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What to Expect When Getting a COVID-19 Vaccine

As we all await our turn to get the COVID-19 vaccine, it’s natural to feel scared or nervous about facing something new. Learning about the vaccine process – including what to expect before, during and after getting a COVID-19 vaccine – can help calm those fears and make people feel comfortable about getting vaccinated.

Before Vaccination

You can and should still get vaccinated if you’ve had and recovered from COVID-19 (you’ll just need to wait 90 days after you were diagnosed). If you’ve had an allergic reaction to other types of vaccines, ask your doctor if you should get a COVID-19 vaccine.

LIUNA General Secretary-Treasurer and LHSFNA Labor Co-Chairman Armand E. Sabitoni

You can still get vaccinated even if you have allergies not related to vaccines, such as pet, food or environmental allergies. The messenger RNA (mRNA) COVID-19 vaccines created by Pfizer and Moderna only contain the following: mRNA, lipids, salts and sugar. The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines do not contain any of the following: blood products like plasma, antibiotics, DNA, fetal cells, pork products, egg proteins or preservatives like thimerosal. COVID-19 vaccines also do not contain the live SARS-CoV-2 virus.

“Every LIUNA District Council, Local Union, member and signatory contractor can play a role in supporting COVID-19 vaccination efforts,” says LIUNA General Secretary-Treasurer and LHSFNA Labor Co-Chairman Armand E. Sabitoni. “One of the most important steps is getting information into the hands of LIUNA members so they know when it’s their turn to get a vaccine and feel comfortable making that decision.”

The CDC made recommendations on vaccination priority, but the final decision is up to each state. To find out when you’ll be eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine, click here for a complete state-by-state guide, including a hotline to call, website to visit and summary of who is currently eligible for vaccination. Many state and county health departments are allowing people to pre-register for an appointment by filling out a questionnaire online; you’ll then be notified when it’s your turn.

When You Get Vaccinated

When you get the vaccine, you and your healthcare provider will both need to wear masks. The vaccines are delivered as a shot in the arm and the injection won’t be any different from ones you’ve gotten before.

You will be asked for the following information, as required by the CDC: name, address, date of birth, race, ethnicity, sex. After your first appointment, you’ll receive a vaccination card or printout telling you which vaccine you received, the date you received it and the location. If receiving a two-dose vaccine, you should also receive a date to return for a second shot; ask about this if you don’t get one. You can sign up for VaxText, a free text messaging service, to receive a reminder about getting your second dose. After you receive your shot, expect to stay 15-30 minutes afterwards for observation. This is a standard process for other injectables, like allergy shots.

The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are two-dose courses; the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is one shot. For two-dose vaccines, you need both shots for them to work. Get the second shot even if you have side effects after the first one; the only reason not to get the second shot is if your healthcare provider tells you not to.

Finally, your healthcare provider should tell you about v-safe, a free, smartphone-based tool that uses text messaging and web surveys to provide health check-ins after you receive a COVID-19 vaccination. V-safe also reminds you to get your second dose.

After Vaccination

It takes time for your body to build up protection after any vaccination. COVID-19 vaccines that require two shots may not protect you until a week or two after your second shot.

You may have some side effects, which are normal signs your body is building protection. These side effects may affect your ability to do daily activities, but they should go away in a couple days. Keep this in mind when scheduling your appointments. On the arm where you got the shot, you may experience pain and swelling. Consider getting the shot in your less dominant arm, like you might do for the flu shot. Common side effects throughout the rest of the body include fatigue, headache, muscle aches, fever and chills. Side effects occur more often after the second dose and are more common in people younger than age 55.

To help deal with side effects, talk to your doctor about taking an over-the-counter medication (e.g., ibuprofen or acetaminophen) afterward and apply a cool, wet washcloth where you got the shot.

Even after receiving a complete dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, you’ll still need to continue protecting yourself and others by wearing a mask, watching your distance and practicing proper hand hygiene and respiratory etiquette. There are two good reasons:

  1. To protect yourself: There is a five to six percent chance of infection after full vaccination.
  2. To protect others: There is no evidence the current vaccines prevent transmission of the virus; that isn’t what they were designed to do.

Getting vaccinated means you’re doing your part to protect yourself, your family, your jobsite and your community. And that’s something we can all appreciate.

[Emily Smith is the LHSFNA’s Health Promotion Manager.]

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