Coronavirus Vaccine: A Message of Real Hope
Frequently Asked Questions and Answers
We are pleased to share that Cassia began administering vaccines in December, and we are continuing to provide vaccinations to staff and residents in skilled nursing and assisted living settings. Cassia is using both the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines, and is also able to vaccinate essential caregivers who are visiting loved ones.
While more information will be forthcoming, we want to respond to the questions we received to date. We are using the most reputable sources available, such as the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and other federal and state guidelines.
Q: Why should I get vaccinated?
A: Getting vaccinated against COVID-19 is one of the best ways to protect yourself and those around you—especially people at increased risk for severe illness. Wearing masks and social distancing help reduce your chance of getting infected or spreading the virus, but these measures are by no means enough. Vaccines prepare your immune system to fight the virus if you are exposed. The shots will not only protect you from being infected; they will give us the opportunity to help stop the pandemic.
Q: Which pharmaceutical company will provide the vaccine? How effective is the vaccine projected to be?
A. Pfizer was the first manufacturer to request emergency use authorization (also called EUA and explained below). Moderna has also requested emergency use authorization and both companies have received the EUA. Cassia is using both vaccines at this time.
Pfizer announced in November that initial clinical trials showed their vaccine proved effective in at least 95% of participants. Moderna announced its initial findings a week later, which suggest their vaccine was 94.5% effective in preventing the virus.
Both vaccines require a two-dose administration. The second dose must come 21 days following the first for the Pfizer vaccine, or 28 days after the first Moderna vaccine.
Q: What is an Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) and if the vaccine is approved for an EUA, what does that mean?
A: An EUA is based on the need to use a vaccine quickly to save lives during an urgent health crisis. Safety data milestones required by the U. S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for Emergency Use Authorization have been achieved. You may be anxious about the speed with which a vaccine has been approved. While the EUA is a shorter process, no steps are overlooked in safety evaluation.
Q: Will the COVID-19 vaccines be safe?
A: To date, no serious safety concerns have been reported by an independent data and safety monitoring board overseeing Phase three trials of the Pfizer and Moderna mRNA COVID-19 vaccines. Both vaccines met the safety requirements outlined by the FDA to seek EUA. In the safety analysis, patients were followed for two months after they received their second dose of the vaccine.
Q. How do the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines work?
A: The vaccines contain synthetic mRNA, which contains genetic information used to make the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein. The spike protein is the part of the virus that attaches to human cells. The spike protein alone cannot cause COVID-19 and once it is created it spurs the immune system to create antibodies against the virus. These antibodies can the provide protection if a person is exposed to the virus. The mRNA vaccines are non-infectious and do not enter human cells. Nor can they be inserted into human DNA. Additionally, mRNA is rapidly broken down, which helps reduce the chances for long term side effects.
Q: Is there a risk that I can get COVID-19 from the vaccination
A: No. There is no risk of getting COVID-19 from the vaccination, which contains no actual COVID-19 virus. A number of people may experience short-term side effects (such as headache, muscle pains, fatigue, chills, fever, and pain at injection site) after getting the vaccine. This is due to how your body develops immunity. Clinical trial participants say discomfort disappeared after a day, sometimes sooner. One of the vaccine doses may cause more side effects than the other. This is your immune system responding to the vaccine and is expected. However, a reaction of this nature does not mean you are getting sick with COVID-19. We need the vaccine to trigger this immune response to produce the immunity you need against COVID-19.
Q: How do we know the vaccine is safe, since it was developed so quickly?
- Safety is the most important requirement for the vaccine and is assessed in trials by independent experts.
- Most adverse side effects occur within six weeks of vaccine administration, and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has required eight weeks of safety monitoring so it can track any side effects.
- The FDA advises a minimum of 3,000 participants to assess safety. The current phase three trials have 30,000 to 50,000 participants. This demonstrates how safety is a top priority for the FDA and the medical community.
- Safety data milestones required by the FDA for Emergency Use Authorization have been achieved.
- Data shows the vaccine was tolerated well across all populations with more than 43,000 participants. No serious safety concerns have been observed.
- Though the vaccine was created faster than previous vaccines, safety and effectiveness was paramount throughout the process.
- The timeline was shortened because some steps in vaccine development and manufacturing occurred at the same time, due to urgent need.
The vaccine is also being evaluated by two advisory committees:
- The Vaccine and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee (VRBPAC) that advises the FDA;
- The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) that advises the CDC.
- These advisory boards are independent. Their job is to monitor vaccines to ensure safety regardless of money, politics or other reasons.
- The people on these committees are experts from academic institutions and they are vetted to avoid a conflict of interest. Experts who may have a conflict of interest are not put on these committees.
- The committees evaluate the vaccine data for safety and effectiveness, and also help to determine how it is distributed.
Q: How is the vaccine being distributed?
A: We were extremely pleased to hear the Department of Health decided healthcare staff and residents in skilled nursing and assisted living settings are in the highest priority group to get the vaccine first. Cassia works with our own A & E Pharmacy to coordinate the distribution of the vaccine to staff and residents in Minnesota. We typically plan together with A&E to mitigate any challenges in advance. A&E has proven their ability through their very successful flu clinics. In other states with Cassia locations, we will work with local pharmacies to distribute the vaccine.
Q: After I have had the second dose of the vaccine and it is 2 weeks after my second shot, do I still have to wear a mask?
A: Yes. Even though you have received your vaccine, most of the people around you have not. We know the vaccine prevents disease in the vaccinated person, but it still may be possible to transmit the disease to others, until the vaccine is in widespread use. Wearing a mask, social distancing, and thorough, frequent handwashing protects those who have not been vaccinated, especially residents in skilled nursing/assisted living settings.
Q: How can I learn more about the vaccine?
A: The information Cassia provides comes from reliable sources such as the CDC (www.cdc.gov) and your state’s department of health. Social media is full of misinformation, so if you have questions, please contact Cassia Chief Clinical and Compliance Officer Sharon Wilson. In addition, be careful to look to reputable sources (such as those affiliated with academic institutions or non-profit professional organizations like AMDA) for information.
You are also invited to view a video created by the Minnesota Association for Geriatrics Inspired Clinicians (MAGIC). The video was created with trusted healthcare providers in our community to provide accurate and up to date information and dispel myths regarding the COVID vaccine. You can watch the video below.
Please NOTE: The Pfizer and Moderna Coronavirus vaccines used at Cassia have received Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) under the United States Food and Drug Administration (USFDA). The authorization is a critical and important step toward full approval by the USFDA. The EUA approval was needed to make the vaccine readily available and reduce the number of Coronavirus cases—which it has done.
The video below has helpful information, and comes from Simon Mittal, M.D., who is Cassia’s medical consultant and a certified medical director in post-acute care.
More information may be found in an article from Mayo Clinic that debunks various myths about the vaccine.
It’s also important to note that as the number of people desiring to be vaccinated increases, there is also more opportunity for fraud involving vaccines. To learn more about how to spot scams, we’ve posted some tips from Medicare and Medicaid Services.
Thank you for trusting Cassia to care for your loved ones during these challenging times. With a vaccine right around the corner as we continue to take precautions through masks and other protective measures, we believe there is real hope for a brighter future. May God bless you and your loved one.