As the state of Ohio begins to make the COVID-19 vaccine available to everyone age 16 and above, experts at The University of Toledo are cautioning individuals against trying to wait for a specific version of the shot.
“These are all really good vaccines. They do what they’re supposed to do — they protect you and keep you safe from COVID-19. Vaccine shopping is only going to delay how soon you can get the vaccine, and that’s where the danger comes,” said Dr. Tiffany Russo, the antimicrobial stewardship pharmacist at The University of Toledo Medical Center. “The best vaccine is the one that you can get the soonest.”
Currently, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has given emergency use authorization to vaccines developed by Moderna, Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson.
UToledo experts say individuals should be confident in the safety and effectiveness of whichever vaccine they’re offered.
“In general, people should get the first available vaccine and not wait,” said Dr. Michael Ellis, an infectious disease specialist and chief medical offer at UTMC. “We are fortunate that we have three vaccines that are highly effective at preventing severe COVID-19.”
Data from clinical trials has shown the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines were 94% and 95% effective, respectively, in preventing symptomatic infection. Johnson and Johnson’s U.S. clinical trial data showed it was 72% effective in preventing mild to moderate infection.
While that gap may appear significant, Russo said a true head-to-head comparison of one vaccine against another isn’t possible because of differences in how the clinical trials were set up for each vaccine.
In addition to being done at different times — Moderna and Pfizer were tested before some of the more highly contagious variants were widely circulating — the trials were effectively collecting data on different outcomes.
The key thing people should know, Russo said, is that Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine was shown to be 100% effective in preventing hospitalizations and death.
“There is no difference between the vaccines as far as what really matters — keeping you alive, keeping you out of the hospital, keeping you safe,” she said.
The Johnson & Johnson vaccine also has the advantage of only requiring a single dose to receive the full benefit of the vaccine. Moderna and Pfizer’s vaccines each require two doses
Experts from UToledo and UTMC also have the following tips on what to know about the vaccines ahead of your appointment to what you can expect in the days and weeks after you get the shot:
Minor side effects are common, but they’re not a reason to avoid the vaccine.
People have reported similar, minor side effects after each of the three COVID-19 vaccines authorized for use in the United States. Most commonly, those include muscle aches, fever, headache, nausea and fatigue.
Ellis said side effects are often more pronounced after the second dose of the Moderna or Pfizer vaccine, but they should subside in a day or two. And while side effects can be strong enough knock you off your normal routine, serious reactions requiring medical care are extremely rare.
“When you weigh the pros and cons of the vaccine versus natural infection and disease, it really goes in the favor of getting the vaccine,” he said. “You’re doing it for yourself and doing it for your community.”
People shouldn’t take over-the-counter pain killers before their appointment, but it’s generally OK afterward.
Although aspirin, ibuprofen and Tylenol are common medications, researchers don’t yet know if or how they might affect how well the vaccine works.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also recommends against taking antihistamines before getting a COVID-19 vaccine to try to prevent allergic reactions.
“Right now, the recommendation is after you get your vaccine, drink plenty of fluids, get some rest and maybe do a little exercise and apply some heat or cold to your vaccine site,” Ellis said.
If individuals do not have underlying health conditions that prevent them from taking over-the-counter pain killers normally, it’s generally OK to take them after the vaccine to relieve discomfort.
Getting both doses of Pfizer and Moderna is critically important.
While the first dose of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines do provide some protection against COVID-19, it takes both doses to get the full benefit.
“Perhaps one analogy is you wouldn’t leave the house wearing just one shoe in the morning, so why would you get only one vaccine dose? Get both doses so you can get the 95, 94 percent protection that’s offered by both vaccines,” said Dr. Jason Huntley, associate professor of Medical Microbiology and Immunology in the College of Medicine and Life Sciences. “If you don’t, you’re putting yourself at risk as well as everyone else around you.”
The Johnson & Johnson vaccine has been shown in clinical trials to deliver its full benefit after a single dose.
All three FDA-authorized vaccines are safe and well tested.
The speed with which COVID-19 vaccines were deployed in the United States — less than a year after the first known cases — has caused some to question the process.
But Russo said people should be confident that all three vaccines are fully tested and have been deemed safe.
“I think that we in the U.S. are just not used to science coming up with an answer that fast. But when you have a lot of really great scientists all hyper focused on one thing, it’s going to speed up how quickly we came up with an answer,” she said “Just because we came up with that quickly doesn’t mean that we skipped steps.”
You are fully vaccinated, now what?
While vaccines begin providing some protection from COVID-19 in the first week after inoculation, individuals aren’t considered fully vaccinated until two weeks after receiving their final dose.
During that time period, people should continue taking precautions as if they were unvaccinated.
Once fully vaccinated, the CDC says you are able to do some of the things you stopped because of the pandemic, such as gathering indoors with other fully vaccinated individuals without wearing masks and visiting with unvaccinated people from one other household without masks, so long as none of those individuals is at an increased risk for severe illness.
However, because researchers are still learning about how vaccines will affect the spread of COVID-19, individuals should continue practicing social distancing and wearing face coverings while in public.
“I understand that it’s been a rough year and I know people are ready for things to return to normal, but after you get your first dose, after you get your second dose, it’s not time to take off your mask,” Huntley said. “Until we get 60% to 70% percent of the population vaccinated and we start to see case numbers dramatically go down, we really need to stick with the current protocols for wearing masks, social distancing and monitoring ourselves for symptoms.”