COVID-19 vaccine questions answered: Expert weighs in on effectiveness, mutations, side effects and more

Medical Watch

CHICAGO — How well does the COVID-19 vaccine work, will it be effective against mutating virus strains and how should we prioritize vaccine recipients when it comes to those who have already had it? 

We asked Northwestern University’s Dr. Elizabeth McNally for answers to some of your most pressing questions about COVID-19 vaccines.

How worried should we be about SARS-CoV-2 mutating?

There have been new strains popping up throughout this entire pandemic. The good news is this SARS-CoV-2, this virus doesn’t change as rapidly as other viruses.

Some investigation here at Northwestern showed we had three strains here in Chicago. What’s been concerning is the UK strain has a big spread associated with it. It really does look like that version can spread more easily.

Will the current vaccine offer lasting protection against a changing virus?

I will say I think it will have some protection, whether it will have full protection we don’t really know yet.

If we can just get lots of people vaccinated then we reduce the ability for it to spread and so that’s why it really does take on a new urgency — let’s just get people vaccinated.

Are vaccine makers addressing new strains? 

Yes! It all has to do with how the vaccine is made, with a tiny part of the virus RNA. You can easily change that signature of the RNA and rapidly make a booster much more quickly than ever before.

It’s a lot like having a recipe and I can easily substitute this ingredient for that ingredient and the cake is going to come out fine. It’s a pretty easy way, you can adjust to things with this approach.

What about side effects?

It’s worse in people who are younger and I have to say I got my first shot and my arm hurt for a couple days, I couldn’t sleep on that side. 

And then I got my second shot, and I will tell you quite honestly I was wiped out for a day. I had fever and chills and felt like I had Covid for a day.

What about those who already had Covid? Do survivors need to prioritize getting a vaccine since infection offers immunity. 

If you’ve had Covid once it is still possible to get it again. And the degree of immune response in a way is proportional to how sick you were with Covid.

People who have had what I would call the more casual cases of Covid, we definitely have seen a number of those people develop antibodies but then subsequently get Covid.

Will pharmacies distribute vaccines?

I’m hearing very very soon.

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