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Complete Immunity To COVID-19 Could Take Up To 6 Weeks Post-Vaccination

Army Spc. Angel Laureano holds a vial of the COVID-19 vaccine, Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, Bethesda, Md., Dec. 14, 2020.

Army Spc. Angel Laureano holds a vial of the COVID-19 vaccine, Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, Bethesda, Md., Dec. 14, 2020. (DoD photo by Lisa Ferdinando)

EDITOR’S NOTE: WFIU News' City Limits: Coronavirus project has received a lot of questions about how the vaccines work, who will get them first and how affective they are. This story addresses several of the questions.

Cynthia Brown of the IU School of Medicine is the site principal investigator for a COVID-19 vaccine clinical trial that partners IU with AstraZeneca.

She has been content to watch this week as Pfizer began distributing its vaccine, and Moderna received approval to dispense its version. There’s benefit in having so many working on the vaccine at the same time.

“I think it’s been really important to have a variety of vaccine development going on at once,” she said. “… It’s like you’re taking multiple shots on goal.”

She said both already approved vaccines work the same way, by inducing immunity to the spike protein. That is what attaches to a cell and infects it with the virus. She explains the effect this way:

“If your body can produce immunity against the spike protein, you can decrease the likelihood the coronavirus is going to cause you any morbidity and significant disease.”

Vaccine info image for in-post promo

Brown said there are three main reasons why speed is not a problem.

First, you need a lot of people to participate, which can take time. But with 30,000 or so in each of the Pfizer and Moderna trials and 44,000 expected in the Astra-Zeneca trial, that’s data from 100,000 individuals in less than six months. And that’s more than sufficient.

Second, she said you need to be able to have enough positive cases to show a change rate, or effectiveness of the drug. The fact that we are in the midst of a pandemic means cases can pile up quickly enough to determine if the vaccines under development are effective.

Third, the FDA says you need to have two months of safety follow-up from the vaccine, and Pfizer and Moderna have that – and AstraZeneca will.

Though Brown said the vaccine is “absolutely” safe, there are minor side effects.

 “You may feel bad after you get a vaccine, particularly that second shot,” she said. “You may have some symptoms like a fever or feeling kind of tired or achy for 24 hours, but that’s your body responding appropriately to the vaccine.”

Despite all this good news, Brown said it will be several more weeks before the vaccines will make anyone safe from the virus.

READ MORE: First Vaccines Delivered, Administered At IU Health Methodist

All the vaccines take two shots. If you were to get one today, you would need another one in three weeks. After the second shot, it will take another 21 to 28 days to be fully protected.

“So if you got the vaccine today, you wouldn’t be protected from COVID, truly, for about six weeks,” Brown said.

IU Health Bloomington Hospital employees will begin getting the Pfizer vaccine this week. Carol Weiss-Kennedy from IU Health Bloomington said the hospital is vaccinating front-line health workers and long-term care workers first. She noted that the brand of the first shot you get must be the same with the second shot, so both doses should be taken at the same place.

General vaccinations will be handled by county health departments. Monroe County Health Department Administrator Penny Caudill said she has submitted Monroe County’s mass vaccination plan to the state health department.

Vulnerable and high-risk populations will be the first to get vaccinated in pod-like settings at health clinics. Caudill said drive-through vaccines are being planned for the general population – when the weather cooperates.

“We like drive-through vaccination clinics whenever we can,” she said. “If we’re looking at say February or early March when the weather may still be very unpredictable, we are probably looking indoors.”

She said the health department has learned a lot about safety protocols during COVID testing, so she is confident both indoor and outdoor vaccinations will be safe.

Caudill said other counties could have other plans for dispensing the vaccinations.

“That will be up to each county to determine,” she said. “One small county may be able to do it at one location … we will have to have several different partners involved in getting everybody vaccinated.”

She added that volunteers will be needed to complete this mass vaccination efficiently. You can go to the county’s web page to register to be part of the county’s Medical Reserve Corps.

Brown from the IU School of Medicine says volunteers also are being accepted for IU’s AstraZeneca trial, which was stopped once when investigators saw a result they did not like. The investigation found no increased risk and the trial was resumed.

“This is a really great example of the FDA doing what you want the FDA to do through the course of a vaccine trial and study,” Brown said.

The trial is looking for people 18 and older with increased chance of getting the virus – think teachers or restaurant workers. People with increased risk of complications from the virus are not eligible.

Here's how to learn more about the study or apply.

For the latest news and resources about COVID-19, bookmark our Coronavirus In Indiana page here

Want to contact your legislators about an issue that matters to you? Find out how to contact your senators and member of Congress here.

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