A Palliative Care Doctor Answers Questions about the COVID-19 Vaccine
By Anthony Back, MD
One year in since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, many people are eager to get back to “normal,” non-quarantined life. With the roll-out of vaccines, there’s light at the end of the tunnel.
Studies are showing us that any of the COVID-19 vaccines will protect those who receive them from getting very sick from the virus – and should also help to stop it from spreading. Some people have already received their vaccine, but many are still waiting. While each state has had its own rules, people living with serious illness are more likely to be able to receive the vaccine now.
Since you may have questions about the vaccine, we spoke with Dr. Anthony Back, a palliative care doctor, to see if he would help with some answers (which he was happy to do!). Here are his answers to some of the most common questions:
The COVID-19 vaccines are being talked about a lot. Can you tell me more about them?
The COVID-19 vaccines teach our immune systems how to recognize and fight the virus that causes COVID-19. This means that after receiving your full dose (1 or 2 shots, depending on which one you get), your body will be able to start fighting against getting sick from the virus. Full protection comes a couple of weeks after you receive the full dose.
Dr. Anthony Fauci and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommend that everyone receives the vaccine as soon as they are eligible, especially those in high-risk categories – which includes anyone with serious illnesses like cancer, heart or lung diseases, for example. Check to see what the guidelines are for your state by clicking here and selecting your state in the drop-down menu.
How were the vaccines developed so quickly?
This is a great question that a lot of people are asking. Scientists have been working on similar vaccines for many years. While COVID-19 is a new type of a coronavirus, scientists from around the world worked together – and around the clock – to make sure these vaccines are safe and effective. As of March 2021, close to 34 million Americans have been fully vaccinated and the CDC has reported few side effects.
Can I get COVID-19 from the vaccine? Are there side effects?
You cannot get COVID-19 from the vaccine. The vaccines teach your immune system by using pieces of inactive virus that cannot create an infection. You may have side effects such as a sore arm where you got the shot, or tiredness for a day. But if you feel these things, it’s actually a good sign: your body is doing what it needs to build the protection against the virus. For most people the side effects are minor.
Why is it important for people living with serious illnesses to get the vaccine?
Having a serious illness may mean it’s easier for you to get infected with COVID-19. COVID-19 is much more severe for people living with a serious illness than for other people. It could lead to hospitalization, need for a ventilator, and a long recovery – and sometimes unfortunately, loss of life. You can click here to see the list of serious illnesses that are or might be linked to higher risk of COVID-19.
If you or your loved one is receiving treatment for cancer, talk with your oncologist about timing for the vaccine, prior to signing up.
Is it still important to wear a mask and follow other guidelines?
Yes, it is important to continue following all CDC guidelines such as wearing masks, staying 6-feet apart from others, washing hands, and more. Because you or a loved one are living with a serious illness, it is important to ask those around you to follow guidelines as well – even if they are vaccinated, as we are still learning about the virus.
If my loved one has a serious illness, is there anything special that I need to consider?
If you are a caregiver for someone, thank you for all that you are doing! I know you are juggling a lot already. I like to think of the COVID-19 vaccine as extra insurance to help you and the person you are caring for stay safe from COVID-19, so when you are eligible to receive it, I recommend doing so.
How much does the vaccine cost?
The vaccine is free for anyone living in the United States whether or not you have insurance!
If you have other questions, please read the CDC’s frequently asked questions and make sure to speak with your doctor.
GetPalliativeCare.org is an online resource for patients and families that focuses solely on providing information on palliative care from the point of diagnosis. At GetPalliativeCare.org you can learn more and take a short quiz to see if you could benefit from palliative care. The site is provided by the Center to Advance Palliative Care.