UK HealthCare

What You Should Know about the COVID-19 Vaccine

COVID vaccine
Photo credit: kovop58, iStock / GettyImages Plus.

The University of Kentucky Public Relations & Strategic Communications Office provides a weekly health column available for use and reprint by news media. This week's column is by Dr. Charles P. Shaw, primary care physician at the UK HealthCare department of Family and Community Medicine.

LEXINGTON, Ky. (Dec. 18, 2020) — The Federal Drug Administration (FDA) approved the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccination for the novel coronavirus 19 (COVID19) on Dec. 11 and the Moderna vaccine is still pending approval. Both vaccines use the recombinant messenger RNA technology that allows your immune system to form antibodies against COVID-19. It is important to understand that the vaccine does not have all the “parts” of the full, live or active virus and one cannot contract COVID-19 from taking the vaccine.

The vaccine does have the potential of causing local swelling, fatigue, low-grade fever, aches and headaches. These are signs that your immune system has been stimulated by the vaccine and is starting to respond appropriately by making antibodies. Sometimes people will experience these symptoms after a vaccine and assume that the vaccine made them sick. Rest assured that such symptoms mean the vaccine is doing its job. These symptoms are mild in comparison to what one would experience if they were infected with the live virus. Acetaminophen or ibuprofen should help these symptoms, which should last no more than 1-2 days, if experienced at all.

Both vaccines will be given as a 2-shot series. The second shot will be given approximately 3 weeks after the first shot. It takes approximately 4-6 weeks for our immune system to start making antibodies, which means the vaccine will be protecting your body approximately a week after the second shot.

It is important to understand that simply because we have received the vaccine does not mean that we can stop wearing masks, practicing social distancing, and washing our hands frequently. We are still learning how COVID-19 can be transferred from one person to another. Just because you have had the vaccine, and have antibodies in your blood, does not mean that you cannot physically transport the virus to another person. If you breathe in and get COVID-19 from aerosolized droplets from the air, you could potentially cough and release that virus back out in the respiratory droplets and get someone else sick. In the same sense, it is not responsible for one to think that just because they have had COVID-19 and have recovered, that they do not need to take the other precautions.

The social ordinances of masking, social distancing, and frequent cleaning of the hands will continue and should not be ignored just because a person has had the vaccine or had a previous COIVD-19 infection. Please continue to care for one another, and respectfully follow the CDC, state, and other regulatory guidelines such as masking, social distancing and handwashing. Remember, lives are still at stake, even after being vaccinated, and even after a previous infection.

The University of Kentucky is increasingly the first choice for students, faculty and staff to pursue their passions and their professional goals. In the last two years, Forbes has named UK among the best employers for diversity, and INSIGHT into Diversity recognized us as a Diversity Champion four years running. UK is ranked among the top 30 campuses in the nation for LGBTQ* inclusion and safety. UK has been judged a “Great College to Work for" three years in a row, and UK is among only 22 universities in the country on Forbes' list of "America's Best Employers."  We are ranked among the top 10 percent of public institutions for research expenditures — a tangible symbol of our breadth and depth as a university focused on discovery that changes lives and communities. And our patients know and appreciate the fact that UK HealthCare has been named the state’s top hospital for five straight years. Accolades and honors are great. But they are more important for what they represent: the idea that creating a community of belonging and commitment to excellence is how we honor our mission to be not simply the University of Kentucky, but the University for Kentucky.