Some Things You Should Know About the COVID-19 Vaccine

Older adults are one of the priority groups for COVID vaccination. After health care workers, assisted living, independent living and nursing home residents are vaccinated, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said that individuals 65 years old and older – along with other categories of essential workers – are next in line for vaccines.

Here in Northeastern Oklahoma, older adults are already getting vaccinated or will be vaccinated soon.

The COVID-19 vaccine has many people excited and optimistic because it will likely be the main element of ending the pandemic. We understand and appreciate your eagerness to receive the vaccine. While you’re waiting for your turn, there’s a good deal of information about the COVID vaccine that you should know.

On Dec. 29, the director of a senior center in Broken Arrow was given his first shot of the COVID-19 vaccine. A week later, he tested positive for the virus. It was shocking. What follows are many of the questions that arose following the positive COVID diagnosis.

Does immunity kick in right away after getting the vaccine? Let’s say you’ve received one dose of the COVID vaccine. After a week or two, you have some level of immunity, but you could certainly get COVID-19 if you’re exposed to the coronavirus. People can be exposed to the coronavirus right before or right after being vaccinated, and there won’t be time for the body to develop its defenses.

Many who are vaccinated will still get infected with COVID. That’s because during the clinical trials, the vaccines were shown to be about 94% to 95% effective – which means some vaccinated people were still infected.

Three weeks after the second dose, studies have shown that the vaccine efficacy is approximately 95%. That’s a very high level of protection, but it’s not 100%. So even after getting both doses of the vaccine, you could still get COVID-19, but your chance is much lower. And if you do get it, you’re probably going to have less severe case than if you didn’t get the vaccine.

Can I still spread COVID after I’m vaccinated? The rate of community transmission is very high – especially in ZIP codes 74011, 74012, 74013 and 74014 – so there is still going to be a chance of contracting the coronavirus even after getting vaccinated. There’s a lot we don’t know about COVID. We don’t know if people who are vaccinated could still be carriers of the virus, even if they don’t get sick. That means you could be protected yourself if you get exposed to someone with the coronavirus, but you could still be a carrier of the virus. When you get together with your loved ones, you could spread it to those who aren’t vaccinated.

The CDC says vaccinated people should still use all the tools available to stop the pandemic, including wearing a mask and staying at least 6 feet away from others.

What if I have friends who got the vaccine, too? Can I see them without my mask? It’s probably pretty safe to see others who were also vaccinated after everyone gets both doses and waits a few weeks. But because we don’t know if vaccinated people could still be asymptomatic carriers, if you participate in risky behaviors – like fitness classes, shooting pool or playing cards – you could infect others you have close contact with who aren’t vaccinated.

What is it going to take for us to be able to socialize as we did before COVID-19? The end of COVID-19 could come once we get to herd immunity. If you look only at adults over 65 in Tulsa County, that’s 97,000 people. There would need to be 82,450 people vaccinated to reopen the Center safely. That number doesn’t take into consideration everyone under the age of 65.

Also, clinical trials are just getting started on children, so it will take probably until summer or fall for children to be vaccinated.

When I get the vaccine, will I be bulletproof? Vaccination is not a “do whatever I want” pass but rather another tool to reduce our risk. Wearing a mask is another such tool, as is social distancing, and we want to keep using as many tools as we can to protect ourselves. Getting the vaccine helps our community to allow us to achieve herd immunity faster. And it also gives us license to do a few more things that we enjoy – though we must still try to keep as safe as possible.

Can I get COVID from the vaccine? None of the authorized and recommended COVID-19 vaccines or COVID-19 vaccines currently in development in the United States contain the live virus that causes COVID-19. This means that a COVID-19 vaccine cannot make you sick with COVID-19.

What are the risks of the COVID vaccine? It does seem strange that the side effects of the vaccine are the same as the symptoms of having COVID. The only difference is that one can kill you and the other can protect you. Side effects that have been reported include:

  • Injection site pain, swelling and redness
  • Fatigue;
  • Headache;
  • Muscle pain;
  • Chills;
  • Joint pain;
  • Fever;
  • Nausea;
  • Vomiting;
  • Feeling unwell;
  • Swollen lymph nodes.

Currently, the amount of available vaccine is limited. We must all be patient as we continue our ongoing efforts working with local health departments and the Oklahoma State Department of Health on the logistics of vaccine distribution.