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Get the Facts about the COVID-19 Vaccine

Updated July 2021

With the COVID-19 vaccine now available to everyone age 12 and over in Washington state, we sat down with infection disease specialist Edward Leonard, MD, pulmonologist Amy Markezich, MD, and family medicine provider Vincent Siy, MD, to talk about the safety of the COVID-19 vaccines and address questions and misconceptions.

Is the COVID-19 vaccine safe?

Dr. Markezich: The COVID-19 vaccine is extremely safe and effective. In fact, there have been only a small handful of allergic reactions that have occurred out of millions of doses of the vaccine given. If in a rare circumstance there is an allergic reaction, it happens in the first 12 minutes after the dose is given. This is why people who receive the vaccine are usually monitored for 15 minutes after they receive the dose out of an abundance of caution. The most common side effects are very mild and can include arm soreness, headaches, fatigue or chills, and usually only last a short period of time, such as a day or two.

Dr. Leonard: Although significant side effects from the vaccine have been reported (myocarditis from the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines and increased risk of blood clots from the Johnson and Johnson vaccine), so far these side effects have occurred in a very small number of vaccine recipients. Given the small number of people who have had side effects, we consider these vaccines to be safe.

Should my 12- to 15-year-old get the vaccine?

Dr. Siy: Yes. I recommend that everyone age 12 and up get the COVID-19 vaccine. Clinical trials have shown it is safe for children 12 to 15 years old.

What are the side effects of the vaccine?

Dr. Leonard: The side effects of the vaccines are thought to be similar to what patients have reported from the newest shingles vaccine. The most significant side effects reported from the vaccine are fatigue, headache and muscle aches. These symptoms are related to the body mounting an immune response to the vaccine and should be short lived. Use of anti-inflammatories such as ibuprofen or Tylenol can help reduce the symptoms. The benefits of receiving the vaccine outweigh the potential side effects a patient can develop after receiving the vaccine.

Can I get COVID-19 from the vaccine?

Dr. Leonard: No. The vaccine does not contain a live virus and therefore does not carry a risk of causing the disease in the vaccinated person. 

Do I still need to wear my mask, even if I’m fully vaccinated?

Dr. Siy: Based on state directives, fully vaccinated people are no longer required to wear masks in public, but everyone should still wear a mask in crowded spaces, healthcare facilities, public transit and schools. People who aren’t fully vaccinated still need to wear a mask in indoor public spaces. This guidance may change if we experience a surge in COVID-19.

I’ve had allergic reactions to vaccines in the past—can I still get the COVID-19 vaccine?

Dr. Leonard: Yes. The components of the COVID-19 vaccine are different from other vaccines, so the risk of allergic reaction to these vaccines is low.

I already had COVID-19, do I need to get the vaccine?

Dr. Leonard: As with other infections, patients do develop immunity to the infection. What we do not know is how long the immunity lasts and how strong the immunity is against COVID-19. Even if you had COVID-19, getting the vaccine will help augment the immune response against the virus.

Is it safe to travel?

Dr. Siy: It is safe to travel as long as you follow precautions. If you’re fully vaccinated, your risk is lower. If unvaccinated, please follow the latest guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

I never get the flu vaccine, why should I get the COVID-19 vaccine?

Dr. Leonard: We ALWAYS recommend getting the influenza vaccine to help reduce the risk of getting influenza, and if a person vaccinated ends up developing influenza, the disease will be less severe in that patient. Likewise with COVID-19, we would strongly recommend getting the COVID-19 vaccination for the same reasons.

When will children under 12 be able to get the vaccine?

Dr. Leonard: Pregnant women and children under 12 are currently being enrolled in clinical trials by the vaccine manufacturers to assess efficacy and safety of the vaccine in these populations.

As a doctor working on the frontlines with COVID-19 patients, what do you want the general public to know?

Dr. Markezich: COVID-19 is an extremely serious, dangerous and unpredictable virus. While most people do get mild illness, I have taken care of many patients who are young and without risk factors who have gotten critically ill from this. I have also seen many patients in my clinic months after they were sick who still haven’t recovered and have been left with lasting side effects. In addition, I have seen far too many patients die alone with their only contact with family at the end of their lives being through video chat. The more people who take the vaccine, the fewer of these tragic deaths will occur.

What would you say to people who are on the fence about getting this vaccine?

Dr. Markezich: I would tell them that the more people who get the vaccine, the faster we will be on the way to returning to normalcy. The potential side effects of the vaccine are mild, and they pale in comparison to getting severely ill from COVID-19. COVID-19 not only can be fatal, but I have seen a number of “long-hauler” patients who survive the illness but end up having lasting symptoms months after recovering from the disease. Many of them are still not able to return to work. Taking the vaccine helps to prevent developing an illness that can be long-lasting and can also help to protect vulnerable friends and family members.

What else do you want people to know about the vaccines? 

Dr. Markezich: While the vaccine is exciting and a game-changer, it is important that we continue to all do our part in helping to prevent the spread while this pandemic is going on, including wearing masks, avoiding indoor gatherings, continuing to social distance. 

For more details and the most up-to-date information about the COVID-19 vaccine, please visit the Overlake COVID-19 information page, the Washington State Department of Health and the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention.

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