According to the Crater Health District, which includes both Surry and Sussex Counties, they will be offering COVID-19 vaccinations for the first time as early as January 5, beginning with first responders and with other groups to follow in tiers. Even as this news arrives, the surge of cases following the holiday season is growing at an alarming rate, with Surry County recording 249 confirmed cases and 5 deaths and Sussex accounting for 706 cases and 13 deaths.

With limited supplies of the vaccine currently available and numerous concerns about everything from the effectiveness of the vaccine to potential side effects, the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) recently released answers to many questions about the new vaccines. Following are some of the most frequently asked questions with answers from the VDH along with links to other sources of relevant information.

Why do I need the Covid-19 vaccine? “The COVID-19 vaccine will greatly reduce your chances of getting COVID-19 and will ensure that if you do get the virus, you will have only mild symptoms or none at all…. Once vaccinated, your body will build immunity to the virus, so you are less likely to get sick.”

Will the COVID-19 vaccine be required for all Virginians? Will we be penalized if we decide not to take the vaccine? “The vaccine will not be required for Virginians and there are no legal penalties for refusing it, but we urge you to get it once it’s available. Once enough people are vaccinated against COVID-19, we can resume more of the everyday activities we enjoyed before the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Will the vaccine give me COVID-19? “No. The vaccine will not give you COVID-19 because the vaccine is not made from the live virus. The vaccine just teaches your body to build a protein that fights the virus. However, it can take a few weeks for the body to build immunity after any vaccination, so it’s possible to get COVID-19 from another person just before or just after being vaccinated, while your immunity is still developing. Sometimes the immune response from a vaccine can cause soreness at the injection site, a fever, headache, or tiredness. This is normal and should go away after a few days.”

If I get the COVId-19 vaccine, will this protect my family and friends? “While the vaccine will help keep you from getting sick from COVID-19, scientists are not yet sure if a person who has been vaccinated can still give the virus to other people. That means it is important for everyone to get vaccinated and to continue wearing masks and following physical distancing recommendations.”

If someone already had COVID-19, do they still need to be vaccinated? “Yes, regardless of history (symptomatic or asymptomatic), they should get the vaccine. … Patients should be out of the isolation period and out of the active stage of infection when they get vaccinated. The one exception for vaccination might be for those people who had COVID-19 earlier but who have not recovered completely and are still having long-term effects. If you are still having long-term effects after COVID-19, you should discuss COVID-19 vaccination with your healthcare provider.” 

Is the COVID-19 vaccine safe? “Yes. The COVID-19 vaccine is being developed and tested the same way as every other vaccine used in the United States. Like all vaccines, COVID-19 vaccines have gone through a careful trial process with several phases. For every vaccine in the United States (including COVID-19), trials start with Phases 1 and 2, when small groups of people are vaccinated and then monitored. In Phase 3, tens of thousands of people are vaccinated to be sure the vaccine is both safe and effective for all types of people. After a vaccine is authorized or approved, it goes through a Phase 4 trial, where long-term effects are studied. These trials, which include people at high risk for COVID-19, will help identify any common side effects or other safety concerns and will help clarify how long protection lasts after vaccination.

COVID-19 vaccines were developed faster than most other vaccines. How I know they are safe and effective? “Public health officials have been preparing for this vaccine before the virus was first discovered in 2019. Two previous coronaviruses, SARS, that emerged in China in 2002 and MERS, that emerged in the Middle East in 2012 taught us a lot about developing a safe and effective vaccine for a coronavirus. The COVID-19 vaccines have been produced faster than any other vaccine, but they have followed the very same process as any other vaccine, including studying tens of thousands of participants of different ages, races, and ethnicities.

“Development of vaccines in the United States is strictly controlled by the FDA. After the FDA authorizes or approves a vaccine, an independent immunization committee at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) will decide whether to recommend it and for whom. In all stages of the process, the most important factor is safety. Vaccines must meet the highest standards of safety and have minimal side effects, because they are given to healthy people to prevent disease.”

Should I be getting the vaccine if I have other medical conditions? “If you have a medical condition, such as diabetes, asthma, or obesity, you are at higher risk for severe COVID-19. When COVID-19 vaccine is available, you are encouraged to get vaccinated to protect yourself from serious COVID-19 illness.  Three particular groups of people have special COVID-19 vaccine concerns:

People with weakened immune systems due to HIV or other illnesses or medications can receive COVID-19 vaccine, but they should be aware that there is only limited safety data available and that they may have a lower immune response to the vaccine.

People with some autoimmune conditions are also able to be vaccinated but also need to be aware of the limited safety data for people in their category.

People with a neurologic disease history of having previously had either Guillain-Barre syndrome or Bell’s palsy can receive COVID-19 vaccine but need to be closely monitored for the re-development of one of those conditions.

Finally, if you have ever had a severe allergic reaction to any ingredient in a COVID-19 vaccine, CDC recommends that you should not get that specific vaccine. If you have had a severe allergic reaction in the past to other vaccines or injectable therapies, you should ask your doctor if you should get a COVID-19 vaccine. Your doctor will help you decide if it is safe for you to get vaccinated.”

Where can I find out more about COVID-19 vaccines? To learn more about vaccines in Virginia go to https://www.vdh.virginia.gov/covid-19-vaccine/

Some other potential sources for information on the vaccines and other COVID-19-related subjects include:

Crater Health District, Coronavirus Call Center | 804-862-8989 | Monday through Friday 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Virginia Department of Health, Coronavirus | Hotline 1-877-ASKVDH3 (1-877-275-8343)

https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/communication/factsheets.html

https://www.vdh.virginia.gov/coronavirus/

https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/prevent-getting-sick/cloth-face-cover.html