By Victor Caraballo, M.D., VP of Quality Management, Independence Blue Cross
After hundreds of thousands of deaths in the United States from the pandemic, we have reached a significant breakthrough in our fight against COVID-19: not one, but two authorized vaccines — and more to follow. The vaccines are a global achievement in the effort to contain the virus.
One of the challenges of navigating the pandemic and news of the vaccines has been the overflow of information — and misinformation — being reported. Below are 10 important things to know about the COVID-19 vaccines from Victor Caraballo, M.D., vice president of Quality Management at Independence Blue Cross.
1. The first COVID-19 vaccines are here, and more are coming.
To date, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has authorized the emergency use of vaccines developed by Pfizer, Inc. and Moderna, Inc. More vaccines are expected to follow. There will be multiple vaccines available and although it’s unlikely that you will get to choose which vaccine you get, having more available means more people can be protected.
2. Independence members will get vaccinated for free.
The federal government is covering the cost of the vaccine itself. Independence will then cover the cost of administering the vaccine for its Commercial members as a preventative service, like the flu vaccine*. For Medicare Advantage members, the vaccine and its administration will be covered by Original Medicare. Visit ibx.com/covid19 for more on vaccine coverage.
3. Health care workers and the most vulnerable (like nursing home residents) are up first.
It will be several months until the vaccine is available more broadly. Protecting our frontline health care workers and allowing them to be protected so they continue to care for us is important.
4. Keep wearing your mask.
Vaccines may prevent you from getting sick, but no one knows yet whether it will keep you from spreading the virus to others. Therefore, it’s very important to continue practicing basic safeguards like wearing a mask, social distancing, and washing your hands regularly.
5. The FDA has declared the vaccines are safe.
Vaccine development and approval is an intense process with safety as a top priority. For more, see this article on Ensuring the Safety of COVID-19 Vaccines in the United States from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).
The reason vaccines have taken a long time to develop in the past is largely due to a lack of funding and research. With the COVID-19 crisis, organizations across the globe came together to develop vaccines with unprecedented funding and technology.
6. The vaccines are effective.
Data shows a 94-95 percent effective rate in these initial COVID-19 vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna. That’s better than many expected. For context, the annual flu vaccine can range from 40-60 percent effective in preventing sickness.
7. The vaccines are especially important for communities of color that have been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19.
The vaccines offer an important ray of hope for everyone, but especially those who have been hit hardest by the pandemic. Black and Hispanic communities are experiencing deaths from COVID-19 at a rate that’s almost 3 times higher compared to their white counterparts. Visit the CDC’s website for more on COVID-19 data by race and ethnicity.
8. Studies for the vaccine have focused on adults.
This is because the virus has shown to have more serious outcomes in adults than children. The Pfizer vaccine is approved for people 16 years and older and the Moderna vaccine is approved for people 18 and older. More research is underway to make the vaccine available to younger children.
9. The COVID-19 vaccine may cause mild side effects.
Like many vaccines, there could be mild side effects, such as: pain, redness, or swelling where the shot was given; fever; fatigue; headache; muscle pain; chills; and joint pain. Most reactions happen within the first few days after vaccination and last no more than three days.
You cannot get COVID-19 from the vaccine. None of the vaccines currently in development or in use in the United States contain the live virus that causes COVID-19. Instead, it was developed using technology that researchers have been studying and refining for decades. For more, see this article on Understanding mRNA COVID-19 Vaccines from the CDC.
10. A significant portion of the population must be vaccinated for the pandemic to end.
At least 60-70 percent of the population must develop immunity — either through infection or the vaccine — to achieve community protection, or herd immunity. This is the key to returning to life as we know it.
*If your plan qualifies as a grandfathered health plan, your group is not required to provide 100 percent coverage for preventive services.