Widespread COVID-19 vaccination is key to getting through this pandemic.
While practices like mask-wearing and social distancing are critical to preventing the spread of COVID-19, widespread vaccination will be a critical part of our response.
Currently there are 3 vaccines in the US with emergency use authorization (EUA). All have excellent safety and efficacy data at preventing severe illness, hospitalization, and death. Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines utilize new mRNA technology and were authorized in December, 2020. A 3rd vaccine, by Johnson & Johnson, received FDA EUA February, 2021. The Pfizer-BioNTech is approved for ages 16 and up while Moderna and Johnson & Johnson are for ages 18 and up.
Currently Pennsylvania is in Phase 1A eligibility:
- Long-term Care Facility residents
- Healthcare Workers
- People age 65 or older
- People age 16 and up with certain medical conditions
- Chronic Kidney Disease
- Down Syndrome
- Heart conditions, such as heart failure, coronary artery disease, or cardiomyopathies
- Immunocompromised state (weakened immune system) from solid organ transplant or from blood or bone marrow transplant, immune deficiencies, HIV, use of corticosteroids, or use of other immune weakening medicines
- Obesity (body mass index [BMI] of 30 kg/m2 or higher but < 40 kg/m2)
- Severe Obesity (BMI ≥ 40 kg/m2)
- Sickle cell disease
- Type 2 diabetes mellitus
If you or your child (16 yrs or older) fall into the above category please go to the PA Vaccination Portal to schedule your series (2 doses for Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna). Note that supplies have been limited, but should improve through the spring and summer. Our office is not currently offering the COVID-19 vaccine.
1) What is the current status of pediatric testing for COVID-19 vaccines?
Pfizer has enrolled children down to 12 years old in current research. Moderna and others will be doing the same. Once that data comes in over the next few months studies will begin in younger children.
Based on the current pace of research, it is possible that we will have a vaccine for at least some age groups of children and adolescents before the 2021-22 school year begins. We will keep you posted as more data is published.
2) What is an mRNA vaccine?
Both the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines are mRNA vaccines. mRNA vaccines are a new type of vaccine to protect against infectious diseases. In order to trigger an immune response, many vaccines put a weakened or inactivated germ into our bodies. mRNA vaccines, instead, teach our cells how to make a protein—or even just a piece of a protein—that triggers an immune response inside our bodies. That immune response, which produces antibodies, is what protects us from getting infected if the virus enters our bodies.
mRNA vaccines do not contain the live virus that causes COVID-19 and, therefore, cannot give someone COVID-19. Additionally, mRNA vaccines do not interact with a person’s DNA because the mRNA does not enter the nucleus of the cell. Cells break down the mRNA quickly.
The Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines are 95% and 94.1% effective in preventing symptomatic illness, respectively. Those tests were before the new, more contagious variants emerged. Recent data indicates that they remain highly effective against most known variants.
3) What is the difference between the various vaccines?
Unlike the mRNA technology of the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccine, the Johnson & Johnson vaccine uses an inactivated virus vector, adenovirus (the common cold), and contains a piece of DNA that instructs the body to make the COVID-19 spike protein. This triggers an immune system response, giving you protection should you ever be exposed to the real virus. The Johnson & Johnson vaccine was 85% effective in preventing severe/critical illness and 66% effective in preventing symptomatic illness 28 days following vaccination. Most importantly, it was 100% effective in preventing hospitalization and death from COVID-19. The Johnson & Johnson vaccine is a single dose compared to the required 2 doses for the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines.
You cannot get COVID-19 or a cold from any of the authorized vaccines, because they do not contain live virus.
It is hard to compare the efficacy data between the different vaccines because they have been tested during different time frames, which may not account for the spread of virus variants. Currently, the recommendation is that people get whichever vaccine is available to them at the time they are eligible. All 3 authorized vaccines are highly effective in preventing the most serious cases of COVID-19.
4) Should I get the COVID vaccine if I am pregnant?
Currently, available data demonstrate that pregnant individuals are at increased risk of more severe illness and death due to COVID-19 than their non-pregnant counterparts. Providing pregnant individuals with the opportunity to be vaccinated can be critical to allowing them to protect themselves, particularly if their occupation puts them at increased risk of contracting the virus or if they have underlying and comorbid conditions. Pregnant women should discuss their personal risk and choices with their OB/GYN. Pregnant women are currently eligible to get vaccinated in PA.
There are limited data about the safety of COVID-19 vaccines for people who are pregnant. Until findings are available from clinical trials and additional studies, only limited data are available on the safety of COVID-19 vaccines, including mRNA vaccines, administered during pregnancy:
- Limited data are currently available from animal developmental and reproductive toxicity studies. No safety concerns were demonstrated in rats that received Moderna COVID-19 vaccine before or during pregnancy; studies of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine are ongoing.
- Researchers have studies planned in people who are pregnant.
- Both vaccine manufacturers are monitoring people in the clinical trials who became pregnant.
- CDC and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have safety monitoring systems in place to capture information about vaccination during pregnancy and will closely monitor reports.
Based on how mRNA vaccines work, experts believe they are unlikely to pose a specific risk for people who are pregnant. However, the actual risks of mRNA vaccines to the pregnant person and her fetus are unknown because these vaccines have not been studied in pregnant women.
5) Should I get the COVID vaccine if I am breastfeeding?
There are neither data on the safety of COVID-19 vaccines in lactating women nor on the effects of mRNA vaccines on the breastfed infant or on milk production/excretion. mRNA vaccines are not thought to be a risk to the breastfeeding infant. People who are breastfeeding and are part of a group recommended to receive a COVID-19 vaccine, such as healthcare personnel, may choose to be vaccinated. We recommend discussing this with one of our providers at your visit to help you make a personal choice.