Your COVID-19 Vaccine Questions Answered: Q & A with Dr. Robert Hammond
Hey there, Friday members. We hope you’re enjoying the first few weeks of spring!
As the COVID-19 vaccines are distributed throughout the country, we’re working with providers to help Friday members get immunized fast. Friday will cover all COVID-19 vaccines —Moderna, Pfizer, and Johnson & Johnson —at $0 for members on all plans.
While it’s an incredibly exciting and hopeful time, we also know we’re entering relatively new medical territory. There are, understandably, many questions about the vaccines. We’re here to help provide answers.
We spoke with Dr. Robert Hammond, an in-network Physician at Westminster Medical Clinic. Below is a transcript of our interview about the COVID-19 vaccines, edited for length and clarity. As you read, please know this interview took place on February 25th. Our understanding of COVID-19 is rapidly changing!
How effective are the currently available vaccines?
Dr. Hammond: The vaccines are amazingly effective. With the two mRNA vaccines [by Pfizer and Moderna] after your second shot, they are roughly 95% effective from getting moderate or severe COVID. The important thing is no one dies who gets the vaccine. You may get a mild COVID cold, but you’re not going to become hospitalized or go to the ICU after getting the vaccine.
The third vaccine that will was just approved here any day is Johnson & Johnson. It is 66-85% effective at preventing moderate to severe COVID. In the first month, Johnson & Johnson doesn’t have quite the efficacy as the others, but the data seems to show that it gets better and better as the months go by.
I see all three vaccines being equally effective long-term.
Are all the vaccines safe?
Dr. Hammond: The medical society is really quite clear: the vaccines have shown to be extremely safe. The preliminary data shows there are maybe four people out of a million who get anaphylaxis. Otherwise, there is no contraindication to getting the vaccine. 90% of the vaccine side effects are very mild.
Almost everybody is going to have arm pain and tiredness afterwards, but the side effects that interfere with your daily activities happen only in about 3-5% of people. This vaccine is only in your body for about a day, then it’s gone.
For how long are the vaccines effective?
Dr. Hammond: The last hard data showed the vaccines are effective for about eight months after the second shot. I’ve heard from the President of Moderna that it could be eighteen months, but I didn’t see the data behind it. There is some speculation out there, but you could very well say eight months.
Keep it in mind this also depends on how much mutation there will be.
Does the vaccine affect pregnancy?
Dr. Hammond: There are warnings saying that you should discuss with your doctor if you are pregnant. There’s not a lot of data out there. In my opinion, you have to look at the known risk of getting COVID versus the unknown risk of getting the vaccination. In all of the animal studies, we do know there was no problem with the pregnancy of rats and mice. Of the few pregnant people who got it in the trials, there were no problems.
We do know that pregnant people who get COVID have a higher incidence of dying. We really don’t know much about what happens to babies who are born to COVID mothers. Frankly, it is the person’s decision—but I think the benefits of taking the vaccine outweigh the risks.
Dr. Hammond: Beforehand, make sure your immune system is able to react efficiently. You need to sleep well, hydrate well, and eat your vegetables. Make sure you have all the minerals and vitamins you need to mount a really good immune response.
You need to be careful you don’t blunt your immune system. I would say taking normal vitamins are fine—like a multivitamin, fish oil, or Vitamin D—but herbs like Echinacea, Curcumin, and Elderberry are not advised. There are so many thousands of different things people are taking. You need to know what you’re taking and talk to someone who’s knowledgeable.
For people with autoimmune disease, the challenge can be timing the shots with the medications these people are on. They need to have a discussion with their doctor about when to get the vaccine.
Tylenol and anti-inflammatories like Ibuprofen are reasonable to take for the side effects of the vaccine. You can also apply an ice pack on the arm before and after the shot.
Should I still get the vaccine if I’ve already had COVID?
Dr. Hammond: If you’ve had COVID, it’s like you’ve already received the first shot. Now you need your second shot. Most people are suggesting three months after your infection is when you should get the vaccine. You’ll probably get a very robust response and it might even last longer than the regular regimen. It’s really quite prudent to get the vaccine, if you don’t want to get it again or get a mutation.
Big picture: What are the main benefits of getting the COVID-19 vaccine?
Dr. Hammond: The big-picture societal benefit of getting vaccinated is that we have a pandemic that is wreaking havoc on the economy and peoples’ lives. The quickest way to get back to normalcy is to have herd immunity. You’re going to get that most efficiently through most of the country getting vaccinated.
And then, on a very personal level, no one wants to die. This virus is much more deadly than the flu. It probably has twice the mortality rate of the flu. We also know that there’s lasting heart damage, lung damage, and kidney damage done by COVID, and that’s even for people who had mild to moderate disease. This is a very dangerous disease. Although it may not kill you, it may be there a long time.
Can I still transmit COVID-19 after I’ve been vaccinated?
Dr. Hammond: Yes, but to what extent is unknown.
I think that there is probably some reduction in it, but it’s not going to be universal. It will depend on what virus you get and what mutation you get, because there’s seven known mutations and I’m sure there are plenty more that we don’t know about. I think the vaccines will reduce transmission, but not enough that you cannot wear a mask and social distance. I think that you’ll need to wear a mask for probably another year.
As always, if you have any questions about your plan or benefits, please reach out to our friendly Friday Care Crew at this page. We’re here to help!
Thank you, Dr. Hammond and the Westminster Medical Clinic for your helpful and thoughtful answers about the COVID-19 vaccines.
As a quick reminder, Friday Health Plans is covering COVID-19 testing, treatment, and vaccination for all Friday members. Please visit our COVID-19 Member Support page for helpful resources. As always, you can reach out to the Friday Care Crew for any questions about your plan, benefits, or services.