Just the Facts: COVID-19 Vaccine
After months of tireless research and careful testing from scientists, a COVID-19 vaccine is finally available. Despite several hiccups throughout the process, many states—including Pennsylvania, where InVision Human Services is based—have detailed phased distribution plans for the vaccine. Most are prioritizing people at high risk for severe illness which includes people with medical conditions and elderly adults.
According to the Pennsylvania Department of Health, Direct Support Professionals (DSPs) fall into the Phase 1A category. This phase is currently underway, but due to vaccine shortages, the criteria for obtaining a vaccine may be stricter. Unfortunately, it is currently unknown when the shortages will end.
InVision recognizes the need for a coordinated action plan to distribute vaccine among our DSPs and the people we support who want the vaccine. In response, InVision formed a COVID-19 Vaccine Task Force comprised of representatives from across the organization to develop a vaccine distribution plan for our DSPs, the people we support, and our administrative staff when more doses become available.
Transparency and trust at this time are paramount. As our Task Force develops plans for vaccine distribution, we encourage everyone at InVision to learn about the vaccines and how they can help lead us out of the pandemic.
Here Are the Facts
InVision and our COVID-19 Vaccine Task Force understand that the decision to receive a COVID-19 vaccine is a personal choice; however, choosing to get the vaccine protects more than just your own health—it will help protect your friends, family, colleagues, the people you support, and your communities.
Why is getting the vaccine important?
Just like wearing masks and social distancing, vaccines are an important tool in our toolbox for fighting COVID-19 exposure and spread. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), vaccines work by stimulating your body’s immune response to a specific disease. When you receive a vaccine—usually by needle injection—your body produces an immune response, thereby protecting you from the specific disease against which you’ve been vaccinated.
As more and more people become vaccinated against COVID-19, it makes it much harder for the disease to spread, effectively ending the pandemic.
Do not confuse an immune response generated by a vaccine with “natural immunity”.
While contracting and recovering from COVID-19 may build some natural immunity, scientists and other health experts don’t know how long this immunity lasts. Regardless, the risk for severe illness or death (to yourself or others) far outweighs any potential benefit natural immunity could provide. The vaccine will produce a similar antibody response, but you won’t get sick in the process.
Experts continue to learn more about COVID-19 and its vaccines. The CDC is committed to keeping the public informed as new evidence becomes available.
InVision highly recommends its DSPs receive a COVID-19 vaccine as soon as they’re able. As frontline workers, DSPs put themselves at risk daily by supporting the people we serve at their homes and in their communities. People with disabilities are classified as high-risk for developing severe illness, and our DSPs remain at risk through the nature of their work.
What vaccines are available?
The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is administered in two doses, three weeks (21 days) apart. It is 95% effective in preventing COVID-19.
The Moderna vaccine is administered in two doses, one month (28 days) apart. It is 94.1% effective in preventing COVID-19.
Johnson & Johnson
The Johnson & Johnson vaccine has not yet been approved for emergency use by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). While it is not yet available for wide-spread distribution, it’s a single shot with a 66% effective rate in preventing moderate to severe COVID-19.
There are several other vaccines in production. These vaccines are neither approved for emergency use by the FDA nor currently available for distribution.
Are the vaccines effective at reducing severity of COVID-19?
Experts believe that a COVID-19 vaccine will likely prevent you from contracting COVID-19 and protect you from developing severe illness if you do contract COVID-19. Each vaccine manufacturer is still collecting and compiling data about the efficacy of its vaccines, and clinical trials are still ongoing. The FDA uses this data to determine if a vaccine is eligible for emergency use, and currently only the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines have reached the rigorous criteria needed for that status.
Are the vaccines safe?
Yes. No serious safety concerns have been identified from any of the available vaccines. Despite the unprecedented speed at which these vaccines have been produced, they’ve been held to no fewer safety standards than any other widely available vaccine in the United States. Each vaccine has been clinically tested among many tens of thousands of participants of different ages, races, and ethnicities.
The CDC states the following about emergency use authorization (EUA) for COVID-19 vaccines:
“The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has granted Emergency Use Authorizations for COVID-19 vaccines that have been shown to meet rigorous safety criteria and be effective as determined by data from the manufacturers and findings from large clinical trials … Clinical trials for all vaccines must first show they meet rigorous criteria for safety and effectiveness before any vaccine, including COVID-19 vaccines, can be authorized or approved for use. The known and potential benefits of a COVID-19 vaccine must outweigh the known and potential risks of the vaccine.”
New data about vaccine safety and efficacy becomes available almost daily. The CDC and vaccine manufacturers continue to study COVID-19 and vaccine responses.
Are there side effects?
Though not noted among many recipients of any available vaccine, some side effects are possible. These include a sore arm, fever, headache, or body aches. These usually go away within a few days.
Some of the potential side effects are notable for being similar to COVID-19 symptoms, but they tend to be secondary to the more usual cough, fever, shortness of breath, and loss of taste or smell.
How are the vaccines different?
The vaccines differ only in the technologies used to create them. The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine and the Moderna vaccine are mRNA vaccines. mRNA vaccines teach the cells in our bodies how to make a protein that triggers an immune response to a specific disease. The immune response is what produces antibodies which protect us from that disease (in this case, COVID-19).
Are masks, gowns, or other personal protective equipment (PPE) required after vaccination?
Yes. Vaccines are a critical part of the solution to ending the pandemic; however, there is simply not enough evidence at this time to suggest other mitigation methods are no longer needed.
Experts are working to understand more about how COVID-19 vaccines provide protection in real-world conditions. Other data like how many people are getting vaccinated, how the virus spreads in communities, and whether or not a vaccine will prevent one from transmitting COVID-19 to others is still needed to make determinations on universal mask wearing and social distancing.
Even if you’re fully vaccinated, please continue to follow the CDC recommendations for COVID-19 prevention:
- Wear a mask, both indoors and outdoors, that covers your nose and mouth (preferably a N95, KN95, or cloth mask with three layers).
- Social distance (keep six feet between you and others).
- Avoid crowds, poorly ventilated spaces, or environments that would require the removal of your mask (like restaurants).
- Wash your hands frequently.
DSPs should continue to follow guidance and regulations set forth by their supervisor regarding PPE use.
It’s important to recognize that scientists and health experts are learning about COVID-19 in real-time. This means that recommendations surrounding our COVID-19 response may shift.