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COVID-19 Vaccine Series Part II: How does the vaccine work and is it safe?

By getting vaccinated, you can also help protect people around you.
5 min read
January 20, 2021
Dr. Jill Lundstrom
Board-Certified Pediatrician
Dr. Jill earned her MD at the University of Massachusetts. She believes that all children deserve access to quality healthcare to learn and thrive.

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Now that the COVID-19 vaccine is available in the U.S, many families may have questions about the vaccine. Our care team has collected all of the questions we’ve heard over the last few weeks. We will be sharing weekly updates and inviting families to bring their questions to online chats with our care team.

This week we’re focusing on helping families understand how the COVID-19 vaccine works and why it is safe to get the shots. Be sure to read part three of our COVID-19 Vaccine Series: Who Should Get a COVID-19 Vaccine?

1. Question: Is the COVID-19 vaccine safe?

Answer: Yes. Although mRNA vaccines are new, they have been studied for over ten years. These vaccines have been tested for safety before being approved for use in the United States.

2. Question: What is a vaccine, and how does it work in the body?

Most vaccines are made from dead viruses or made from a single protein, which is only a very small part of the virus. The vaccine trains our body to fight a specific illness by getting the immune system to create antibodies. The antibodies protect us from getting sick.

3. Question: What is special about the COVID-19 vaccine?

Answer: The COVID-19 vaccine works a little differently than your yearly flu shot. The COVID-19 vaccine uses messenger RNA (mRNA) technology. mRNA vaccines do not use the live virus and there is NO risk of a vaccinated person getting COVID-19 from the shot. Currently there are two approved mRNA vaccines in the U.S- Pfizer and Moderna.

4. Question: How does an mRNA vaccine work?

Answer: mRNA vaccines work in five steps. 

  1. A person gets an mRNA vaccine shot.
  2. The mRNA teaches our body to make a harmless protein piece. The protein piece is called a spike protein.  
  3. Our body destroys the mRNA after making the spike protein.
  4. Our body responds to the spike protein by making antibodies. 
  5. These antibodies protect us from getting sick if the real virus ever enters our bodies.

5. Question: Can an mRNA vaccine change my DNA?

Answer: No.
Every person has thousands of mRNA in their body that expire over and over all day long. The body breaks down and gets rid of the mRNA soon after it is finished using the instructions. Because mRNA are only temporary, they never interact with your DNA.

6. Question: What are the benefits of mRNA vaccines?

Answer: Some of the benefits of mRNA vaccines are:

  • They do not use the virus in the vaccine
  • They can be made in a lab 
  • They do not take as long to make

7. Question: Are there any side effects from the vaccine?

Answer: Some people have had minor side effects after getting the COVID-19 vaccine. This may be pain, redness, or swelling in your arm from the shot.

People may also experience body or muscle aches, fevers, chills, fatigue. It appears to be more common after the second dose of the vaccine. All of these symptoms are temporary. You may be uncomfortable for a short time (a few hours to a few days).

These symptoms do not mean that you have COVID-19. These are signs that your body is responding to the vaccine because your immune system is building its defenses. They are not signs that you are sick.

Getting the vaccine reduces your risk of becoming very sick, or dying from COVID-19. The vaccine may also decrease the chance you could pass the virus on to someone else. By getting vaccinated, you can also help protect people around you. If you have questions about getting the vaccine for your family, ask your doctor.

Be sure to join our weekly online Ask a Doctor chat to hear more about the COVID-19 vaccine, and read the next blog in our series: Who Should Get a COVID-19 Vaccine?

The information in this blog is considered true and correct at the date of publication. Changes in circumstances after the time of publication may impact the accuracy of the information.

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Parent Story
A father was concerned when his son was showing COVID-19 symptoms. His school uses Hazel, so he was able to contact a Hazel doctor from home.

The Hazel provider recommended he get a COVID-19 test and shared resources to help find a testing center in their area. The father was eager to help his son feel better and appreciated being able to quickly get answers and advice.
Nurse Story
A student came into the nurse's office with a sprained ankle. After icing her foot, she still was in pain, so the nurse called Hazel. Thankfully, her family had provided consent for over-the-counter pain relief because she was able to take some medicine and return to class feeling better.

After the visit, the Hazel provider reached out to the school nurse to check on the student’s injury. The nurse shared that the student’s ankle was improving, and she appreciated the follow-up.
Parent Story
A mother noticed her son was getting low on his asthma medication. She tried to schedule a visit with his doctor to refill his prescription, but no appointments were available. She didn’t want her son to run out of medicine, so she reached out to Hazel.

The provider was able to send the refill to a local pharmacy within one day. The mother was happy that her son would have the medicine he needed. She was also amazed at how easy and fast the entire process was.
Student Story
A student was coughing and sneezing a lot, but her family wasn’t sure if she was sick or had allergies. Thankfully, her school used Hazel, and they could get an answer.

After talking with the school nurse and the Hazel provider about her symptoms and medical history, the student was happy to find out it was likely allergies. She got some medicine and returned to class feeling better.
Student Story
During the pandemic, a high school student was having a hard time coping. She was sad about COVID-19 impacting her senior year, and she was worried about the state of the world. The student was also struggling with some personal conflicts, and she felt she didn't have the right support at home. After discussing her feelings, a Hazel doctor connected her with resources that she described as “life-changing.” She was very grateful and shared that she didn't know where to go for help before Hazel.
Parent Story
Shortly after COVID-19 began, a student began to develop tics. Her parents took her to a neurologist, but they wanted to get her into counseling as well. The student’s mother was having a hard time finding answers to her questions and didn’t know where to start the process, so she turned to Hazel.

The Hazel doctor listened as the mother shared her concerns and frustrations. Hazel reassured her that they would find the right services for her child. After the initial visit, the Hazel doctor partnered with the school counselor and the student’s mother to identify resources and counseling services that are a good fit.
Student Story
A student came into the nurse’s office because his vision went blurry. The Hazel doctor looked at his eyes, but he did not see any injury. As he asked him questions about his symptoms, he started to sense that he was down about something. After a few minutes, the student shared that he was really sad because his mom was recently diagnosed with cancer. He explained that he feels worried, and it’s hard for him to focus.

Hazel called home, and the student’s mother confirmed her diagnosis. They discussed how to help manage the child’s stress, and Hazel offered to connect the child with counseling resources through the school. The mother was very grateful for the guidance and was eager to get her child help during a stressful time.
Counselor Story
Hazel Health has been integral this year in getting our students the mental health services needed to help them live healthy lives.  The staff has been attentive, prompt, and resourceful. There is an evident sense of caring for the work they do and the students they serve. It has been a pleasure partnering with Hazel Health in providing mental wellness for our Garland ISD families.