The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the United States has approved vaccines against the coronavirus that causes COVID-19. Senior director of infection control Lisa Maragakis, M.D., M.P.H., and Gabor Kelen, M.D., director of Johns Hopkins Office of Critical Event Preparedness and Response, answer common questions and explain how a vaccine could affect the current pandemic.

Are Vaccines Effective? How do they work? 

Vaccines assist in the production of immunity to a virus or other germ. A vaccine brings into a person's body a less dangerous component of the germ — or something created to look or feel like it. The immune system of the body produces antibodies that battle the germ and prevent the individual from being ill. If the person is exposed to the germ again, their immune system will be able to "recognize" it and "learn" how to combat it.

Is there a coronavirus vaccine available?

Pfizer's vaccine was approved on December 12, 2020, while Moderna's version was approved on December 18, 2020.

COVID-19 is a virus that can be avoided with a vaccine.

Every viral particle of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 has protein spikes. These spikes aid virus attachment to cells and disease transmission. Some coronavirus vaccines are being developed to help the body "recognize" these spike proteins and combat the coronavirus that contains them.

When a person receives an effective vaccine, their chances of contracting COVID-19 are decreased if they come into contact with the coronavirus. Since the coronavirus has been widely vaccinated, the virus would not affect as many people. This will restrict the spread of the virus within populations.

Both Pfizer and Moderna say that their COVID-19 vaccines are 95 percent successful in avoiding both moderate and serious symptoms. According to the Pfizer trial, this degree of effectiveness extends across age groups, racial and ethnic groups, and both sexes.

COVID-19 Vaccine Protection and Efficacy

What can we use to determine whether a COVID-19 vaccine is safe and effective?

A COVID-19 vaccine must pass certain tests and meet certain requirements in order to be considered safe and reliable. Scientific evidence from the study is used by organizations including the National Academy of Sciences, the National Institutes of Health, and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to help determine whether and when new medications and vaccines should be made available to the public. It's important to remember that COVID-19 cannot be contracted by vaccination. The vaccines contain proteins or other biological substances to activate the immune response, but they do not contain the coronavirus.

What Are the Chances of a COVID-19 Vaccine Being Safe and Effective?

How long will it keep me safe? Is it important for me to get a COVID-19 shot every year?

A few people who have had COVID-19 have had a second, typically milder case of the virus, and researchers are looking at what this means for how long coronavirus immunity lasts. Vaccine researchers are searching for ways to increase the vaccine's efficacy so that it can offer longer immune protection than a normal coronavirus infection.

Will the vaccine protect me if I've had COVID-19 or tested positive for the coronavirus before?

People who have already had COVID-19 or who have tested positive for COVID-19 can still benefit from having the vaccine, according to the CDC. There is currently insufficient information to say whether or not people are shielded from having COVID-19 after they have had it, or for how long (natural immunity). Early evidence shows that natural COVID-19 immunity can not last long, but further research is required to fully understand this.

Do I still need to wear a mask if I get a coronavirus vaccination? Is there a physical separation?

Yeah, indeed. Everyone who wants a COVID-19 vaccine can have to wait a while. A vaccination that is 95% effective means that only 1 out of every 20 people who receive it will not be prevented from contracting the disease.

Furthermore, while the vaccine might prevent you from becoming ill, it is currently unknown whether you can still carry the virus and spread it to others. As a result, before more is learned about how well the vaccine works, it will be appropriate to maintain precautions such as mask use and physical separation.

COVID-19 Vaccine Supply

Will there be enough vaccines to satisfy everyone's needs?

COVID-19 vaccines have been approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and initial supplies are being distributed throughout the United States.

Since it will take time to produce and administer enough vaccines to protect anyone who wants to be vaccinated against COVID-19, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has identified priority categories. To establish these guidelines, the CDC worked closely with state health departments and other stakeholders.

If you're a patient at Johns Hopkins Medicine, go to our COVID-19 Vaccination Details and Notifications page for the most up-to-date information on getting vaccinated. Updates on vaccine delivery in your region can also be found on the website of your state's health department.

Would some places be easier to navigate than others?

There may be variations in availability from one location to the next. Availability can be determined by the amount of vaccine manufactured and how it is transported and stored. Some vaccines, for example, must be kept frozen at extremely low temperatures to be safe. Every effort will be taken to ensure that the vaccine is administered equally.

Will elderly citizens be vaccinated against COVID-19?

The CDC is making decisions on who should get vaccines in what order. Frontline healthcare staff and residents of long-term care facilities will be the first to receive approved COVID-19 vaccines. Adults aged 75 and up are expected to begin obtaining vaccines in January.

When vaccine supplies are low, check the CDC's recommendations on who gets vaccinated first.

Should children be vaccinated against COVID-19?

The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine has been approved for sale to people aged 16 and up by the Food and Drug Administration.

For children under the age of 16, no COVID-19 vaccine has been approved. At least one study is currently underway, with participants aged 12 to 18 and their parents' permission. However, enough information on the timing, protection, efficacy, and practical aspects of vaccinating children for the coronavirus, especially children under the age of 12, may not be available until late 2021 or even 2022.

Why do I think about getting vaccinated against COVID-19?

Stopping a pandemic necessitates the use of all available resources. Wearing masks and maintaining a safe distance from others will help minimize the risk of catching the virus or spreading it to others, but these precautions are inadequate. Vaccines interact with the immune system to ensure that if you are exposed to the virus, you will be prepared to combat it.

The strongest defense against COVID-19 is a combination of getting vaccinated and following CDC advice to protect yourself and others. Ending the COVID-19 pandemic would bring an end to the virus's increasing negative effects on education, the environment, health care, and countless other facets of society.

May 12, 2023

Natasha Osei

Passionate Nurse Practitioner | People person
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