COVID-19 Vaccine for Older Adults: Common Questions Answered

Article at a glance
  • With the rapid production and rollout of the coronavirus vaccine, a lot of questions hang that patients want answers to. To learn more about general vaccine questions, such as which vaccines are available and when you can receive them, read this section

  • As with most vaccines, side effects are common as they indicate that a body’s immune system is properly responding. To learn more about the side effects associated with the COVID-19 vaccine and how to relieve them, read this section.

  • Many wonder about the vaccine’s long-term effectiveness and pose many questions surrounding the vaccine’s safety. Through various trials, all approved COVID-19 vaccines have proved to have high efficacy and safety rates. However, research into the vaccines and their success is ongoing as the virus continues to develop. To learn more about the vaccine’s efficacy, read this section.

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the coronavirus dispro­por­tion­ately affects older adults due to their weakened immune systems and various comorbid conditions. The majority of hospitalizations are attributed to those 55 and older and nearly all who have died are at least over 50. Due to the serious effects and risks this virus poses to older communities, they have been made the priority on vaccine rollout lists throughout the country. With so many dead and dying in our country and the world, it’s imperative to seniors’ health that they are vaccinated. But first, it’s necessary that they understand the benefits and risks that come along with the COVID-19 vaccination process.

COVID-19 Vaccine and Preventative Care

Preventive care covers any routine service whose goal is to prevent future illnesses, conditions, or diseases. Certain routine services include but are not limited to recommended vaccinations, screenings, and/​or check-ups. An example of preventive care would be a patient visiting their dermatologist once a year to screen for any cancerous moles or skin patches. Another example would be patients over the age of 50 getting a colonoscopy to screen for any issues in their colon. Preventive care is a major goal for healthcare professionals because it allows them to help their patients stop any problems before they even begin. 

Knowing the benefits of preventive medicine aids a patient in understanding why receiving vaccines such as the COVID-19 vaccine is so crucial. Getting vaccinated helps a patient remain protected from the virus in case they encounter it in the future. Especially for older patients and those with immuno­com­pro­mising conditions, this vaccine is crucial as these groups are more likely to develop severe coronavirus symptoms or complications. Not to mention, the sooner every individual can get the coronavirus vaccine, the sooner we as a society can build herd immunity and eventually, eradicate the virus.

Preventive Care Tips

Understanding preventive care and how to incorporate it into your annual health care plan can be tricky. Here are some tips to guide you while making a yearly care plan and how to incorporate the COVID-19 vaccine into that plan.

  • Research and Plan: Prior to seeing a doctor or receiving the vaccine, it’s important to research it on your own. Doing so allows you to gather your own questions, comments, or concerns you might have regarding the vaccine and your personal healthcare needs. Write down any questions you have or concerns regarding the vaccine and current medical conditions. Writing things down before you go can help you to remember your thoughts and make sure you leave feeling knowledgeable about your decision.

  • Talk to a Doctor: Prior to receiving the vaccine, address any concerns you have and ask questions that are lingering in your mind. Costs and medical benefits are important to include in this conversation as well. An advantage of Oak Street Health is that their healthcare workers are prepared and willing to walk any patient through their medical benefits so they understand what they’re eligible for.

  • Location: Meeting with your primary care physician to receive the shot will boost your comfortability because you are familiar with them and they are aware of your healthcare wants and needs. Not to mention, if transportation is an issue, Oak Street Health is able to provide their patients with free transport to and from their facilities, so receive the shot in a place that is familiar and inviting.

General Vaccine Questions

Which vaccines are available within the United States?

Currently, two vaccines are available within the United States which are the Pfizer vaccine and the Moderna vaccine.

Does it matter which vaccine I get?

At this time, both vaccines are proven to be highly effective and pose little to no safety concerns. Due to the vaccines being comparable, it does not matter which vaccine a patient receives, and is more important for the patient to get the first vaccine made available to them.

How does the vaccination process work?

Prior to getting vaccinated, it’s important to check your local regulations to ensure you are eligible to receive the vaccine. Once it’s time to receive the vaccine, both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are administered in the patient’s upper arm. Before going home, the patient should receive a vaccine card or printout that lists the vaccine received, when they received it, and where they received it. For the Pfizer vaccine, the patient should return to get their second dose 21 days later. For the Moderna vaccine, the patient should return to get their second dose 28 days later. However, if a patient is unable to get their second dose appointment close to that timeframe, the CDC notes that there can be a maximum time of 6 weeks between the doses.

When can I receive the vaccine?

Oak Street Health is solely treating those 65 and older that live near their facilities. However, there are other centers that offer vaccines to various groups of people. 

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommended that the first round of doses go to healthcare personnel and long-term care facility residents. From there, frontline essential workers such as firefighters, police officers, U.S. postal workers, etc., and those over 75 years of age should be vaccinated. From this point forward, those aged 65 and older, those over 16 years of age with underlying conditions, and other essential workers such as those in transportation, food service, etc., should be vaccinated. 

Each state has the authority to design their own vaccination timeline and distribution plan. To learn more about the plan in your state, visit this source.

If necessary, will Oak Street Health provide me with transportation to get the vaccine?

Yes, one of the benefits of Oak Street Health is that we provide free transportation to and from our offices if patients need assistance. Contact your local Oak Street Health provider today to learn more about this program.

  Covid 19 vaccine 2

Side Effect Questions

What are the side effects of the COVID-19 vaccine?

As with any vaccine, there are a variety of side effects that range from mild to severe depending on the patient and their immune system. With both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, it’s possible for side effects to occur after both doses. However, after the first dose, it’s more common to experience mild side effects at the injection site such as swelling, redness, and/​or irritation. After the second dose, it’s common to experience full-body side effects that may include chills, low-grade fever, fatigue, and/​or headaches. It’s important to note that these side effects should only last for a few days at most. Therefore, if feelings of discomfort endure, it’s important for a patient to contact their doctor.

Are those 55 and older likely to be more affected by side effects or experience adverse effects from the vaccine?

Many concerns were raised regarding the vaccine’s safety with older populations. However, studies show that older adults are actually less likely to experience side effects in comparison to younger generations. One study notes that the vaccine is better tolerated in older adults than younger adults” and that its efficacy is similar across all age groups. 

How do I diminish vaccine side effects?

Health officials recommend that patients should take acetaminophen such as Tylenol if a fever erupts and to heat or ice if their arm feels sore post-vaccination. However, it’s important to note that patients should not take these over-the-counter pain relievers (Tylenol, ibuprofen, Advil, etc.) before receiving the vaccine as they may weaken the vaccine’s efficacy.

How do I report adverse reactions?

After a patient speaks with their doctor and determines that they did or are experiencing adverse effects from the vaccine, they are encouraged to submit their story to the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS). There is also a new system in place known as V-safe,” which is a smartphone-based tool that sends patients surveys and check-in messages after being vaccinated. V-safe reminds patients to get their second COVID-19 vaccine dose, answers questions about the vaccine, and provides a place where patients can submit any concerns or side effects they experienced after being vaccinated.

Vaccine Efficacy Questions

If I already had COVID-19, do I need to be vaccinated?

Currently, it is unknown how long immunity lasts after a patient has been infected with COVID-19. Due to this, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that even patients who have previously contracted COVID-19 should be vaccinated.

If I am vaccinated, do I need to wear a mask and comply with social distancing?

Yes because even though a patient is vaccinated, there is a chance they are still able to asymptomatically spread COVID-19 to others.

Will booster shots be needed for the vaccine?

Currently, there are no studies pointing towards the need for booster shots.

Does the vaccine protect against the new strain of coronavirus?

At this time, the new virus variants are not resisting the vaccine. However, experts note that due to the quick rate at which the variants are evolving, it is possible they may eventually mutate into a vaccine-resistant phenotype. If they do continue to evolve, the vaccine may have to be updated in coming years so experts are closely monitoring the vaccine and its efficacy against these strains.

Can I get COVID-19 even if I’m vaccinated?

Both vaccines have proven highly effective at preventing a patient from contracting the coronavirus. While it’s extremely rare, it is still possible that a patient may contract COVID-19 after being vaccinated. Full protection by both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines does not commence until two weeks after the second dose of the vaccine. The Pfizer vaccine is proven to have 52% protection after the first dose and 95% protection after the second. The Moderna vaccine is proven to have 80.2% protection after the first dose and 94.1% protection after the second.

Vaccine Safety Questions

Can I receive other vaccines alongside the COVID-19 vaccine?

The CDC recommends that both vaccines are administered solo, without the interference of any other vaccines. A patient must not receive another vaccine within 14 days before or after getting their first or second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.

Can I have the first dose be from Pfizer and the second be from Moderna i.e. can I mix vaccine doses?

It is recommended that a patient should receive the same vaccine for each of their doses. The vaccine type a patient received should be listed on the vaccine card given to them on the day they were vaccinated.

Vaccine Cost Questions

How much does it cost for me to get the COVID-19 vaccine?

Under the CARES Act, the COVID-19 vaccine is free for any American that wants one. To learn more about COVID-19 vaccine costs and how they are covered, visit this source.

Note: One of the benefits of Oak Street Health is the support they offer in explaining which benefits patients are eligible for within their Medicare plan. While Medicare claims they cover the COVID-19 vaccine, COVID-19 tests, COVID-19 antibody tests, etc. on their website, an agent from our team would love to answer any and all additional questions you may have.

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Experience the Oak Street Health difference, and see what it’s like to be treated by a care team who are experts at caring for older adults.

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