Vaccine day: La Crosse health experts answer questions about COVID-19 vaccine

La Crosse health experts are encouraged by CDC and FDA approval of children ages 12-15 to receive the COVID-19 vaccine
Progress Made With Vaccinations In La Crosse Mayo Clinic Health System

Should I get the vaccine if I already had COVID-19?

Doctors say people who had COVID-19 infection should still get vaccinated. A Mayo Clinic Health System experts say there are two reasons why.

“It’s still not clear exactly how long those last and how long those will protect you for,” Dr. Nipunie Rajapakse, a pediatric infectious disease doctor with Mayo Clinic Rochester. “Likely that length of time is different for different people depending on how severe your illness was. Whether you have any underlying immune system issues.

“Secondly, with the circulating new variants, it’s unclear whether say the original type of COVID-19 will provide adequate protection against a new variant.”

How safe is the vaccine? 

Many concerns revolve around the idea the vaccine was rushed to the public. However, doctors and researchers in La Crosse say money is the main reason vaccines take several years in most cases. This year so many medical parties were involved in the process that money was not an issue.

The same research steps and safety measures like clinical trials were followed like normal. Research shows vaccines are north of 90 percent effective. Severe side effects remain rare. The SARS epidemic from 2003 actually saved time for vaccine developers this time around according to Gundersen Health System infection preventionist Megan Meller.

“We didn’t have to do as much research and development this time around,” Meller said. “We already had the technologies, we could dive right into clinical trials. The companies enrolled hundreds of thousands of people from various backgrounds across the world to really show that the vaccines are safe and effective.”

What are the side effects? 

Vaccines are designed to offer our bodies practice against viruses like COVID-19. Doctors say when our body’s immune system activates we can feel symptoms that make us feel sick. Vaccine trials are designed to find out if vaccines produced severe symptoms, those trials show it is extremely rare.

“When we looked for things that would have been more concerning, any sort of serious effects, they really were not evident in the initial trials, and it took immunizing millions upon millions of people to start to see these very very rare side effects,” Dr. John O’horo said, associate professor of medicine at Mayo Clinic.

Common side effects include a sore arm or pain and redness at the injection site, chills or fever, fatigue, body aches, headache, nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea in the first 72 hours.

Do I need both shots of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine? 

A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study shows one dose of Pfizer’s or Moderna’s vaccine was 80 percent effective versus 90 percent with both doses. While one dose can seem more convenient, La Crosse health experts say it’s best not to gamble and schedule a second dose appointment.

“Right now we are facing a lot of battles especially when we are thinking about variants,” Meghan Buechel said, an infection preventionist at Gundersen Health System. “Getting that second dose is going to be vital to get that full protection which is much needed during these times.”

Is the vaccine safe for children? 

The CDC’s advisory panel green-lighted Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine for 12 to 15-year-olds. The FDA gave their approval earlier this week too. Pfizer’s clinical trial found no cases among fully vaccinated students involved in a clinical trial. Healthcare experts say children responded well in clinical trials. Any symptoms they experience are the same as adults.

This opens the door for 17 million children aged 12-15 accounting for just over five percent of the U.S. population. Dr. Rajapakse said these vaccinations will help schools.

“We know that we have kids and teenagers who have really suffered from some of the social isolation, loss of educational opportunities, decrease in physical activity over the course of the pandemic,” Rajapakse said. “They really do stand to gain a lot by getting vaccinated.”