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My Coast Guard
Commentary | Jan. 15, 2021

Here’s what you need to know about the COVID-19 vaccine

By COVID-19 Incident Management Team

Vaccines are an important tool to help fight the disease and bring an end to the pandemic. In late 2020, two vaccines received Emergency Use Authorizations (EUA) when the Food and Drug Administration (FDA determined their safety and efficacy. Clinical trial data submitted to the FDA demonstrated the benefits of each vaccine and showed that their minor side effects presented far less medical risk then the harms of becoming infected with COVID-19. At the time of posting this article, far more than nine million COVID-19 doses have been administered throughout the United States, showing widespread support for the vaccine. 

Rear Admiral Dana Thomas, the Coast Guard's chief medical officer, receives the COVID-19 vaccine at the Coast Guard Base National Capital Region clinic, Jan. 7, 2021. Rear Admiral Dana Thomas, the Coast Guard’s chief medical officer, has a message for every member of the Coast Guard family encouraging everyone to get vaccinated. 

“This vaccine is safe and effective,” Thomas said. “The chance that you will experience a major adverse reaction is about one in 250,000. As a humanitarian service, as a Coast Guard member, we have a responsibility to protect ourselves, our families, and our fellow Americans by being vaccinated.”

Why should I get the vaccine?

Everyone above the age of 18 is recommended to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, with a few medical exceptions. Based on what we know about vaccines for other diseases and data from clinical trials, Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) experts believe that getting a COVID-19 vaccine will help keep you from getting seriously ill even if you do get COVID-19.  To date, over 375,000 Americans have died from COVID-19 and thousands of others have suffered long-term debilitating symptoms. Vaccine test results indicate 95% effectiveness against this deadly disease. As the number of COVID-19 related of hospitalizations continue to grow, and the medical system is stressed to the limit, it’s more important than ever before to prevent serious illness.

The vaccine works with your immune system to fight the virus if you are exposed. For now, it does not mean you can go back to normal life. The only way to defeat the pandemic is by using a combination of the vaccine and the safety practices we have been using. Once 70-80% of Americans are vaccinated, we will achieve what scientists call “herd immunity” and the amount of circulating virus will dramatically decline. This is the only path to normalcy, and it is the best defense to protect yourself and your friends and family.

You may have already have been exposed to COVID-19, and believe that there’s no reason to get vaccinated if you’ve developed immunity. However, the CDC reports that naturally gained immunity may only last 90 days from onset of COVID-19 exposure.

The approval process

The first step in approving a vaccine for public use in the United States is clinical trials. Vaccine makers enroll tens of thousands of volunteers into clinical trials. The FDA uses the data from these trials to determine if a vaccine is safe and effective. Once the FDA makes this determination, as they have for the COVID-19 vaccine, a committee of medical and public health experts called the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) convenes to review available data before making vaccine recommendations to the CDC. As of Dec. 31, 2020, two vaccines have gone through this process and are now in use under an EUA.

The intense safety protocols and scrutiny do not stop once a vaccine has been authorized. Vaccine safety monitoring systems around the country watch for side effects that may not have been picked up in the clinical trials. Should an unexpected safety concern come up, experts review the information and can decide whether changes are needed to the vaccine recommendations. Continued safety monitoring is a crucial step to ensuring that the benefits of the vaccine outweigh any potential risks to it. 

The side effects

Much like the flu vaccines, there are some normal side effects when you receive the COVID-19 vaccine. This is simply a sign that it is working and your body is building protections against the actual virus. You may have arm soreness and flu-like symptoms after receiving the vaccine, and it can impact your ability to do daily activities. However, these symptoms should dissipate after a few days. Many experience no symptoms at all.

Many Coast Guard members from the deckplate level to the senior leadership levels have received their vaccine. When your opportunity arises, your command will let you know when and where you can go to receive the vaccine.

Remember, this is one crucial way to fight this disease and keep ourselves, and our communities, safe and healthy.