The COVID-19 Vaccine: What All Patients and Families Need to Know
As the COVID-19 pandemic rages on due to the Delta variant, vaccination has become an issue, unnecessarily. Vaccines are widely available, and are proven to be effective, however many Americans worry about their safety and whether or not they are needed. Studies have demonstrated 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.
Although more than 50% of Americans have already received their vaccine, others are still waiting. It is important for people living with a serious illness and their loved ones to receive the vaccine as soon as possible, to avoid getting sick from COVID-19 – and wear masks when in high-transmission areas of the country, even after vaccination.
To learn more, we spoke with palliative care doctor, Dr. Anthony Back, who shared what all patients and families need to know.
How do the COVID-19 vaccines work?
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 receive the vaccine, especially people in high-risk categories – which includes anyone with serious illnesses like cancer, heart or lung diseases, for example.
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 August 2021, over 50% of Americans (166 million people) 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. Actually, the vaccine will teach your immune system how to recognize and fight COVID-19 by using pieces of inactive virus that cannot create an infection. You may have minor side effects such as a sore arm where you got the shot or tiredness for a day. 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.
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, before making your vaccine appointment.
Where would I go to get a vaccine? How much does the vaccine cost?
Vaccines are available throughout the United States. You can visit vaccines.gov to find a location near you, using your zip code. You can also call 1-800-232-0233, if you prefer to make appointments on the phone.
The vaccines are free, whether or not you have insurance!
Is it still important to wear a mask and follow other guidelines?
With the emergence of COVID-19 variants, like the Delta variant, it continues to be important to follow all CDC and local guidelines regarding masks and social distancing – particularly in areas with high infection rates. Because you or a loved one are living with a serious illness, it is important to follow the guidelines – even when vaccinated, as we continue to learn more about the virus and its variants.
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 I recommend receiving it. I also recommend that you continue wearing a mask when in public, as you are caring for a loved one with a serious illness.
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.