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Teachers, faculty and staff members wait outside to recieve their first dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine at Clarke Central High School on Wednesday, March 10, 2021. (Photo/Zachary Tate, ztate@randb.com)

The Red & Black asked current readers what their most important questions about the COVID-19 vaccines were. Here are the answers from our health data reporter.

Where can I get the vaccine?

People can get the COVID-19 vaccine at various pharmacies and clinics. Georgia has also set up mass vaccination sites. All this information can be found on the Georgia Department of Public Health’s website. In Athens, vaccinations are available at Piedmont Hospital, the University of Georgia’s University Health Center, local pharmacies and private companies such as Kroger, Publix, CVS, Walgreens and Walmart.

How do mRNA vaccines work? Am I getting infected by the actual virus?

No, the vaccine does not infect you with the actual virus. Every day, people produce mRNA. DNA in the nucleus is used to produce mRNA, which is then sent to the cytoplasm to act as a template for the production of proteins. Most of the time, the proteins generated are needed to keep our bodies running smoothly.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, COVID-19 mRNA vaccines tell our cells to produce a harmless bit of protein known as the "spike protein." Our immune systems know that the protein isn't meant to be there, so they start developing a response and generating antibodies, much as in a normal infection of COVID-19.

Our bodies have mastered how to shield themselves from infection at the end of the process. Like all vaccines, the advantage of mRNA vaccines is that people who are vaccinated receive this immunity without ever having to risk the severe effects of contracting COVID-19.

What are the possible side effects of the vaccine?

The most common side effects from the vaccines are:

  • Injection site pain and less often redness or swelling
  • Headache
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle aches
  • Fever

Commonly, side effects occur within the first or second day after each vaccine dose, and only last a few days.

Was the vaccine hastily created?

Although COVID-19 vaccines were produced at a faster pace than ever before, it was critical that speed did not compromise safety.

Mass funding, global health unity, and urgent care are all considerations taken when the COVID-19 vaccine was being worked on. Additionally, a lot of research was present on other coronaviruses, like MERS-CoV and the first SARS-CoV, which helped scientists learn about the specific COVID-19 virus.

Who is eligible for the vaccine?

Eligibility differs between states. To find out if you are eligible, you can check on the DPH’s website here. These eligibilities are subject to change. Recently, all adults over the age of 16 have been deemed eligible to get vaccinated in Georgia.

The University of Georgia emailed their recent vaccination plan and update on Wednesday. The information on that email can be found here.

Do I have to pay for the vaccine?

The vaccines are being given free of charge by the federal government to all people residing in the United States, regardless of immigration or health care status.

Should I get vaccinated even if I have already had COVID-19?

Whether or not you have already had COVID-19, you can and should get vaccinated. That's because scientists aren't sure how long you'll be safe from getting sick after recovering from COVID-19. Even though you have recovered from COVID-19, it is possible (though unlikely) that you will become infected with the COVID-19 virus again.

Is the vaccine dangerous?

No. According to current reports, COVID-19 vaccines have a very strong safety profile. The vaccines that have been approved by the FDA for emergency use have been put through massive clinical trials. The established and possible harms of contracting COVID-19 are greater than the vaccines' potential safety risks.

After getting vaccinated, do I still have to wear a mask?

Yes, people who are vaccinated should still wear a mask. The vaccine would shield the vast majority of people from COVID-19. Vaccinated individuals, on the other hand, might also be able to spread the virus even though they have no symptoms. As a result, everyone should continue to wear masks as a precaution.

What is the difference between the three vaccines that are out?

Both the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines were introduced as a two-dose administration process. The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine demonstrated a 95% efficacy rate after both doses — 21 days apart — and Moderna showed a 94.1% efficacy rate after both doses — 28 days apart. Johnson & Johnson produced a one-dose-only administration vaccine with a recent efficacy of 67%. All vaccines are safe for administration.