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Q&A: Infectious Diseases Physician Weighs in on COVID-19 Vaccines

| Date Posted: 4/2/2021

Dr. Arnoczy receives her first COVID-19 vaccine in December 2020.


PINEHURST, N.C. - COVID-19 vaccines first went into arms at the end of 2020, and in March, FirstHealth expanded eligibility at its clinics to anyone 18 years and older. But many people still have questions – and concerns – about the vaccine process, what to expect when they get a shot and more. Dr. Gretchen Arnoczy, a FirstHealth Infectious Diseases Physician who has been on the frontline of the system’s response to COVID-19 since it began more than a year ago, has some answers to frequently asked questions about the virus and the vaccine.


It seems like COVID-19 cases are on the decline. Should I still be worried?
Yes, COVID-19 remains a large threat to our communities and health care infrastructure across the Sandhills, North Carolina and the country. Even though we have been thrilled to see cases fall, now is not the time to let down our guard. It’s why we are still encouraging everyone to adhere to the 3 Ws – wear a mask, wash your hands and wait 6 feet apart. It’s also why we are pushing to vaccinate as many people as we can, because the COVID-19 vaccines are just one of the tools we have at our disposal to end this pandemic. The more people that practice the 3 Ws and get vaccinated, the sooner we can all return to the normal we’ve longed for since March 2020.


I’m worried about vaccine side effects. What should I expect?
Yes, you may have some side effects, but that is a normal sign that your body is building up protection. The most common side effects are pain, redness and swelling in the arm where you received the shot, as well as tiredness, headache, muscle pain, fever, chills and nausea. Side effects may be more intense after you receive your second shot, but again that is a good sign that your immune system is working.


Can a COVID-19 vaccine make me sick with COVID-19?
Put simply - no. None of the authorized and recommended COVID-19 vaccines or COVID-19 vaccines currently in development in the United States contain the live virus that causes COVID-19. This means that a COVID-19 vaccine cannot make you sick with COVID-19.


I had COVID already. Should I still get vaccinated? 
Yes. We don’t know yet how long you might be protected from getting sick again after recovering from COVID-19, but you should still be vaccinated. If you were treated with monoclonal antibodies or convalescent plasma for COVID-19, you should wait 90 days before getting vaccinated. You should also talk to your doctor if you are unsure of the treatments you received or if you have more questions about getting a vaccine.


I’m pregnant. Should I go ahead and get vaccinated?
Based on how COVID-19 vaccines work, experts think they are unlikely to pose a specific risk to pregnant people. Systems are in place to continue to monitor vaccine safety, and so far, they have not identified any specific safety concerns for pregnant people. Clinical trials to evaluate the safety and efficacy of COVID-19 vaccines in pregnant people are underway or planned. Talk with your OB/GYN or doctor to make the best decision for you. If you are pregnant and have received a COVID-19 vaccine, we encourage you to enroll in v-safe, CDC’s smartphone-based tool that provides personalized health check-ins after vaccination.


How long does the vaccine protect me from COVID-19?
There is still research happening in this area, but early data is great. Pfizer said this week that 12,000 people involved in their Phase 3 trial experienced high levels of protection from the virus six months after their second dose, with no serious safety concerns. That is great news.


Do I need to wear a mask and keep my distance from others after I’m fully vaccinated?
This answer is complex, so I’ll say it depends. According to the CDC, fully vaccinated people can gather indoors without masks with other people who are also fully vaccinated or unvaccinated people from one other household (assuming no one present has an increased risk of severe illness from COVID-19). But until we know more, fully vaccinated people should continue to wear masks and stay 6 feet apart from other people in other settings, like when they are in public or visiting with unvaccinated people from multiple households.


How do I register for a vaccine appointment?
Visit and click “schedule a vaccine online” or call our vaccine hotline, 910-715-SHOT.

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