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COVID-19 Vaccination: Frequently Asked Questions

Q. Why should I get vaccinated?
A. We encourage all residents and staff to get the COVID-19 vaccination because it is one of the best ways to protect everyone from the virus. Vaccines work with the immune system, so it is ready to fight the virus if exposed. Getting these shots will not only protect residents from being infected; it will help us take a big step towards ending this pandemic.  
Q. How will the vaccine be administered?
A. PHS was enrolled in the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) Pharmacy Partnership for Long-term Care program that provides end-to-end management of the COVID-19 vaccination process. PHS is now working through local clinics and pharmacy providers to assist residents, staff, volunteers and others interested in getting vaccinated.

Q. Who has received the COVID-19 vaccine?
A. Older adults who live in long-term care settings, including care centers and assisted living, were in the first groups to be immunized (Phase 1A), as have been healthcare workers who serve in these settings.

Following our initial rounds of on-site vaccination clinics at all PHS locations, the majority of residents have been fully vaccinated. Currently anyone 12 years and older are eligible to receive a vaccination. If you haven’t been vaccinated yet and are interested, reach out, we would be happy to help you connect with available options.

Q. Will I be able to visit my loved one once they have been vaccinated?
A. Yes. Updated guidance from the CDC and public health departments has opened visitation in long-term care settings where at least 70% of residents are vaccinated. On average, PHS resident vaccination rates of over 90%. Find more information on our COVID-19 information page.

Q. Will this get us “back to normal”?
A. While experts learn more about the protection that COVID-19 vaccines provide under real-life conditions, it will be important for everyone to continue using all the tools available to us to help stop this pandemic, like covering your mouth and nose with a mask, washing hands often, and staying at least 6 feet away from others. The CDC has released updated guidance for those who have been fully vaccinated (two weeks after final dose) and what activities may be safe to resume. The guidance notes that the COVID vaccine is effective at preventing COVID-19, especially severe illness and death and that early data shows that vaccines help keep people from spreading COVID-19 to others.

Q. What is this vaccine?
A. Using new techniques to build a vaccine, pharmaceutical manufacturer Pfizer announced in November 2020 that initial clinical trials showed their offering proved effective in at least 90% of participants. Just one week later, another biotech company, Moderna, announced its own initial results, which suggested their vaccine was 94.5% effective in preventing the disease. Both vaccines require a two-dose administration. The second dose must come 21 days following the first for the Pfizer vaccine, or 28 days later in the case of the Moderna vaccine. The Pfizer vaccine has been approved for emergency use in people ages 12+; Moderna for ages 18+. In February of 2021, the FDA also issued emergency authorization for the single-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine (ages 18+).

Q. Is there a risk that I can get COVID-19 from the vaccine?
A. No, there is no risk of getting COVID-19 from the vaccination. None of the approved  vaccines contains the live COVID-19 virus. You may experience some side effects from the vaccination such as a sore arm, mild aches,nausea or fever. This is your immune system responding to the vaccine and is expected.  This does not mean you are getting sick with COVID-19.  We need the vaccine to trigger this immune response to produce the immunity you need against COVID-19.

Q. Will the COVID-19 vaccine make someone test positive for COVID?
A. COVID-19 vaccines will not cause you to test positive on COVID-19 viral tests which detect a current infection. If your body develops an immune response, which is the goal of vaccination, there is a possibility you may test positive on some antibody tests which measure immune response.

Q. When will the vaccine start working and how long is the vaccine effective?
A. Early reports from the FDA are that the vaccine begins to provide significant protection after about two weeks, but the second dose is important to boost the body’s immune response. Because the vaccine is new, the length of immunity is unknown at this time. There are some vaccines that do not require additional shots and there are other vaccines, such as the tetanus vaccine, that require periodic boosters. Current science suggests that the COVID-19 vaccine will be more like the flu vaccine requiring annual dosing, but further research will be required to fully answer this question.

Q. Can an mRNA vaccine alter my DNA?
A. Receiving an mRNA vaccine will not alter your DNA. mRNA vaccines like the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, provide instructions to the body to build proteins that mimic parts of the virus, prompting the immune system into producing antibodies to the coronavirus. mRNA is not able to alter or modify a person’s genetic makeup (DNA). The mRNA from a COVID-19 vaccine never enter the nucleus of the cell, which is where our DNA are kept. This means the mRNA does not affect or interact with our DNA in any way. Instead, COVID-19 vaccines that use mRNA work with the body’s natural defenses to safely develop protection (immunity) to disease. 
Q. How do we know it’s safe since it was developed so quickly?
A. Scientists have worked on coronavirus research for decades starting with the original SARS outbreak and influenza. Scientists only needed to isolate certain things about COVID-19 to begin creating a vaccine because we already know so much about the type of virus. Due to the public health crisis created by the pandemic, many private, government and independent groups came together and cooperated on a vaccine. This scale of cooperation is not typical, and the partnership created resources and information sharing to develop the vaccine faster.

Q. What are the side effects of the vaccine? Are there long-term effects?
A. There may be side-effects from the COVID-19 vaccination such as a sore arm, mild, generalized aches, headache, and fever. This vaccine will not make you sick with COVID-19; the side-effects are a result of your body’s immune system working to understand and create a response to the virus which is needed for your immunity. The long-term effects are still being studied. The first few months show no severe side effects for the general population. As with all vaccinations, long-term effects are monitored for up to 10 years. As with many vaccines, there may be some individuals who should not receive the vaccine based on medical history or their condition on the day of the vaccination clinic. Pharmacy representatives will conduct routine screening to identify these individuals. 
Q. Will I have to pay for it?
A. No, there will be no cost to you for the vaccination. Vaccine doses purchased with U.S. taxpayer dollars will be given to the American people at no cost. However, vaccination providers will be able to charge an administration fee for giving the shot to someone and the CARES Act requires insurers to cover the vaccination without imposing copays, coinsurance or deductibles. You will be asked to provide front and back photocopies of your insurance card with your consent form. For uninsured patients, coverage will be provided by the Health Resources and Services Administration’s Provider Relief Fund.
Q. Will the vaccine be mandatory?
A. No. The vaccination, administered through our pharmacy partners on behalf of and state and federal agencies, requires appropriate consent from residents and staff. We strongly encourage getting vaccinated. Getting vaccinated against COVID-19 is one of the best ways to protect yourself and everyone around you, particularly those who are at increased risk for severe illness.
Q. Will employees be paid for their time to attend a PHS vaccination clinic if they aren’t scheduled to work on the day of vaccination clinics?
A. Yes.
Q. Is it better to get natural immunity for COVID by getting the virus instead of the vaccine?
A. In many cases, the way to develop natural immunity to a pathogen is to become sick, have our immune systems respond, and then our immune system “remembers” the pathogen to keep us from getting sick again. However, our immune systems cannot always “remember” the pathogen; or, it cannot always fight off the virus.  Right now, we don’t know if becoming sick with COVID-19 actually causes you to be immune to re-infection with the virus or not. Scientists and public health officials believe that vaccination does provide immunity to the disease. Additionally, there is no way to be certain whether or not someone with COVID-19 will develop severe disease and suffer significant health complications or not. You will not become sick from the COVID-19 vaccine.
Q. If I have had COVID-19, should I still get vaccinated?
A. We are being advised that even people who have had COVID-19 should be vaccinated. The CDC indicates that there is not enough information currently available to say if or for how long after infection someone is protected from getting COVID-19 again; this is called natural immunity. Early evidence suggests natural immunity from COVID-19 may not last very long, but more studies are needed to better understand this. We are being told that individuals must wait at least two weeks following a COVID-19 diagnosis to be vaccinated.
Q. Can I get the flu vaccine and the COVID vaccine?
A. We are being advised that individuals must wait at least 14 days following other vaccinations like the influenza vaccine to receive the COVID vaccine. Each provider may have slightly different protocols, and the COVID-19 consent form will ask you to list any recent vaccinations. The COVID vaccine clinics will only be administering the COVID vaccine.

Listen in as our Medical Director, Dr. John Mielke, answers some specific questions about the COVID-19 vaccine.


Check out this vaccine overview from KARE11.

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