Health Features

Important Insight: The COVID-19 Vaccine

More and more people are getting the COVID-19 vaccine every day. As it becomes available to the general population in St. Louis, there are likely to be many questions about getting inoculated. We reached out to Dr. Sarah George, an associate professor of infectious diseases at Saint Louis University, for some insight into the vaccine.

Both COVID-19 vaccines currently available in the U.S. are mRNA vaccines. This means they do not contain the live virus that causes COVID-19. Instead, messenger RNA teaches our cells to create a protein that triggers an immune response to protect against infection. “It works the same way as the cells in our bodies,” George says. “The vaccine gives you a small code for part of the virus, and you start to produce antibodies. In studies, the vaccines were shown to be 90% to 95% effective.” The Pfizer and Moderna variants both require two doses spaced three to four weeks apart.

To keep up to date on vaccine availability, you can consult with state guidelines at covidvaccine.mo.gov. You also should pre-register for vaccination with the department of public health for either the city or county. Doing so will put you on a waitlist, and you’ll be contacted to make an appointment when the vaccine is on-hand and you meet eligibility requirements. “Right now, Missouri is not vaccinating the general public, but it could open up as soon as April,” George notes. “The supply of doses is expanding, so get started on the process now.”

As new variants of COVID-19 have started appearing, there also are questions of the vaccine’s efficacy against them. “Viruses mutate, so it was expected that this one would as well after infecting millions of people,” George says. “The vaccines are less effective against these new strains, but they still provide protection against them, and in the future, a booster shot may be required. Even with variants like the one from the U.K., which seems more infectious, we’re seeing cases declining, so the vaccine is doing its job.”

If you have questions about the COVID-19 vaccine, it is important to be wary of misinformation online. George suggests consulting cdc.gov for the most up-to-date and accurate information, including on safety and side effects. “These vaccines have been extensively tested and already given to millions of people around the world,” she says. “They were produced quickly, but the pandemic necessitated that. They are safe and effective, even for the eldery and people with pre-existing medical conditions.” She adds that side effects for the vaccine have been minimal. The most common is a sore arm, and less frequently, more serious ones like fatigue and fever have been reported.

If you’ve already gotten your first or even second dose, it is still necessary to continue to follow safety guidelines like social distancing, wearing a mask and washing your hands. While you may be protected from infection, you can still play a part in spreading the virus. George notes that it’s also important to keep track of your vaccination documents. “Vaccine cards may be needed down the road for activities like boarding airplanes,” she notes. “Make sure you get yours, and don’t lose it.”

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