PROVIDENCE — About 44.4 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine have been delivered to states and agencies throughout the country, marking a turning point in the deadly pandemic that has killed more than 425,000 Americans. In Rhode Island, more than 62,600 people have received the first dose of vaccine, and 19,600 have been fully vaccinated as of Wednesday.
As the vaccine becomes more-widely available and state health departments wrestle with the best ways to distribute the doses, many residents wonder what they can, and cannot, do before and after getting the shots — or whether they need to get vaccinated at all.
Here are some of the questions locals have been asking about getting the COVID-19 vaccine, with answers from public health officials and other experts.
Q: My vaccine appointment is coming up, but I think I have COVID-19. Should I keep my appointment?
Call your provider to notify them and get tested, says Dr. Katrina Byrd, an adult and pediatric infectious disease fellow at Lifespan Corp. and Brown University. If you test positive, reschedule your vaccine appointment.
Q: I’ve already had COVID-19. Do I need to get vaccinated?
Even if you have recovered from COVID-19, you will still need to get the vaccine. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends waiting 90 days after infection before receiving the vaccine. There are no known issues with getting vaccinated after recovering from COVID-19. While patients who have been previously infected can develop short-term immunity against the coronavirus, Byrd explained, the vaccine is expected to provide immunity for a longer period of time.
Q: How will I know when it’s my turn to get the vaccine? Should I check online or keep an eye on the media?
Before vaccination clinics open to the general public, the R.I. Department of Health will notify the public and community partners to provide instructions. According to Annemarie Beardsworth, a Rhode Island Department of Health spokesperson, the state will offer information on eligibility and on how to sign up through the media, on RIDOH’s website, and through social media, health care providers, and community partners.
In Massachusetts, residents 75 years and older are the first priority group in Phase II and will be eligible to begin receiving the vaccine as early as Monday. Appointments can be made online, though availability is limited, and it could take several weeks to lock down an appointment, according to Massachusetts health officials.
Q: I don’t have time to get vaccinated the vaccine right now. Can I just wait until it’s more convenient?
If you are eligible for the vaccine now as part of one of the priority groups and decide not to get vaccinated at this time, RIDOH will not hold doses for you, Beardsworth said. You would have to wait until later, when your age group becomes eligible.
Q: I can’t afford health insurance. Can I still get the vaccine?
According to the CDC, the COVID-19 vaccine will be free for everyone, at least for now. While those who administer the vaccine may charge health insurance companies, they cannot charge the person being vaccinated. There will be no cost or co-pay, either. And those without health insurance will be able to receive the vaccine at no cost.
Q: I missed my appointment for my second shot. Can I skip it?
The vaccines made by Pfizer and Moderna require two shots in order for you to have maximum protection. With the Pfizer vaccine, Byrd said, receiving only one shot means you’ll still have a 50 percent chance of contracting COVID-19.
Q: I had side effects after getting the vaccine. Should I report them?
The CDC recently developed a new smartphone-based tool called V-safe that uses text messaging and web surveys to provide personalized check-ins after you receive the vaccination. Using the app, you can report any side effects you experience. The app will also remind you to receive your second dose, according to Joseph Wendelken, a spokesman for RIDOH. You can only use the app if you were vaccinated within the last six weeks.
Q: Should I get a COVID-19 test before getting the vaccine?
You do not need to get tested for COVID-19 prior to receiving the vaccine, Beardsworth said.
Q: I’ve been isolating, working from home, and following all COVID protocols. Can I just wait for everyone else to get vaccinated and I’ll be protected by herd immunity?
Communities have not yet developed herd immunity, and rolling out the vaccine is taking longer than anticipated, Byrd said. By not getting the vaccine, you risk catching COVID-19 and potentially dying from it, she said.
Q: I’ve been fully vaccinated. Can I stop wearing a mask?
The COVID-19 vaccines that have been approved for emergency use by the FDA have been studied to measure whether recipients develop symptoms, but there have not been many studies on whether people who have been vaccinated can still get infected with COVID-19. That means it could be possible for a fully vaccinated person to not have symptoms but still infect other people. Wearing a mask minimizes the chances of you getting infected or infecting others, even after you’ve been vaccinated.
The Globe has a guide to masks here.
Q: Should I get this vaccine, even though there are new variants of the virus spreading from the United Kingdom, Brazil, South Africa, and California?
Both Pfizer and Moderna have said their vaccines are effective against the new strains. However, Byrd said there is a possibility that people will have to get vaccinated regularly, as we do with influenza.
“It’s concerning that this virus is mutating so quickly. And we won’t know for the next year or two” if people will have to continuously be vaccinated, she said. It’s also possible that people may need a booster shot at some point.
Q: I’ve been fully vaccinated, but I’m a close contact with someone who recently tested positive for COVID-19. Should I still quarantine?
We still don’t know the degree of immunity people have after receiving a vaccine, and there’s no lab test to determine if you are fully immune and protected, so you should still follow quarantine requirements. Here’s the current guidance in Rhode Island.