8 FAQs About The COVID-19 Vaccine—Answered By An Immunologist

by Elaine Roth
Originally Published: 
Scary Mommy and Justin Tallis/Getty

The FDA approved the Pfizer vaccine on December 11, via an emergency use authorization, and on December 13, the first doses of the long-awaited COVID-19 vaccine were shipped to hospitals around the country. Healthcare workers across the globe breathed a sigh of relief. Finally, the proverbial cavalry had arrived. Finally, they weren’t fighting a novel virus without knowing whether there would ever be an end in sight.

But even as healthcare workers were dancing in the street, questions about the vaccine were beginning to swirl. Many of the answers people were finding were full of conjecture, misinformation, and distrust.

Scary Mommy got in touch with Dr. Purvi Parikh, an immunologist with Allergy & Asthma Network who is also a co-investigator with the COVID vaccine trials, to understand the facts about the vaccine and learn when it might become widely available.

Who Will Get The Vaccine First?

The vaccine is heading first to high-risk groups, according to Dr. Parikh, and that includes front-line healthcare workers and residents of long-term care facilities.

Essential workers and adults in the high-risk demographic due to age or underlying medical conditions are expected to receive the vaccine next, and all other adults will be able to receive the vaccine thereafter. Dr. Parikh estimates that the vaccine will be available to the general public between February and April of 2021.

What Are The Side Effects Of The Vaccine?

The side effects of the vaccine include pain at the injection site, sore arm, fever, muscle, aches, and chills. Dr. Parikh notes that the symptoms resolved in 24-48 hours for everyone in the study.

While vaccination should be uneventful for most folks—a day or two of feeling lousy, potentially—there are those who should exercise caution. Individuals with certain allergies are advised to take the vaccine in a medical facility and be supervised for thirty minutes after receiving the injection. Likewise, folks who have a history of an allergic reaction to an ingredient in the vaccine should avoid getting the vaccine. Amanda Cohn, an official with the CDC’s COVID-19 vaccine planning unit, confirmed the Pfizer vaccine is made up of messenger RNA (mRNA) and four lipid nanoparticles and contains no preservatives or other ingredients.

What Do We Need To Know About The Second Injection?


AFP via Getty Images

The Pfizer vaccine is administered in two doses, which are given three weeks apart. (For the Moderna vaccine, which is also expected to receive FDA approval, the time between injections is four weeks.)

The two doses are the same, but it’s important to get both doses. A study in the New England Journal of Medicine found that vaccine efficacy was 52% between the first and second dose. Dr. Parikh confirms that the first dose does grant some “partial protection,” but she emphasizes that even after the first dose “you can still get sick and transmit virus.”

Ideally, both injections should be done at the same facility. Most facilities have set up reminder texts and emails, and will be distributing vaccination cards to individuals to help them keep track.

Is The Vaccine Safe For Individuals Who Had COVID Previously?

According to Dr. Parikh, yes, you can take the vaccine if you previously had COVID and—this part she emphasizes—are no longer symptomatic.

Long-haulers—folks who are still experiencing symptoms weeks and months after their initial infection—also can take the vaccine “as long as they are not having acute COVID-19 symptoms such as fever, cough, [or] shortness of breath,” writes Dr. Parikh.

The Vaccine Is Here, So Can We Go Back To Normal?

Unfortunately, not just yet. According to Dr. Parikh, it will take at least six months to get enough people vaccinated, and to see the infection and transmission rates decline significantly.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, recently suggested that we could reach herd immunity by next fall.

Can Children Get The Vaccine?

In short—not yet. The Pfizer vaccine is approved for ages 16 and up. Pfizer and Moderna are both currently conducting clinical trials to determine safety and efficacy of the vaccine for children ages 12-18.

The Vaccine Was Made So Fast, How Can We Know Whether It’s Safe?

Many folks are concerned that the vaccine isn’t safe, that safety was compromised for speed. However, this was not at all the case. “Although speed was fast, no safety checks were bypassed,” writes Dr. Parikh.

First, it’s important to note that the mRNA technology utilized by both Pfizer and Moderna in their vaccines is not new. It was developed and has been studied since the 1990s, confirms Dr. Parikh.

Additionally, the speed with which the world got a vaccine was largely due to the fact that the entire global scientific community worked together to develop this vaccine. A coordinated global effort like that has not happened in a long time, notes Dr. Parikh. She also points out that researchers and scientists didn’t have the luxury of time. They worked as fast as possible to stop a virus that has taken more than 1.5 million lives globally and has caused serious, permanent consequences to untold numbers of survivors.

Should I Get The Vaccine?

If none of the caveats listed above with respect to acute symptoms, active symptomatic infection, or allergy apply to you, then yes, you should get the vaccine. Dr. Parikh writes that, “for those of you craving normal or [who are] distressed by [the] economy, this is our only shot. (No pun intended)”

With Moderna’s vaccine candidate poised to receive FDA approval for emergency-use authorization, we truly are in the very home stretch of this nearly year-long global pandemic. There is a light at the end of the tunnel, and hopefully we’ll all be returned to a world that isn’t dominated by COVID-19. But until then, it’s important to wear your mask, wash your hands, and continue social distancing. The vaccines are coming—the scientists did their part—let’s keep doing ours, too.

Information about COVID-19 is rapidly changing, and Scary Mommy is committed to providing the most recent data in our coverage. With news being updated so frequently, some of the information in this story may have changed after publication. For this reason, we are encouraging readers to use online resources from local public health departments, the Centers for Disease Control, and the World Health Organization to remain as informed as possible.

This article was originally published on