Burning COVID-19 vaccine questions answered

By Sahar Chmais

From questions on whether taking the COVID-19 vaccine will alter a person’s DNA to new masking suggestions, two moderators with four doctors brought forth some answers.

Hays County representatives are making an effort to keep residents connected and updated on COVID-19 information. District 45 Representative Erin Zwiener hosted a COVID-19 discussion with two healthcare professionals, and Hays County Judge Ruben Becerra hosted another question and answer video on Facebook with two doctors. As discoveries around the novel virus become unearthed on a daily basis, these talks can help keep viewers updated.

Will the new vaccine technology modify a person’s genetics?

No, said Dr. David Lakey, chief medical officer of the University of Texas Health System. But there is a complicated explanation behind this answer. When a person is subjected to a natural infection, the virus releases a whole host of messenger RNAs in the person’s cells, making proteins. When the proteins are made, the body sees it is not supposed to be in the body and develops antibodies. The new vaccine technology works in a very similar manner, but instead of creating a whole host of proteins, it only creates one part of the protein messenger RNA in a way that the person develops immunity.

Are these vaccines easily modified, in anticipation of new COVID-19 variants?

Lakey: It will be quicker to make adjustments to these vaccines than it is to modify the old flu vaccines. This new technology is going to change how vaccines are addressed overall in the U.S.

How will the new vaccines work?

Lakey: There has been safety data in adults, but not in kids, because the studies were only done on adults. For now, the vaccines cannot be provided to children. Unlike previous vaccines, where the older a person is the lower their effectiveness becomes, Moderna and Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccines stay at about 95% effective in all ages.

Can a person still be a carrier if they get the vaccine?

Lakey: Scientists are still figuring out if immunization will prevent all asymptomatic carriage of the virus. Some preliminary data shows it decreases a person’s ability to carry the virus, but there are still studying this question, along with how long immunity will last.

Does the first and second dose of the vaccine have to be given through the same brand?

Yes, said Lacy Rainey, family nurse practitioner and director of Clinical Affairs in Hays County for Communicare Health Centers. So if a person receives a Moderna vaccine the first time, they need to receive a Moderna vaccine for their second shot. He also suggests people visit the same clinic when receiving the vaccine.

But Lakey added that if a person cannot get the same vaccine twice in the allotted time frame between the first and second dose, they could get the other messenger RNA vaccine. Still, it is best to try as much as possible to get the same vaccine twice.

What has been the experience after receiving the vaccine?

Rainey: There has been a lot of interest and hesitancy around getting the vaccine. When patients ask questions, it creates a good opportunity for discussion. Some people are afraid of getting body aches when getting the vaccine. These side effects are far less worse than getting COVID-19. The typical symptoms are a little fatigue and body aches. This is the body reacting to the vaccine and generating the immune response. Having an initial 24 hours of potential discomfort is fine; it does not happen to everyone but it is expected.

In case of a reaction, which Rainey said he has not yet seen, patients stay in the clinic for at least a 15-minute monitoring period.

If a person naturally contracted COVID-19, do they still need a vaccine?

Yes, said Dr. Henry Legere, immunologist. Vaccine benefits are still there, even in previously infected individuals. There may be a large segment of people who think they do not need to have the vaccine, but they still need it.

Immunity wanes over time in infections, said Dr. Marcus Gitterle, specializing in wound care and hyperbaric medicine. One can expect to be re-infected with exposure if they had it, for example, in the summer of last year, becoming increasingly vulnerable.

Are vaccines still effective on new COVID-19 strains, such as the U.K variant?

Legere: Studies have shown vaccines may not be as effective as the original strain, but they are still effective. For example, the Pfizer vaccine is still about 90% effective on the U.K variant. Manufacturers will tweak the vaccine as it mutates.

Should people wear two masks?

Legere: People have COVID-19 fatigue. Wearing a mask is always appropriate, and wearing one always made sense to have more protection. While two masks are better than one, if two masks will deter someone from masking, then they should stick to one.

Lakey: A mask is better than no mask, but it is important to note how masks are worn. It is important that the mask fits tightly around the face, making sure it seals tightly from all sides, including around the cheeks. A KN95 mask fits along the cheeks, and if a person wears this type of mask, they do not need to double-mask.

More items around the vaccine and safety precautions were discussed during the two videos, each one-hour long.

To watch the two discussions around these COVID-19 updates visit the Facebook pages:

Hays County Judge Ruben Becerra, video posted on Feb. 11, and Erin Zwiener, Texas State Representative, video posted on Feb. 10.


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Sahar Chmais holds a bachelor's degree in journalism from the University of Texas at Austin. She has been covering cities in Hays County for one year, touching on residents' struggles and successes, city issues, COVID-19 and more. Prior to reporting on the local spectrum, Sahar reported for a national news organization, covering gun violence. Sahar enjoys working as a local reporter because she gets to work with real people and their stories.

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