The COVID-19 Vaccine: A Doctor Explains

Dr. Jason McKnight, a primary care physician at Texas A&M, answers five questions about the rollout and distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine.
By Jason R. McKnight for The Conversation December 16, 2020

a nurse is photographed while receiving a vaccine
Yaimara Cruz, RN for Jackson Health Systems, receives a Pfizer-BioNtech COVID-19 vaccine from June Ellis, ACNO, at the Jackson Memorial Hospital on Dec. 15 in Miami, Florida.

Getty Images

I hear that I might still have to wear a mask even after I get vaccinated. Why?

It will likely be the continued recommendation that everyone wear a mask when in public even after receiving the vaccination for COVID-19. While these vaccines appear to be highly effective in preventing infection from the disease, even at 95% efficacy, that means approximately 5% of people receiving the vaccination may still become infected. Wearing a mask helps decrease the transmission of the virus in those situations in which the vaccine does not prevent the illness.

Further, continuing to wear a mask may help prevent the spread of other respiratory illnesses, which can help prevent overwhelming the health care system, as we are already seeing during the pandemic. Finally, it is possible that some individuals receiving the vaccine may have an asymptomatic infection, and wearing a mask also helps prevent the spread of illness in that situation.

If I get the Pfizer vaccine for the first dose, how can I make sure I get the Pfizer vaccine the second time?

The distribution of the Pfizer vaccine is meant to match the need for the second dose. The clinic, hospital or pharmacy where you are vaccinated will keep a record of the vaccine that you received, as will you, to help ensure that your second dose matches the first dose.

close up of gloved hand holding a vial of the vaccine
A nurse shows a vial of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine outside of the Chatham County Health Department on Dec. 15 in Savannah, Georgia.

Sean Rayford/Getty Images

How will public health experts track the safety of the vaccine as it rolls out to bigger groups of people?

Public health experts as well as the vaccine manufacturers will continue to track the safety of the vaccine in multiple ways. First, the people who are vaccinated in the clinical trials will continue to be followed to ensure there are no long-term safety issues. Further, there is what is called a phase IV post-marketing surveillance trial, which will allow many people who are vaccinated to be followed long term to ensure no safety complications arise and to ensure that the vaccine remains as effective as originally thought.

How will I know when it’s my turn to get a vaccine?

To know when it is your turn to be vaccinated, contact either your state department of health or your health care provider. They will be receiving updates and further information about who is to be vaccinated and when. If you have questions about the vaccine and timing of administration, contact your health care provider.

Where will I get a vaccine?

While the exact distribution of vaccines is not yet solidified, and is dependent on the state in which you reside, most vaccines will likely be sent to hospital systems, health care providers’ offices, and some pharmacies. To find out the nearest location where you can be vaccinated, contact your local health department or your health care provider.

man opens a boxcontaining vaccines
Rocky Mountain Regional VA Medical Center associate chief of pharmacy operations Terrence Wong opens a box containing a shipment of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine on Dec. 15 in Aurora, Colorado. The Eastern Colorado VA Health Care System was chosen as one of 37 VA centers around the country to receive the vaccine because of their ability to store the vaccine at extremely cold temperatures and vaccinate a large number of people.

Michael Ciaglo/Getty Images



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This article by Jason R. McKnight originally appeared on The Conversation.

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