Q&A: The COVID-19 Vaccine

Updated: December 23, 2020

On December 11th United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued the first emergency use authorization (EUA) for the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine for individuals 16 years of age and older and on Dec 18th, the FDA approved a second vaccine by Moderna for people 18 years of age and older. Both the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines are now being distributed in the United States.

The Benefit Funds has prepared this list of commonly asked questions and answers about the vaccine.

Vaccine availability and distribution

1 Q. When will vaccine be available in the U.S.?
A. Currently, the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are being given in the United States. We expect a very limited amount of vaccines to be available in the second half of December 2020. It is expected that in 2021 there will be a much wider availability of COVID-19 vaccines for general use.

2 Q. What age group is the COVID-19 vaccine approved for?
A. The Pfizer vaccine is currently approved for individuals 16 years and older. The Moderna vaccine is currently approved for individuals 18 years and older. Studies are currently underway for adolescents 12 and older and pregnant women. After those studies are complete, children under the age of 12 will be enrolled in studies.

3 Q. Will there be enough vaccines for everyone?
A. According to the Center of Disease Control, there may be a very limited supply of vaccines to start. This would mean that not everyone will be able to be vaccinated right away. The Department of Health and COVID-19 vaccination taskforce have created a priority list to allow phased vaccination, with the goal of eventually vaccinating all adults by late 2021.

4 Q. When can union members expect to get the COVID-19 vaccine?
A. The Union’s leadership has advocated for hotel workers to be included in phase 1b of vaccine distribution (non-healthcare essential workers) in both New York and New Jersey. Neither state has issued a decision yet.

Based on CDC’s guidelines, healthcare workers and first responders will receive their vaccine first, in phase 1a. Followed by frontline non-healthcare essential workers and adults over the age of 75 in phase 1b. Phase 1c will include other essential workers, adults 65 and older, and people with underlying medical conditions that put them at higher risk of severe illness from COVID-19. Finally, the general public will receive the vaccine sometime after phase 1 is completed.

Vaccine safety

5 Q. Are these vaccines safe?
A. So far, both vaccines are shown to be safe. Two people in United Kingdom developed severe allergic reaction to the vaccine and six have had anaphylaxis In the United States. In the UK, both people had a history of severe allergic reactions to food and medication and were carrying EpiPen medication to reverse the reaction. People with similar conditions may want to consult with their doctor.

6 Q. Why should we trust the vaccine to be safe?
A. The FDA is using the same strict standards that it has had for decades.
Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) is a shorter process, but no steps were skipped. Two independent advisory committees are reviewing the results.

7 Q. Were there Black, Latino and Asian people in the vaccine studies?
A. In the study of the Pfizer vaccine out of 37,706 participants, 28% were Hispanic or Latino, 9.3% were Black or African American, 4.3% were Asian, and almost 80% were White. In the Moderna study, out of 30,000 participants, 20% were Hispanic or Latino and 10% were Black or African American.

8 Q. Was there any difference in side effects and efficiency for different racial groups?
A. There was no difference in efficacy or side effects based on gender, race or age.

9 Q. Are there people with certain conditions or on certain medications who should NOT get this vaccine?
A. People with severe allergies to any ingredient in the vaccine should not receive the vaccine. Furthermore, no studies have been completed yet in pregnant women.

Overall, there are no reported problems with the vaccine due to use of medications or the existence of particular medical conditions. For patients with HIV, the Pfizer study enrolled patients with HIV and found no difference in their response to the vaccine or any additional side effects.

How does the vaccine work?

10 Q. How many shots of vaccine will be needed?
A. The Pfizer vaccine requires two shots, 3 weeks apart. Moderna’s vaccine also requires 2 shots, but 4 weeks apart. The administration schedule for other vaccines will be known upon approval.

11 Q. Are COVID-19 vaccines interchangeable?
A. No. When starting a vaccination series, it is important to complete it with the same vaccine, within the recommended time frame. You must get the second dose.

12 Q. What are the side effects of the vaccine?
A. Pain and tenderness at the site of injection is the most common side effect. Generalized symptoms including fatigue, fever, and headache may be present in some people as well.

13 Q. Can I get COVID-19 despite getting a vaccine?
A. It is still possible to get a very mild infection after receiving the COVID-19 vaccine. The vaccine will most likely prevent severe cases and the need for hospitalization.

14 Q. Can I get COVID-19 from receiving the vaccine?
A. No. There are three main types of vaccines being developed to fight COVID-19. None of them can infect you with COVID-19. Both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are mRNA vaccines, which do not contain the COVID-19 virus. Mild side effects including short-term discomfort mean that your body is doing its job and making antibodies (it is a good thing).

15 Q. What is mRNA vaccine technology?
A. The mRNA technology is new in vaccine production, which give instructions for our cells to make a harmless piece that looks like the outside surface of the virus (the spike protein). mRNA technology has been studied for more than ten years and is already being used in cancer treatment.

How effective is the vaccine?

16 Q. How effective are the vaccines?
A. Pfizer provides 95% protection from having an infection and the Moderna vaccine (mRNA-1273) is 94.1% effective.

17 Q. How long is the protection from the vaccine?
A. There is a still a lot more to know about the vaccines and their long-term efficiency. We will know more by next fall, having observed the people enrolled in clinical trials for a full year. That means that we must continue all efforts to prevent infection including wearing a mask, hand washing, social distancing, avoiding crowds, etc.

18 Q. Can people still pass the virus to other people even if they get the vaccine?
A. Yes, and that is why we must continue mask wearing and social distancing as we vaccinate the majority of the population.

Getting vaccinated

19 Q. How much will the vaccine cost?
A. It will be free. The federal government purchased the vaccine with taxpayer money. Vaccination providers will be able to charge an administration fee for giving the shot to someone.

20 Q. Will the health centers have the vaccine?
A. Yes, our Health Centers have been approved as distribution sites for the vaccine.

21 Q. When will the funds get the vaccine?
A. We don’t know yet. The Union has contacted New Jersey Health Commissioner Judith Persichili and New York Health Commissioner Howard Zucker urging them to prioritize hospitality workers in the next phase of distribution (phase 1b).

22 Q. How do I know when I will get vaccinated?
A. As soon as the Funds receive vaccines from the New York City Department of Health (DOH), the Health Centers’ staff will contact union members on when and where to report for vaccination, according to the clinical priority established by the DOH.

The Funds will keep union workers informed by text messages and will update its website with any changes in the status of a vaccination campaign.

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