FAQs about the COVID-19 vaccines

How many doses will Georgia get initially?

Now that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is set to authorize the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine over the weekend, 2.9 million doses will be shipped to states, territories and five federal agencies, and another 2.9 million will be sent late this month when people are due to get their second shot. The federal government decided to allocate the vaccine based on the adult population in each jurisdiction.

Georgia officials say they will initially have several hundred thousand dosages, though they won’t provide an exact number.

Wesley Wheeler, President of Global Healthcare at United Parcel Service (UPS), holds up a sample of the vial that will be used to transport the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine as he testifies during a Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Subcommittee hearing on the logistics of transporting a COVID-19 vaccine on December 10, 2020 in Washington, DC. (Samuel Corum/Pool/Getty Images)

Credit: TNS

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Credit: TNS

How are those being allocated around the state?

The Georgia Department of Public Health will distribute them to public health districts or county public health providers and registered non-public health providers with approved vaccine storage units and capacity.

The state decided the amount of vaccine to provide to each of the 18 public health districts and enrolled COVID-19 providers based on population density, level of disease endemic to each areas, and the numbers of priority population.

These first doses are expected to go primarily to hospitals and pharmacies which contracted with the federal government to distribute and administer vaccines to nursing homes.

Who gets the doses from the first shipments?

Georgia will follow the CDC’s recommendation to first vaccinate health care personnel and residents of long-term care facilities.

Health care personnel include not only doctors and nurses, but also nursing home caregivers, emergency medical technicians, respiratory therapists, pharmacists and other essential workers in health care settings, paid and unpaid, with potential exposure to the coronavirus.

While the CDC recommended that residents of all long-term care facilities be eligible for vaccination in the first wave, because supplies won’t be enough for everyone, nursing homes are to get priority because they have recorded the most cases and deaths. After nursing home residents, adults residing in assisted living communities, personal care homes and state veterans homes should get priority, CDC experts said.

How will the vaccination process work?

Each person will get two shots. The vaccine is thawed before injection, so it won’t be cold when you get a shot. The second shot will be administered three or four weeks after the first one. Vaccine recipients should wait at least 10 minutes after receiving a shot to make sure there’s no immediate adverse reaction. The CDC wants each location administering the vaccine to provide a record of vaccination to each person who gets a shot or to their legal guardian or representative.

Why is a second shot necessary?

Both the Pfizer and the Moderna vaccine, which is expected to get emergency use authorization approval from the FDA later this month, require two shots, just like many other kinds of vaccines do. The second shot allows the immune system more time to learn to fight the virus and produce antibodies.

When does the second shot have to be administered?

Pfizer’s booster shot is given three weeks after the first shot. With the Moderna vaccine, the shots are administered four weeks apart.

DPH has encouraged vaccine providers to have patients place a reminder on their cell phones and to use their internal systems for notifying patients about the second dose. Some health plans may also notify their enrollees about second doses.

Do I need to get vaccinated if I’ve already had COVID-19 and recovered?

CDC says that, at this point, it is uncertain how long after infection someone will be protected from getting infected again. But CDC hasn’t provided guidance on whether people who recovered should get the vaccine.

Will I have to pay for the vaccine?

Taxpayers are footing the bill for the doses, so there is no charge for the vaccine itself. But vaccination providers can charge an administration fee for giving the shot. Insurance may cover this fee for some patients. Uninsured patients may be covered by the Health Resources and Services Administration’s Provider Relief Fund.

Georgia has said that organizations must administer the COVID-19 vaccines regardless of the recipient’s ability to pay administration fees.

After vaccination, can I stop wearing a mask and avoiding close contact with others?

The Centers for Disease Control recommends people still wear a mask that covers the nose and mouth even after being vaccinated. CDC officials say that at this point they still need to know more about the virus before recommending people stop practices such as wearing masks or socially distancing from others.

What’s in the vaccines?

The Pfizer/BionTech and Moderna vaccines both use synthetic messenger RNA in a tiny lipid nanoparticle suspended in saline solution.

This is a new type of vaccine. Many other kinds of vaccines use a weakened or inactivated virus. The mRNA vaccines don’t use the virus that causes COVID-19. Instead, these give cells instructions to make a harmless protein piece to trigger an immune system response.

What does it mean to have emergency use authorization? Why didn’t the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approve the vaccines?

A federal law permits the FDA commissioner to allow unapproved medical products or unapproved uses of approved medical products in an emergency to diagnose, treat, or prevent serious or life-threatening diseases. Gaining full approval of a medical product is a longer and more rigorous process requiring the submission of more evidence of safety and effectiveness. A Pfizer executive has said the company plans to file for full approval in the spring.

Are there side effects?

In the clinical trials, including trials of the Moderna vaccine at Emory University, volunteers reported mild to moderate side effects including sore arms at the injection site, fatigue, aching muscles and joints and fatigue for a day or two after being inoculated, more so after the second shot. Experts say while people should be prepared for side effects lasting a few days, they emphasize side effects are normal and signs the body’s immune system is working.

How is the government going to monitor more severe side effects?

The Georgia Department of Public Health has a policy in place for reporting vaccine adverse events. Providers authorized to administer vaccines are required by law to report to the system any adverse effects.

Can children get vaccinated?

For now, no. Children were not part of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccine trials, though both have now begun testing the vaccine in teenagers. Sixteen and 17-year-olds were included in the Pfizer emergency authorization to be eligible to receive the vaccine. Federal health experts have discussed the need for widespread vaccine trials for children in order to start vaccinating them in 2021.

Will I need to get vaccinated every year?

Researchers aren’t entirely sure. The answer will come with post-vaccine research, experts say. Vaccine developers are looking at ways to increase the effectiveness of a vaccine so that it provides longer immune protection.

When are more shipments expected in Georgia? What will the vaccines be more widely available?

The government purchased 100 million doses of both the Pfizer and Moderna’s vaccines, with options to buy more doses. Federal officials have said they hope to have enough of the vaccines for 50 million adults by January and 100 million by the end of March.