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Vaccine Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)


Vaccine Prioritization

Who will be eligible for the vaccine?

There will be limited supply when the vaccine first becomes available, but vaccines eventually will be opened up to all residents of Pima County and distributed to convenient locations as availability increases.

UPDATED DEC. 21: Which groups will receive vaccines first?

The CDC and the State of Arizona developed guidelines to help determine priority groups for vaccination, until there is enough vaccine for everybody who wants a vaccine. The initial groups are health care workers on the front lines of fighting the virus, emergency medical services workers, and people living and working in long-term care settings, such as nursing homes.

The chart at the top of this page shows ONLY proposals for categories and priority phases. The federal government has guidance to still be developed, and then the state has additional guidance that will be sent to Pima County. This is ALL in a formative phase. Please check back as more information becomes available.

The proposed categories for phases 1B, 1C, 2 and 3 are still being finalized. We know the public and health care providers are eager for clarifications on essential workers in 1B, but the federal government and the state are still deciding on priorities for that phase. It will still take several weeks to get through the 1A group, which began Dec. 17.

Dr. Theresa Cullen, the Pima County Health Director, said the period of vaccination for all of the priority groups identified in Phase 1 (A, B and C) could take at least five months.

That means Phase 2 vaccination, which includes the general population, may be expected in late spring, early summer.

Why have these groups been chosen first?

Our goals in vaccine distribution will be to decrease death and serious disease as much as possible, preserve the functioning of society, reduce the extra burden the disease is having on people already facing disparities, and increase the ability of everybody to enjoy health and well-being.

UPDATED JAN. 13: Will Pima County adjust the age range to include people 65 and older in the priority 1B group as the Arizona Department of Health Services recommended Jan. 13?

Pima County has evaluated our COVID-19 data. Patients in the 75 and over age groups have higher rates of hospitalization and mortality. Patients 65 and over also experience a higher rate of hospitalization and mortality but not to the same extent. We have made a decision to limit our initial enrollment as we move into Stage 1B to patients over 75 and over, as well as protective service workers and education and childcare workers.

Vaccine Allocation and Distribution

UPDATED DEC. 29: When and how many doses will be initially available?

Pima County received 11,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine in the week beginning Dec. 14, and then 15,400 Moderna vaccines arrived on Dec. 22 and were delivered directly to approved community hospitals and clinics, expanding the County’s network of vaccinators beyond Tucson Medical Center and Banner – University Medicine, which are capable of handling the Pfizer vaccine that must be stored at a much colder temperature. The Moderna vaccine can be stored in standard laboratory freezers.

See the top of this webpage for updated allocation and vaccination numbers.

It is expected to take about 134,000 doses (first and second shots) to cover the approximate 67,000 at-risk health care workers in the 1A group.

How many doses will I need?

Right now, most vaccine candidates are two doses, about three weeks apart. It is important to get both doses of the vaccine so that your body develops enough antibodies to fight the COVID-19 virus if you were to get infected at a later time. Getting more than one dose for a vaccine is not unusual. In fact, it's the norm. Many routine vaccinations require more than one dose for maximum protection.

How long will it take to vaccinate all of Pima County?

Vaccine manufacturers are working to get as much vaccine out as soon as possible, but it may not be widely available until spring of 2021. Vaccinations will continue into the summer.

UPDATED JAN. 9: Can non-residents (snowbirds, students, out-of-state visitors) get the vaccine in Arizona?

Yes. Non-residents will be vaccinated along with residents according to the Arizona vaccine priority phase into which they fall.

UPDATED JAN 8: How can health care providers sign up to be vaccinators in Pima County?

The Arizona Department of Health Services has a Pandemic Vaccine Provider Onboard link for vaccination providers to start the process. More information about the registration process is available via this PDF.

  • Onboarding is for providers who have cold storage, staff for administration and are willing to meet data reporting requirements set by ADHS
  • Onboarding must be fully completed to receive vaccine
  • For assistance with the tool or to check status reach out to ASIISHelpDesk@azdhs.gov
Check out the CDC Storage and Handling Toolkit for more information about storing and handling vaccine.

Register for Jan. 14 webinar from The Arizona Partnership for Immunization (TAPI): COVID-19 Vaccine Storage, Handling & Distribution Plan

How can I volunteer to help get Pima County vaccinated?

Medical personnel who are interested in volunteering at one of our Points of Dispensing (PODs) should register through the Medical Reserve Corps of Southern Arizona (MRCSA). You can read about their volunteer program at that link, and here is a direct line to their online application.

From there, MRCSA coordinators will be in contact to help connect volunteers with opportunities.
Don’t have an active medical license? You can support the community during the vaccine rollout in multiple ways, other than actually delivering shots.

Pima County has teamed with the Arizona Emergency System for Advance Registration of Volunteer Health Professionals (AZ-ESAR-VHP) to offer volunteer opportunities through an online platform. Look for the big blue button marked "Register Now," select Add Organizations, and choose Pima County.

If I volunteer at one of the vaccine points of distribution, will I get a vaccine?

Volunteers at our vaccination points of distribution (PODs) will receive their first vaccine during their term of service. However, due to the logistics of volunteer scheduling, this vaccination may not be given on the first day of volunteering. We are also asking for a time commitment of 36 hours from volunteers who are at the PODs to help us increase efficiency.

Vaccine Safety

Is the vaccine safe?

Yes. While it was developed faster than other vaccines, it went through the same safety trials as any other common vaccines, and is overwhelmingly safe. Talk to your doctor if you have concerns about whether you should be vaccinated.

Crystal Rambaud, the Pima County Health Department Manager for Vaccine Preventable Diseases: "I know there are a lot of concerns about safety due to the really rapid timeline surrounding this vaccine. What I would say to that is they did not skip any of the steps for the approval, it went through the same rigorous testing and safety trials that we see all of our other widely accepted vaccines go through. I feel that this vaccine is safe, it's been indicated that it's safe. So we really hope that the community can feel confident about this vaccine.”

Pima County Health Director Dr. Theresa Cullen notes that the attention to detail in the clinical trials and the review of data went through a standard process. "The acceleration was in the manufacturing phase," she said.

What is an Emergency Use Authorization?

The FDA describes it this way: “During a public health emergency, the FDA can use its Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) authority to allow the use of unapproved medical products, or unapproved uses of approved medical products, to diagnose, treat, or prevent serious or life-threatening diseases when certain criteria are met, including that there are no adequate, approved, and available alternatives.

Before the FDA can issue an EUA, the Secretary of Health and Human Services must make a declaration of emergency or threat justifying authorization of emergency use for a product. This chart summarizes the process for EUA issuance.”

For a vaccine to be granted an EUA, manufacturers must submit clinical data generated from rigorous studies from tens of thousands of study participants to ensure safety, quality and that that the benefits outweigh the risks.

Both the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine and the Moderna COVID-19 Vaccine were issued EUAs.

Sources:
Emergency Use Authorization for Vaccines Explained FDA, 11/20/20. FAQs on Emergency Use Authorizations (EUAs) for Medical Devices During the COVID-19 Pandemic FDA, 8/18/20.

UPDATED JAN. 8: Are there side effects?

Common side effects may include pain and swelling at the injection site. You may get fever, chills, tiredness or a headache. These side effects may affect your ability to do daily activities, but they should go away in a few days. These are all indications that your body is building protection against the virus.

Even if you get some side effects after the first shot, it is important that you get the second shot (unless your doctor advises you otherwise), because most COVID-19 vaccines require two doses to achieve optimal protection.

The CDC has a printable factsheet for vaccine providers to offer recipients in English and Spanish. It includes information on how vaccine recipients can register for v-safe to report additional side effects.

The CDC currently recommends that persons who receive a COVID-19 vaccine be observed after vaccination.

Safeguards will be in place:
  • All people who get a COVID-19 vaccine should be monitored on-site. People with a history of severe allergic reactions should be monitored for 30 minutes after getting the vaccine. All other people should be monitored for 15 minutes after getting the vaccine.
  • Vaccination providers should have appropriate medications and equipment — such as epinephrine, antihistamines, stethoscopes, blood pressure cuffs, and timing devices to check your pulse — at all COVID-19 vaccination sites.
  • If you experience a severe allergic reaction after getting a COVID-19 vaccine, vaccination providers should provide rapid care and call for emergency medical services. You should continue to be monitored in a medical facility for at least several hours.
The CDC has additional recommendations for vaccine providers to safeguard against allergic reactions.

Sources:
What to Expect after Getting a COVID-19 Vaccine CDC, updated 12/19/20.
COVID-19 Vaccines and Allergic Reactions CDC, updated 12/31/20.
Interim considerations: preparing for the potential management of anaphylaxis after COVID-19 vaccination CDC, 12/31/20.

UPDATED JAN. 12: I How do I report an adverse reaction to the vaccine?

If you are a patient, please let your health care provider know about your symptoms first. We strongly urge both urge health care providers and patients to report any adverse reactions via the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System.

Additionally, at the time of vaccination, you will be given a vaccine record card with information about how to register and use the text-based tool v-safe. Registration is completely voluntary and provides personalized check-ins, surveys, and a reminder to let you know when it is time to get your second shot. Depending upon your responses, someone from the CDC may call to check on you.

Sources:
V-safe After Vaccination Health Checker CDC, updated 1/5/21.
Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System, HHS.

Can the COVID vaccine give me COVID?

No. There are no vaccines near approval that use live virus, and a COVID-19 vaccine will not cause you to test positive for COVID-19. The goal of the vaccine is to provide your body with the tools it needs to fight the COVID-19 virus if you were to get infected.

UPDATED JAN. 11: Will getting the vaccine cause me to test false positive on any of the COVID-19 tests (e.g., PCR test, antigen test or antibody test)?

Neither of the recently authorized vaccines or those being researched in the U.S. cause a positive result on either the PCR or antigen viral tests.

“That can’t happen,” Dr. Dean Blumberg, Chief of Pediatric Infectious Diseases at UC Davis Children’s Hospital, said. “There is no part of the virus in either vaccine. You can’t test positive on a PCR or an antigen test (the two methods that test for current COVID-19 infections).

“You will test positive for antibodies because your body will have built them up as part of your immune response,” he said. “That’s a good thing.”

Dr. Angela Hewitt, Infectious Diseases expert at the University of Nebraska Medical Center explains the difference this way: “Receiving the COVID-19 vaccine will not affect the PCR or antigen test results since these tests check for active disease, not immunity. There is no virus present in the mRNA COVID-19 vaccine. The vaccine is intended to induce an immune response, so the serology test (antibody test) may be positive in someone who has been vaccinated.”

Sources:
Facts about Vaccination CDC, 12/20/20.
The real facts about common COVID-19 vaccine myths UC Davis Health, 12/21/20.
You asked, we answered University of Nebraska Medical Center, 12/22/20.

Should I get the vaccine if I am pregnant?

The initial clinical trials do not include pregnant women. The safety and efficacy for pregnant women will be determined at a later date. Continue to protect yourself by social distancing, wearing a mask and washing your hands often.

UPDATED DEC. 21: Should I get the vaccine if I’m breastfeeding?

There is no data on the safety of COVID-19 vaccines in lactating women or 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, according to the CDC.

UPDATED DEC. 21: Should I worry about a severe allergic reaction to the vaccine?

Current CDC recommendation: If you have ever had a severe allergic reaction to any ingredient in a COVID-19 vaccine, CDC recommends that you should not get that specific vaccine. If you have had a severe allergic reaction to other vaccines or injectable therapies, you should ask your doctor if you should get a COVID-19 vaccine. Your doctor will help you decide if it is safe for you to get vaccinated.

CDC recommends that people with a history of severe allergic reactions not related to vaccines or injectable medications — such as allergies to food, pet, venom, environmental, or latex — may still get vaccinated. People with a history of allergies to oral medications or a family history of severe allergic reactions, or who might have a milder allergy to vaccines (no anaphylaxis) — may also still get vaccinated.

If you have a severe allergic reaction after getting the first shot, you should not get the second shot. Your doctor may refer you to a specialist in allergies and immunology to provide more care or advice.

UPDATED DEC. 22: Should I get the vaccine if I have a compromised immune system?

According to the CDC, immunocompromised individuals may still receive COVID-19 vaccination if they have no contraindications to vaccination.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s leading infectious disease expert, said that individuals with compromised immune systems, whether because of chemotherapy or a bone marrow transplant, should plan to be vaccinated when the opportunity arises.

“I think we should recommend that they get vaccinated,” he said. “I mean, it is clear that, if you are on immunosuppressive agents, history tells us that you’re not going to have as robust a response as if you had an intact immune system that was not being compromised. But some degree of immunity is better than no degree of immunity.”

William Stohl, MD, PhD, chief of the division of rheumatology at the University of Southern California, Los Angeles states: “Neither the Moderna nor Pfizer vaccines are live viruses, so there should be no special contraindication for such individuals.”

UPDATED JAN. 8: Should people receiving chemotherapy get the COVID-19 vaccine?

Clinical trials for the COVID-19 vaccines did not include people receiving chemotherapy or those with weakened immune systems, so it is still unknown how safe or effective these vaccines are in these populations.

According to data from the American Cancer Society, “It’s generally recommended that vaccines not be given during chemo or radiation treatments. (An exception to this is the flu shot.) This is mainly because vaccines need a healthy immune system response to work, and you may not get a good response if your immune system is suppressed by your cancer treatment. Some types of immunotherapy might affect the immune system as well.”

We expect more information will become available in the next few months. In the meantime, consultation with the treating physician is the best strategy to balance potential the unknown safety profile and potential limited immunological response to the vaccine in chemotherapy patients with the risks of potential serious outcomes from COVID-19 disease.

Sources:
COVID-19 Vaccines in People with Cancer American Cancer Society, 12/21/20.
Interim Clinical Considerations for Use of mRNA COVID-19 Vaccines Currently Authorized in the United States CDC, 1/6/21.
Optimal Timing for COVID-19 Vaccination in Oncology Patients Receiving Chemotherapy Clinical Oncology, Dec 24, 2020.

UPDATED JAN. 8: Should people who did receive a COVID-19 vaccination during chemotherapy or immunosuppressive medications get re-vaccinated?

We anticipate more information will become available in the coming months. In the meantime, the CDC does not currently recommend re-vaccination for persons who have regained immune competence following chemotherapy or immunosuppressive medications.

Source:
Interim Clinical Considerations for Use of mRNA COVID-19 Vaccines Currently Authorized in the United States CDC, 1/6/21.

UPDATED DEC. 22: Are the vaccines interchangeable?

Currently, the CDC recommends both doses of the series should be completed with the same product.

While the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices does not state a preference between the Pfizer and Moderna products, they do state these mRNA COVID-19 vaccines are not interchangeable with each other or with other COVID-19 vaccine products. The safety and efficacy of a mixed-product series have not been evaluated.

UPDATED JAN 6: Can someone get the first dose in another state, and get the second dose in Arizona – and vice versa?

The mRNA COVID-19 vaccine products are not interchangeable, thus the CDC recommends that recipients complete both vaccine doses using the same product.

Because of this, it is very important that people keep the vaccine card given at the time they receive their first shot. It contains information including which brand of vaccine they received. That way, if someone is forced to relocate in the middle of the vaccine series, they can show the card to their healthcare provider and in most situations, as vaccine inventory allows, every effort will be made to ensure they can complete their series with the same product.

Source:
Interim Clinical Considerations for Use of mRNA COVID-19 Vaccines Currently Authorized in the United States CDC, 1/6/21.

UPDATED JAN. 8: If you discover you have asymptomatic COVID-19 after you’ve already received the vaccine, is it harmful?

No it is not harmful. The CDC indicates that the vaccine is safe to receive if you have had a prior COVID-19 infection, and advocates offering the vaccine to persons “regardless of history of prior symptomatic or asymptomatic SARS-CoV-2 infection.” It is not currently necessary that you be tested for COVID-19 before receiving the vaccine.

If however, you have a current symptomatic case of COVID-19, the CDC advises that you wait to get vaccinated until you have recovered from the acute illness.

Source:
Vaccination of persons with a SARS-CoV-2 infection or exposure, CDC, updated 1/6/21.

UPDATED JAN. 8: Do we need to worry about new COVID-19 variants? Will the vaccines continue to work?

The nature of viruses is to change constantly through mutations, and thus new variants are expected over time. There have been multiple variants of the virus that causes COVID-19 documented here in the U.S. and globally.

The CDC, scientists and public health officials worldwide are genetically analyzing these variants to determine if they alter characteristics of the virus including transmissibility, severity of symptoms, antibody response or vaccine efficacy.

It appears that the variants first reported in the UK and in South Africa allow the virus to spread much more quickly and easily than previous variants. At this time there is no evidence that the variants cause more severe disease or an increased risk of death.

There is also currently no evidence that these variants make the vaccine any less effective, and experts at the CDC believe “this is unlikely to occur because of the nature of the immune response to the virus.”

The CDC has started tracking the numbers of new cases caused by variants, updated Tuesdays and Thursdays by noon.

Regardless of the variant, continuing to mask, washing your hands, socially distancing, avoiding unnecessary social gatherings, staying home when you are sick, testing when you are sick or may have been exposed, and taking the vaccine when it becomes available to you remain your best defenses against contracting and spreading COVID-19.

Sources:
Emerging SARS-CoV-2 Variants CDC, updated 1/3/21.
New COVID-19 Variants CDC, updated 1/3/21.
Implications of the Emerging SARS-CoV-2 Variant VUI 202012/01 CDC, 12/29/20.
COVID-19: New coronavirus variant is identified in UK, BMJ, 12/16/20.

General Questions

What will the vaccine cost?

The vaccine is free for everybody, regardless of insurance status. For those that have insurance, a small administration fee may be billed. You are eligible to get vaccinated in Pima County if you're not a permanent resident. 

If I get the vaccine, can life go back to “normal?”

Not just yet. Millions of Americans will not yet have access to the vaccine, and they can still spread COVID. Most vaccines are not 100 percent effective at stopping transmission, although the COVID-19 vaccine is around 95 percent effective. Until more people are vaccinated or recover from COVID, masking, distancing, and hand washing are still good practices as we transition back to "normal."

UPDATED JAN. 8: How long should I wait to get vaccinated if I currently have COVID-19, or if I develop COVID-19 between vaccinations?

Because reinfection appears uncommon in the first 90 days after you have had a COVID-19 infection, it is recommended that you wait 90 days from the date you are infected to get the vaccine.

The CDC advises waiting until one has “recovered from the acute illness (if the person had symptoms) and criteria have been met for them to discontinue isolation. This recommendation applies to persons who develop SARS-CoV-2 infection before receiving any vaccine doses as well as those who develop SARS-CoV-2 infection after the first dose but before receipt of the second dose.”

Source:
Interim Clinical Considerations for Use of mRNA COVID-19 Vaccines Currently Authorized in the United States CDC, 12/30/20.

UPDATED JAN. 8: If I was treated with monoclonal antibody therapy for COVID-19, should I get vaccinated?

COVID-19 reinfection appears uncommon in the first 90 days after illness. The CDC advises persons who have received monoclonal antibodies and convalescent plasma therapy wait to get vaccinated “for at least 90 days, as a precautionary measure until additional information becomes available, to avoid interference of the antibody treatment with vaccine-induced immune responses.” This recommendation may change as more is learned about COVID-19 and these therapies.

Source:
Interim Clinical Considerations for Use of mRNA COVID-19 Vaccines Currently Authorized in the United States CDC, 1/6/21.

UPDATED DEC. 29: Once I’m vaccinated, do I still need to worry about infecting others?

We don’t yet know. More research is needed.

Clinical trials determined the vaccines authorized in the U.S. to be protective against development of symptomatic as well as severe COVID-19 disease. However, it is unknown whether they prevent viral replication in a person’s nose and throat. Therefore, even though you may be protected from disease, you may still be able to spread the virus to others.

Even after you get the vaccine, please continue to follow the steps to protect yourself recommended by the Pima County Health Department and the CDC by masking, distancing and hand washing.

Sources:
Coronavirus Resource Center Harvard Medical School, 12/28/20.
How to protect yourself and others CDC, 11/27/20.

If I have recovered from COVID, do I need to get vaccinated?

FROM THE CDC: Due to the severe health risks associated with COVID-19 and the fact that re-infection with COVID-19 is possible, people may be advised to get a COVID-19 vaccine even if they have been sick with COVID-19 before.

At this time, experts do not know how long someone is protected from getting sick again after recovering from COVID-19. The immunity someone gains from having an infection, called natural immunity, varies from person to person. Some early evidence suggests natural immunity may not last very long.

We won’t know how long immunity produced by vaccination lasts until we have more data on how well it works.

If I have an active case of COVID, can the vaccine be used as a treatment?

Individuals with an active case of COVID-19 need to wait until recovery before receiving the vaccine, according to Pima County Health Director Dr. Theresa Cullen.

UPDATED DEC. 22: Can my employer require me to get vaccinated?

Yes. According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), employers may require employees to take the COVID-19 vaccine, subject to certain legally protected exceptions for disability and sincerely held religious beliefs.

Employers may ask employees to show proof of receipt of a COVID-19 vaccination.

If an employer requires the vaccine, or contracts with a vendor to provide the vaccine, then the pre-vaccination medical screening questions are subject to ADA standards for disability-related inquiries (i.e., must be job-related and consistent with business necessity); if voluntary, or if the employee receives the vaccine from a third party that does not have a contract with the employer, then these ADA restrictions do not apply.

Should I get the flu vaccine?

Yes! As the flu season approaches our health care system could be overburdened with the on-going pandemic. Even a mild flu season, combined with a COVID surge could rapidly overwhelm out health care and hospital system. The flu vaccine has proven safe and effective. While it is recommended to get the flu vaccine in September or October, it is still not too late, although you should not get the flu vaccine at the same time as the COVID-19 vaccine.

How effective is the vaccine in people over 65?

The vaccine seems highly effective in older adults. In testing, older adults also tended to have less risk of side effects from the vaccine. 

How long does the immunity last?

We don’t know yet. The drug trials were very recently completed, and we need more data to determine how long people retain immunity.

The first two vaccines are mRNA vaccines – what does that mean?

mRNA vaccines take advantage of the process that cells use to make proteins in order to trigger an immune response and build immunity to COVID-19. In contrast, most vaccines use weakened or inactivated versions or components of the disease-causing pathogen to stimulate the body’s immune response to create antibodies.

mRNA vaccines have strands of genetic material called mRNA inside a special coating. That coating protects the mRNA from enzymes in the body that would otherwise break it down. It also helps the mRNA enter the muscle cells near the vaccination site.

mRNA can most easily be described as instructions for the cell on how to make a piece of the “spike protein” that is unique to the virus that causes COVID-19. Since only part of the protein is made, it does not do any harm to the person vaccinated but provides immunity.

After the piece of the spike protein is made, the cell breaks down the mRNA strand and disposes of them using enzymes in the cell. It is important to note that the mRNA strand never enters the cell’s nucleus or affects genetic material. mRNA vaccines do not alter or modify someone’s genetic makeup.

Once displayed on the cell surface, the protein or antigen causes the immune system to begin producing antibodies and activating T-cells to fight off what it thinks is an infection. These antibodies are specific to the COVID-19 virus, which means the immune system is primed to protect against future infection.

Keep track of the progress of all the vaccines undergoing testing at the New York Times' Coronavius Vaccine Tracker.

UPDATED DEC. 21: How can I protect myself from scams?

While the newly-approved COVID-19 vaccine offers hope of controlling the pandemic, scammers see the vaccine as an opportunity to steal from hopeful consumers.

The FBI and the Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) Office of Inspector General have been issuing alerts about the increase in coronavirus fraud. Scammers aren’t just using email or telemarketing calls. They are also coming at people via messages on social media platforms, and they’re even performing door-to-door visits, HHS says.

Vaccine scam flyer
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