ORLANDO, Fla. - Do you still have questions about the COVID-19 vaccine? We have answers.
Dr. Jason Littleton, a physician based out of Orlando, and Dr. Todd Husty, the Medical Director for Seminole County, joined FOX 35 at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday to answer more of your questions about the COVID-19 vaccine rollout in Florida.
Q: If you have had the virus, when should you take the vaccine?
A: Dr. Littleton said to recover first and then get the vaccine. When you do, you build more immunity -- a longer-term immunity.
Q: What is the difference between RNA technology in the Pfizer and Moderna vaccine? Should people be concerned?
A: Dr. Husty said people should not be concerned, as a lot of experts say mRNA is not genetic material. It does not transfer any genetic material -- it is a common misconception.
He said the mRNA is just used to build proteins to fight against the virus. This is not a brand new thing either. A mRNA virus was used against SARS-1. COVID-19 is SARS-2. Experts know mRNA vaccines work.
"It is almost impossible for anything bad to happen with this vaccine," Dr. Husty said.
This vaccine also took less time to make because of government authorization due to the emergency nature of the pandemic.
"Please have faith," Dr. Husty added.
Q: Should you get the COVID-19 vaccine if you have a shellfish allergy? Which allergies can cause complications with the vaccine?
A: Dr. Littleton said this is a situation that you want to let your healthcare provider know. We're learning more and more about what types of allergies may be a concern. Severe allergic reactions are rare with vaccines but if you have had a reaction in the past, you need to let a doctor know. And you should remain on-site at least 30 minutes after getting the vaccine in case you do have a reaction.
Q: How quickly do I need a second COVID-19 vaccine shot?
A: The first COVID-19 vaccines in the U.S. require two doses a few weeks apart.
People should get some degree of protection within two weeks of the first shot, with the second shot bringing about the vaccine’s full protection. For the vaccine by Pfizer and Germany’s BioNTech, the second shot is supposed to be after three weeks. For Moderna, it’s four weeks.
But how closely those guidelines should be followed has been a point of difference for the United States and the United Kingdom, which has been rolling out the Pfizer vaccine and one by Astrazeneca that requires two doses given four weeks apart.
To get more first shots into people and give them at least some degree of protection, the UK says it’s OK to delay the boosters for as long as 12 weeks. But that strategy has been nixed in the U.S., where regulators say there’s no science backing the approach.
A major concern is that it’s unknown how long the partial protection from one dose can last. "There is no data to demonstrate that protection after the first dose is sustained after 21 days," Pfizer said.
U.S. regulators agreed, saying too few people in the Pfizer and Moderna vaccine studies missed their scheduled boosters to have enough data to show the strategy might work.
The timing of the shots doesn’t have to be exact in the U.S., though; the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says the second shots can be given up to four days earlier or later.
Q: What does emergency use of a COVID-19 vaccine mean?
A: It’s when regulators allow shots to be given to certain people while studies of safety and effectiveness are ongoing.
Before any vaccine is permitted in the U.S., it must be reviewed by the Food and Drug Administration, which requires study in thousands of people. Normally, the process to approve a new vaccine can take about a decade. But the federal government is using various methods to dramatically speed up the process for COVID-19 vaccines.
During a health crisis, the FDA can loosen its normal scientific standards to allow emergency use of experimental drugs, devices, vaccines and other medical products. The first vaccines to get the provisional green light in the U.S. are almost certain to be made available under this process, known as emergency use authorization.
Instead of the usual requirement of "substantial evidence" of safety and effectiveness for approval, the FDA can allow products onto the market as long as their benefits are likely to outweigh their risks. It has already used its emergency powers to authorize hundreds of coronavirus tests and a handful of treatments during the pandemic.
But the agency has almost no experience granting emergency use for vaccines and has laid out extra standards it will use to make decisions on upcoming COVID-19 shots.
In October, FDA officials told vaccine makers they should have two months of safety follow-up from half of the people enrolled in their studies before requesting emergency authorization. That data is expected to be enough for FDA to allow vaccinations of certain high-risk groups, such as front-line health workers and nursing home residents.
Full approval of a vaccine will likely require six months of safety follow-up as well as extensive inspections of company manufacturing sites. The leading vaccine makers are not expected to complete that process until next spring or summer. Only then is the FDA expected to grant full approval, which would allow vaccinations of the general population.
Q: Will COVID-19 vaccines work on the new coronavirus variant?
A: Experts believe so, but they’re working to confirm that.
A coronavirus variant in the United Kingdom has caused alarm because of the possibility that it might spread more easily. But even if that turns out to be true, experts say the COVID-19 vaccines being rolled out will likely still work on the variant.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the top U.S. infectious disease expert, said data coming from Britain indicates the vaccines still will block the virus. But the U.S. also will do tests to be sure.
Viruses often undergo small changes as they reproduce and move through a population. In fact, the slight modifications are how scientists track the spread of a virus from one place to another.
But if a virus mutates significantly enough, one worry is that current vaccines might no longer offer as much protection. And although that’s a possibility to watch for over time with the coronavirus, experts say they don’t believe it will be the case with the variant in the U.K.
"My expectation is, this will not be a problem," said Moncef Slaoui, the chief science adviser for the U.S. government’s COVID-19 vaccine push.
Q: Can employers make COVID-19 vaccination mandatory?
A: Yes, with some exceptions.
Experts say employers can require employees to take safety measures, including vaccination. That doesn’t necessarily mean you would get fired if you refuse, but you might need to sign a waiver or agree to work under specific conditions to limit any risk you might pose to yourself or others.
"Employers generally have wide scope" to make rules for the workplace, said Dorit Reiss, a law professor who specializes in vaccine policies at the University of California Hastings College of the Law. "It’s their business."
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has allowed companies to mandate the flu and other vaccines, and has also indicated they can require COVID-19 vaccines.
There are exceptions; for example, people can request exemptions for medical or religious reasons.
And even though employers can require vaccinations, there are reasons they might not want to.
Tracking compliance with mandatory vaccination would be an administrative burden, said Michelle S. Strowhiro, an employment adviser and lawyer at McDermott Will & Emery. Employers would also have to manage exemption requests — not to mention legal claims that might arise.
As a result, many employers will likely strongly encourage vaccination without requiring it, Strowhiro said.
Q: Will children be able to get COVID-19 vaccines?
A: Not until there’s enough data from studies in different age groups, which will stretch well into next year.
The Pfizer vaccine authorized in the U.S. this month is for people 16 and older. Testing began in October in children as young as 12 and is expected to take several more months. The Food and Drug Administration will have to decide when there’s enough data to allow emergency use in this age group.
Depending on the results, younger children may be enrolled for study as well.
Moderna, which is expected to become the second COVID-19 vaccine greenlit in the U.S., began enrolling study participants ages 12 to 17 this month, and will track them for a year. Testing in children younger than 12 is expected to start in early 2021.
It is uncertain if the results on younger children will come in time for vaccinations to begin before the next school year.
Positive outcomes in adult studies are reassuring and suggest it is safe to proceed in testing kids, said Dr. Buddy Creech, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at Vanderbilt University and director of its vaccine research program.
Even though children usually don’t get very sick from COVID-19, they can spread the virus to others, said Dr. Robert Frenck, who is the lead researcher for Pfizer’s study in kids at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital. At least 1.6 million youth have been infected, 8,000 have been hospitalized and 162 have died from the virus, he noted.
Q: Can I stop wearing a mask after getting a COVID-19 vaccine?
A: No. For a couple reasons, masks and social distancing will still be recommended for some time after people are vaccinated.
To start, the first coronavirus vaccines require two shots; Pfizer’s second dose comes three weeks after the first and Moderna’s comes after four weeks. And the effect of vaccinations generally aren’t immediate.
People are expected to get some level of protection within a couple of weeks after the first shot. But full protection may not happen until a couple weeks after the second shot.
It’s also not yet known whether the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines protect people from infection entirely, or just from symptoms. That means vaccinated people might still be able to get infected and pass the virus on, although it would likely be at a much lower rate, said Deborah Fuller, a vaccine expert at the University of Washington.
And even once vaccine supplies start ramping up, getting hundreds of millions shots into people’s arms is expected to take months.
Fuller also noted vaccine testing is just starting in children, who won’t be able to get shots until study data indicates they’re safe and effective for them as well.
Moncef Slaoui, head of the U.S. vaccine development effort, has estimated the country could reach herd immunity as early as May, based on the effectiveness of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines. That’s assuming there are no problems meeting manufacturers’ supply estimates, and enough people step forward to be vaccinated.
Tune in to FOX 35 Orlando for the latest coronavirus news.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.