Editor’s Note: We continue to learn more about the virus, the epidemic and the vaccines every day. The numbers and information here are subject to change. They are the best available for now, but we continue to read, consult reliable sources and ask questions.
March 2, 2021
By Dr. Cheryl Pegus, Executive Vice President, Health & Wellness
At the one-year mark of the U.S. COVID-19 epidemic, we have three safe, effective vaccines available – an incredible feat of medical science and global collaboration for healthcare advancement. Don’t let vaccine choice create anxiety or lead you to delay your shot. The best vaccine is the one you can receive as soon as you are eligible and supply allows. The ability to choose which vaccine you receive will be very limited for some time because supply and logistics won’t allow individuals to select the brand of vaccine they will receive. So, when your turn comes, I suggest getting the COVID-19 vaccine, no matter which one it is. Walmart will administer whichever vaccines we are allocated from the federal and state governments.
There are three vaccines authorized by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for “emergency use” in the United States. They have all completed safety and efficacy studies in humans and have been reviewed by expert groups, which have found them to meet safety standards across age, gender, race and ethnicity demographics. The studies were conducted in those 18 years of age and older (except for the Pfizer vaccine, which was studied in those 16 years of age and older). Additional analyses and studies are underway looking at specific groups, including younger children; those studies should be available later this year. To date, all studies have found the vaccine to be safe and effective. CDC recommends pregnant women receive the vaccine and also suggests a consultation with one’s personal healthcare provider is helpful in making the decision to receive the vaccine.
- Moderna was available in the United States in December 2020. This type of vaccine is an mRNA vaccine, which works by stimulating your body’s immune system to create antibodies (and other immune defenses) against the part of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19. Such vaccines do not contain live virus and cannot cause the disease it is protecting against. It requires two shots, spaced about 4 weeks apart, to be fully effective. Studies have shown this vaccine to be more than 94% effective against symptomatic COVID-19, and even higher effectiveness against severe COVID-19 and among recipients aged 65 and over.
- Another mRNA vaccine was also available late last year, made by Pfizer/BioNTech. This vaccine works in the same way, requiring two shots, about three weeks apart. CDC recommendations remain that you receive both shots. It is about 95% effective against symptomatic COVID-19 in studies, about 90% effective against severe COVID-19 and about 93% effective in adults aged 65-75.
- The latest vaccine to be authorized this past weekend is by Johnson & Johnson (J&J) and Janssen. It is different from the Moderna and Pfizer mRNA vaccines, though it produces similar effects in the body. Like the others, this vaccine contains no living coronavirus and cannot cause COVID-19. It requires a single injection, and is easier to transport, so it holds the promise of allowing more rapid and widespread administration. To date, studies show that it is 72% effective at preventing symptomatic COVID-19 and 85% effective at preventing severe COVID-19 illness after 28 days. In studies from around the world, the J&J vaccine shows about 66% efficacy overall and about 69% efficacy among recipients aged 65 and older. Studies are underway on the usefulness of a second shot of this vaccine.
When it comes to side effects, both Moderna and Pfizer vaccines are showing similar symptoms. Many have no reaction to either shot; some have pain at the injection site, feel tired, feel achy or develop a fever. For some individuals there may be a stronger reaction to the second shot than the first, which likely indicates that the body has been successfully prepared for exposure to parts of the virus and so reacts more strongly when exposed a second time. In rare cases, some serious side effects have been reported; in particular, a severe allergic reaction (anaphylaxis) has been reported rarely, but particularly for people with known allergies. Please always let the medical professional administering your vaccine know if you have severe allergies. Side effects that have been reported with the J&J COVID-19 vaccine include injection site reactions, headache, feeling very tired, muscle aches, nausea and fever. Studies are still ongoing.
We have an opportunity to get back to the things we enjoy doing, like seeing friends and family, and we have three safe, effective vaccines to help us do that. In the meantime, stay safe. Follow public health guidelines that suggest staying home if you are ill, staying 6 feet apart from others, practicing good hand washing and wearing masks as recommended by CDC. I hope you get your vaccine when your turn comes. I know I will.