Five Things to Know about the COVID-19 Vaccine

Author

Dr. Simone Wildes

Simone Wildes, MD

We are at a pivotal moment in the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Right now, COVID-19 kills more Americans every day than heart disease or cancer. And what’s most sobering? We’ve reached this terrible milestone before we see the impact from Thanksgiving travel, which we anticipate will happen right before Christmas. 

Hospitals are caring for an increasing number of COVID-19 patients in addition to patients with other serious conditions. We run a real risk of running out of hospital capacity in the weeks ahead, even here in Massachusetts. 

But there is hope. This week, hospitals and health systems began receiving shipments of the COVID-19 vaccine for frontline workers. It is a profound accomplishment to have a safe, effective vaccine less than a year after the pandemic began.

But this does not mean the pandemic is over.

Here’s what you need to know about the COVID-19 vaccine today.

The COVID-19 vaccine is safe and effective

There is a lot of misinformation circulating about the vaccine.

In the Phase 3 trials, there were no serious safety events observed—which means no devastating side effects for those that got the vaccine. For example, this means there is no evidence that the COVID-19 vaccine causes infertility. 

Additionally, Phase 3 trials of several different COVID-19 vaccines found them to be up to 95 percent effective for preventing COVID-19, compared with placebo. 

The most common side effects of the COVID-19 vaccine include fatigue, headache, chills, and muscle pain in a very small percentage of recipients. A smaller number of people may also have temporary swelling at the injection site. Side effects are often more noticeable after the second dose. 

Side effects usually last no more than a day, and can be managed with regular recommended doses of Tylenol or Motrin.

The COVID-19 vaccine requires two doses

The Pfizer vaccine is given in a two-dose schedule, with the second dose coming three weeks after the first. 

The Moderna vaccine is also given in a two-dose schedule, with the second dose coming four weeks after the first.

For both vaccines, it’s important to time the doses correctly to ensure the vaccine is effective. You cannot skip the second dose!

Why? The vaccine’s first dose is only about 50 percent effective in preventing infection. After the second dose, the effectiveness jumps to more than 90 percent. That’s a huge difference.

Most Americans won’t be vaccinated until mid-2021

Once healthcare workers are vaccinated, there are as many as 200 million additional Americans who are considered high-risk individuals who will be vaccinated before healthy individuals. 

In Massachusetts, the Commonwealth’s Vaccine Advisory Group has developed a plan to ensure an equitable phased plan for vaccinating Bay Staters.

Here’s a look at the three phases, and who can expect to be vaccinated in each phase. You can also learn more at Mass.gov.

An infographic explaining the three COVID-19 vaccination phases in Massachusetts
Infographic via Mass.gov

South Shore Health isn’t vaccinating patients—yet 

This week, South Shore Health began vaccinating our patient-facing colleagues.

At this time, we are not scheduling patient appointments for COVID-19 vaccinations, nor are we creating a waiting list for future vaccinations. 

This applies to all South Shore Health entities, including South Shore Medical Center and Health Express. 

We will begin offering the vaccine to South Shore Health patients according to state and federal guidelines. This means higher-risk patients will be offered the vaccine before the general patient population.

For the latest information on South Shore Health’s COVID-19 vaccination plans, please visit our COVID-19 page.

Even if you get the COVID-19 vaccine, you’ll have to keep following safety precautions

We are not anywhere near herd immunity, despite thousands of new cases every day in the Commonwealth and the start of vaccinations. It is still very possible to catch and spread coronavirus, and will be for months to come.

It is essential that everyone continue to practice their COVID Infection Prevention Bundle:

  • Wear a mask in public
  • Practice good hand hygiene
  • Maintain physical space
  • Avoid crowds
  • Ventilate shared indoor spaces 
  • Get tested when symptomatic, you’ve possibly been exposed, or before/after travel


This includes people who’ve received the vaccine. Why?

The COVID-19 vaccine is not 100 percent effective, even after both doses. While it greatly reduces the risk of catching this serious virus, it is still possible to contract—and infect your loved ones—with coronavirus after vaccination.

We can only begin to relax physical distancing, masking, and other infection prevention measures once we get closer to herd immunity. We accomplish this when as many people as possible get the vaccine in the months ahead.

The vaccine is safe. I have taken the first dose myself. I’m excited to do my part to keep our patients and community safe.

It’s also important to get updates on the vaccine from reliable news sources. The Commonwealth’s website, Mass.gov/COVID, has important updates on the vaccine distribution timeline. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is a great resource for questions about the vaccine itself.

You can always visit the COVID-19 section of the South Shore Health website for updates on testing, vaccination, and more.

It’s been an incredibly long road. But there is a real light at the end of the tunnel.

We just have to keep ourselves and our loved ones safe as the COVID-19 vaccine is distributed and we enter what we hope will be the final phase of the pandemic.

Please remain patient as we ensure those who need the vaccine most receive it.