There are hundreds of questions swirling around the coronavirus vaccine, including how to sign up for appointments, what’s in the treatment, and how quickly things will return to a semblance of normal in our world.
To help answer those concerns, NBC 5 assembled a team of health experts to answer your questions about the COVID-19 vaccine.
How do I get the vaccine, and where do I start?
“There are multiple app options for finding out information about the vaccine. The city has partnered with ZocDoc, which is a web-based scheduling app where you can sign up and be notified about appointments and make appointments through that app at some locations. We also have links on our website to pharmacies where you can look for vaccine appointments. And lastly we have our Chi COVID Coach, which is where you can sign up to get more updates.” – Dr. Candace Robinson, medical director of the Chicago Department of Health.
If I have the antibodies or if I’ve had coronavirus, do I still need the vaccine?
“Yes, you’re still recommended to receive the vaccine, even if you’ve had coronavirus in the past. That’s because re-infection with coronavirus is possible. So we still recommend you get the vaccine, so that you can get the protection without risking the side effects of coronavirus.” – Dr. Robinson
When will it be my turn to get the vaccine?
“Right now, we’re in Phase 1B, which includes persons over 65 and frontline essential workers. Phase 1C includes persons with other essential jobs, and then Phase 2 is kind of everyone else who didn’t qualify under one of the previous phases. We’ve also added those with chronic medical conditions or pre-existing conditions to Phase 1B.” – Dr. Robinson
What is in these vaccines, anyway?
“So the vaccine is made up of RNA, which is a code for a certain part of the virus, which we call the ‘spike protein.’ And that’s the surface part of the virus so that sequence doesn’t contain the complete virus. It’s important to understand that you can’t get the infection from the vaccine. And with the RNA, that message is encoded in a fat molecule. They do that so that when it’s injected into your body, it’s taken up very quickly by yourself, particularly by your immune cells, and those cells then read the code and make a protein from it, which is shown on the outside of the cell in a way that your body recognizes as foreign, meaning it doesn’t belong there. And you make an immune response to it.” – Dr. Richard Novak, head of the division of infectious diseases at the University of Illinois-Chicago.
What are the differences between the vaccines? Is one better than the other?
“Part of my messaging in the community has been that the vaccines on the market are equally efficacious and equally safe. The best vaccine you can get is the one that you can get a hold of first, and getting vaccinated earlier, sooner rather than later, protects us from getting sick ourselves and also our community, which has been so terribly devastated by this virus.” - Dr. Marina Del Rios, emergency medicine specialist at the University of Illinois-Chicago
Can an employer actually mandate that you get the COVID vaccine?
“This is a topic that many employers have been exploring. I think what’s really important for people to understand is that they need to make good decisions for themselves and for their family members. The data already shows that life expectancy is dropping in the United States, and in Black and Brown communities we’re seeing it accelerate even more. This is more than about what employers might mandate, or what might be mandated by other agencies. It’s about getting educated, building informed trust, and taking action, and we certainly hope that’s what folks will do.” – Dr. Robinson
Can you safely delay the second dose of the vaccine?
“In most cases people after getting their first vaccination are given an appointment to come back, and if for some reason that appointment is not able to be followed through on, absolutely, there is no problem. It can be delayed by several days or weeks, even up to six weeks at any time. We want you to get that second dose though, so we want people to try to keep their initial appointment.” – Dr. Ngozi Ezike, director of the Illinois Department of Public Health
What proof of comorbidities and preexisting conditions do you need to qualify for a vaccine?
“Most individuals who have a comorbidity might have a recent pill bottle with their names on it, they may have a doctor’s note, or they might have a recent summary sheet that indicates the conditions that they have. We’re not trying to create any barriers or difficulties, but we want to make sure that we are targeting the people who need this vaccine most, and those individuals with comorbidities can help provide some proof in addition to the attestation that they may have to make so that they can get the vaccine.” – Dr. Ezike
Should my wife hold off on breastfeeding, or should pregnant women avoid the vaccine?
“No. There is not reason to believe that the molecule can cross into the breast milk. In fact, it sort of degrades inside your arm within an hour of you getting the shot. So there’s really no need to worry about it, and it’s not been found in breast milk.
“There weren’t any pregnant women included in studies, but that doesn’t mean that there’s reason to believe it might be dangerous. In fact, in studies in animals about toxicity, it was shown that there’s really none. We’ve been vaccinating pregnant health care workers, and OB-GYN’s have expressed no concerns about this. We’ve vaccinated pregnant women and they’ve done beautifully, and in fact COVID-19 during pregnancy is dangerous, so the vaccine is a safer choice.” – Dr. Emily Landon, University of Chicago Medicine.
How long does the vaccine protect you against COVID? Will it need to be administered yearly like a flu shot?
“What we do know is that the immunity lasts for at least three months. That immunity is actually higher than a natural infection, and the antibodies the vaccine induces are more potent than those from a natural infection, and the trajectory of the declining antibodies is quite slow, so it’s expected that the level of antibodies is going to continue to last for at least a year or more, but we don’t know and we don’t know how much longer than that until we complete studies.” – Dr. Novak
Why do I have to wear masks while socializing with others who have received the vaccine?
“We’re encouraging people to continue to wear their masks, even after they’ve received the vaccine. The one thing we don’t know about the vaccine yet is whether or not people will continue to shed virus. If they get infected, the vaccine is very effective in preventing people from getting sick. But that doesn’t mean they don’t get infected. If they do get the infection, we don’t know whether the amount of virus that they’re shedding out of their body is decreased. That’s why masking and social distancing is so important.” – Dr. Novak
How do experts see the vaccination process playing out over the next year?
“I’m very hopeful that a year from now the majority of the population will be vaccinated. I really think that the trajectory of the pandemic will decline substantially. In other words, it’s going to start to go away. I think the pandemic is going to fade as we start to get into the summer. I’m really hopeful for that.” – Dr. Novak