Everybody has questions about COVID-19 vaccines and with good reason. For the past 100 years, we’ve never experienced a global pandemic of this magnitude, and COVID-19 — unlike the seasonal flu — is an entirely new coronavirus which meant researchers had to develop and test all-new vaccines. In March and April of 2020, estimates for a conventional approach to vaccine research, testing, approvals and production included possible timelines of two or even three years. As the Harvard Medical School notes, no new vaccine had been developed in less than four years. And yet, one vaccine is already available with potentially more to come. What do we know?
The first vaccine authorized and recommended to prevent COVID-19 is the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine. It is important to know that this and other vaccines undergoing clinical studies in the United States do not use the live virus that causes COVID-19. Technically, the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine is an mRNA vaccine, which has been a field of study for about 30 years. mRNA vaccines teach cells how to make a protein that triggers an immune response inside our bodies. This response, in turn, produces antibodies that protect us from the real COVID-19 virus.
The first vaccine available to the public requires two doses. After you get the first one, you go back three weeks later for the second one. According to the CDC, it takes time for your body to build protection after any vaccination. COVID-19 vaccines that require 2 shots may not protect you until a week or two after your second shot.
Health care workers and residents of long-term care facilities are the first people recommended to receive the vaccine. Once production capacity expands, more people will be able to get vaccinated. The process and rollout are expected to take many months.
You may have heard about some side effects. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) identifies pain or possible swelling as a common side effect on the arm where you get the shot. Other side effects may include flu-like symptoms such as fever, chills, tiredness or headache. The CDC states that these symptoms should go away in a few days.
The CDC maintains an updated set of resources for learning more about COVID-19 and vaccines. Refer to the CDC Frequently Asked Questions about COVID-19 Vaccination. The Minnesota Department of Health also provides vaccination information.
If you’d like to learn more about Katalin Karikó, a biochemist and pioneer in mRNA technology, The Guardian profiles her extraordinary career. All of us at Southdale ObGyn are inspired by her work and that of many other research teams who led the way in developing COVID-19 vaccines.