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COVID-19 Vaccine FAQs

Q: What is the union’s position on the vaccine?

The hardworking women and men of 1199SEIU have been on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic for nine months. During this time, they have bravely fought to save lives, even through the fear of contracting the disease and endangering the lives of their loved ones.

In addition to wearing masks and other PPE, socially distancing, and following other workplace safety procedures, we believe that the COVID-19 vaccine is a critical step forward to help protect our members’ health, and to help put an end to this devastating pandemic that has ravaged our nation. Early testing by governmental and independent scientists here in the United States and abroad has shown that the vaccine is safe and effective, and that any side effects are minimal and short-lived. Although concerns surrounding the risk of potential side effects, apprehension about the speed at which this vaccine was developed, and our nation’s history of medical discrimination and racism are real, we believe that the development and trials have been thorough to date, and that information on the vaccine’s efficacy has been clear and forthcoming. Simply put, after what we have seen over the last nine months, the risks of doing nothing are more dangerous.

We strongly encourage our members to get the vaccine when available, as we believe it is a vital tool to help us move forward from COVID-19. We do not, however, support a mandate. As healthcare workers, we know that our members are the most trusted voices on this issue, and well-equipped to make the best possible choices to protect themselves, their families, and their patients.

We will continue to provide education and resources to keep our membership informed about any updated information, and we will continue to do all we can to help our nation recover and heal.

Q: How does the COVID-19 vaccine approval process work?

A: In the United States, vaccines must be approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) before they can be used. The FDA bases its decision to approve or not approve a vaccine on data from clinical trials. The data is reviewed by independent experts who are not part of the government or the pharmaceutical companies, and by career scientists and physicians at the FDA who are not politically appointed and are experts in vaccine safety and effectiveness.

The scientists look out for unexpected side effects that the vaccine might have caused, which helps determine the vaccine’s safety. In general, the fewer and less severe the side effects are, the more the vaccine is considered safe. If the clinical trial data shows enough evidence of efficacy and safety, the FDA will approve the vaccine and license it for use in the United States.

Q: I hear that the FDA is granting EUA status to Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine. What does EUA mean?

A: Sometimes, the FDA will allow a medical product that has not yet been fully approved to be used in an emergency to diagnose, treat or prevent a serious illness. This is called an Emergency Use Authorization (EUA). An EUA may be issued when the FDA determines that the product “may be effective” against the disease, based on all the available scientific evidence. This is a lower standard than what’s required for full approval of a product, but it still uses early data gathered from clinical trials.

Q: Did clinical trials for the COVID-19 vaccine include people from the population groups most affected by the virus, especially Black, Latinx and older people?

Yes. While vaccines work the same in people of different races or ethnicities, it is important to make sure vaccines are tested in diverse population groups before they are released. The phase 3 clinical trials conducted by Pfizer and Moderna included significant numbers of participants from the population groups most at risk for COVID-19.

In Pfizer’s U.S. trial, 13.1 percent of participants were Hispanic or Latinx, 10.1 percent were Black, 5.5 percent were Asian-American and 1 percent were Native American. About 45 percent of participants were between 56 and 85 years of age.

Moderna did not report precise numbers for its U.S. trial, but said that 20 percent of participants identified as Hispanic or Latinx and 10 percent identified as Black or African American. Moderna also said that its trial included 23.3 percent of participant who were over the age of 65, as well as 16.7 percent of participants who were under the age of 65 but who had high-risk chronic diseases, such as diabetes, severe obesity and cardiac disease.

AstraZeneca has said its trial participants included diverse racial and geographic groups but gave no clear, specific information.

Q: Can I get COVID-19 from the vaccine?

A: No. The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines do not contain the virus. Instead, they contain instructions for your cells called “messenger RNA,” which tells your cells to make COVID-19 spike protein. Once your cells make the spike protein, your immune system will make the antibodies that fight COVID-19 and protect you from getting sick from this virus.

Q: If I already had COVID-19, do I need to get the vaccine?

A: There is not enough information currently available to say if or for how long after infection someone is protected from getting COVID-19 again. Early evidence suggests natural immunity from COVID-19 may not last very long, but more studies are needed to better understand this. A recommendation on whether people who had COVID-19 should get a vaccine has not been made.

Q: Will I still need to wear a mask and practice social distancing once the COVID-19 vaccine is available, and once I get the vaccine?

A: Yes. We know that the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are 94 to 95 percent effective, and it’s possible that the vaccine will protect you from getting very sick with the virus, but it will not prevent you from spreading the virus to other people. There’s also no data that shows how long that protection can last—the protection may wane over time, and you may be susceptible again. Therefore, we will still need to wear masks and practice physical social distancing until a large proportion of the population is vaccinated and we are sure the vaccine provides long-term protection.

Q: What does “herd immunity” mean?

A: If a vaccine not only protects against disease but reduces transmission, and continues to do so for many years, we are likely to reach a state of herd immunity (or herd protection), when masks and social distancing will no longer be required. Herd protection is achieved when a sufficient proportion of the population is made non-infectious through vaccination or natural infection so that the likelihood of an infectious individual transmitting to a susceptible individual is very low.

Q: Does the COVID-19 vaccine have side effects?

A: Some people who get a vaccine will experience side effects, particularly after the second dose of a vaccine. All three candidate vaccines have reported mild to moderate side effects, including pain at the injection site, fatigue, and aching muscles and joints for a day or two. If someone is going to have a bad reaction to a vaccine, it is likely to occur in the first six weeks after vaccination.

Q: Can I mix and match COVID-19 vaccines?

A: No. If you get a two-dose vaccine, your second dose must be from the same vaccine as the first dose. Pfizer and Moderna vaccines require two doses to be maximally effective. The second dose of Pfizer’s vaccine is given 21 days after the first dose. The second dose of Moderna’s vaccine is given 28 days after the first dose.

Since the vaccines differ in composition, storage and time between the two doses, experts say people must take the same vaccine for both doses.

Q. Can COVID-19 mutate?

A: It’s possible that the virus could mutate, but more studies are needed to better understand this.

Q: COVID-19 vaccines were developed in record time, but are they safe?

A: The messenger RNA (mRNA) vaccines produced by Pfizer and Moderna are faster to develop as they do not require vaccine manufacturers to produce protein or weakened pathogen for the vaccine. These mRNA vaccines appear to be safe and no riskier than tried and tested ones, like the childhood measles vaccine.

Q: Where do I go to get vaccinated?

A: Healthcare workers will be notified by your employer on how and when they will be vaccinated.

Q: I’m a retiree. Is the vaccine effective for older people?

A: So far, the answer is yes. Pfizer and Moderna clinical trials have shown that for the most part, the vaccines provide similar protection for older and younger people. As people get vaccinated, the drugmakers and the CDC will continue to follow them to monitor the vaccines’ effectiveness in people 65 and older, whose immune response to vaccinations isn’t as strong as that of younger people. What is certain is that the threat posed by serious COVID-19 complications are a bigger risk for this group.

Q: Can children get vaccinated?

A: The Pfizer vaccine is recommended for people age 16 and up, as the company’s clinical trialsdid not include children orpregnant women. Pfizer has just begun a new trial, with 2,000 participants, for children ages 12 to 15.

Q: Should you get vaccinated if you have allergies?

A: The FDA feels that it should be safe for most peoplewith allergies to take the Pfizer vaccine. However, the FDA recommends that individuals who have had a previous severe allergic reaction to vaccines or ingredients in the Pfizer vaccine should avoid getting the COVID-19 vaccine. If you haveallergies, you should talk with your doctor to make sure that youare not allergic to any components of the vaccine. The FDA websitelists the ingredients in the Pfizer vaccine, which your doctor can reference to determine if you would be allergic.

Q: I have serious allergies and have had bad reactions to some vaccinations – should I get the vaccine?

A: The CDC recommends that people who have experienced severe reactions to prior vaccines or injectable drugs can still get the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine, but they should first discuss the risks with their doctor. If they do get the vaccine, they should be monitored for 30 minutes afterward. Your physician can check the list of ingredients in the Pfizer vaccine on the FDA website to determine if you would be allergic.

Q: Can you be contagious if you are exposed to the virus after getting the vaccine?

A: Yes, it’s possible.While the Pfizer vaccine is 95 percent effective, there’s a small chance you could come in contact with someone infected and get sick and spread the virus. The Pfizer vaccine requires two shots given 21 days apart. Because it typically takes a few weeks for the body to build immunity after vaccination, you could become infected with the virus just before or just after vaccination if you came in contact with someone who has COVID-19, but you would beprotected because you had been vaccinated.

Q: Would it have made a difference if the vaccine was producedusing the old method? How long would it have taken then?

A: On average, it can take 10 to 14 years to develop a new vaccine.Scientistsfirst have to determine the genetic code of the virus¬—and they cracked the COVID-19 code in record time. Using technology developed over a decade, Pfizer and Moderna were able to develop their messenger RNA (mRNA) vaccines faster because they did not have to produce protein or a weakened pathogen (adisease-causing organism) for the vaccine. Traditional vaccines typically use a weakened version of the pathogen or a protein piece of it, and because these are grown in eggs or cells, developing traditional vaccines take a long time. By contrast, the mRNA vaccines useonly the genetic material that makes the spike protein on the surface of the coronavirus, whichinfects human cells—so the design and manufacture of these vaccines are simplified and cut years fromthe process.

Q: If you have cancer, can you take the vaccine?

A: Yes, 30,000 people in the vaccine trials had chronic conditions, so If you have cancer or a condition such as diabetes, hypertension or obesity, you can take the vaccine. It is especially important for cancer patients to get the COVID-19 vaccine. Some cancer treatments can weaken your immune system and increase your risk of severe illness from the virus.

Q: Can pregnant women take the vaccine?

A: Yes. Pregnant women who contract COVID-19 are more likely to experience severe illness and be hospitalized.While the Pfizer vaccine was not tested in pregnant women, there are no safety data specific for use in pregnancy, but the vaccine does not contain the virus nor does it use what’s known as an adjuvant to enhance the efficacy. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists have stated that the vaccine is safe for use in pregnant and nursing mothers and recommends that physicians review the data on the risks and benefits of vaccination with pregnant patients – including the risk of not getting vaccinated.

Q: Does the Benefit Fund cover the cost of getting vaccinated?

A: Yes. The vaccines are provided free of charge, and the Benefit Fund will cover the costs associated with getting the shot. If you are offered the vaccine at your workplaceand are asked to present your 1199SEIU Health Benefits ID card, it is fine to do so. The Benefit Fund will cover the costs of administering the vaccination to you.

The Funds do not provide medical advice. You should always seek medical advice from your physician or a qualified health provider regarding any medical questions, conditions or treatment.