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COVID-19 Vaccination: Frequently Asked Questions

Please note: due to the fluidity of vaccine information and guidance, we are continuously updating these FAQs. The following is based on guidance from state and federal authorities, industry association partners and the pharmacies conducting early vaccine administration.
Key Resources:
CDC COVID-19 Vaccination FAQ Page
Pharmacy Partnership for Long-term Care program
LeadingAge COVID-19 Vaccination Information
Omnicare / CVS Health COVID-19 Vaccine Resource Page
Walgreens COVID-19 Vaccine Page
Moderna Vaccine Fact Sheet​
Pfizer Vaccine Fact Sheet
Q. Why should I get vaccinated?
A. We encourage all residents and staff to get the two-shot 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 is 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. CDC is partnering with Walgreens and CVS Health pharmacies to provide on-site COVID vaccine clinics. Omnicare, the long-term care pharmacy division of CVS Health and Walgreens, will be providing on-site clinics for assisted living, memory care and care centers at most PHS locations and will administer the vaccinations. Pharmacies participating in the CDC’s program are working with senior care providers to prepare for and schedule these clinics, obtain consents and provide vaccination to eligible residents and staff. On-site clinics will be scheduled 21/28 days apart (depending on the vaccine manufacturer) to administer first and second doses and we will be coordinating with the vaccine providers to schedule residents and staff for clinic dates, including second doses for discharged residents.

Q. When will the COVID-19 vaccine be available to us?
A. Older adults who live in long-term care settings, including care centers and assisted living, are in the first groups to be immunized (Phase 1A), as are healthcare workers who serve in these settings. The CDC and state health departments are making prioritization decisions given the limited supply of early vaccine. The first round of clinics included only care center residents and the staff who support them. "Staff” includes volunteers and vendors who routinely have contact with residents, including essential caregivers in Minnesota, but some of these individuals have been required to wait for a second round of clinics given limited supply.
The majority of PHS’s 21 care center locations (with 24-hour skilled nursing) have held their initial vaccination clinics, with additional clinics being scheduled to administer the booster dose. Our 22 locations with assisted living / memory care (which do not have a care center) have now mostly received their initial clinic dates, ranging from mid January through early February. 
The CDC has approved states to move to Phase 1B and 1C of vaccine distribution, including those aged 65+.  State health departments are making plans to include these further groups. We have been advocating to include independent living residents in on-site clinics as soon as possible, and we are hopeful they will soon be included.
Q. What is this vaccine?
A. Using new techniques to build a vaccine, pharmaceutical manufacturer Pfizer announced in November 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 Minnesota and Wisconsin state health departments have indicated that the Moderna vaccine will be prioritized for long-term care settings given that it is easier to transport and manage compared to the Pfizer vaccine’s ultra-cold storage requirements. The Pfizer vaccine has been approved for emergency use in people ages 16+; Moderna for 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. Neither leading vaccine candidate contains the live COVID-19 virus (as is the case for the vast majority of the ~200 vaccines in development). You may experience some side effects from the vaccination such as a sore arm, mild aches, 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. 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. 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. 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.
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. Experts need to understand more about the protection that COVID-19 vaccines provide before deciding to change recommendations on steps everyone should take to slow the spread of the virus that causes COVID-19.
Q. Will I be able to visit my loved one once they have been vaccinated?
A. When it comes to visitor policies and the host of safeguards we have become accustomed to, federal and state health agencies will continue to issue guidance and make these determinations. We expect it will be some time before we see major policy updates. Other factors, including how many people get vaccinated and how the virus is spreading in communities, will also affect these decisions.

Check out this vaccine overview from KARE11.

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