COVID-19 Vaccine & Vaccination FAQs

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Wednesday, January 7, 2021, 10:18 a.m. 
This page will be updated regularly as information becomes available. 
 

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Vaccine Development

When will the vaccine be available?

On December 14, 2020, South Carolina received its first allocation of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. Several health care facilities in the state received allocations directly from the federal government and are vaccinating their front-line medical workers. South Carolina received initial doses of Moderna vaccine on December 28, 2020. The state received nearly 200,000 doses of both Pfizer and Moderna vaccine by the end of 2020. 

This limited supply of initial allocations is being distributed in accordance with the state’s carefully developed vaccine plan. Vaccine production is expected to increase significantly in the coming months.

Which vaccine will be available first?

The FDA issued an Emergency Use Authorization for the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine on December 11, 2020. South Carolina received its first allocation of this vaccine on December 14, 2020. The FDA issued an Emergency Use Authorization for the Moderna vaccine on December 18, 2020. South Carolina received its first allocation of Moderna vaccine, currently dedicated the CDC's Long-Term Care Program for vaccinating long-term care facility staff and residents.

How do the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines work?

There is no COVID-19 virus in vaccines. The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines help your body make antibodies to a protein on the virus surface. This allows your immune system to attack the virus and fight off severe illness if you are exposed.

Is the COVID-19 vaccine a live vaccine?

The vaccines don’t contain live, attenuated, or inactivated vaccines. The vaccines contain the gene for a virus protein only. This means you can’t get COVID-19 from the vaccine.

What is in the COVID-19 vaccine?

You can’t get COVID-19 from the vaccine. Vaccine components include:

  • Active Ingredient nucleoside-modified messenger RNA (modRNA) encoding the viral spike protein of SARS-CoV-2

Four lipids (including polyethylene glycol or PEG)

  • PEG is used in laxatives and in bowel preparation used before colonoscopy and is the most likely component to cause symptoms or allergic reaction
  • Four salts (including NaCl) which act as a pH buffer
  • Sugar (sucrose)

Current COVID-19 vaccine does not contain thimerosal, mercury, antibiotics, or preservatives.

Are COVID-19 vaccines safe?

The FDA is committed to science and the critical evaluation of all new vaccines for their safety and efficacy in an unbiased way before their authorization for use. No vaccine will be released until it has undergone rigorous scientific and clinical testing that all vaccines in development are held to. Learn more about vaccine development in this presentation from the CDC.

How can a safe vaccine be made so quickly?

Vaccine development typically takes many years, however, scientists had already begun research for coronavirus vaccines during previous outbreaks caused by related coronaviruses, such as SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) and MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome). That earlier research provided a head start for rapid development of vaccines to protect against infection with the novel coronavirus SARS-CoV2, the virus that causes COVID-19.

What are the side effects of the vaccine?

Any vaccine or medication can cause side effects. These are typically minor, such as a sore arm or low-grade fever, and go away within a few days. As with all vaccines, COVID-19 vaccines are not approved until clinical trials have taken place that show they are both safe and effective. Safety is the top priority of any vaccine. Results from the first COVID-19 vaccines show no serious side effects.

What is an Emergency Use Authorization?

The FDA can issue an Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) to allow the use of unapproved medical products (or unapproved uses of approved medical products) in an emergency to diagnose, treat, or prevent serious or life-threatening diseases or conditions when specific criteria have been met, including that there are no adequate, approved, and available alternatives.

Manufactures submit a request for an EUA to the FDA which is reviewed, and a determination is made by the FDA about authorizing the EUA.

Vaccine Availability

Who can get the vaccine?

South Carolina is vaccinating those in Phase 1a of the state's vaccine plan as recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the South Carolina COVID-19 Vaccine Advisory Committee (VAC), which is comprised of representatives from many groups of people in our communities. The overarching goal of Phase 1a is preventing deaths. Front-line medical workers and long-term care facility residents and staff are among those prioritized for Phase 1a vaccine distribution.

As additional vaccines are approved and vaccine supplies increase, COVID-19 vaccine will be available for everyone. COVID-19 vaccine supply is expected to increase substantially in 2021.

How will I know when I can get the vaccine?

DHEC and its partners have plans in development of notifying the public when and how the vaccine is available to them. This includes traditional forms of public notification – news release, website and social media updates – as well as public service announcements; print, radio and TV ads, community-level outreach, direct mailers and other forms of outreach to ensure South Carolinians know when it’s their time to receive vaccine. Health care providers will also notify their patients.

Is there a website where I can register to get on the list to receive vaccine?

DHEC is not registering people on a list. Please see the previous question and answer.

Where can I find the plan for Phase 1b vaccine distribution?

Currently, South Carolina is in Phase 1a of vaccination. Once the federal Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices provides guidance on Phase 1b populations (expected to be by the end of 2020) then South Carolina Vaccine Advisory Committee will review that federal guidance and provide recommendation for implementing the ACIP guidance for Phase 1b in South Carolina.

How much will it cost to get vaccinated?

The federal government will cover the cost of the vaccine. There will be no out-of-pocket costs for the vaccine. Medicare, Medicaid, and private insurers will cover the cost of vaccine administration. It is possible that health care providers may charge an office visit fee, or a fee to administer the vaccine. Administrative costs for vaccine for the uninsured will be covered by Health Resources and Services Administration.

How will the COVID-19 vaccines be administered?

COVID-19 vaccines will be administered by intramuscular (IM) injection, a shot in the arm.

Will more than one dose of COVID-19 vaccine be required?

The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine requires two doses separated by an interval of 21 days. The Moderna vaccine requires two doses separated by 28 days. The different vaccine products will NOT be interchangeable. The series of two doses must be completed with the same vaccine product.

How will I know when to get my second dose?

After receiving your first shot, everyone will receive a paper immunization record that will be completed at the time of vaccination. It will include the vaccine you received, date and location, and date when your next shot is needed. Individuals will be reminded when it’s time to receive their second shot.

The vaccine you receive and when you need the second dose is confidential health information that is carefully managed to protect your privacy.

Will people who have already had COVID-19 be able to get the vaccine?

Vaccine is recommended for people previously infected. According to data reviewed by CDC, people appear to become susceptible to reinfection after >90 days after initial infection. To date, reinfection appears to be rare during the initial 90 days after symptom onset of the preceding infection. DHEC recommends that people eligible for vaccine in Phase 1a who had COVID-19 within the previous 90 days consider delaying vaccination to allow more vulnerable access to scarce resource.

Can I get more than one COVID-19 vaccine?

It’s recommended that you receive only one type of COVID-19 vaccine. Some vaccines, like the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, require two doses and you must receive both doses of the same brand of vaccine. The administration of more than one type of COVID-19 vaccine hasn’t been tested so there isn’t safety data available.

I live in South Carolina part of the year. Can I get vaccinated here?

Yes. Non-permanent residents who are living in South Carolina at the time when they would be eligible to receive vaccine can be vaccinated here. There will be no need for proof of residency in order to receive the vaccine.

Is the vaccine safe for pregnant women?

Pregnant women are excluded from vaccine trials, so it hasn’t been tested in pregnant women. Currently available vaccines are mRNA vaccines, meaning they do not contain a live virus. The vaccines work by stimulating the body’s immune system to produce antibodies to a protein on the virus surface.

The theoretical risk of fetal harm from mRNA vaccines is very low. Counseling for pregnant women about the vaccine will be updated as more data is available. The Society for Fetal and Maternal Medicine recommends that healthcare workers who are prioritized for initial vaccination be offered the vaccine if pregnant.

When and how will people who are high risk get the vaccine?

DHEC is still finalizing these plans, in accordance with federal guidance. After the initial phase of vaccinating workers in health care settings caring for people critically ill with COVID-19, people with conditions that put them at high risk for severe disease will be able to get vaccinated at their local pharmacy, hospital, health care provider, or community clinics.

DHEC will disseminate information via public service announcements, media briefings, letters to doctors, website announcements and more to notify South Carolinians when they can get vaccinated.

Why hasn’t DHEC announced which facilities currently have vaccine?

Different states or facilities are announcing varying details of available information. At this time, DHEC considers providing the specific locations of limited quantities of vaccine a security risk, with regard to the possibility of theft or disruption to the state's fair and equitable vaccine distribution plan.

Agencies are working together to ensure vaccine is stored in safe, secure locations. Information about vaccine locations and providers will be made widely available as vaccine production ramps up and the vaccine becomes available for everyone.

My company should be considered in the essential businesses group

Currently, South Carolina is in Phase 1a of vaccination. It will take weeks to vaccinate those in Phase 1a who wish to be vaccinated. ACIP is expected to provide their guidance on Phase 1b populations by the end of the calendar year, then the DHEC Vaccine Advisory Committee will review that guidance and provide their recommendation for implementing the ACIP guidance for Phase 1b in South Carolina. This process will continue through Phases 2 and 3 as vaccine becomes more widely available.

The most up to date information about COVID-19 vaccination in South Carolina can be found at scdhec.gov/vaxfacts.

I have an autoimmune disease. Can I get the vaccine?

People with autoimmune conditions may receive an mRNA COVID-19 vaccine. However, they should be aware that no data are currently available on the safety of mRNA COVID-19 vaccines for them. People with autoimmune conditions were included in the Phase 3 studies for Pfizer and Moderna vaccines and no flares of disease were seen. However, this represents only a small number of people. As more vaccine is administered, the CDC and FDA will have more information on the risk of an inflammatory response (flare) for a person with autoimmune disease. There is strong evidence from the clinical trials, however, that taking the vaccine greatly reduces the chance that a person will get COVID-19, which can be a serious or even fatal illness.

I had Guillain-Barre Syndrome (GBS). Can I get the vaccine?

Persons who have previously had GBS may receive an mRNA COVID-19 vaccine. To date, no cases of GBS have been reported following vaccination among participants in the mRNA COVID-19 vaccine clinical trials. With few exceptions, the independent Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) general best practice guidelines for immunization do not include a history of GBS as a precaution to vaccination with other vaccines.

I’ve had Bell’s palsy. Will getting vaccinated bring it back?

Cases of Bell’s palsy were reported in participants in the mRNA COVID-19 vaccine clinical trials. However, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not consider these to be above the rate expected in the general population. They have not concluded these cases were caused by vaccination. Therefore, persons who have previously had Bell’s Palsy may receive an mRNA COVID-19 vaccine.

I got my 1st dose but can’t get my 2nd dose on time. What should I do?

Get your 2nd dose as close as possible to the recommended timing (21 days after 1st dose for Pfizer, 28 days after for Moderna vaccines). However, it is OK if the second dose of vaccine needs to be delayed past the usual time. There is no maximum interval between the 1st and 2nd dose for the vaccine.

What if a person gets COVID-19 in between vaccine doses 1 and 2?

If someone gets COVID in between doses of vaccine, or right before it was their turn to get vaccinated, they should wait until their acute illness is over, and they have completed their isolation period. It is OK if the second dose of vaccine needs to be delayed past the usual time. There is no maximum interval between the 1st and 2nd dose for the Pfizer vaccine; no maximal interval information is available for Moderna vaccine.

If a person gets COVID-19 in between vaccine doses 1 and 2, can they still get monoclonal antibodies?

This is a decision to be made with your doctor. There is no data on the safety and efficacy of COVID-19 vaccines in persons who receive monoclonal antibodies. In theory, if you get the passive antibodies, your body might not get long-lasting immunity from the vaccine. CDC’s recommendation if you get passive antibodies is to wait at least 90 days before getting the vaccine

How can I protect my children if they can’t get the vaccine?

COVID-19 vaccines are not approved in people under age 16. There is some evidence that other vaccines, specifically MMR and Pneumovax, can help protect against COVID-19. These are routine pediatric vaccines. Check with your pediatrician to make sure your children are up to date on their vaccinations, and if they are not, talk to your health care provider about catching up on these vaccines.

Vaccine Planning, Shipping and Storage

Is DHEC planning for COVID-19 vaccine distribution?

Yes. South Carolina has been planning and preparing for COVID-19 vaccine for several months and is following guidance from the CDC, HHS and the South Carolina Vaccine Advisory Committee (VAC) to ensure fair and equitable distribution of the vaccine within our state.

DHEC has collaborated with the S.C. Emergency Management Division; S.C. Hospital Association; National Guard; S.C. Law Enforcement Division; Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation; and other public and private sector partners to develop South Carolina’s interim Vaccine Plan. In addition, the VAC assists with creating a framework for the most effective, equitable, and ethical allocation of vaccine.

What is the South Carolina Vaccine Advisory Committee?

The Vaccine Advisory Committee (VAC) is a diverse group of stakeholders who help guide vaccine planning that’s specific to South Carolina. VAC members include health care and vaccine providers as well as individuals who represent the state’s various communities, including the population groups that are at increased risk for COVID-19. The committee helps determine which South Carolinians receive the initial limited doses of vaccine and discusses ways to promote community awareness and engagement, and develop communication strategies to assure credible, compelling and culturally sensitive messaging for those who might be hesitant about vaccines. Dr. Linda Bell, State Epidemiologist, leads the VAC.

Can any pharmacy or clinic offer the COVID-19 vaccine?

To receive and administer the COVID-19 vaccine and supplies, providers must enroll in a federal vaccine distribution program, coordinated through the state immunization program (unless they are part of a national chain that registered directly with the CDC). The federal government will distribute the vaccine and ancillary supplies at no cost to enrolled providers.

Walgreens and CVS Pharmacies have enrolled directly into the COVID-19 Vaccination program with CDC to receive federal vaccine allocations to vaccinate residents and workers in long term care facilities.

What are the storage and handling requirements for the COVID-19 vaccines?

The anticipated first available COVID-19 vaccines have varying storage and handling requirements, ranging from refrigerated (2-8° C) to frozen (-20° C) to ultra-cold ( -90° C to -60°C). The manufacturers are conducting ongoing stability testing. Additional guidance will be provided as it is received. An addendum to the CDC Vaccine Storage and Handling Toolkit specifically addressing COVID-19 vaccines is currently being developed in addition to other training materials.

How will DHEC track vaccine distribution and administration?

South Carolina also has a comprehensive state immunization information system (IIS), known as SIMON (Statewide Immunization Online Network) that provides a secure system to track vaccines, access vaccine records, order vaccines, and manage vaccine inventory. One of our planning areas is to ensure that the system can meet the demands of a COVID-19 vaccine program, and ensure the registry connects with any federal systems.

Vaccine Providers

How do you address vaccine hesitancy?

The CDC, DHEC and other public health organizations recognize why some people are hesitant to receive the vaccine. Addressing vaccine hesitancy is part of South Carolina's and the CDC's public outreach campaign and is achieved by providing factual and current information to the public.

DHEC will continue to share important messaging about the vaccine from our state's top medical leaders as well as share federal resources, like the CDC's Vaccine with Confidence campaign that promotes public of knowledge of vaccine development and distribution. We are working to share this information at the community level through essential partnerships with key community groups, including the business community, faith-based organizations, schools and universities, and many others.

Will there be a required observation period after vaccination?

Providers should consider observing patients for 15 minutes after they receive the vaccine. For vaccine administered in drive-by venues, adequate parking must be ensured so those receiving vaccine have a place to wait post-vaccination. Persons who have had severe allergic reactions to other vaccines should be observed for 30 minutes. Persons who have had a severe allergic reaction to a first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine should not receive the second dose.

Is there guidance for administering vaccines in a setting other than a doctor’s office (e.g., pharmacies; temporary, off-site, or satellite clinics; and large-scale influenza clinics)?

Yes. Guidance has been developed for giving vaccines at pharmacies, temporary, off-site, or satellite clinics, and large-scale influenza clinics. Other approaches to vaccination during the COVID-19 pandemic may include drive-through immunization services at fixed sites, curbside clinics, mobile outreach units, and home visits. Please collaborate these plans with Local Public Health. The general principles outlined for healthcare facilities should also be applied to alternative vaccination sites, with additional precautions for physical distancing that are particularly relevant for large-scale clinics, such as:

  • Providing specific appointment times or other strategies to manage patient flow and avoid crowding.
  • Ensuring sufficient staff and resources to help move patients through the clinic as quickly as possible.
  • Limiting the overall number of patients at any given time, particularly for populations at higher risk for severe illness from COVID-19.

What is the recommendation for receiving flu vaccine this fall/winter with the current COVID-19 pandemic?

In accordance with the CDC, DHEC recommends that everyone six months and older receive a yearly flu vaccine. During this COVID-19 pandemic, reducing the overall burden of respiratory illnesses is especially important in order to protect vulnerable populations at risk for severe illness and reduce hospitalizations. Healthcare providers should offer flu vaccine at every opportunity all eligible patients.

Can other vaccines, including flu vaccines, be administered at the same time as the COVID-19 vaccines?

CDC has recommended that no other vaccines be given 2 weeks before or after a COVID-19 vaccine.

Should flu vaccines be given to someone with suspected or confirmed COVID-19?

CDC has recommended that no other vaccines be given 2 weeks before or after a COVID-19 vaccine.

Are there any contraindications with providing COVID-19 vaccine while someone is being treated with antivirals for influenza?

Contraindications to receiving the COVID-19 vaccine include allergy to any of the vaccine components or severe allergic reaction or anaphylaxis to another vaccine or injection (sub-cutaneous, intramuscular, or intravenous). There are no known interactions or contraindications to receiving antivirals for influenza, but this was not specifically tested in Phase 3 studies.

Is there guidance for safely administering vaccines during the COVID-19 pandemic?

CDC has released Interim Guidance for Immunization Services During the COVID-19 Pandemic. This guidance is intended to help immunization providers in a variety of clinical and alternative settings with the safe administration of vaccines during the COVID-19 pandemic. This guidance will be continually reassessed and updated based on the evolving epidemiology of COVID-19 in the United States.

Interim guidance: immunization services during the COVID-19 pandemic: Vaccination and COVID-19 Vaccination Guidance During a Pandemic Protective Measures for Vaccinating During Pandemic

Are there specific infection control procedures to follow when administering vaccines during a pandemic?

It’s important to apply infection prevention strategies to all patient encounters including physical distancing, respiratory and hand hygiene, surface decontamination, and source control. The CDC has developed General Practices for Safe Delivery of Vaccination Services and the Immunization Action Coalition has developed Protective Measures for Vaccinating During Pandemic.

Will the COVID-19 vaccine be mandatory for health care providers?

Similar to flu vaccine requirements, decisions regarding COVID-19 vaccine in health care settings will be determined by individual facilities. DHEC highly recommends vaccination for all health care workers caring for persons with COVID-19 or those at high risk for severe disease (e.g., those working in long-term care facilities). See the Phase 1a recommendations.

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