Get ready for COVID-19 vaccination

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Greg Neill

Greg Neill

Vaccination against COVID-19 is a hot topic among people calling the RiverStone Health public health information line. A team of Yellowstone County health experts is working on a schedule to get high-risk, priority groups vaccinated. Eventually, there will be vaccine available to everybody who wants it. We don’t yet have information on when or how much vaccine will be sent to our county in the coming weeks and months.

For now, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advises that everyone – including people who have been vaccinated against COVID-19 and people who have survived COVID-19 illness – should keep using the measures proven to slow the spread of infection:

• Keeping at least 6 feet of distance from anyone who doesn’t live with you.

• Wearing a mask when in public or with someone who doesn’t live with you.

• Washing your hands carefully and often.

• Staying home when you are sick.

The COVID-19 vaccines being distributed nationwide have undergone rigorous testing and scrutiny by panels of vaccine and infectious disease experts. So far, the only vaccines available in the United States are made by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna. Both use a new technology that has produced safe, highly effective protection against this virus without actually using any form of the COVID-19 virus in the vaccine. Instead, the Pfizer and Moderna products provide a code that tells our cells to make a protein to repel the COVID-19 virus and keep it from multiplying, if that virus enters the body.

That code is a bit of mRNA (messenger ribonucleic acid). It is instructions for how to make a specific protein. It cannot change a person’s genetic makeup.

Other vaccines against COVID-19 are in clinical trials and may be available in 2021. They include products from AstraZeneca, Novavax and Janssen (a subsidiary of Johnson & Johnson).

When you get vaccinated, you should receive a vaccination card, printout or electronic version of the fact sheet specific to the vaccine you receive. Everyone who gets vaccinated needs to remain on site for monitoring for at least 15 minutes as a precaution against rare, but serious allergic reaction.

Both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines require two doses a few weeks apart. As with vaccines against other contagious diseases, it takes time to build up protection against COVID-19. You may not have the vaccine’s maximum protection until two weeks after your second dose.

COVID-19 vaccines will not give you COVID-19, the CDC says. After vaccination, sometimes the process of building immunity causes symptoms, such as fever. These symptoms are normal and are a sign that the body is building immunity.

Common side effects reported in clinical trials include pain and swelling on the arm where you got the shot. Some people also develop fever, fatigue, chills and headaches. The CDC says not everyone will experience these side effects, but for some it may feel like the flu and affect your ability to do normal activities for a few days. If you are worried or the side effects don’t seem to be going away, call your doctor.

Getting vaccinated protects you from getting sick with COVID-19. Most people infected with the virus have only a mild illness or no symptoms at all. Others become seriously ill for weeks or months.

In Montana, COVID-19 has hospitalized more than 3,500 men and women and caused nearly 1,000 deaths in nine months. Those are strong arguments for getting vaccinated when you can.

Greg Neill, emergency response manager in Population Health Services at RiverStone Health, can be reached at 406-651-6407.