Message from TEMS Section Chair – Dr. Jason R. Pickett
The COVID-19 vaccine is just around the corner and we expect them to arrive for public safety very shortly. We recorded this podcast that goes into some depth on the vaccines and how they are made, addressing common questions about them that we have received in the field. If you have colleagues with questions or who are uncertain about taking it, this 22 minute podcast may cover them. It gets into the science, but not too far into the weeds.
Currently the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are the only ones with Emergency Use Authorization from the FDA. Astrazeneca and Johnson & Johnson are expected to follow soon.
The COVID vaccines protect our workforce, our families, and the communities we serve. The NTOA leadership recommends the COVID-19 vaccine for all eligible personnel.
If you have any questions about the vaccine or COVID-19, please feel free to reach out to our TEMS Section Chair Dr. Jason Pickett at firstname.lastname@example.org.
FAQs on the COVID-19 Vaccine
How effective are the vaccines?
The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are ~95% effective, putting it on the scale of the polio or measles vaccines. By comparison, flu vaccine is usually only about 40% effective.
Can’t I just get the virus and get my immunity that way?
There are a couple of problems with this. Even people with mild infection may have persistent long lasting symptoms for months, including headache, muscle aches, joint pains, trouble breathing, and exercise intolerance. Fifty percent of people who catch the virus experience these persistent symptoms.
Cardiomyopathy has been demonstrated in children and adults, even who have asymptomatic infection. A multi-system inflammatory syndrome has been shown in children and now adults. Everyone I’ve talked to who has had the virus said 0 stars, do not recommend. And I have pronounced more young people in their 20s, 30s, and 40s dead than I care to count. Lastly, it appears that immunity from the virus may wane and reinfection is possible. Early evidence indicates the vaccine creates more robust long term immunity.
Can I catch the virus from the vaccine?
No. The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines use mRNA, which tells the cell to make a COVID spike protein that then causes the antibodies to be created. The vaccines are not made from the virus and there is no way to catch it from the vaccine.
Can I take it if I am pregnant or breastfeeding?
The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology and the Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine have both issued statements that the vaccine should be offered to women who are pregnant or nursing and meet other high risk criteria such as being healthcare workers or first responders or women with certain medical conditions. There is very little data on this however. The major trial of the Pfizer vaccine excluded pregnant women, although there were some pregnancies that occurred during the trial. There were no reports of adverse fetal events but these were obviously early pregnancies that likely haven’t come to term. The currently available vaccines have very limited ingredients, no metals, and no preservatives, and so far there is no reason to believe they would cause birth defects or fetal loss. There is a risk of fetal loss by getting the virus itself, and some data show that pregnant patients have an increased risk of severe disease compared to non-pregnant peers.
If I had the virus, should I take the vaccine?
Yes. There is now evidence of reinfection from COVID-19, and immunity conveyed by infection is variable. There is evidence that immunity after infection wanes after a few months. Early evidence indicates the vaccine conveys longer lasting immunity.
If I had the vaccine, do I still need to wear a mask?
For now, yes. We know the vaccines can prevent you from getting a symptomatic case of the virus. The trials were not designed to show if you can still spread it. We expect that data to be forthcoming but for now, still wear a mask.
There is another reason to wear a mask. Others who see you without a mask may think this virus is no big deal if you are not wearing one, and not understanding that you have been vaccinated, they may decide not to wear a mask. Wearing a mask is modeling behavior, and as front line first responders, you are strong influences on what precautions others take to fight the virus.
Are there long term effects from the vaccine?
We don’t really know that yet, but thus far there is no indication of it. There are many demonstrated long term effects of COVID-19, even in patients with mild infection. I’ll take my chances with the vaccine.
What are the side effects of the vaccine?
Aches, pains, headache and fever. These are typically mild and resolve within 1-3 days. The side effects are not uncommon with what you would experience from other vaccines. There were no serious side effects in anyone in the trials.
What about serious allergic reactions?
There have been 3 reported cases of anaphylaxis in people receiving the vaccine, all after the trials, all of whom recovered without incident. These are out of hundreds of thousands of people who have received the vaccine, so this complication is extremely rare. In order to qualify to give the vaccine, providers must be equipped to recognize and treat severe allergic reactions. People with a history of severe anaphylaxis should discuss the risk with their doctor before taking the vaccine.
I’m not so sure about a “new” vaccine…
mRNA as a vector for vaccines has been studied for 30 years. The Pfizer vaccine has been studied in 44,000 subjects, while Moderna is above 30,000, prior to submission to the FDA. The Pfizer vaccine has been administered to hundreds of thousands of people in Great Britain and the US. There is ongoing surveillance for serious adverse events as this is rolled out.
These vaccines seem rushed. Should that be a concern?
They came to market quickly, but that is partly because of the technology used to create them and partly because of the enormous funding provided by Operation Warp Speed. Every vaccine must still go through Phase I, II, and III trials with tens of thousands of patients before the EUA is granted. The key to speeding up production is the $10 billion invested by the federal government into the research and manufacturing capacity, which thanks to OWS could be built to a large scale even as the vaccines were still being developed and studied.
Will I be quarantined if I develop symptoms right after I get my vaccine?
No, as long as the symptoms are those of vaccination like fever, aches, pains, headache. Others like cough or shortness of breath are not seen with the vaccine would be more indicative of infection, and you would be quarantined and tested as per usual local practice.
I’ve heard about the vaccine causing infertility. Does it?
No. This was a false report based on the premise that the spike protein targeted by the vaccine is similar to a protein that helps the placenta adhere to the uterus. These proteins are not alike, and the claim has been debunked by several experts.
But what about Bell’s Palsy?
Bell’s Palsy is a limited neuropathy of the facial nerve that can cause facial droop. A recent news story said there were four cases of this among the Pfizer vaccine recipients. This number would be consistent with the background rate of the disease in the community. In other words, you would expect that many people to get Bell’s Palsy in a similar sized community who did not receive the vaccine. The studies are ongoing and we are watching to see if this is actually more likely, but so far it does not seem so.
I am allergic to eggs. Should I avoid the vaccine?
Unlike the flu vaccine, the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are not made with eggs.