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Answering Your Qs on the New COVID Vaccines

MONDAY, Jan. 11, 2021 (HealthDay News) -- As the rollout of the COVID-19 vaccines continues, scores of questions are emerging. Here, experts from Penn State Health answer some of the more common ones.

How do the COVID-19 vaccines work?

The COVID-19 vaccines work by teaching the immune system to protect against the virus, experts said.

Neither of the two vaccines approved in the United States -- made by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna -- contains the live virus. They give the body a blueprint to create a bit of the virus that causes COVID-19, called a spike protein.

Once you are vaccinated, the cell's machinery uses the blueprint to make the spike protein. This protein then appears on the surface of the cell and the immune system responds to it.

While the blueprint is a genetic code, it never enters the nucleus of the cells.

"That means it never converts into DNA," Dr. M. Fahad Khalid, chief of hospital medicine at Penn State Health Hershey Medical Center in Hershey, Pa., said in a health system news release. "The mRNA itself is destroyed by the cells after they produce the spike protein."

Can the vaccines make you sick?

"The spike protein itself cannot cause an infection," said Dr. Mohammad Ali, an infectious diseases physician at Penn State Health Holy Spirit Medical Center in Camp Hill, Pa.

How safe and effective are the vaccines?

Khalid and Ali say the vaccines are very safe and effective.

"Their effectiveness is tremendous," Ali said. "The flu vaccine is typically 40% to 60% effective, and the COVID-19 vaccines are 94% to 95% effective."

Some people, however, can have an allergic reaction to the vaccine.

People who have had allergic reactions to other vaccines should ask their doctor about taking the COVID-19 vaccine. People with non-vaccine related allergies -- such as food allergies, pet allergies, seasonal allergies -- can be safely vaccinated, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Possible side effects, such as swelling or pain at the injection site, fever, headache, or muscle pain, are temporary.

"Those side effects aren't nearly as bad as severe cases of COVID-19, which can be fatal," Khalid said.

If I've had COVID-19, do I need to be vaccinated?

Yes. The CDC recommends vaccination for people who have had COVID-19. This is because it's not known how long immunity to the virus lasts after an infection.

Once vaccinated, can I get rid of the masks?

No. Wearing a mask, hand washing and social distancing are necessary even after being vaccinated.
The vaccine protects you from getting sick, but researchers don't know if you can still get infected and transmit the virus to others.

Is it true there are microchips in the vaccines, or that they can cause infertility?

No, there are no microchip tracking devices in the vaccines. And the vaccine will not cause infertility.

"There's a lot of misinformation out there," Ali said. The most trustworthy resource for accurate information is the CDC website.

More information

For more on COVID-19 vaccines, see the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

SOURCE: Penn State Health, news release, Jan. 8, 2021

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