Vax Facts: All Your COVID-19 Vaccine Questions Answered

If you have concerns about getting vaccinated, we have an expert to give you the best and accurate information.

With COVID-19 vaccinations ramping up, many people still have questions about the shot and whether they should get it. So we gathered the biggest questions and brought in vaccine expert Dr. Peter Hotez to give you the best and accurate answers.

Can I Get the Vaccine If I've Had COVID-19?

Some people have said they've been told to wait 90 days after recovering from COVID-19 before getting the vaccine. But Hotez says that's not necessary.

"The 90 days comes from the fact that so far, we've not seen people get reinfected before 90 days with COVID-19. The thinking is that's how long immunity will last if you've had a case of COVID-19. But from my perspective, there's no reason that you really have to wait that long. You could probably get vaccinated much faster so that if you have the opportunity to get vaccinated, I think you have to take that into consideration."

Can I Take Pain Relievers, Like ibuprofen of acetaminophen, Before Getting the Shot to Help With Arm Pain?

Try not to. Hotez encourages people not to take any pain relievers before getting the shot — unless you have to for another condition. He said experts just don't know for sure yet how the medication could affect your body's interaction with the vaccine.

"Well, once again, there's no data really to support it either way. But the thinking is, it's probably not a good idea to pre-medicate because this is a brand new technology, these mRNA vaccines. Theoretically, it could reduce the ability to respond to the vaccine. … I've been discouraging people from pre-medicating on painkillers, anti-inflammatories. I've also been discouraging people from taking prednisone or steroids prior to getting vaccinated. Some of the allergists, for instance, for some vaccines may say, 'Well, if you think you're going to get a severe reaction, pre-medicate with prednisone,' and I would avoid that. If you are really uncomfortable after getting the vaccine, say, the next day, then I think it's OK to take some low levels of painkillers. Usually this should go away within a day or so. It's rare for it to go on much longer. Definitely don't pre-medicate unless you absolutely have to because of some other condition. If you need to have some painkillers afterwards, go ahead and do that. But keep doing it at a modest level."

Is It True That the Vaccine "Gives You COVID-19"?

No. Both Hotez and Dr. Oz stress here that the vaccine does not give you the virus and make you sick. The "sick" symptoms you feel are simply your immune system kicking in and gearing up to protect you.

"Well, that's an easy one. The answer is no, because the vaccine is not a live virus. ... Now, what it can do, is the second dose can make you feel sick for a day. First dose can do it as well. Some people say it's more common with the second dose. I had the opposite issue, where my first dose was worse than my second. But my wife was pretty out after getting her second dose. She had a headache all day and maybe some low-grade fever and body aches. It seemed like a case of the flu, or some may say a case of COVID-19. It's just really your host inflammatory system kicking in. And it's not COVID-19, it's not flu, it's not any of those things."

Dr. Oz suggested trying to schedule your second dose on a Friday, so you have the weekend to recover from any feelings of sickness.

Do I Really Need to Keep Wearing My Mask After Getting Vaccinated?

Yes, keep wearing it for now. Experts don't have enough information yet to know if you could still catch the virus, not develop symptoms, and pass it on to unvaccinated people.

"I think what's going to happen eventually after we get vaccinated, we may not need to have masks any longer, but we just don't have the data to support it. Let me explain that. When the clinical trials were done, when people were vaccinated, what happened was if you started to feel sick you notified the study coordinator, and they tested you for COVID-19, and if you were positive you were counted as a case. The point is the clinical trials for all the vaccines, Operation Warp Speed vaccines, looked at only preventing symptomatic infection. We never accumulated the evidence to show that it [prevents] asymptomatic spread. In theory, after you get vaccinated, you could be exposed to the virus and you could have the infection, just no symptoms, and you could still be [spreading] the virus from your nose and mouth. Even after you've been vaccinated, if you go on a plane afterwards, and you're visiting family, in theory, you could acquire COVID-19, and be [spreading] the virus through your nose and mouth, and you could infect your family members after you get off the plane and visit them. I actually think it probably does not happen that often. I think there's probably an impact not only on reducing symptomatic infection, but also the amount of virus in your nose and mouth and therefore asymptomatic infection. The problem is we don't have the data to support it yet. I think for now the conservative policy is continue to wear a mask when you're out in public, or in the workplace, or shopping, or whatever you're doing. But in time, maybe by the summer, we'll have data to support that you may not need to continue wearing masks. That's the hope which will help us get to a more normal life. But for now, wear the mask."

Will I Have a Bad Reaction to the Vaccine If I Have Severe Allergies?

It's a possibility, but nothing to be terribly concerned about. The health workers will ask you to stick around for a few minutes after getting the shot — so do that. They'll watch for any worrisome signs of a reaction.

"I get asked a lot about severe allergic reaction. So severe allergic reactions to the two mRNA vaccines, Moderna and Pfizer, do occur and there's some new numbers attached to that now, about three to six per million individuals. Very rare severe allergic reactions, a little bit higher than what we see with influenza or the HPV vaccine for cervical cancer and other cancers, which is one to two per million, so about three times higher, but it's still a pretty rare event. It does not look like a history of severe allergies to other things, like shellfish predicts that in any way. That's probably not a concern. If you are known to have specific allergy to a component of the vaccine — and some people have rare allergies to something known as PEG, polyethylene glycol — you should have a discussion with your allergist. But most of the time having past allergic reactions to other things should not preclude you from getting vaccinated. Remember, even after you get vaccinated, they keep you for 15 to 30 minutes afterwards just to make certain. It's a good idea no matter who you are, once you get vaccinated, not just take off and get to a car. Just hang around 15 to 30 minutes to make certain that you're not having any untoward effects."

Do I Have to Pay to Get the Vaccine?

No. And if you are asked to pay, be wary that it's a scam. Here are a few ways a scammer may try to fool you and what to do about them.

"My understanding is, no. It's covered. What I have noticed is on some of the forms, they do ask if you have Medicaid or Medicare. I think that's for accounting and maybe that's from building internally. But as far as I know, there's no charge to anyone for getting vaccinated. If you're being charged, your antenna should go up and maybe there's some scam underway. But nobody should be charged to get vaccinated."

Will We Really Reach Herd Immunity by the End of the Summer?

We're working really hard to get there, but it might take a little more time.

"Looks as though we could get there by the fall, as far as I can tell. We've had a bit of an interruption because of this terrible weather, including here in Texas with our massive ice storm and power outage. But we're at about 12-13 % of the US population has now received a single dose. That's getting to where we want to be, but we still have a ways to go. Dr. Oz, remember the undertaking. We're talking about 250 million Americans that have to be vaccinated in order to stop transmission times two doses, so half a billion doses of vaccine. The fact that we've got about 12 percent of the way there is pretty good, but we still have a ways to go."

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