Ask a Doctor: Your COVID-19 Vaccine Questions Answered
It seems like new information about the COVID-19 vaccines is released every minute, and sometimes it can be hard to tell what info you see on social media is true and which is false. We understand that this can all seem overwhelming, so we took your questions and asked Montgomery County Public Health Authority Dr. Charles Sims from the Center for Infectious Diseases at The Woodlands Hospital to answer them. Here’s what he had to say.
Is the COVID-19 vaccine effective against the new strain?
The COVID-19 vaccines currently available (Pfizer and Moderna) should still be protective against the “new” strain of virus (commonly called the UK-variant, as it was first discovered in the United Kingdom). This variant appears to be more easily transmitted, but the vaccine is still able to produce antibodies to the spike protein of this variant. There is a second variant first described in South Africa, which appears to generate slightly lower antibody levels in infected individuals. It has not been shown that those who have received the vaccine are more susceptible to this strain. Further studies are in progress.
Do I need to wear a mask and social distance after I get the vaccine?
Yes, after receiving the vaccine, it is still important to wear a mask and socially distance. The vaccines are very good and have 90-95% efficacy. However, that also means that 5-10% of people may not be protected by the vaccine. Additionally, it is not fully known whether those protected by the vaccine may still become infected when exposed and have asymptomatic, low-grade infection. For these reasons, it is important to continue mask utilization and social distancing for the next few months until we are able to vaccinate a large portion of the population and the rate of viral infection decreases significantly.
Why do we need two doses of the COVID-19 vaccine?
You need a second dose of the vaccine to act as a booster to stimulate the production of long-term immunity and “memory” cells in the immune system that can potentially protect you for many years. The “flu” virus changes slightly every year, so we get a single vaccine for that specific flu season.
How long does immunity from the COVID-19 vaccine last?
We do not know at this point how long immunity lasts, but it seems to be at least for several years. Patients infected with COVID early in the pandemic have been studied and still have high antibody levels approximately one year afterward. Patients in early vaccine trials have been studied and still have high antibody levels many months after the vaccine was given. Unfortunately, we have only had COVID-infected patients for just over one year, so we cannot say what their antibody levels will be in 2-3 years.
I have a food allergy, and I’m afraid of having an allergic reaction. Should I avoid getting the COVID-19 vaccine?
Food allergies would not cross-react with any components in the vaccine, so there is not a risk of anaphylaxis solely based on having food allergies. The vaccine is made of mRNA and lipids (which all people have in their body) and some preservatives and salts. If one has a severe allergic reaction to the first dose of the COVID vaccine, they probably should not get the second dose. If one has had a serious allergic reaction to another vaccine, they can probably still get the COVID vaccine but should be observed closely for allergic reaction afterward.
If you are interested in receiving the COVID-19 vaccine, please fill out this form. Our team will determine which vaccination phase you fit into and contact you when we have an available vaccine.