St. Clair Hospital FAQs for COVID-19 Vaccination

Your health and safety are important to us. We recognize that there is understandably some level of uncertainty when new vaccines are introduced. However, the risk of COVID-19 – to you and your loved ones – is very substantial. The COVID-19 vaccine is an important tool to help stop the ongoing pandemic, along with masking and physical distancing. St. Clair has put together a list of questions and answers to help provide a better understanding of this vaccine.

St. Clair is a member of the Mayo Clinic Care Network which provides the Hospital direct access to the world-renowned expertise of Mayo Clinic. We take all precautions in accordance with guidance from the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania Department of Health and the Allegheny County Health Department. 

Q&A

When will a COVID-19 Vaccine be available?

St. Clair adheres to the Pennsylvania Department of Health Interim Vaccination Plan which delineates four phases in the distribution timeline. The Plan was recently amended based on new guidance from the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP). You may find the current Plan here.

Currently, we are in Phase 1A which prioritizes long-term care residents and healthcare workers to receive the vaccine. As more supply of the vaccine becomes available, St. Clair will be offering vaccinations to others in Phase 1A, as well as those in Phases 1B, 1C, and 2 (when authorized by the Department of Health). Please monitor our website and social media accounts to follow our progress. Note that we are not pre-scheduling vaccinations or maintaining a waiting list.

Is the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine safe?

The vaccines that St. Clair and our clinical partner, Mayo Clinic, are recommending have been approved for safe use.

To receive Emergency Use Authorization, the biopharmaceutical manufacturer must have followed at least half of the study participants for at least two months after completing the vaccination series, and the vaccine must be proven safe and effective in that population. In addition to the safety review by the FDA, the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices convened a panel of vaccine safety experts to independently evaluate the safety data from the clinical trial.

Experts in vaccines at St. Clair and Mayo Clinic have reviewed available data. Efficacy trials have shown that the Pfizer vaccine prevented 95 percent of COVID-19 cases across all demographic groups. Furthermore, there were no serious safety concerns reported in the study of more than 43,600 volunteers. Only mild flu-like symptoms, as with many vaccines, were reported as side effects. The safety of COVID-19 vaccines continues to be closely monitored by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Is the COVID-19 vaccine a live vaccine?   

No, the COVID-19 vaccine does not contain a live virus and does not carry a risk of causing disease in the vaccinated person. The COVID-19 vaccine is a messenger RNA (mRNA) vaccine.

What is a mRNA vaccine?

Messenger RNA (mRNA) vaccines have strands of genetic material called mRNA inside a special coating. The mRNA enters your muscle cells and instructs the cell to make a piece of “spike protein” similar to what is seen on the coronavirus. Since it is only part of the protein, it cannot lead to COVID-19 infection. This is a trigger for your body to begin producing antibodies and to fight off what it thinks is an infection. 

Who should be vaccinated against COVID-19?

The FDA has cleared Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine for emergency use for people age 16 or older.

Federal and state authorities call for health care personnel to be offered the vaccine in the first phase of the program, starting with hospital workers, emergency responders and long-term care staff.

The initial priority is to vaccinate health care personnel who are at high occupational risk for exposure to COVID-19 and those working in roles that are essential to the COVID-19 response.

St. Clair is following the guidance provided by federal and state authorities to prioritize groups for vaccinations. The guidelines have been developed by numerous national bodies, including the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) and the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine.

As availability improves, vaccines will be offered to all others in accordance with federal and state guidelines.

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

A COVID-19 vaccine can cause mild side effects. These include transient local symptoms (pain, redness, or swelling where the shot was given) as well as transient systemic reactions (primarily headache, chills, fatigue, muscle pain, or fever). These transient reactions indicate a person’s immune system is responding to the vaccine.

Symptoms limited to fever, muscle aches, and headaches occurring within three days of vaccination and that last less than two days are likely vaccine related. These will not require any further evaluation or testing. All other symptoms should be evaluated by your doctor to determine the need for further testing and/or quarantine.

Signs of an allergic reaction include hives, swelling of the face and throat, difficulty breathing, a fast heartbeat, dizziness, and weakness. If you have any of these signs, seek care immediately.

How many doses does COVID-19 vaccination require?

With the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, two doses are given 21 days apart. Most other COVID-19 vaccines that are expected over the next few months are anticipated to be given over two doses 28 days apart.

How long will a COVID-19 vaccination offer protection?

It is not yet known how long COVID-19 vaccination will offer protection. Periodic boosters, such as with the annual flu shot, may or may not be needed. The Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine has shown to provide strong protection against COVID-19 within about 10 days of the first dose, according to the FDA. The FDA also says its analysis of clinical trial data show that the vaccine worked well regardless of age, race, or weight. The efficacy of the vaccine after the first dose is approximately 52 percent and rises to approximately 95 percent after the second dose, according to Pfizer officials.

Can those who have had COVID-19 get vaccinated for COVID-19?

Yes. It is recommend to be vaccinated for COVID-19, even for those who have had COVID-19 previously. People should wait until they are no longer infectious to get vaccinated.

Can I get the COVID-19 vaccine if I got the seasonal flu vaccine?

Yes. There are no known contraindications between the COVID-19 vaccine and the seasonal flu vaccine, but it has been recommended by the CDC to allow 14 days’ time between the COVID-19 vaccine and any other vaccine.

Will the COVID-19 vaccine be free?

There will be no out-of-pocket costs for those receiving the vaccine.

Can people with an egg allergy receive the COVID-19 vaccine?

Neither the Pfizer/BioNTech nor the Moderna Inc. vaccine contain egg.

Can I receive the vaccine if I have received monoclonal antibodies or convalescent plasma?

There is currently no data on safety or efficacy of COVID-19 vaccination in patients receiving monoclonal antibodies or convalescent plasma. Vaccination should be deferred for at least 90 days to avoid interference of the treatment with vaccine-induced immune responses. 

What if I have cancer, HIV/AIDS, history of autoimmune disease, etc?

Currently, there are no safety data of COVID-19 in these patient populations. St. Clair suggests a discussion with your healthcare provider to help you make an informed decision. If you do choose to receive the vaccine, it should be noted that there is a possibility that your immune system response may not be as strong.

Can I receive the vaccine if I am pregnant or breast feeding?

The Pfizer BioNTech vaccine received emergency use authorization from the Food and Drug Administration, including authorization to vaccinate pregnant and breastfeeding women. The U.S. Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices suggests a discussion with your healthcare advisor regarding benefits and risks to help you make an informed decision.

Aren’t masking, social distancing and self-quarantining reasonable alternatives to COVID-19 vaccination?

Given the extent of COVID-19 spread in the U.S., masking, social distancing and self-quarantining will not be enough to contain the pandemic. Developing large-scale immunity in the community through vaccination is key to stopping the pandemic.

Still, everyone will need to continue to take precautions, such as masking and physical distancing, temperature checks at home, and travel restrictions, until the spread has stopped. Until then, COVID-19 spread can continue in the community from people who have or do not have symptoms.

A person can be contagious for as many as 14 days without symptoms. A person can develop symptoms but be contagious before symptoms start. Most healthy adults may be able to infect others, beginning two days before symptoms develop and lasting up to 10 days after becoming sick.

Will persons who get the COVID-19 vaccine still have to wear face masks at all times?

Yes. While the COVID-19 vaccine is highly effective at preventing symptomatic and severe disease, it is not 100 percent effective, and it is not yet known how well it prevents asymptomatic infection, or how long its effects will last. Everyone will need to continue taking precautions like masking, physical distancing, and hand washing until the spread has stopped.