By Amber Kurka
Special to GUIDON
Over the last several weeks, vaccines for COVID-19 have been rolled out to locations around the world.
The vaccines are currently only approved for emergency use and are not mandatory for Department of Defense personnel and beneficiaries at this time. However, military health officials urged prioritized DoD personnel and beneficiaries to get vaccinated to protect their health, their families and their community, and lower the public health risks associated with the COVID-19 pandemic.
To help set the record straight on the vaccine, Lt. Col. Ronald Cole, Public Health Command- Pacific’s Human Health Services director and a public health nurse, shared his experience receiving the vaccine, as well as advice and tips to consider.
“As a public health nurse, getting the COVID-19 vaccine was important for me in order to maintain mission readiness,” he said. “The FDA has ensured the safety for U.S. citizens by enforcing strict standards on all vaccines, so I trust the system and I understand the importance vaccinations play in protecting the public. Being vaccinated with a COVID-19 vaccine is really important in developing herd immunity which can control the spread of the virus and support returning to a more familiar way of life.”
While those who are offered the first-available vaccine are considered to be in groups that are most in need of COVID-19 protection, vaccinated people are protecting themselves, as well as their families and all those they interact with.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, all COVID-19 vaccines currently available in the U.S. have been shown to be highly effective at preventing COVID-19.
“Based on what we know about vaccines for other diseases and early data from clinical trials, experts believe that getting a vaccine may also help keep you from getting seriously ill even if you do get COVID-19,” Cole explained.
Even if someone has already had COVID-19, the CDC recommends people should still get vaccinated.
“The duration of immunity following COVID-19 infection is unknown, and the vaccine may be effective in protecting previously infected people,” Cole added.
The CDC said current evidence suggests reinfection with COVID-19 is uncommon during the 90 days after initial infection. However, experts don’t know for sure how long this protection lasts, and the risk of severe illness or death from COVID-19 far outweighs any benefits of natural immunity.
“COVID-19 vaccination will help protect people by creating an antibody (immune system) response without having to experience sickness,” Cole said.
One myth Cole said he wants to dispel is that it is possible to get COVID-19 from vaccinations.
“Vaccines against COVID-19 use inactivated virus, parts of the virus, or a gene from the virus,” he said. “In short, the vaccines do not contain SARS-CoV-2 and cannot give you COVID-19. History has proven that vaccines are tools to prevent serious complications that result from certain diseases — COVID-19 is no exception.”
While some people may experience flu-like symptoms such as aches, headache and fever, Cole pointed out those are normal reactions to most vaccines.
“These symptoms occur with all vaccines and naturally when bacteria or viruses enter your body,” he said. “Your immune system reacts to the foreign substance and stores a memory of the invader and create antibodies as a protective measure for future encounters.”
Vaccines work with the immune system to fight the virus. The CDC recommends continuing to follow other steps, like wearing a face mask and staying at least 6 feet away from others, to help reduce the chance of being exposed to the virus or spreading it to others, even after being vaccinated.
“Stopping a global pandemic requires using all the tools available,” Cole said. “Together, getting a COVID-19 vaccination and following the CDC’s recommendations on how to protect yourself and others will offer the best protection from getting and spreading the virus.”
The DoD remains dedicated to providing the latest information about the vaccines available as they are released so that personnel and TRICARE beneficiaries can make informed decisions.
“We must remain vigilant to protect those on the front lines and the high-risk population during this COVID-19 pandemic to save lives, protect our people, maintain readiness and support our nation,” Cole said. “In order to achieve our goals and end this global pandemic, we must be vaccinated against COVID-19. For me, I am looking forward to receiving my second vaccine in mid-January as my duty of protecting those I love.”
For the latest information on COVID-19 vaccinations, visit: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/vaccines/faq.html.
(Editor’s note: Kurka is a Public Affairs Specialist at Tripler Army Medical Center in Honolulu, Hawaii.)