When can we hug our grandchildren?

A guide to older adults' questions about COVID-19 vaccines



The Federal Drug Administration (FDA) released two vaccines in December 2020 for emergency use authorization: one made by Moderna, and one by Pfizer. An emergency use authorization is used in public health emergencies when a product shows that it likely works and is safe but has not yet gone through the whole process of FDA licensure, and no other remedy is available. Both vaccines were found to be about 95 percent effective at preventing COVID-19 infections.

The following guide is designed to help answer older adults’ questions about the COVID-19 vaccines. Please note that COVID-19 vaccine information is continually changing as new research informs us in real time about the vaccines’ use and effectiveness. This information is from the Minnesota Department of Health and the Center for Disease Prevention and Control (CDC) guidelines during the week of February 7, 2021.

What are the age requirements for the Moderna and Phizer vaccines?

The Moderna COVID-19 vaccine is authorized by the FDA for individuals 18 and older; the Phizer vaccine, for those 16 and older.

Minnesota will not require vaccines; however, getting the vaccine is one of the best ways to protect ourselves and everyone around us.

Who should not get a COVID-19 vaccine?

You should avoid the Moderna and Phizer vaccines if you had a severe reaction after a previous dose of the vaccine or if you had a severe reaction in the past to any ingredients in the vaccine. Vaccine fact sheets include a listing of ingredients and are available at vaccination sites.

People who have had anaphylaxis after taking other medicines, particularly medicines given by injection, may be vaccinated but should be observed for 30 minutes after receiving the vaccine.

If we are sick with or think we might have COVID-19, we should wait until feeling better and cleared to come out of isolation prior to getting the vaccine.

Older adults who are immunocompromised (persons with a weak immune system) might be at increased risk for a COVID-19 infection. The vaccine companies indicate that they have not yet tested the vaccine fully in all populations for safety and effectiveness of the vaccine. Therefore, the vaccine manufacturers recommend that if you are immunocompromised, you should check with health care providers prior to getting a COVID-19 vaccination.

You do not know which vaccine we will receive until you arrive at the vaccination site.

How many doses of the COVID-19 vaccine are needed?

Two doses are needed for COVID-19 vaccines from either Pfizer or Moderna. The time between the doses depends on the vaccine we are we receiving. The Pfizer vaccine doses must be given 21 days apart; the Moderna, 28 days apart.

It is important to get both vaccine doses from the same manufacturer and according to the specified interval. The vaccine is only fully effective with both doses of vaccine. If we only get one dose, we may not be protected against COVID-19. It is okay if you get the vaccine within four days of the 21 or 28-day mark, depending on which vaccine you get. If it is more than four days after the appropriate interval, you should be sure to get the second dose as soon as you can.

Most sites are scheduling both doses upon preregistration. If a schedule for a second dose is not included in a registration, then it is strongly recommended that you schedule an appointment for a second dose after you get the first dose to ensure you are getting the same product for each dose as well as within the correct time.

How long after receiving the vaccine will I be protected from a COVID-19 infection?

After the second dose, it takes about two weeks for individuals to build up protections. The duration of protection against COVID-19 is not known at this time.

According to the CDC, older adults may not respond to the vaccines as well as the general population due to aging changes with immune systems.

It is not known yet if people who get the vaccine can still give COVID-19 to others if they get infected. This means that a vaccinated person can still be infected, even without symptoms, and unknowingly spread the virus to others.

Therefore, it is important for us to continue to be cautious after receiving the vaccinations, wearing a mask, frequently washing hands, socially distancing, and staying home if sick.

Will the vaccine have side effects?

Some side effects may occur after vaccination. Patients may experience a sore arm and might have muscle aches, tiredness, headache, or maybe a fever. These side effects usually last one or two days and usually do not prevent individuals from going about their daily activities. They are a result of your body responding to the vaccine. Some may not experience any side effects.

Side effects are more common with the second dose, with reports of one to three days of general malaise.

If the side effects are bothersome and do not go away, you should contact your health care clinic.

There is a remote chance that the vaccine may cause a severe allergic reaction. A severe reaction would occur within a few minutes to an hour after getting a dose. For this reason, you are asked to sit at the vaccination site for at least 15 minutes after receiving the vaccination. If we have concerns, it is okay to request a longer period of observation at the vaccination site. Signs of a severe allergic reactions are difficulty breathing, swelling in our face and throat, a fast heartbeat, a body rash, dizziness, and weakness. Be aware of these symptoms and notify vaccine personnel immediately.

You should notify our primary care clinic if we experience a severe reaction.

The COVID-19 vaccine cannot give one the actual disease. However, if we show side effects after vaccination that are similar to symptoms of COVID-19, and those symptoms continue or worsen, it is possible that you may have been exposed to COVID-19 before getting the vaccine. If this happens, contact your health care clinic.

Is it safe to get other vaccines when I get my COVID-19 vaccine?

It is recommended that a person should wait 14 days before or after a COVID-19 vaccination to receive a vaccine for other diseases, like a flu, shingles, or pneumonia vaccine.

If I have been previously infected with COVID-19, should I get a vaccine?

Yes, if you’ve been infected with COVID-19 during the pandemic, you should get vaccinated. It is not known how long a person has immunity following a COVID-19 infection. Some people have reported a second infection after 90 days. If you have questions, check in with our primary care clinic.

When can I hug my grandchildren? When am I safe to visit a partner in a long-term care or an assisted living setting?

It has been a long year of social isolation for our population of older adults; therefore, it is reasonable that we may have differing perspectives on what is the best judgement about visiting.

We are warned that the vaccine will not return our lives to normalcy at this time. After two doses, we are asked to continue wearing masks and practice social distancing. It continues to be safer visiting outdoors while following the standard precautions. Dr. William Schaffner, Professor of Infectious Disease at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, indicates that we should wear a mask and give our loved ones a hug around the waist, and then back off.

Individuals under the age of 16 are not eligible for vaccination now.

What is herd immunity?

We are hearing that normal life may resume when we reach herd immunity. Herd immunity is when 70-80 percent of people in a population or group are immune to a disease—either through a vaccine or having had the disease.

We do not know enough about COVID-19 to be sure herd immunity is possible. COVID is a new disease with new variants emerging regularly. Professionals are studying COVID in real time as we move forward with actions to curb or prevent its spread.

• We do not know yet how long we are
immune once vaccinated.
• We do not know if a previous infection
will make a next infection better or worse.
• We do not know if a person who was sick
before, and then has contact with COVID-19
again, will be able to pass the virus to
• We do not know yet if the current vaccine will be effective against all the new
COVID-19 variants.

Ongoing research may help us understand how to reach herd immunity with the COVID-19 pandemic, especially related to the need and timing for revaccinations.

What can we expect at the vaccination site?

When you pre-register for a vaccine site, you will receive instructions regarding the time to arrive. You are also asked to bring your insurance card, wear clothes that allow access to your upper arm, wear a mask, and be prepared to wait for 15 to 30 minutes following a vaccination to allow monitoring for adverse reactions.

Upon arrival at the site, you will be asked to share your personal information such as a full name, date of birth, address, phone number, and gender. One will not be asked about immigration status. Individuals will also receive a COVID-19 vaccination record card. Recipients are asked to bring their vaccination record card with them to the vaccination site when they receive their second dose of the vaccine.

At this time, it is recommended that people keep the card as documentation to prove one received the COVID-19 vaccine doses.

Your vaccine information is entered into the Minnesota’s Immunization Information System. The information includes your personal information and vaccination information— date of administration, vaccine type, and lot number.

There is no cost for the vaccine. You may be asked for your insurance information in order to charge an administration fee. You can still get the COVID-19 vaccine at no cost if you don’t have insurance.

The State of Minnesota desires to distribute the vaccine in a phased approach as efficiently and effectively as possible. Minnesotans are asked to continue to do their part in slowing down the spread of COVID-19 by wearing a mask, washing their hands often, socially distancing six feet away from other people, and staying home when sick. This is how we can help people stay healthy until a vaccine is widely available.

Be safe. Be well.

Ann Bussey lives in Side Lake. This article was adapted from daily healthy aging emails Ann writes for the Mesabi Family YMCA senior members intended to sustain hope, health, and wellbeing during the pandemic.

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