Managing director’s commentary: All of us are yearning to break out of the psychological and physical incarceration we have experienced for more than twelve months now. To do so, of course, it is essential that we take advantage of the COVID-19 vaccines that have emerged. I have taken particular interest in the fundamental questions and answers that our Media Content Editor, Jillian Wilson, discovered surrounding these new inoculations. There’s significant doubt among a credible number of Black and Brown people and who can blame them? Brown University grad Brian Mastroianni writing for the online wellness publication Healthline last December noted that in the past, racist, and sometimes dangerous, health policies and clinical experiments have targeted particularly vulnerable Black and Brown communities. In addition to this history, a lot of mistrust around the COVID-19 vaccine has also been fueled by the overall chaotic messaging around the pandemic. We need to work directly with community leaders and amplify the voices of people of color to ease fears, build trust, and disseminate accurate information about the vaccines.
Experts know and are learning a lot about the coronavirus vaccine, shots that offer many a glimmer of hope as the pandemic continues to rage on and as daily death counts reach all-time highs.
At this point, millions of Americans have received the coronavirus vaccine, which has given experts a clearer picture of the treatment and its impact on large groups of people. But there are still a lot of unknowns, too.
Here are answers to some of the most common vaccine questions right now:
Does the COVID-19 vaccine prevent you from spreading the virus to others who haven’t been vaccinated?
Answer: It is unknown right now.
William Moss, executive director of the International Vaccine Access Center at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, said we are still waiting on results from ongoing formal studies to determine whether vaccinated people can asymptomatically spread COVID-19 to those who are not vaccinated.
He noted that the end goal of the phase three vaccine trials, which served as the basis for the vaccines’ emergency use authorization by the Food and Drug Administration, was to look at clinical disease, not potential transmission from vaccinated individuals.
“The trials as they were originally designed were not able to address this question,” he said. “What we can say is that it’s highly likely that [the vaccine] reduces the risk of transmission, whether it prevents it completely, that is what we’ll have to see.”
It is known that there is a relationship between the amount of virus in a person and how severe the disease is, Moss said. “And we know that these vaccines can reduce the severity of disease and prevent disease, so it is highly likely that these vaccines also prevent the amount of virus within an individual and thus have an impact on transmission.”
He added that while it is likely that the coronavirus vaccines reduce the risk of transmission, we do not have data to prove that the vaccines completely prevent a vaccinated individual from asymptomatically transmitting the virus.
So, even after you’re vaccinated, it’s crucial to follow all public health measures (masking, social distancing and hand washing) to ensure you aren’t unknowingly spreading the virus to those around you.
How long does immunity last once you get the COVID-19 vaccine?
Answer: It’s not clear right now, but experts hope for *at least* a year.
Ongoing studies are currently examining the post-vaccine immunity timeline, but at this point, it is not known for certain how long immunity lasts after vaccination.
“From what I can tell, people who were vaccinated in the earliest parts of the trial are still showing signs of neutralizing immunity,” said Rachel Graham, an assistant professor in epidemiology at the Gillings School of Global Public Health at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. She noted that at this point, that is just a few months.
Graham added that we’ll know more about the immunity timeline and how that affects the spread of COVID once further phases are rolled out.
“Hopefully we’ll get something that shows that immunity lasts at least a year so this vaccination can become part of your yearly vaccination program,” she said.
Should people who had COVID-19 still get vaccinated?
While people who have had COVID-19 may think they’re protected, that may not actually be the case. There is a lot of variability in the immune response following natural infection, Moss said.
According to Sandra Albrecht, assistant professor in epidemiology at the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University in New York, people develop different levels of immunity after a natural COVID infection — some people have no antibodies, some people have low levels of antibodies and some people have high levels of antibodies. But there is no way to predict who is immune after natural infection, Albrecht added.
“We have really good information about how people respond to the vaccine, we have really good information on how protected they are. We just have a lot more confidence and certainty in the level of protection following vaccination,” Moss said.
That same kind of rigorous data does not exist for natural infection. “It is recommended that people who have had COVID-19 be vaccinated, it’s more about just being confident that they’re actually protected,” Moss added.
Should people who are worried about allergic reactions get the shot?
Answer: A majority of the time, yes. Talk with your doctor about your options.
Severe allergic reactions to the shots are extremely rare, Graham said. However, because the vaccine is so new, medical professionals will keep an eye on recipients after their shot in case of any issues.
“The vaccine administrator is going to ask you to hang around for 15 or 30 minutes after the vaccination is completed to make sure you don’t have any adverse reactions,” Graham said.
Graham added that when it comes to the coronavirus vaccine, the only recorded allergen that is potentially problematic for some is polyethylene glycol, which people would be exposed to in a high-test laxative like MiraLAX or in gut prep for a colonoscopy. “You would know if you’re allergic to it at this point,” Graham said.
Albrecht offered some solace by noting that the percentage of severe reactions is very small. So far there are only about 11 cases of severe reactions per 1 million administered doses. If someone does have a severe allergic reaction, there are immediate treatments that medical professionals can implement.
“Allergic reactions, in general, can be treated in that moment — that’s one of the reasons why individuals are encouraged to stay at the location after being vaccinated,” Albrecht said.
Before you get your COVID shot, it’s important to let your medical provider know if you have ever experienced anaphylaxis after a vaccine or medicine.
Will the vaccine protect against the new COVID-19 mutations?
Answer: Experts believe so. Right now, it’s known that the Pfizer vaccine is effective in protecting against new coronavirus variants; the Moderna vaccine is still being studied.
Over the past few weeks, new and more contagious coronavirus variants have popped up. The more contagious variants ― first identified in the UK and South Africa ― are now infecting people in additional countries too, including the United States. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention believes the new variant will become the dominant strain in the U.S.
Albrecht noted that studies suggest the Pfizer vaccine is effective in protecting against both new variants discovered so far. She added that experts are waiting on data on the Moderna vaccine, which is still being processed, to see if it is effective as well. Moderna expects its vaccine to protect against the variants, too.
Article originally published on HuffPost.