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COVID-19 Vaccination Phases and Safety

Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, receives the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine at the HHS/NIH COVID-19 Vaccine Kick-Off event at NIH on 12/22/20.Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, receives the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine at the HHS/NIH COVID-19 Vaccine Kick-Off event at NIH on 12/22/20.Vaccinations offer hope in ending the pandemic

The end of 2020 ushered in hope, first with the announcement that COVID-19 vaccinations had been approved, and then with the start of administration of the vaccine across the country, including in Massachusetts.  We are currently in Phase 1 of a three phase vaccination plan.  COVID-19 vaccinations continue for COVID-facing health care workers, and as of December 28, residents and staff of long-term care facilities began receiving vaccinations.

Vaccines have very high safety standards, and the vaccines in development to prevent COVID-19 are no exception.

According to mass.gov, during Phase 1, which will last until February, vaccinations will be administered to individuals in the following order of priority:

  1. Clinical and non-clinical health care workers doing direct and COVID-facing care (including COVID-19 testers; COVID-19 vaccinators, and support staff for a COVID vaccination clinic; Medical Reserve Corps who are called up to vaccinate or other COVID-facing direct care work; COVID-facing hospice/palliative care professionals; COVID-facing laboratorians; COVID-facing imaging professions; and emergent employees manufacturing COVID vaccine)
  2. Long-term care facilities, rest homes, and assisted living facilities
  3. Emergency medical services, police, and fire (including all interfacility transport workers and MedFlight staff)
  4. Congregate care settings (including corrections and shelters)
  5. Home-based health care workers (including PT/OT/SLP therapists who work with medically complex home students)
  6. Health care workers doing non-COVID-facing care (including dentists/dental students, medical students, physical therapists, interpreters who work in hospitals, behavioral health clinicians not already covered in congregate care or direct care, laboratorians, blood donation workers, organ donation procurement workers, hospice/palliative care professionals, imaging professionals, dialysis center workers and patients, audiologists and speech and language pathologists, and podiatrists)

Phase 2 will begin in February 2021 and will last until March 2021.  Vaccinations will be administered in the following order of priority:

  1. Individuals with 2+ co-morbid conditions which put them at high risk for COVID-19 complications (including individuals with cancer, chronic kidney disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, heart conditions, a weakened immune system from solid organ transplant, obesity, severe obesity, sickle cell disease, diabetes, people who smoke, and women who are pregnant)
  2. Other workers (including early education; K-12; transit; grocery; utility; food and agriculture; restaurant and cafe workers; employees across the food, beverages, agriculture, consumer goods, retail, and food service sectors; meatpackers; sanitation, public works and public health workers; vaccine development workers; food pantry workers; Uber/Lyft/rideshare services/pharmacy delivery drivers, workers in the passenger ground transportation industry; convenience store workers; and water and wastewater utility staff)
  3. Adults 65+
  4. Individuals with one co-morbid condition (examples listed above)

Phase 3 will begin in April 2021, when the vaccine is expected to be available to the general public.

The National Institutes of Health (nih.gov) says vaccines have very high safety standards, and the vaccines in development to prevent COVID-19 are no exception. Vaccines are approved by the FDA for use only if they have proven safe and effective in a large group of people.

Although the search for and development of the COVID-19 vaccines is happening very quickly, the FDA has made the safety standards and approval process even tougher than usual. The FDA set minimum requirements for the effectiveness of products to approve only those vaccines that could offer immunity to the majority of the population.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (cdc.gov), a COVID-19 vaccination will help protect you from getting COVID-19.  Two doses are needed.  Depending on the specific vaccine you get, a second shot 3-4 weeks after your first shot is needed to get the most protection the vaccine has to offer against this serious disease.

While you may have some side effects after being vaccinated, this is a normal sign that your body is building protection.  The side effects from COVID-19 vaccination may feel like flu and might even affect your ability to do daily activities, but they should go away in a few days.

Also, cost is not an obstacle to getting vaccinated against COVID-19.  Vaccine doses purchased with U.S. taxpayer dollars will be given to the American people at no cost.  However, vaccination providers may be able to charge administration fees for giving the shot.  Vaccination providers can get this fee reimbursed by the patient’s public or private insurance company or, for uninsured patients, by the Health Resources and Services Administration’s Provider Relief Fund.

While COVID-19 vaccines are one of many important tools to help us stop this pandemic, according to the CDC, it’s also important for everyone to continue using all the tools available as we learn more about how COVID-19 vaccines work in real-world conditions.  This means that even once we receive both doses of the vaccine, we will still need to cover our mouths and noses with a mask when around others, stay at least 6 feet away from others, avoid crowds, and wash our hands often.

Older adults are playing a critical role in ending the COVID-19 pandemic through their choice to get vaccinated.  If you have additional questions about receiving the vaccine, your healthcare provider can help.

-Compiled from nih.gov, cdc.gov, and mass.gov