COVID-19 vaccinations: who is eligible, how they work and what to expect

With the roll-out of COVID-19 vaccinations in full-swing, the decision on immunization has become ever-pressing. With all of the complex protocols and science behind the vaccine, it may be difficult to discern certain details and make the most effective decision possible. Below, you will find some of these complexities explained, as well as the first hand experience of receiving the COVID-19 vaccination as a healthcare worker. 

UTAH’S ROLL OUT PLAN-

A recent release of vaccinations to healthcare workers and other essential employees marks the start of Utah’s COVID-19 vaccination roll-out plan. This phased approach mimics similar plans nationwide and has proven effective in vaccine distribution. In these early stages,  vaccines are currently being offered to hospital and healthcare workers, EMS first responders and long-term care facility employees. Moving forward, the vaccine will be distributed in the order of non-EMS first responders (law enforcement), school staff, Utahns 75-years-old or older, Utahns 65-years-old or older and will eventually be available to all Utahns. The expectation is that all Utahns will be eligible for vaccination by mid-March to early July. To see the full schedule of Utah’s COVID-19 vaccination roll-out plan visit Utah.gov.

HOW THE VACCINE WORKS-

Currently, there are two types of COVID-19 vaccinations, Moderna and Pfizer. Both immunizations have effectiveness rates higher than annual influenza vaccines, with Pfizer at a 95% effectiveness rate and Moderna at 94%. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the COVID-19 vaccination is a messenger RNA or mRNA vaccine. This new method of vaccination is highly effective in fighting infectious diseases and differs from other vaccinations significantly. 

In order to trigger an immune response, most vaccinations introduce a weakened or inactivated germ into a person’s body (that germ being whatever the vaccination is fighting against). mRNA vaccinations work alternatively, “they teach our cells how to make a protein—or even just a piece of a protein—that triggers an immune response inside our bodies. That immune response, which produces antibodies, is what protects us from getting infected if the real virus enters our bodies,” the CDC published on their website in early January. The harmless proteins trigger an immune response in the body, which is why some people experience mild symptoms following immunization. 

“Though mRNA vaccines are new, they are not unknown,” the CDC states. This type of vaccination has been studied for decades and can be developed using readily available materials. According to the CDC, this is why the COVID-19 vaccine was produced at a much quicker rate than other vaccines before it. Currently, COVID-19 vaccinations require two shots administered one month apart from each other. For more information on how the vaccination was produced and how it works, visit the CDC website.

THE PROCESS OF RECEIVING THE VACCINATION AND WHAT TO EXPECT-

**Disclaimer: The portion written below reflects the personal experience of this writer and may vary should you chose to receive the COVID-19 vaccination** 

As a healthcare worker, I was offered the vaccination in early January. The first step of the process was to schedule an appointment at my local health department. Once scheduled, I received an email confirming my appointment time, as well as the fact sheet regarding the vaccination I would be receiving. In my case, it was Moderna. I also received a form to fill out prior to my appointment, which included basic demographic information like insurance, DOB, address and a brief questionnaire.

Upon arrival at the health department, I was ushered through the socially distanced halls by several health department employees and volunteers. The system was highly organized, and my information was verified at a few tables along the way. I was also given additional CDC and health department information at this time for following up after my vaccination.

Before receiving the actual shot, I was given a vaccination card which detailed the exact vaccination I would be receiving as well as the date I needed to return to the health department for a second dose. 

To me personally, the shot itself felt similar to the flu shot, complete with the same arm ache after injection. Once finished I was guided to a hallway of socially distanced chairs for a 15-minute observation. During this time, I felt completely normal, aside from the mild arm ache around the injection site. 

In the days following my initial vaccination, I did experience some mild symptoms such as fever, headache, chills and body aches. All of which, according to the CDC indicate the immunization is actually working effectively. These symptoms are not universal, in fact, the CDC claims that such reactions are not always reported when an individual receives the vaccination, but are most common in younger patients, ages 18-55. This rang true to my experience, as many of my colleagues reported no symptoms following their immunization. 

Regardless, my symptoms subsided within a few days of receiving the vaccine and were easily manageable at home. Since getting vaccinated, I have received daily check-ins from the CDC via text message. These check-ins involve a short questionnaire regarding how I am feeling and though it is recommended, it is not required. The questionnaire takes no more than three minutes to fill out and, according to the CDC, helps with the tracking of symptoms moving forward. 

I am scheduled to return for a second dose of the vaccine in early February, and according to both the CDC and other individuals who have had both shots, I can expect a similar reaction in receiving the second dose.

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