Answers to your questions about the COVID-19 vaccines

Cars line up to receive the first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine at a mass vaccination site in Doraville Monday. 
STEVE SCHAEFER FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION
Cars line up to receive the first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine at a mass vaccination site in Doraville Monday. STEVE SCHAEFER FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION

Credit: Steve Schaefer

Credit: Steve Schaefer

Here’s the latest information about getting shots in Georgia

Who is eligible now to get the vaccine?

In addition to health care workers and those at long-term care facilities, starting this week people 65 and older, police officers and other first responders are eligible.

On Tuesday, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommended that all states also extend eligibility to adults with underlying health conditions that put them at higher risk of serious illness. Those include people with diabetes, Down syndrome, chronic kidney disease, cancer, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. However, Georgia so far has not included that group in the list of those eligible.

If I am 65 or over, how do I get the vaccine?

The Georgia Department of Public Health on Monday launched a vaccinator locator website to help people find out where to get vaccination appointments. But many providers offering vaccination appointments have not been able to keep up with phone calls, and the website forms for some local health departments have periodically crashed, overwhelmed by people trying to make appointments. By the end of Monday, many district health departments halted sign-ups because all appointments were booked.

Health officials say that more appointments will become available as additional doses of the vaccine arrive in Georgia each week. They ask people to wait about a week and try again to get an appointment. However, state officials warn that vaccine supplies Georgia receives fall far short of demand.

If older adults have received the second dose, and it’s been three weeks, can they visit their grandchildren?

The answer is not as simple as saying that someone who is vaccinated can return to their pre-pandemic ways of life. CNN medical analyst Dr. Leana Wen, an emergency physician and visiting professor at George Washington University Milken Institute School of Public Health, says here are the reasons: First, the vaccine is not 100% effective. It’s about 95% effective after the second shot, meaning one in 20 people vaccinated will still be unprotected and can get COVID-19. In addition, the general population will still be unprotected for months. This is particularly dangerous now because of the substantial surges of infection in many states, including Georgia. Second, people who are vaccinated could still be carriers of the virus, even if they don’t get sick.

If your grandkids live close by, you might safely see them outside, 6 feet apart.

If you really need to spend time with the grandkids indoors, Wen said the safest way to do this is still for everyone to quarantine for at least 10 days and lower their risk during these 10 days. Quarantining for seven days and having a negative test is an option, too, but everyone also has to do the quarantine — a negative test alone is not enough. Rapid tests have very high rates of false negative results.

When will COVID-19 vaccines be available for the general public?

State officials have said they hope to open up the vaccination program to all Georgians by late spring or early summer, but Georgia has been receiving only 120,000 doses a week, far short of the number needed to cover even those in the initial phase of distribution. To speed up vaccination, the federal government on Tuesday said it would release all available doses. Federal officials had been holding back half of the supply to ensure that the second required shot would be available. They said that manufacturing capacity will increase enough to ensure the booster shot can be given.

Vaccines have not yet been authorized for children under age 16.

ExploreThe latest news on the coronavirus vaccines

What about for those in senior care facilities?

CVS and Walgreens, under a federal government program, receive 40,000 doses a week for vaccinating those who live or work in Georgia nursing homes. On Tuesday, Gov. Brian Kemp said that if recent trends continue, CVS and Walgreens should be on schedule to complete the first round of vaccination clinics in all Georgia nursing homes by Jan. 31. If not, he said, the state will step in to help. Assisted living communities and personal care homes won’t receive the vaccines from CVS and Walgreens until more supplies are available, though some have found other vaccine sources.

Chatham County Health Department Nurse Manager Tammi Brown applauds after a Georgia Department of Public Health nurse gives her the first inoculation of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine on Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2020, in Savannah. Health care workers and residents of long-term care facilities will be among the first to receive the vaccine. (AJC Photo/Stephen B. Morton)
Chatham County Health Department Nurse Manager Tammi Brown applauds after a Georgia Department of Public Health nurse gives her the first inoculation of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine on Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2020, in Savannah. Health care workers and residents of long-term care facilities will be among the first to receive the vaccine. (AJC Photo/Stephen B. Morton)

Credit: Stephen B. Morton for The Atlanta Journal Constitution

Credit: Stephen B. Morton for The Atlanta Journal Constitution

Does the vaccine have side effects?

Yes, some people will experience side effects, more commonly after the second dose. Those side effects are most often reported to be fever, chills, tiredness, and headache that last one or two days. But experts stress that experiencing a side effect isn’t a sign that something’s gone wrong. The side effects are evidence of the body mounting a strong immune response to the vaccine. Ultimately, a vaccine prepares a person to fight off an infection by training the immune system.

Only a very small number of people have had something more serious, called an adverse reaction. The Georgia Department of Public Health said that as of Dec. 25, the most recent report available, the state has had nine adverse reactions reported. Eight of the reactions ranged from lip swelling and rash to intense arm pain, nausea and vomiting. One report involved a person evaluated in an emergency department for anaphylaxis and elevated blood pressure.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said that among the millions of doses of COVID-19 vaccine given nationwide, only 21 cases of anaphylaxis, where people suddenly have difficulty breathing, have been reported. All these cases so far were caught within the time a person was being monitored after the shot, and all recovered. These incidents are why officials are advising people with previous allergic reactions to discuss vaccination with their doctor before getting vaccinated.

Figuring out which events after vaccination are flukes, and which are side effects, is important and will take time to fully understand. For example, one person involved in clinical trials for the Moderna vaccine reportedly suffered a “severe adverse event” that resulted in death 28 days after vaccination. But it turned out he was struck by lightning. https://www.fda.gov/media/144434/download

Cars line up to receive their first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination center in Doraville Monday. 
 STEVE SCHAEFER FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION
Cars line up to receive their first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination center in Doraville Monday. STEVE SCHAEFER FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION

Credit: Steve Schaefer

Credit: Steve Schaefer

ExploreThe coronavirus vaccine campaign dawns in Georgia

Once I know someone is vaccinated, can I take off my mask around them?

No, and they shouldn’t, either. For two reasons. First, each vaccine shot takes up to two weeks to become effective. No one will be immediately immune.

Second, the vaccines aren’t perfect. Their real power lies in speeding us to herd immunity, a situation where so many people are immune that one infected person can walk into a group without being able to start a chain of infections. At 95% effective, the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are a spectacular success. But that still means that one in 20 people vaccinated may not be immune.

Public health officials announcing the vaccinations have urged everyone — both those vaccinated and those who aren’t yet — to keep all their safety measures in place, including physical distancing, wearing masks, and washing hands.

ExploreMore answers: How are coronavirus vaccine supplies being distributed in Georgia?
Health care professionals at St. Joseph's Candler hospital, including Dr. Ana M. Concepcion, right, applaud the first nurse to be inoculated at the hospital on Dec. 15, 2020, in Savannah. (AJC Photo/Stephen B. Morton)
Health care professionals at St. Joseph's Candler hospital, including Dr. Ana M. Concepcion, right, applaud the first nurse to be inoculated at the hospital on Dec. 15, 2020, in Savannah. (AJC Photo/Stephen B. Morton)

Credit: Stephen B. Morton for The Atlanta Journal Constitution

Credit: Stephen B. Morton for The Atlanta Journal Constitution

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