COVID-19 vaccinations: What you need to know

December 14, 2020  //  FOUND IN: Updates & Resources, ,

This week, Michigan Medicine — along with thousands of other hospitals and health care centers across the U.S. — embarks on the next phase in the fight against COVID-19: administering the vaccine recently approved by the FDA.

A team of experts from across Michigan Medicine has been working tirelessly over the past several weeks to plan for vaccinating team members as quickly and safely as possible. Initial quantities of vaccines are expected to be limited, so the Michigan COVID-19 Vaccine & Therapeutics Taskforce is identifying the first groups of employees who will be invited to get the vaccine in the first couple of weeks.

All faculty, staff and students will receive an email tomorrow with a link to a questionnaire. The information provided in the questionnaire will allow prioritization of individuals in accordance with CDC and MDHHS recommendations. After completing the questionnaire, faculty, staff and students will be offered the opportunity to schedule an appointment as vaccine becomes available.

In preparation for this process, Sandro K. Cinti, M.D., an infectious disease specialist at Michigan Medicine and one of the experts leading the task force, sat down with Headlines to answer some key questions and provide important information.

For additional information, click here to see the most up-to-date FAQ available on the Headlines website. 

Q: Can you tell us a little more about the vaccines that will be available?

SKC: As of today, the only vaccine to have received emergency use authorization from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is produced by Pfizer. This will be the only vaccine available to us until other pharmaceutical companies receive the same FDA authorization. We anticipate that a vaccine produced by Moderna will be approved soon and made available for use within the coming weeks.

Both the Pfizer and the Moderna vaccines are mRNA vaccines. This type of vaccine operates somewhat differently than other types, like the seasonal flu vaccine. mRNA vaccines contain a message from the virus that causes COVID-19 that gives our cells instructions for how to make a harmless protein that is unique to the virus.

After our cells make copies of the protein, they destroy the genetic material from the vaccine. Our bodies recognize that the protein should not be there and build immune cells that will remember how to fight the virus that causes COVID-19 if we are infected in the future.

Most of the vaccines will require two shots, with the second shot received 21 to 28 days after the first, depending on the vaccine.

Q: Who is eligible to receive a vaccine?

SKC: Because we expect to get limited supply of the vaccines initially, the COVID-19 Vaccine & Therapeutics Taskforce is identifying the first groups who will be invited to get the vaccine in the first couple weeks. These first groups are being identified based on the recommended prioritization guidelines from CDC and MDHHS.

More information can be found here: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/vaccines/recommendations-process.html.

We will continue to get more and more vaccine supply each week and eventually have enough supply for all who want the vaccine. We will be sending out a virtual questionnaire early this week. All faculty, staff and students should fill out the questionnaire, and the data collected there will allow us to prioritize for appointments. After completing the questionnaire, individuals will be offered the opportunity to schedule an appointment as vaccine becomes available.

Q: If I am eligible to receive the vaccine, how do I schedule an appointment?

SKC: All Michigan Medicine faculty, staff and students will receive an email later this week with a link to a questionnaire. This form is where you can indicate your interest in receiving the vaccine. When a timeslot is available, individuals will be notified via email and should follow the instructions to select a timeslot.

Q: Will we be able to choose which vaccine we want?

SKC: No, at this time the vaccines will be given based on availability and the prioritization guidelines from federal and state health agencies.

Q: How long do you anticipate it to be until all who want a vaccination will be able to receive one?

SKC: In the next few weeks, we anticipate the quantity of vaccines to be somewhat limited so we will only be able to vaccinate a smaller number of employees initially. We expect to continue receiving additional doses weekly and will administer them as quickly as possible. While an exact timeline is hard to predict, we expect it will take several months to be able to vaccinate everyone we have been asked to vaccinate.

To expedite the process, it is important for everyone to fill out the questionnaire and indicate their interest in receiving the vaccine so they can be notified when a timeslot is available for vaccination.

Q: How do we know the vaccine is safe and effective?

SKC: Before receiving approval for emergency use, pharmaceutical companies must provide evidence that their vaccines are safe. A team of experts from the FDA and the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices reviewed all available data on the safety and efficacy of the vaccines before recommending them for use.

Additionally, a team of experts at Michigan Medicine has reviewed available data to ensure that any vaccine made available to our employees and patients will be safe and effective.

Q: Are there anticipated side effects of the vaccine? If so, what are they?

SKC: Side effects that have been reported with the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine include:

  • injection site pain
  • tiredness
  • headache
  • muscle pain
  • chills
  • joint pain
  • fever
  • injection site swelling
  • injection site redness
  • nausea
  • feeling unwell
  • swollen lymph nodes (lymphadenopathy)

Q: If I get a vaccine, do I still have to wear a mask while at work?

SKC: Yes, all faculty, staff, learners, patients and visitors will still be required to wear a mask when on the Michigan Medicine campus or in the hospitals and clinics. It will take time to provide vaccinations to everyone and it is important to continue reducing the spread of the disease in the meantime. The best way to minimize your risk of contracting and spreading the disease is to wear a mask and continue practicing social distancing when possible.

There is more to learn about the protection that COVID-19 vaccines provide before deciding to change recommendations on steps everyone should take to slow the spread of the virus that causes COVID-19. Other factors, including how many people get vaccinated and how the virus is spreading in communities, will also affect this decision. 

Q: Will the vaccine be mandatory for faculty, staff and students?

SKC: At this time, the vaccine will not be mandatory.

Cinti was also part of a livestream event last Friday discussing the COVID-19 vaccines. Click here to watch that event.

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