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What a doctor wants you to know about the COVID vaccine

"It's our way out of the pandemic."

This article was updated on April 13, 2021.

As the COVID-19 vaccine is becoming more widely available, you may know more people who have gotten their doses — or have chosen not to — and you may have questions. As tempting as it is to check social media for information on the vaccine or people’s experiences, why not turn to an expert? That’s why we sat down with Dr. Steven Aguilar, MD of Genesis Health Group, Bettendorf, Iowa, to get the facts.

A COVID-19 vaccine Q&A with Dr. Steven Aguilar

what to know about the COVID-19 vaccine

Here are answers to some top questions about the vaccine from someone who’s not only received it, but also has distributed it to patients and staff.

Is the vaccine safe?

“The vaccine is very safe. I’ve received both doses, my colleagues and the staff have all been vaccinated,” says Dr. Aguilar. “At Genesis, we’ve provided more than 9,000 vaccines to our patients.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that more than 189 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine External Site were administered in the United States from Dec. 14, 2020, through April 12, 2021, under the most intense safety monitoring in U.S. history. The vaccines that have been approved for emergency use authorization (EUA) went through rigorous scientific standards for safety, effectiveness and manufacturing quality. Established and new safety monitoring systems are in place to ensure the COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effective.

As of April 12, 2021, more than 797 million doses External Site have been administered across 154 countries.

Dr. Aguilar notes that although the vaccine was developed just last year, there was global cooperation between governments, different drug companies and researchers that enabled this tremendous work to take place and produce a vaccine in a short amount of time.

What is mRNA and will it change my DNA?

“mRNA is messenger RNA, which stands for ribonucleic acid. RNA is a molecule that cells use to make proteins. The messenger RNA is not DNA so it does not change a person’s genetic code,” says Dr. Aguilar.

Dr. Aguilar explains that the COVID-19 mRNA tells your body’s cells to make a protein that mimics the spiked protein of coronavirus without actually infecting the body with the virus. It manufactures the spiked protein so the body recognizes it and can fight it off. The proteins created stimulate the immune system to create antibodies and are cleared from your body within a few days.

According to the CDC External Link, the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines are both mRNA vaccines.

Would just getting COVID-19 be safer than the vaccine?

“No, getting COVID-19 would not be safer than getting the vaccine,” Dr. Aguilar says. He goes on to say, “We are just now seeing some of the longer-term side effects of this virus. I see patients —young and older — who have experienced months of fatigue, loss of taste and smell, and cough. And, we are seeing serious lung damage from COVID-19 as well.”

The Mayo Clinic also notes that some other long-term side effects from COVID-19 External Site include: muscle pain or headache, fast or pounding heartbeat, issues with memory and concentration, sleep problems, and rash or hair loss. Organ damage, specifically to the heart, lungs and brain, is another concerning and serious long-term effect of COVID-19. And finally, blood clots and vessel problems are also issues that stem from COVID-19 infection.

I’ve already had COVID, do I still need to get the vaccine?

“We do recommend people who’ve had COVID-19 get the vaccine,” states Dr. Aguilar. “We don’t know precisely how long the antibodies from the virus last and there is concern of reinfection from the new mutations — which the vaccine protects against. The current recommendation is to wait until 90 days after your COVID-19 diagnosis to receive the vaccine.”

Does it matter which vaccine I get, or should I wait for a specific one?

Dr. Aguilar recommends getting the vaccine that’s first available to you. The effectiveness is similar and any side effects are similar, as well.

What are common side effects and what should I do if I am feeling poorly after?

Common side effects of the COVID-19 vaccine External Site include:

  • Headache
  • Achiness
  • Sore arm
  • Mild swelling
  • Nausea

Most symptoms go away in one to two days. However, call your health care provider if the redness or tenderness where you got the shot increases after 24 hours or if your side effects are worrying you or do not seem to be going away after a few days.

What happens if I get a first dose of the vaccine, but I can’t get the second dose within the suggested window due to supply issues or something with my schedule?

The recommended timing of the second dose for the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines is based on the clinical trial data and is 28 days and 21 days later, respectively. And Dr. Aguilar recommends getting your doses on schedule, or as close to schedule as possible to ensure efficacy. He also noted that vaccine providers have an obligation to schedule a patient's second dose and the state delivers the vaccine to providers who are following the schedule. 

A recent poll suggests that nearly half of Americans would refuse a shot External Site if offered, what would you say to them?

“I tell my patients the COVID-19 virus is very contagious, and we know the virus can cause a range of illnesses — even in younger people. Without the vaccine, it’s likely you will contract it, so it’s important to protect yourself and others from this virus. It’s our way out of this pandemic,” says Dr. Aguilar.

He continues “[News] media attention can skew people’s perceptions of the vaccine and sometimes highlight the side effects. And social media amplifies those stories, when in reality, severe reactions are rare. It’s best to get your information from your physician and the CDC website External Site.

Get important updates regarding COVID-19

As the pandemic continues and more information about the vaccine is released, check back with Wellmark Blue Cross and Blue Shield for the most up-to-date answers to top questions regarding COVID-19 and your health. You can also download this COVID-19 vaccine fact sheet Opens PDF. Print it out, keep it handy and share with others you know who might also have questions.

At Wellmark, our top priority is the health and well-being of our members. Part of that is keeping you informed about your coverage and benefits Secure.