HonorHealth has been preparing for the arrival for weeks, assembling ancillary kits, organizing items to use with the vaccines, and rehearsing in tents where the company will carry out the vaccinations.
Still, many in Arizona will have to wait. Dr. Jackson said she expected older patients to start receiving the vaccine sometime after the first of the year. “It doesn’t seem like the infrastructure is ready to do it any sooner,” she said.
With distribution of a coronavirus vaccine beginning in the U.S., here are answers to some questions you may be wondering about:
- If I live in the U.S., when can I get the vaccine? While the exact order of vaccine recipients may vary by state, most will likely put medical workers and residents of long-term care facilities first. If you want to understand how this decision is getting made, this article will help.
- When can I return to normal life after being vaccinated? Life will return to normal only when society as a whole gains enough protection against the coronavirus. Once countries authorize a vaccine, they’ll only be able to vaccinate a few percent of their citizens at most in the first couple months. The unvaccinated majority will still remain vulnerable to getting infected. A growing number of coronavirus vaccines are showing robust protection against becoming sick. But it’s also possible for people to spread the virus without even knowing they’re infected because they experience only mild symptoms or none at all. Scientists don’t yet know if the vaccines also block the transmission of the coronavirus. So for the time being, even vaccinated people will need to wear masks, avoid indoor crowds, and so on. Once enough people get vaccinated, it will become very difficult for the coronavirus to find vulnerable people to infect. Depending on how quickly we as a society achieve that goal, life might start approaching something like normal by the fall 2021.
- If I’ve been vaccinated, do I still need to wear a mask? Yes, but not forever. The two vaccines that will potentially get authorized this month clearly protect people from getting sick with Covid-19. But the clinical trials that delivered these results were not designed to determine whether vaccinated people could still spread the coronavirus without developing symptoms. That remains a possibility. We know that people who are naturally infected by the coronavirus can spread it while they’re not experiencing any cough or other symptoms. Researchers will be intensely studying this question as the vaccines roll out. In the meantime, even vaccinated people will need to think of themselves as possible spreaders.
- Will it hurt? What are the side effects? The Pfizer and BioNTech vaccine is delivered as a shot in the arm, like other typical vaccines. The injection won’t be any different from ones you’ve gotten before. Tens of thousands of people have already received the vaccines, and none of them have reported any serious health problems. But some of them have felt short-lived discomfort, including aches and flu-like symptoms that typically last a day. It’s possible that people may need to plan to take a day off work or school after the second shot. While these experiences aren’t pleasant, they are a good sign: they are the result of your own immune system encountering the vaccine and mounting a potent response that will provide long-lasting immunity.
- Will mRNA vaccines change my genes? No. The vaccines from Moderna and Pfizer use a genetic molecule to prime the immune system. That molecule, known as mRNA, is eventually destroyed by the body. The mRNA is packaged in an oily bubble that can fuse to a cell, allowing the molecule to slip in. The cell uses the mRNA to make proteins from the coronavirus, which can stimulate the immune system. At any moment, each of our cells may contain hundreds of thousands of mRNA molecules, which they produce in order to make proteins of their own. Once those proteins are made, our cells then shred the mRNA with special enzymes. The mRNA molecules our cells make can only survive a matter of minutes. The mRNA in vaccines is engineered to withstand the cell’s enzymes a bit longer, so that the cells can make extra virus proteins and prompt a stronger immune response. But the mRNA can only last for a few days at most before they are destroyed.
While hospitals have long-established systems to deliver flu vaccines and ship medications from central hospitals to far-flung clinics, the arrival of such a new, high-profile vaccine forced new security measures up and down the distribution network. The vaccines were shipped on guarded trucks outfitted with sensors to monitor temperature, location and light exposure. Hospitals installed new security cameras, and several are being tight-lipped about where the vaccines will be stored and administered.
Dr. Jeff Salvon-Harmon, the chief patient safety officer for Presbyterian Healthcare Services, which operates several hospitals around New Mexico, said that while Presbyterian was going to distribute the vaccine at indoor locations in its facilities, he was refraining from providing more information about where.
“As you can imagine, with concerns over the novelty of the vaccine and risks of diversion or sabotage, we want to be sensitive to that and provide security,” said Dr. Salvon-Harmon.
Despite such concerns, Dr. Salvon-Harmon said the plan in the coming weeks was to administer the vaccine to Presbyterian’s entire work force — about 15,000 people including independent medical staff — after prioritizing frontline caregivers who have direct contact with patients or infectious material.
In Miami, the Jackson Health System, a large hospital network that has treated more than 4,700 patients with Covid-19, has been buzzing with planning meetings, a virtual town hall, vaccine preparation training, and the reimagining of a pharmacy unit for wide-scale vaccinations.