Q&A: The COVID-19 Vaccine

Updated: May 10, 2021

The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has issued emergency use authorization (EUA) for the COVID-19 vaccines developed by Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson. All three vaccines are now being distributed in the United States.

The Benefit Fund has prepared this list of commonly asked questions and answers about the vaccines.

Vaccine eligibility, availability, and distribution

1Q. Which vaccines are available in the U.S.?
A. The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are currently being distributed in the United States. Most recently, a third vaccine developed by Johnson & Johnson was approved on Saturday, February 27th.

2Q. What age group is the COVID-19 vaccine considered to be safe for?
A. The Pfizer vaccine is currently considered safe for individuals 12 years and older. The Moderna vaccine and the Johnson & Johnson vaccine are considered safe for individuals 18 years and older.

3Q. Who is currently eligible to be vaccinated?
A. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has released non-binding recommendations on how to distribute the vaccine. Ultimately, each state has the power to make the final decision on whom to prioritize to receive the vaccine.

For the most up-to-date list of who is eligible to be vaccinated in New York, click here and for New Jersey, click here.

4Q. When can union members expect to get the COVID-19 vaccine?
A. Vaccinations are readily available to our health centers. Any individual who wishes to be scheduled to receive the vaccination should now be able to do so.

The Fund’s staff are actively contacting members to schedule them for their vaccination. In addition you may call the COVID-19 HOTLINE at 1-833-FUNDS-RU (1-833-386-3778, ext. 8913) to schedule your vaccination. If you haven’t already, we recommend that you sign up to receive text alerts from the Union on their website: https://hotelworkers.org/covid19/sign-up-to-receive-union-alerts

5Q. Will there be enough vaccines for everyone?
A. At the present time there appears to be an ample supply of vaccines for all individuals 18 years old and older. Since taking office, the Biden Administration has taken steps to ramp up vaccine production and improve distribution. President Biden announced that the United States is on track to have enough vaccine supply for all American adults in May 2021, and is well on its way to meeting this goal.

6Q. How much will the vaccine cost?
A. The vaccines are free. The federal government purchased the vaccine with taxpayer money.

Vaccine safety

7Q. Are these vaccines safe?
A. So far, all three vaccines have shown to be very safe. In exceptionally rare cases, individuals have had severe allergic reactions. The CDC says these cases have occurred in only 2 – 5 people out of every 1 million people vaccinated with the Moderna or Pfizer vaccine in the United States. Individuals who have a history of severe allergic reactions to food and medication may want to consult with their doctor before getting vaccinated.

8Q. Why should we trust the vaccine to be safe?
A. The FDA is using the same strict standards for evaluating vaccine safety that it has had for decades. Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) sped up the process for developing a vaccine during this crisis, but absolutely no steps were skipped. Furthermore, two federal advisory boards, the FDA and CDC, have reviewed and confirmed the pharmaceutical companies’ findings along with a separate advisory board from New York.

9Q. Given the United States’ history of racism in medical studies, why should Black and Brown people trust the vaccine to be safe?
A. Years of racial inequality have plagued the medical industry and stained the credibility of medical studies in the United States. A lack of trust in the vaccine is an understandable reaction, but the science behind these vaccines is sound and Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson all made concerted efforts to hold diverse studies. The vaccines have been proven highly effective and safe in preventing severe illness and death from COVID-19 regardless of race or gender.

10Q. Were there Black, Latino and Asian people in the vaccine studies?
A. Yes. 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. In the Johnson & Johnson study, out of 39,321 participants, 45.3% were Hispanic or Latino, 19.4% were Black, 9.5% were American Indian or Alaska Natives, 3.3% were Asian, .2% were Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander, and 5.6% were mixed race.

11Q. Was there any difference in side effects and efficiency for different racial groups?
A. No. There was no difference in side effects or the efficiency of the vaccine based on race or gender.

12Q. Are there people with certain conditions or on certain medications who should NOT get this vaccine?
A. Overall, there have been no reported problems with the vaccine due to use of medications or the existence of particular medical conditions. However, people with severe allergies to any ingredient in the vaccine should not receive the vaccine.

12.1 Q. What are the ingredients in the mRNA vaccine?
A. The only active ingredient in the mRNA vaccines is the messenger ribonucleic acid (mRNA). The vaccine also contains lipids (or fat molecules) used to protect the mRNA as it enters the cell, salts to help balance the acidity in your body, and sugar to help molecules keep their shape while freezing.

12.2Q. What are the ingredients in the Johnson & Johnson vaccine?
A. The Johnson & Johnson vaccine includes modified Adenovirus type 26. The vaccine also contains citric acid to help keep the modified virus stable.

13Q. Is it safe for patients with HIV to get the COVID-19 vaccine?
A. The scientific community, including leading HIV researchers, believes the COVID-19 vaccine is safe for patients with HIV. The Pfizer vaccine study enrolled patients with HIV and found no difference in their response to the vaccine or any additional side effects.

14Q. Is it safe for pregnant women to get the COVID-19 vaccine?
A. There is insufficient clinical data about the safety of the COVID-19 vaccine for pregnant women. However, research has shown that pregnant women are more likely to get severely ill and die from COVID-19. Given the increased risk for pregnant women, and the fact that the vaccines in use do not include any live virus and pass quickly through the body, it has been recommended by the CDC and American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists that pregnant women have access to the vaccine.

The scientific community is working on getting more data on the safety of the vaccine for pregnant women and the unborn fetus. Clinical studies are currently underway specifically studying pregnant women. In addition, over 10,000 pregnant women have already received one of the mRNA vaccines in the United States and several participants in the initial vaccine trials have become pregnant and had no complications or increased risk of miscarriage. If you are pregnant, we recommend that you consult with your doctor about any concerns.

15Q. Can the mRNA vaccines (Pfizer and Moderna) cause infertility?
A. At this time, there is no evidence whatsoever that any of the mRNA vaccines can cause infertility. If you are pregnant, we recommend that you consult with your doctor about any concerns.

How does the vaccine work?

16Q. 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 Johnson & Johnson vaccine only requires one shot.

17Q. Are COVID-19 vaccines interchangeable?
A. The vaccines have not shown to be interchangeable. When starting a vaccination series, it is important to complete it with the same vaccine, within the recommended time frame.

18Q. 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.

19Q. How effective are the vaccines?
A. These vaccines have proven to be highly effective. Pfizer provides 95% protection from having an infection and the Moderna vaccine (mRNA-1273) is 94.1% effective. The Johnson & Johnson vaccine is 72% effective at preventing moderate to severe COVID-19 in the United States and 85% effective in preventing severe and life-threatening cases of COVID-19. To put this in context, the annual flu vaccine is only 40-60% effective.

20Q. Can I get COVID-19 despite getting a vaccine?
A. While it is still possible to get COVID-19 after being vaccinated, it is very unlikely and if you were to get sick, it would likely be a very mild infection and you would very likely be spared serious illness or hospitalization.

21Q. What is the mRNA vaccine technology used in the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines?
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). The spike protein triggers our immune system to respond and produce antibodies, which protect us in the event the real virus enters our bodies. This method cannot infect you with COVID-19. mRNA technology has been studied for more than ten years and is already being used in cancer treatment.

22Q. Does the mRNA vaccine alter my DNA?
A. No. Despite the fact that the letters are similar, mRNA has no effect on your DNA and the Pfizer and Moderna mRNA vaccines cannot alter your DNA. It’s important to note that mRNA is also very fragile, and will degrade after about 72 hours.

23Q. What technology is used for the Johnson & Johnson vaccine?
A. The Johnson & Johnson vaccine uses a harmless cold virus called “adenovirus type 26” to deliver instructions to your body for how to identify the outside surface of the virus (the spike protein). This method cannot infect you with COVID-19.

24Q. 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. The Johnson & Johnson vaccine uses a harmless cold virus and likewise does not contain the COVID-19 virus. Any mild side effects including short-term discomfort mean that your body is doing its job and making antibodies (it is a good thing).

25Q. How long is the protection from the vaccine?
A. We don’t know yet. 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.

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