Unanswered Questions About the COVID-19 Vaccine

  • The FDA authorized the first COVID-19 vaccine for use in December 2020. The second vaccine produced by Moderna was also authorized in the same month.
  • Despite the authorizations, there are still a couple of unanswered questions about the vaccine – questions bordering on its effectiveness and how long it will offer protection.
  • This article will consider some frequently asked questions about the COVID-19 vaccines as well as when we might have the answers.

Statistics and data are based on what’s obtained at the time of publication. Certain information may be out of date. Our coronavirus resource has the most recent information on the pandemic.

Operation Warp Speed was launched during the early days of the pandemic to research and create a vaccine for COVID-19 within the shortest possible time.

The FDA on December 14, 2020, announced the first COVID-19 vaccine – the Pfizer-BioNTech. It was approved for emergency use authorization, meaning that millions would be able to receive vaccinations against COVID-19.

But despite the breakthrough, there are still a couple of questions about the COVID-19 vaccine and what lies ahead. Below are the questions and seemingly potential answers.

1.      Does the authorization of the vaccines signal an end to double-blind vaccine trials?

At least 37,000 participants were involved in the Pfizer vaccine trial. Most of the participants were in the United States. More than 18,000 people were vaccinated and a similar number received a placebo.

While enough data may have been collected for the emergency use authorization, many researchers believe that trials will continue, particularly with the original participants.

Why? Because this will enable the experts to monitor the side effects for the long-term.

2.     What is the timeline of the vaccine’s effectiveness?

Considering the speed at which the FDA approved the vaccine, one wonders how long it will be effective.

We all know that SARS-CoV-2 was discovered towards the end of 2019. But results from Pfizer’s and Moderna’s clinical trials (which began at the end of July 2020) suggest that the vaccines may be able to offer long-term protection, although the actual timeline is unknown.

Data from clinical research shows continued protection right from the start. Continuous monitoring will help us understand the long-term immunity potential of the vaccine.

3.     How effective will the COVID-19 vaccine be in the general population?

While the vaccine offers strong protection against COVID-19, there’s a slight chance of one getting the virus even after vaccination.

The vaccine doesn’t offer protection immediately. It takes time, and there’s no all-around perfect vaccine.

The Pfizer vaccine is 95% effective, at least as stated by regulators. On the other hand, the Moderna vaccine has a 94% effectiveness.

It takes a couple of weeks after vaccination for the body to begin building immunity. The implication is that one may still develop complications from the virus before or even just after receiving the vaccine.

4.     Will pregnant people receive the vaccination? If yes, when?

It is important to note that pregnant people were not included in the COVID-19 vaccine trials. This is not surprising as vaccine and drug producers have always been reluctant to include pregnant people in clinical trials due to fear of hurting the pregnancy.

There are planned studies in pregnant people despite the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) advocacy for inclusion in the initial trials.

Data from reproductive and developmental studies are ongoing, and further studies are ongoing. Several experts have warned that complications of COVID-19 may be very harmful in pregnant women – worse than any potential outcome of the mRNA vaccine that has been authorized by the FDA.

5.     Can breastfeeding women get vaccinated?

No formal studies have been done on the effects of the COVID-19 vaccine on lactating women.

Studies by the CDC show that breastfeeding people who are part of the recommended groups to receive the vaccine (healthcare workers, for instance), may choose to receive the vaccine.

It is worth knowing that both the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines are mRNA vaccines and may not be harmful to a breastfeeding baby.

6.     Can COVID-19 patients receive the vaccine as well?

Yes! Those who already have the virus can still be vaccinated.

It is important to note that the natural infection with the virus confers some degree of immunity to an individual. However, it doesn’t offer full protection.

Vaccines are designed to neutralize the vaccine as well as its infection capabilities.

There have been reports of former COVID patients having a recurring infection. When you get vaccinated, you have drastically reduced your chances of having a second infection and can also help to prevent vulnerable people from getting infected.

7.      Will I have to get the vaccine every year?

People who participated in the clinical trials received their vaccination towards the end of July. By December, the emergency authorization of the vaccine had been granted.

As such, we do not know how long the immunity will last. The clinical trial participants are still under close observation, so data is only available since then.