Although information on the COVID-19 vaccine is widely available, some still have concerns over its safety despite it being completely safe. (Illustration by Ro Odendahl, Montserrat College of Art)

So You Got the COVID-19 Vaccine — Now What?

With the case count going down and the vaccine distribution well underway, people still have questions regarding its safety and efficacy, as well as how current policies will change.

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With the case count going down and the vaccine distribution well underway, people still have questions regarding its safety and efficacy, as well as how current policies will change.

After a tumultuous past year, some people can’t wait to be out and about again. However, others are anxious about doing too much too soon. Either way, the good news is that there’s finally a light at the end of the tunnel: 312 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine have been administered in the U.S., and 146 million people (44% of the U.S. population) are fully vaccinated. Experts estimate that as soon as at least 70% of people are fully vaccinated, we’ll reach herd immunity — meaning that enough people will be protected against the virus — and we can return to business as usual.

But we’re getting there, and as of now, the uncertainty isn’t gone yet. Some people are nervous about getting the vaccine, some don’t know how to get it, and those who have it are unsure about what’s safe and what isn’t. Even though the COVID-19 vaccine seems like the saving grace we’ve been waiting for, the transition back to pre-2020 life isn’t going to happen overnight.

Right now, the important thing is that everyone who is eligible to get the COVID-19 vaccine (individuals 12 years old and older) does so. And since the whole ordeal has been such a whirlwind, here are your questions about the vaccine answered.

Is the Vaccine Safe?

Several people are nervous about receiving the COVID-19 vaccine because of how quickly it was developed. Despite such worries, the vaccine is entirely safe, and it won’t cause any major health problems beyond temporary flu-like symptoms. Scientists were able to develop the vaccine so quickly due to the enormous amount of resources that were poured into the effort. Plus, they didn’t just throw the vaccine together from scratch: Scientists used existing research based on other coronaviruses like SARS and MERS that have both caused outbreaks within the last 20 years. The COVID-19 vaccine has been well researched, and willingly receiving the vaccine is critical to the protection of yourself and others.

I’m Young and Healthy. I Don’t Need the COVID-19 Vaccine, Right?

Wrong. Even if you’re young and have no pre-existing conditions, you’ll never know how COVID-19 could affect you. Studies have shown that even young people in good health can experience serious, lasting effects from COVID-19, and many may require hospitalization. In addition to wearing a mask and washing your hands, getting the vaccine is a great way to keep from contracting the virus. Plus, even if you do contract COVID-19 and experience few to no symptoms, receiving the vaccine still helps keep you from spreading the virus to people who are vulnerable.

Do I Need the COVID-19 Vaccine If I Already Had the Virus?

So far, there have been over 33 million reported cases of COVID-19 in the U.S., and more than 700,000 of those cases were college students. Many people believe that if they’ve already contracted the virus once, their antibodies will protect them from being infected again. Although antibodies can be useful in not catching the disease again, we don’t know how long the antibodies last, and they can’t protect us from every strain of the virus. Even though it’s rare, there have been reported cases of people who’ve contracted COVID-19 multiple times. The safe choice is to get vaccinated even if you’ve had the virus.

Do Students Have To Get the COVID-19 Vaccine Before Returning to In-Person Classes?

Herd immunity in colleges is essential for us to return to in-person classes, club meetings and social gatherings. That’s why many universities are requiring students to get the COVID-19 vaccine before they come back to campus next semester. Even if your university doesn’t require you to get it, it’s still the safe and responsible choice because it lessens the likelihood of you or someone else from becoming infected while at school.

Once I Get the COVID-19 Vaccine, How Will My Life Change?

Although everyone who gets the vaccine is protected within two weeks, we can’t go back to complete normalcy until we reach herd immunity. But while we’re waiting, vaccinated individuals still have a bit more freedom now that COVID-19 regulations have loosened since their initial introduction.

  • Mask Mandates
    • Since the CDC is still trying to determine just how effective the COVID-19 vaccine is when it comes to preventing the disease from spreading, experts recommend that fully vaccinated people still wear masks in public places. However, it’s now acceptable to stop wearing a mask both indoors and outside when you are with other fully vaccinated individuals.
  • In-Person Gatherings
    • In general, it’s safe to gather in small groups after getting the COVID-19 vaccine. According to the CDC, people who are fully vaccinated can see family and friends without a mask.
  • Quarantine
    • Although it’s always best to be cautious, the vaccine makes you much less likely to catch and spread the virus. If you are fully vaccinated and get exposed to COVID-19, you may not have to quarantine in certain conditions.
  • Back to School
    • With so many people getting vaccinated, a lot of universities plan to go back to in-person classes and gatherings in the fall. Of course, that will only be possible if vaccination rates continue to increase as COVID-19 cases decrease. Some schools may open for vaccinated students while still restricting access for students who do not have the vaccine.

In short, getting the vaccine may not fix everything immediately, but it’s a step in the right direction. At the very least,  it’ll allow you to breathe a little more easily. With the vaccine, your chances of getting the virus are greatly reduced, and you can keep yourself and your loved ones safe.

So, if you haven’t gotten the vaccine yet, go get it. If you have it but you know someone who hasn’t, do your best to encourage them to get it. The vaccine is safe, effective and free. It’s our lifeline back to normalcy — all we need to do is take it. Getting vaccinated is essential for our return to life, and it will finally bring us the peace of mind we’ve spent over a year waiting for.

If you or someone you know is curious about how to get the COVID-19 vaccine, visit the CDC’s website for more information.

Writer Profile

Elizabeth Dewit

University of Pittsburgh
English, French

Elizabeth is a junior at the University of Pittsburgh majoring in English and French. In addition to writing, Elizabeth loves cooking, traveling and music.

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