The COVID-19 Vaccine: Answers to Your Top Questions

Many parents have questions and concerns about the COVID-19 vaccines and their safety. Here, experts provide answers to some top questions.
ByDina DiMaggio, MD, and Anthony F. Porto, MD, MPH
January 5, 2021
parents and their young children at home hanging out on the couch together
Image: Sam Edwards / Getty Images

With vaccines for COVID-19 now being given to healthcare personal and residents of long-term-care facilities across the nation, followed by high risk groups and the general population, many parents have questions and concerns about the vaccines and their safety. Here we answer the 10 most common questions we have been asked by parents about the new vaccines.

What vaccines are available so far in the United States?

There are two mRNA COVID-19 vaccines that have recently been approved; the Pfizer-BioTech COVID-19 vaccine received Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) on December 11th, 2020 for ages 16 and above by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Moderna’s mRNA was approved under an EUA on December 18th for people 18 years and older. Trials with Pfizer’s vaccine were performed in 43,931 people ages 16-89 years old and Moderna’s trial had 27,817 people ages 18-64 years old. As of December, 2020, people have already started receiving the mRNA COVID vaccination!

A third vaccine, by AstraZeneca, was recently approved for use in the United Kingdom and may also be approved by the US FDA in the coming weeks.

How do the vaccines work?

The Moderna and Pfizer-Bio Tech vaccines use mRNA, a technology that was developed 30 years ago and has been studied extensively. They are not based on a live virus, but rather mRNA that teaches our cells how to make a protein (or piece of a protein) that then triggers our immune response to produce antibodies to protect us if we get infected by COVID-19. To be more specific, the COVID-19 mRNA vaccines provide instructions for our cells to make a piece of a viral protein called a “spike protein,” which is found on the surface of the virus that causes COVID-19. Since it does not encode for the entire virus, the vaccine cannot cause COVID-19 infection.

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The mRNA itself is destroyed by our bodies in a day or two. Our cells display the protein piece on its surface, our immune system recognizes the protein as foreign, makes antibodies against it, and therefore learns how to protect us in the future if we are exposed to COVID-19. The mRNA does not affect our DNA in anyway and our cells get rid of the mRNA soon after it uses its instructions to make the protein.

How effective are the vaccines?

Pfizer’s and Moderna’s mRNA vaccines are approximately 95% effective at preventing SARS-CoV-2 infection after 2 doses.

How long will immunity from the vaccine last?

It is not known yet how long you will be immune for after receiving the 2 doses of the vaccine. This information is currently being studied now.

What side effects can happen with the COVID-19 vaccine?

If you are experiencing any symptoms after the vaccine, it is likely a sign that your immune system (and the vaccine!) are working. To date, there were no major adverse side effects in people who received mRNA vaccines detected in clinical trials. After the vaccine, people have reported a sore arm, tiredness, fever, chills, headache, and muscle aches. Side effects may be more pronounced after the second vaccine dose.

Who should not receive the vaccine?

People who have had a severe allergic reaction to any component of the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccine should not receive it. The CDC reports that if a person has had a severe allergic reaction, such as anaphylaxis, to another vaccine, that should be a precaution, but not a contraindication to the COVID-19 vaccine. All people receiving the vaccine should be observed for 15 minutes after the vaccine, but if you have a history of anaphylaxis to anything, you should be observed for 30 minutes following the vaccine.

If I have had COVID-19, do I still need to get the vaccine?

Yes! The vaccine is recommended even if you have had COVID.

When will the vaccine be available for young kids?

The American Academy of Pediatrics is advocating for younger children to be included in vaccine studies. So far, Pfizer has included children as young as 12 and Moderna is about to do the same. It is believed that a vaccine for younger children will be available by late 2021.

Is there any data on pregnant woman taking the vaccine?

This is a complicated question. Unfortunately, there is currently no available safety data on pregnancy and the vaccine, although preliminary research has not found any safety concerns for pregnant people who were vaccinated or for their babies. With this said, pregnancy is not a contraindication to receiving the vaccine since these vaccines don’t have ingredients that are known to be unsafe for pregnant woman and their babies nor are they live vaccines that are avoided while being pregnant. Pregnant woman who get COVID can have preterm labor and are more likely to have severe illness than women who are not pregnant, especially if they have other medical issues. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) and CDC, therefore, state that COVID-19 vaccines should not be withheld from pregnant who meet criteria for vaccination. The decision to be vaccinated is very personal and a pregnant woman’s medical conditions as well as risk of getting COVID should be weighed in on the decision.

Can I receive the vaccine if I am breastfeeding?

Like pregnancy, breastfeeding is not a contraindication to receiving the vaccine, however, there is no safety data on breastfeeding and receiving the vaccine. Based on what is known on the science of how the vaccine works, however, it is not thought to be harmful to an infant breastfeeding. The CDC, American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, and Society for Maternal Fetal Medicine all state they believe that the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines don’t pose safety issues for breastfeeding.

Meet Dina DiMaggio, MD, and Anthony F. Porto, MD, MPH, official spokespeople for the American Academy of Pediatrics and the co-authors of The Pediatrician’s Guide to Feeding Babies and Toddlers. They write about the latest AAP guidelines, studies and seasonal issues affecting babies and toddlers. Follow them on Instagram @pediatriciansguide.

Published January 2021

Please note: The Bump and the materials and information it contains are not intended to, and do not constitute, medical or other health advice or diagnosis and should not be used as such. You should always consult with a qualified physician or health professional about your specific circumstances.

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