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So you got the COVID-19 shot. What now?

Oregon’s COVID-19 vaccination rates are expected to shoot up with everybody in the state 16 and over becoming eligible starting today. With about 21% of the state already fully vaccinated, we’re seeing some patterns developing about who feels side effects from the shots.

With the extremely rare exception of blood clotting associated with the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, there haven’t been any surprises.

“What we’re seeing, with arm pain and tiredness and headaches and fever and the like, the real-world experience of the vaccine appears to mirror that being seen in the clinical trials,” says Dr. Dawn Nolt, infectious diseases specialist with OHSU Doernbecher Children’s Hospital.

“Another pattern is that people who are younger seem to feel the side effects a little more than their older counterparts,” says Nolt. “But this is what we have seen in the clinical trial.”

Nolt says you can consider yourself “fully vaccinated” two weeks after your final shot, but that doesn’t mean you should go back to your pre-pandemic life.

“No vaccine is 100% effective at preventing you from getting sick,” she says. “So we should not change our behavior at this time.”

“Keep doing the masking and physical distancing, even if you are vaccinated.”

Nolt spoke with OPB’s Geoff Norcross. Some highlights:

Geoff Norcross: Are there more side effects connected to the Pfizer vaccine or the Moderna vaccine. Is one “hotter” than the other?

Dr. Dawn Nolt: That’s a great word to use. Yes, between the mRNA vaccines, the Moderna vaccine is regarded as a little hotter, or a little more reactogenic. There was a report published by the CDC on April 5th that a higher percentage of persons who received Moderna had side effects compared to Pfizer. But I think it’s important to understand that the difference in percentage points is really small. So there should be confidence in any of the mRNA vaccines available.

Norcross: Some people who will become eligible already had COVID-19 and they recovered from it. Do they still need to get a shot?”

Nolt: “Yes. We recommend that they still get vaccinated. There are scattered reports that persons with a history of COVID-19 illness may have more side effects on vaccination. And it makes sense from a biological standpoint that vaccines may really rev up the immune system that was already established from the COVID-19 illness. But the clinical trials didn’t study the question of vaccinating persons with a history of COVID-19. So right now, we are still recommending that persons receive the usual schedule of vaccines, regardless of their COVID-19 history.

Norcross: On the other hand, people may be hearing about these breakthrough cases of people who become infected with COVID-19 even after they got both shots. How worried about that should we be?

Nolt: Well, it highlights the point that nothing in life is 100%. Vaccines were never shown during the COVID-19 clinical trials to be 100% effective in keeping away illness. So if you were to get symptomatic from COVID-19, we urge you to get tested.

Now some of the breakthrough illnesses may be from variants that we hear about circulating. Those variants may be a little less susceptible to vaccines. However, to protect ourselves from any sort of COVID-19, whether it’s the usual type or the variants, vaccines offer a protection for sure.

Norcross: At what point can you consider yourself to be fully vaccinated after you’ve gotten both shots?

Nolt: The CDC states that you can consider yourself protected at two weeks following your last vaccine dose. And so for Pfizer and Moderna, because it’s a two-dose vaccine, you’re considered immune two weeks after the last dose

Norcross: What happens after that? Should our behavior change?

Nolt: Vaccines go a long way to provide individual protection, but no vaccine is 100% effective at preventing you from getting sick. So we should not change our behavior at this time. We’re not done yet with this pandemic. And as we are speaking, our nation is going through what seems to be the 4th surge in COVID-19 illness. So keep doing the masking and physical distancing, even if you are vaccinated.

Norcross: It’s probably worth stepping back here and mentioning again that we’re talking about a mass vaccination event for a pandemic that’s been going on for a little more than a year. And millions of people are getting shots within a year. That’s kind of miraculous, isn’t it?

Nolt: Yes, it is really a feat of scientific effort. If you recall, prior to COVID-19 vaccine development, most vaccines took 10 to 15 years to be developed and tested and eventually available. And within 15 months of the start of the pandemic, people in the United States have effective and safe vaccines against COVID-19. So it’s a great, great feat of medical science.

Click on audio player at the top of this story to hear the whole conversation.

Dr. Dawn Nolt is the medical director for infection prevention at OHSU Doernbecher Children's Hospital.
Dr. Dawn Nolt is the medical director for infection prevention at OHSU Doernbecher Children's Hospital.

Copyright 2021 Oregon Public Broadcasting

Geoff Norcross
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