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Believe in the Vaccine

Do’s and Don’ts of Getting the COVID-19 Vaccine

Don't Act Like the Pandemic Is Over

Published February 2021

As COVID-19 vaccination rolls out across the U.S., more people hope to resume gatherings, take off their masks and leave their homes for more than just essential errands. However, while you can and should feel cautiously optimistic as more people become vaccinated, you still need to continue to do your part to slow the spread of COVID-19.

A goal of COVID-19 vaccines is to protect individuals and communities through a concept called herd immunity. In order to survive, a virus needs to spread from one person to another. If enough people in a community are protected from an illness with a vaccine, or because they've already had the disease, the virus will not be able to spread easily, and its strain will eventually die out.

According to Northwestern Medicine Infectious Disease Specialist Michael G. Ison, MD, herd immunity typically kicks in when roughly 70% to 80% of people are vaccinated against a disease, or have had the disease. Since COVID-19 is a new disease, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) does not know the exact percentage of people who need to be vaccinated against it for herd immunity to be achieved via vaccination.  

You will know you are getting close to herd immunity when COVID-19 cases are near zero in the U.S., according to Dr. Ison. Until then, here are some do's and don'ts for getting the COVID-19 vaccine.

Do's of Getting Your COVID-19 Vaccine

Do get your COVID-19 vaccine when it's your turn.

The COVID-19 vaccine helps protect you from getting sick with COVID-19.

"I've gotten both of my doses, and while I had a sore arm and intermittent achiness, it didn't affect my life, and now I feel protected against COVID-19," says Dr. Ison.

The sooner more people become vaccinated, the sooner the COVID-19 pandemic will end in the U.S. "So, when you get called, get your vaccine as soon as you can," Dr. Ison says.

Do contact your physician if you have adverse side effects from the vaccine that last more than 72 hours.

According to Dr. Ison, about one-third of people will have mild side effects from the COVID-19 vaccine, including:

  • Muscle pain around the injection site
  • Achiness and general joint pain
  • Headache
  • Mild-grade fever and chills
  • Nausea and vomiting

These side effects are the result of your body training your immune system to respond to the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19. They are a sign that the vaccine is working. Remember: It is impossible to get COVID-19 from the vaccine. Learn how the COVID-19 vaccine works.

If you have body aches, a headache, fever or chills after either of your COVID-19 vaccine doses, Dr. Ison recommends taking a pain- and fever-reducing medication like acetaminophen. Acetaminophen lasts four to six hours in your system, so you may need to take multiple doses until your symptoms disappear.

If your symptoms persist for more than 72 hours after your vaccination, call your primary care physician. If you have a more severe reaction, such as difficulty swallowing or breathing, call 911. Severe reactions to COVID-19 vaccines are rare.

Do help people in your life get the vaccine.

People ages 65 and older are more likely to die from COVID-19 than any other age group. That's why they are first in line after front-line healthcare workers to get the vaccine. If you have loved ones in this age group, make sure they get the vaccine as soon as they can. Schedule their appointment and drive them if necessary.

Stay informed about the vaccination plan for Northwestern Medicine patients by visiting the COVID-19 Resource Center at nm.org/covid-19. Your local health department may also be an excellent source of information about community-based vaccination plans.

When you get vaccinated, share your experience on social media to help friends and family feel more comfortable getting the vaccine themselves. Remember, widespread vaccination is key to ending the pandemic.

Do stay up-to-date on your vaccinations.

Viruses change, or mutate, over time to make themselves better able to survive. The flu vaccine is slightly altered each year to account for changes in the influenza virus. People's immunity to the flu also changes over time. That is why a flu vaccine is recommended every year.

The SARS-CoV-2 virus also has many strains and continues to mutate. These changes may impact the effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines. Your immunity to COVID-19 from the vaccine also is likely to decrease over time, which means you will probably need booster shots for COVID-19 at some point.

"This is not a reason to not get the COVID-19 vaccine now. In fact, not getting it when it's offered to you is going to cause more potential harm," says Dr. Ison. "You should get the vaccine now and stay up-to-date on your COVID-19 vaccine boosters as they come out."

Don'ts of Getting the COVID-19 Vaccine

Don't stop wearing your mask, washing your hands or practicing physical distancing.

The pandemic will be over when COVID-19 cases approach zero. The pandemic is not over because you got your vaccine. Here's why:

  • mRNA COVID-19 vaccines are not instantly effective. Your first dose of the vaccine is about 30% to 40% effective in protecting you against COVID-19. It then takes several weeks for the second dose to more fully protect you against COVID-19, according to Dr. Ison.
  • mRNA COVID-19 vaccines are not 100% effective. The Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines have been shown to be 94% to 95% effective in protecting you against COVID-19, but that means that there's still a 5% to 6% chance of you getting the virus.
  • You may still spread COVID-19 once you've been vaccinated. "The vaccines are effective in preventing symptomatic infection, but it still might be possible for you to carry the virus without showing symptoms," says Dr. Ison. "This means that you could have the vaccine but still transmit the virus to others who have not been vaccinated."

Researchers are still studying the vaccines' effectiveness and if COVID-19 is transmissible through respiratory droplets after vaccination. Until science shows us for certain, it's important to remain cautious to slow the spread.

"Many people who are spreading COVID-19 don't have a lot of symptoms," says Dr. Ison.

Don't assume others are safer around you because you got vaccinated.

Your immunity doesn't rub off on your family and friends. You're not safer to be around after you're vaccinated; you're just less likely to get sick from COVID-19. To end the pandemic, the SARS-CoV-2 virus must not be able to infect anyone. Until everyone in your pod is vaccinated, the benefit of one person being vaccinated is limited.

Dr. Ison adds that if two people who don't live together have both been vaccinated, it is safer for them be around each other now that they've both been vaccinated, but they should still wear masks, maintain physical distance and wash their hands because of the 5% to 6% chance that they could both still get COVID-19.

While the pandemic may feel like it's lasted a very long time, science has moved at a historically rapid pace to advance the understanding the virus, develop treatment strategies and create vaccines to help stop COVID-19. Many physician-scientists at Northwestern Medicine have contributed to this effort. Now, it's your turn: To help end the pandemic, do your part to stop the spread and get the vaccine when it's available to you.

Michael G. Ison, MD
Michael G. Ison, MD
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