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VAX Facts: What you need to know about the COVID-19 vaccines

KARE 11's Chris Hrapsky answers some of the most common questions about the coronavirus vaccines.

GOLDEN VALLEY, Minn. — KARE 11's Chris Hrapsky answers some of the most frequently asked questions surrounding the COVID-19 vaccine:

If you're 65 and older or in one of the other categories being offered limited COVID-19 vaccine doses, what should you know?

Governor Walz announced on Jan. 18 that nine community COVID vaccine sites will open in Minnesota. Adults 65 and older, prekindergarten through 12th grade teachers and staff and child care workers are eligible. Appointments will be available at mn.gov/vaccine starting at noon on Tuesday, Jan. 19.

Vaccinations will begin Thursday, Jan. 21. School districts will work with their staff, and child care programs will be randomly selected and notified.

State officials warn that demand will outstrip supply. MDH is asking that educators and child care workers go through their employers rather than making appointments online, due to the limited supply of vaccine doses. 

More information can be found here

If you’ve had COVID-19 and recovered, should you get a vaccine?

Yes. Roughly 9% of Minnesotans have officially tested positive for the virus. If you’ve had COVID-19 and recovered, state health officials say patients have at least 90 days of immunity from another infection.

Two recent studies, from Australia and South Korea, show antibodies can last six to eight months after infection. And a vaccine will only extend your protection.

“If you’ve had COVID-19, yes, we do recommend you get vaccinated,” said Kris Ehresmann, director of the Minn. Dept. of Health Infectious Disease Epidemiology, Prevention, and Control Division.

If you currently have COVID-19, should you get a vaccine? 

No.

State and federal health officials say this is to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

“If you currently have COVID, you should stay home,” said Patsy Stinchfield, nurse practitioner and senior director of infection prevention and control at Children’s Minnesota and a liaison to the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices. “You should not go to a public vaccine place. You should recover and not get vaccinated while you are acutely ill.”

The advice is to wait until you can leave isolation, which according to the CDC is 10 days after first symptoms and 24 hours without fever.

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How quickly does the vaccine start to produce antibodies?

Clinical vaccine trials showed some protection at seven days after the shot, according to Ehresmann.

Seven days is when the body starts showing replicated antibodies. However, the vaccine’s full, 95% protection needs at least 28 days and two shots with the Pfizer vaccine, and 35 days and two shots with Moderna’s.

So, just because you got the shot, does not mean you are protected right away.

Why aren’t clinics, hospitals and pharmacies vaccinating people 24-7?

Good question. With roughly 400,000 vaccines delivered to the state, but only one-third of them put into arms, you might think they could start really ramping up? Well, it’s complicated.

According to Ehresmann, it’s not like a food truck where you stand in line and order till the food runs out. There are massive logistics to work out.

Each time the state gets a batch of vaccine, it’s allocated to various hospital systems, public health departments and pharmacies, and it’s up to those cites to arrange vaccination for specific groups that qualify so far.

Not to mention, at this point the directive is to save a second dose for every patient. So health officials warn that it may appear that vaccines aren’t going into arms, but the statistics also reflect second doses waiting for patients in need of that full protection.

“We knew that initially it would take a little while to ramp up because of the process of education, training and setting up sites. But now that that’s happened our expectation is that the vaccination numbers should add up quickly,” said Ehresmann.

RELATED: Live updates: MDH unveils new COVID-19 vaccine dashboard

For instance, Children’s Minnesota gets about 1,000 vaccine doses a week. They give them to qualifying employees until they run out and then wait for the next batch.

“Our biggest rate-limiting factor is supply. So for Children’s, we would do 24-7 and we have been ready to go vaccinating evening nights and weekends, but our supply has been very limited,” said Patsy Stinchfield, nurse practitioner and Senior Director of Infection Prevention and Control at Children’s Minnesota.

When will the vaccine arrive to your hospital, your clinic or your pharmacy and how will you know when it’s your turn to get a shot?

Bottom line is health officials can’t yet answer either question, because it all depends on supply.

“Our hope is that as more vaccine comes online, that we will be able to speed through these groups,” said Ehresmann.

The state’s vaccine plan includes groups broken down into three phases and subphases.

Phase 1

1a – High-risk health care workers and many long-term care residents.

1b – Frontline essential workers and adults over 75 years old (expected in February)

1c – Includes adults 65-74, people 16-64 with high risk conditions and other essential workers.

Phase 2

Includes adults in hard hit communities, according to the MDH.

Phase 3

Any provider will have access to vaccine, and anyone who wants it, can get it.

However, an announcement from federal health officials on Jan. 12 essentially asks that Phase 1b and Phase 1c be moved up immediately.

Minnesota health officials are cautious about this, because they don’t have the doses to support the federal plan change yet.

According to Health Partners, most community-based health care providers will not have an active vaccination role in Phase 1.

When might we get to Phase 3? 

Ehresmann’s best guess would be summer, as more manufacturers will be able to boost supply.

RELATED: Infectious disease doctor answers your questions about the new Moderna vaccine

What's different about mRNA vaccines than other types people normally get?

Instead of being a dead virus or weakened virus going into our bodies, like with the flu, polio or mumps shots, the messenger RNA vaccine tells our bodies to make one kind of protein the coronavirus uses to attach to our cells and then build antibodies for that protein so it can’t attach.

There is no actual virus in the mRNA vaccine and no potential to get COVID-19 from it.

Also, mRNA is way cheaper and faster to make, which is good in a global pandemic. There's no need to incubate viruses in chicken eggs; there’s no need to grow a virus at all. Scientists, like Marc Jenkins, Director of the Center for Immunology at the University of Minnesota say the only drawback with mRNA is that it is fragile. These molecules are designed to deliver a message and then break down. So, this is why they must be kept in temperatures below -70 degrees F.

“It’s kind of like Snapchat,” said Patsy Stinchfield, a nurse practitioner and senior director of infection prevention at Children's Minnesota. “Our cells are like ‘hey turn this on, turn this off,’ and the message goes away. Or like a sticky note that gets placed. ‘Don’t do this. Kill that. Work on that.’ In this case it is sending in a message that says ‘Here is a new protein. It’s a bad player. Make antibodies against it.’"

How long until you get protection from the vaccine? 

After a patient gets the shot, the body will start the process of making antibodies right away. However, the process of building up those antibodies takes time.

“After the first dose you will be about 50 percent protected. After the second dose, which is 21 days later, you will be upwards of 94, 95% protected,” said Stinchfield.

In total, immunity happens at a minimum of 7 days after the second dose. How long it lasts is still unclear.

Can kids take the COVID-19 vaccine?

No, not yet. But testing for a pediatric vaccine is being done right now, part of it here in the Twin Cities.

“We are very anxious to get a vaccine to our kids. We are projecting closer to summertime for the studies to be done and robust enough to be given to children,” said Stinchfield.

Is it safe and/or normal to ask for youth to volunteer in a vaccine trial? 

“Children in research is a very normal thing that we do. We do it and have seen great strides in reducing pediatric cancers because children have been in trials. Flip it around. How ethical is it to not protect children? How ethical is it to give them a vaccine we haven't studied in them? So, we are trying to do this carefully and thoughtfully and it's going to be the best thing to vaccinate all of us,” said Stinchfield.

Do you have to take the same brand of vaccine for both doses?

Yes. The Pfizer and Moderna versions of the vaccine have slightly different doses of mRNA in them. They work the same way, but you shouldn't interchange them, according to the CDC, which says it still doesn’t know how the two vaccines would react taken together.

Also, the doses of the Pfizer vaccine are recommended to be taken three weeks apart. The Moderna vaccine is recommended to be taken four weeks apart.

How will clinics, pharmacies and hospitals know who received a vaccine? 

The State of Minnesota will keep track of who got the vaccine, when they got it, and which type they received through the registry.

“We will put people into our local Minnesota immunization registry and keep track of it that way. Pharmacies, hospitals, clinics all have access to that. So it will all be recorded,” said Stinchfield.

She said patients can opt out of the registry as well.

Does a new coronavirus variant found in the U.K. mean the vaccine won't work? 

Not necessarily. Most viruses mutate. Some more than others. Scientists say this isn't a big surprise. At this point, there is no research indicating this variant is more or less contagious or deadly, or if the vaccine won't work against it. Scientists are keeping an eye on it.