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4 COVID-19 Vaccine Facts from an Infectious Disease Expert

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2 COVID-19 laboratory team members working on coronavirus vaccine.

Because the COVID-19 vaccine is so new, you might have questions, concerns or even fears. Dr. Rossana Rosa, infectious disease doctor for UnityPoint Health, examines four vaccine facts to ease hesitations.

1. The COVID-19 Vaccine Has Gone Through Extensive Testing

The vaccine is new, but we already have an abundance of data to prove it’s safe. Trials included tens of thousands of people who tolerated the vaccine very well. Side effects, which can happen with any vaccine, are mild for most people – a sore arm, feeling tired and a headache are what you might commonly expect. Those are the same side effects you’ll notice from most other vaccines.

Studies show us most of the reactions happen on the day you receive the second dose of the vaccine or within a few days. The further the date from when you got the vaccine, the less likely you are to notice a reaction that can be attributed to the vaccine.

Also, more than 25 million doses have been administered in the U.S. and severe reactions have occurred very rarely (about 2.5-11 per million doses). By the time the vaccine rolls out more broadly to everyone in the general public, there will be even more time to monitor those vaccinated. That means we’ll likely have more than six months of data to help us understand any side effects people experience.

2. The COVID-19 Vaccine is Backed by Years of Research

While the vaccine was developed quickly, the base knowledge needed to develop it has been in the works for almost two decades.

The name for the virus that causes COVID-19 is SARS-CoV-2. The reason there’s a two at the end is because there was a SARS-CoV-1, more commonly known as SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome). SARS showed up in 2003, and another coronavirus called MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome) was identified in 2012. Scientists worked on vaccines for both coronaviruses for years.

If you wonder, “Why weren’t vaccines offered for those viruses?” It’s because they were contained, and scientists didn’t have the funding to complete the vaccine projects. Overall, the path toward developing today’s COVID-19 vaccine is something that’s been in the works for a long time.

3. The COVID-19 Vaccine has Minimal Side Effects

I frequently hear confusion between side effects and severe allergies. Side effects are expected with every vaccine. They are a normal sign your body is building protection. So, if you get your flu shot, you get a sore arm and sometimes a fever. Those are side effects. The main side effects for the COVID-19 vaccine are minimal and include a sore arm, tiredness, chills, fever and a headache.

Having an adverse allergic reaction – also known as anaphylaxis – is something very different. For example, an allergic reaction can include hives, blood pressure dropping or difficulty breathing. That is very rare for all vaccines, including the COVID-19 vaccine.

However, if you do experience any allergic reaction after the first dose of an mRNA COVID-19 vaccine, the CDC recommends you should not get the second dose.

4. The COVID-19 Vaccine is Free

No one should worry about paying for the COVID-19 vaccine. Since the COVID-19 pandemic is a public health emergency, the federal government is paying for vaccines. After the emergency is over, it’s expected the vaccine will be covered by insurance similarly to other vaccines, like the flu shot.

However, even though the vaccine is free, you may notice an administration fee. Think of it as a fee to help pay for the health care staff, supplies and facility. The administrative fee will be billed to your insurance company. Most insurance providers are covering the full cost of the administrative fee. It’s always a good idea to call your insurance company ahead of time to check on coverage. If you’re uninsured, the Health Resource and Services Administration’s Provider Relief Fund should cover the fee.

For more information, visit our COVID-19 vaccine page.