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Science-based answers to your COVID-19 vaccine questions

Worldwide, there is a coordinated effort to vaccinate as many people as possible against the COVID-19 virus. COVID-19 vaccines approved by the US government are making a big impact on the severity of the COVID-19 pandemic. Vaccines have slowed the spread of the disease, as well as minimized symptoms for those affected. With a lower transmission rate of the virus, there’s less chance of further variants. Because of this, the Texas Department of State Health Services is urging every person who is eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.

As COVID-19 mRNA vaccines are relatively new when compared to other vaccines in use, there has been many questions about how they work. Below are the science-based answers to some of the top COVID-19 vaccine questions.

Do I have to get both doses of COVID-19 vaccine?

Certain vaccines require two doses for the highest level or protection. These are among the most common in use in the US, including the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines. (The Johnson and Johnson vaccine only requires one dose of the vaccine). After receiving one dose, your immune system builds up a certain amount of defense against COVID-19. After you receive a second dose, your body can build up a much higher rate of immunity. This is why it’s so important to get all doses that your vaccine requires. Once you have, you have the best available level of protection.

Does the vaccine provide protection against the COVID-19 variants?

Based on what we know so far, COVID-19 vaccines provide a level of protection against the virus as well as its variants. This early research suggests that the vaccine could be slightly less effective against certain variants, including the Delta variant. At the same time, the level of protection you get from a COVID-19 vaccine is overall very high. Receiving both doses of your vaccine is the best way to protect yourself against the COVID-19 virus and its variants.

I already had COVID-19, and recovered. Should I still get a vaccine?

Even if you’ve had COVID-19 in the past, you should still get the COVID-19 vaccine. Early studies have shown that immunity from the vaccine is more effective than immunity from previously contracting the virus. Additionally, there is not enough data regarding the length of immunity from a previous COVID-19 infection. Because of this, the CDC recommends that everyone eligible should receive the vaccine, including those who have previously had and recovered from COVID-19.

How is mRNA different from other vaccines?

Unlike other vaccines, the COVID-19 mRNA vaccines don’t introduce any form of the virus into the recipient. These vaccines consist of messenger RNA, commonly called mRNA. This molecule enters your body and shows your cells how to create a harmless piece of “spike protein.” A spike protein is found on the surface of the virus that causes COVID-19. When your body recognizes that the protein is foreign, it triggers an immune response. Your immune system then attacks the cells which have the unusual protein. Then, should you have an exposure to the COVID-19 virus in the future, your immune system will be familiar with it and know how to fight it off.

How long do COVID-19 vaccines give you immunity for?

Studies are ongoing to determine how long COVID-19 vaccines can provide immunity for. Because their widespread use is new, we will learn more as time passes. Studies have been ongoing with healthcare workers and those who were first to receive the vaccine. So far, after six months there is no drop in immunity. Researchers are optimistic that this means immunity could last longer than what is currently clinically observed. At this time, the US may decide to administer a third dose or “booster” in the fall of 2021 to bolster the immunity of those who are vaccinated. To learn more about antibody testing for immunity, click here.

Can I still get COVID-19 after receiving the vaccine?

Though cases are rare, even fully vaccinated people can contract COVID-19, in what we call “breakthrough” cases. The good news is that people who have received their vaccine and then contract COVID-19 tend to have milder symptoms. Key in helping reduce the strain on our healthcare system, those who are fully vaccinated are also less likely to need hospitalization.

Who needs a third dose of vaccine?

The CDC recommends that people whose immune systems are moderately to severely compromised receive a third dose of COVID-19 vaccine. This is for multiple reasons. Firstly, people with compromised immune systems are especially vulnerable to the effects of COVID-19. Secondly, they may not be able to build the same level of immunity after two doses of vaccine vs people who are not immunocompromised. Because of this, a third dose is recommended to improve immune response to the vaccine. At this time, a third dose is recommended at least 28 days following a second dose of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines.

Can I still transmit COVID-19 to other people after receiving the vaccine?

Though transmission rates are lower, you can still spread COVID-19 to other individuals. This is one of the reasons that day-to-day preventative measures against COVID-19 are still recommended, even if you’re fully vaccinated. This includes maintaining physical distancing, washing your hands frequently, wearing a mask in crowded indoor areas, and avoiding large crowds.

How much does it cost to get the vaccine?

In Texas, there is no cost to receive a dose of COVID-19 vaccine. It is always free, whether you have health insurance or not.

Where can I get a vaccine?

The easiest way to find a location to get vaccinated near you is to visit vaccines.gov. From this site, you can search for vaccination locations based on your Zip Code. You can also see which type of vaccine is available, and see which locations have appointments available.

The bottom line.

Getting vaccinated is one of the most important things you can do to protect your health, and the health of those around you. Vaccines that are currently in use in the US are incredibly effective against the COVID-19 virus.

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