COVID-19 Vaccine Q and A with Katie Harkess, MD


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Q: How does the vaccine Work? 

A: The vaccine contains a small amount of genetic material called mRNA. Think of mRNA like a recipe or instruction manual. Once you get the vaccine, the mRNA is taken up by your cells and acts as an instruction manual for your cells to make spike protein, a protein that is found on the COVID virus.

Once your cells make the spike proteins, they present the protein to your immune cells, which then make antibodies against COVID. So, if you contract COVID, your body has the antibodies ready to go to fight the virus!

After the mRNA has done its job, it is quickly degraded by your cells. There are two important things to remember when considering these vaccines. First, because this vaccine does not contain a live COVID virus, it cannot give you COVID. In addition, because the mRNA is never taken into your cell’s nucleus, it does not have the ability to change your DNA. This new technology is very exciting because mRNA vaccines give us a much more efficient way to produce vaccines than previous vaccine technology using live or inactivated virus. 

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Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccines and Syringes

A: To date, there have been two vaccines that have been approved for emergency use by the FDA. These vaccines have been produced by Pfizer and Moderna.

The Pfizer vaccine is given in two doses 21 days apart and has been approved for use in people ages 16 and older. In the trials, the Pfizer vaccine was found to be 95% effective. To put that in perspective, consider that according to the CDC, the 2019-2020 flu vaccine was 39% effective.

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The Moderna vaccine has been approved for people ages 18 and older. It is given in 2 doses 28 days apart and was found to be 94.5% effective in trials. Both vaccines have proven extremely safe in both the testing and in the first tens of millions of American who have to doses. 

[ Editor’s Note: There is now also a Johnson & Johnson vaccine approved for emergency use by the FDA. You can read more about that HERE ]

Q: Will the vaccine give me COVID? 

A: Because this vaccine does not contain a live virus, it is impossible for you to contract COVID from the vaccine. However, it is still possible to contract COVID after receiving the vaccine, especially while you are still building immunity against the virus. 

Q: What are the side effects from the vaccine? 

A: The most common side effect from the vaccine is pain at the injection site. Flu-like symptoms, such as fever, chills, fatigue and headache, are common after receiving the vaccine. These side effects are a normal immune response as your body works to create antibodies against the virus. 

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A: Unfortunately, pregnant women were not included in the COVID vaccine trials. There are further ongoing studies, but the safety data is not yet available. However, the American College of Ob/Gyns, the American Society of Reproductive Medicine, and the Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine all recommend that women who are trying to conceive, pregnant women and lactating women who are eligible for the vaccine should be offered the vaccine.

Because the vaccine does not contain live virus, at this time, it is not thought to cause an increase in infertility, pregnancy loss/miscarriage, stillbirth of congenital abnormalities. 

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Q: I have heard that fevers in pregnancy can be dangerous. What if I get a fever after getting the vaccine? 

A: About 16% of people report fever after vaccination. Fever tends to be a more common side effect after the second dose of the vaccine. In the past, fever during pregnancy, and in particular during the first trimester, has been associated with an increased risk of neural tube defects like spina bifida. More recent studies have shown that this association can be mitigated by taking at least 400mcg of folic acid, which is found in prenatal vitamins. In addition, patients who get a fever can take acetaminophen to combat the fever without interfering with the immune response. 

Pregnant woman with COVID-19 mask looking out a blue curtained window with bookshelf in background. The mood is hopeful and she is looking toward the future for her child.

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Q: Is it safe for breastfeeding women? 

A: The American College of Ob/Gyns, the American Society of Reproductive Medicine, and the Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine all recommend that breastfeeding women who are eligible for the vaccine should be offered the vaccine.

Q: Do I need to wait to try to conceive after the vaccine? 

A: There is no evidence that you need to wait to try to conceive a specific amount of time after receiving the vaccine. 

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Q: What happens if I get pregnant between getting my first and second dose? 

A: If you become pregnant between the first and second dose of the vaccine, you should still be offered the second dose of the vaccine at the appropriate interval. 

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Q: If I have already had COVID, am I eligible to receive the vaccine?

A: Yes, vaccination should be offered regardless of history of a prior COVID infection. 

Q: Who should not receive the vaccine?

A: Anyone with a severe allergic reaction, like anaphylaxis, to any component of the vaccine should not receive the vaccine. 


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Syringe going into a COVID-19 vaccine vial held in gloved medical professional's left hand

Q: What if I am immunocompromised? 

A: People who are immunocompromised should still be offered the vaccine unless otherwise contraindicated. However, those who are immunocompromised may have a decreased immune response. 

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For more information regarding the COVID vaccine: 

Dr. Neil Lamb of Hudson Alpha Institute for Biotechnology shares more information regarding COVID and the COVID vaccines in easy-to-understand videos:

Dr. Natalie Crawford, a board certified Ob/Gyn and reproductive endocrinologist and infertility specialist based out of Austin, TX, shares more information regarding COVID-19, the COVID vaccine, and reproductive health concerns on her YouTube channel: CLICK HERE

A decision-making guide for pregnant women about receiving the vaccine from the University of Massachusetts Medical School Baystate: CLICK HERE

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Dr. Katie Harkess, MD Women4Women OBGYN
Dr. Katie Harkess recently relocated to Huntsville and is a provider at Women4Women OB/GYN passionate about providing excellent care for women of all ages. She has particular interests in preventative care; both high and low risk obstetrics, adolescent gynecology, and minimally invasive surgery. Most importantly, she takes pride in educating women about their health and wellness throughout different stages of their lives.

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