By Chet P. Hewitt, President and CEO, The Center at Sierra Health Foundation

COVID-19 vaccinations are currently in full force, with over 20 million Californians currently having received one of the three FDA approved vaccines. President Biden recently announced vaccine eligibility expansion for all adult Americans beginning April 19, while every Californian 16 and up are eligible for vaccination on April 15.

As vaccinations continue at a notable pace, the State of California is committed to providing sufficient, transparent and comprehensive information about the safety and distribution of the COVID-19 vaccines. The below FAQ is Part II of a series of commonly asked questions and answers on vaccine safety and distribution focused on educating the Black and African American community on the safety of the vaccines and to help them understand the importance of these vaccines and their role in helping end the pandemic for all Californians. 

Vaccine Safety 

 Q: Should people who have experienced anaphylactic reactions not take the vaccine?

 A: Allergic reactions to the COVID-19 vaccines are rare and very few people have had severe adverse reactions. If someone normally has allergic reactions to the flu vaccine or other severe allergies, they should report that to their health providers in advance of receiving the COVID-19 vaccines.

Q: I have never had a flu shot; will I be allowed to take the vaccine? 

A: Yes, you can still receive the COVID-19 vaccines even if you have never had a flu shot. If you have specific questions, please talk to your healthcare provider, local community clinic or a public health office.

Q: How long does the immunity last with the Pfizer vaccine? 

A: How long the vaccine will provide immunity from the virus is still unknown, but scientists are hard at work studying this. It is important to remember to continue to take safety precautions, including mask wearing and hand-washing, even after receiving the vaccines.

Q: If I get vaccinated which vaccines would be considered the best one?A: The best vaccine is the one you can get as quickly as possible. All three vaccines went through rigorous clinical trials and are proven to be both safe and effective for adults. The bottom line is these vaccines protect against hospitalization and death. The effects of COVID-19 are far scarier than any potential risk associated with the vaccines.

Q: How can we start addressing the vaccines concerns based on potential long-term side effects like infertility and birth defects when the data/evidence doesn’t exist yet?

A: Although COVID-19 mRNA vaccines are new, this type of vaccine has been studied in people before. mRNA vaccines against HIV, rabies, Zika and flu have been tested in phase 1 and phase 2 trials in people. The technology has also been used in clinical trials as a way to treat some cancers. These efforts provided important information about mRNA technology and its safety.

Because of the knowledge gained with other vaccines, the FDA required companies making COVID-19 vaccines to follow trial participants for a minimum of eight weeks before they could submit their data for approval.

Q: Who investigated the findings that are being submitted by the pharmacology corporations and/or actual researchers?

A: The Western States Scientific Safety Review Workgroup was created to concurrently and independently review the Food and Drug Administrations (FDA) actions related to COVID-19 vaccinations. The panel is made up of nationally acclaimed scientists with expertise in immunization and public health. The Workgroup confirmed that Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effective and that the federal review process was comprehensive. With a unanimous recommendation, the panel of experts endorsed the transparency and validity of the analyses, determined equity had been considered in clinical trials, and recommended vaccines be accessible without delay. The Workgroup will continue to evaluate other COVID-19 vaccines.

 Q: What’s being done to address federally qualified health centers and other local clinics who cannot reserve vaccines doses for their patients and community members? Is there a larger effort underway in L.A County?

A: California in partnership with the Biden Administration, as well as local community and health organizations have placed megasites and mobile vaccination clinics in many different key areas throughout the state. The state will also continue to reach out to underserved communities with trusted voices to share that the vaccines are safe and effective, and how and where to get vaccinated when it’s their turn.

Remember, the COVID-19 vaccines are safe, effective and free. For more information on COVID-19 and the vaccine’s distribution process, please visit www.covid19.ca.gov. Sign up at MyTurn.CA.Gov or call (833) 422-4255 to register to be notified when it’s your turn to receive the vaccine.