I get tested if I have had contact with someone who was tested as positive for COVID-19?

Yes, based on new state guidelines, if someone with whom you had close contact is found to have COVID-19 disease, it is now recommended that you get tested. Please contact us for more information. We are here to help.

What should I do if I have COVID-19?

The CDC has great information about what to do if you are sick and how to care for yourself at home. And please do not hesitate to contact your Atrius Health provider if you are worried about worsening symptoms.

When do I know that I have recovered from COVID-19?

The CDC says you have recovered if it has been at least 7 days since your symptoms first appeared, if you have gone 3 days without a fever and without the use of fever-reducing medications, and if respiratory symptoms like cough and/or shortness of breath have improved.

How do I talk to my children about COVID-19?

We understand that what is happening right now is very hard for adults to process, and it can be equally confusing and very scary for children, as well. The CDC has an entire page on their website dedicated to helping parents and guardians talk to children about COVID-19, from general principles to use when approaching and holding the conversation to child-friendly answers about COVID-19.