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Staying healthy following COVID-19 vaccine
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Staying healthy following COVID-19 vaccine

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As more people become vaccinated and municipalities lift mask mandates, some of you may be wondering how to approach public situations.

The best way to stay healthy is getting the COVID-19 vaccination.

You are considered fully vaccinated two weeks after receiving the second dose of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines or the single dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. Once fully vaccinated, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends people can return to doing activities such as visiting family and friends in-person, with or without wearing a mask or social distancing, except where required by a rule or law.

Once vaccinated, the chances of becoming hospitalized or dying from COVID-19 are extremely rare, approximately 0.0026% by CDC estimates as of June 14. Therefore, know you are well protected and do what makes you comfortable for mask wear. If you choose to continue wearing your mask then do so.

If you have an underlying medical condition or are taking medications that weaken the immune system, you should talk with your health care provider about your activities. Remember, mask wear is still recommended if not vaccinated or if displaying any signs of illness. The CDC still recommends mask wear if not vaccinated to decrease the spread of variants and to protect individuals who may not be able to get the vaccine or develop an immune response to vaccination.

The pandemic highlighted the importance of general hygiene habits; so if you give up the mask, do not stop these habits, including: hand washing, staying home while sick, covering coughs and cleaning high-touch surface areas, as these help stop the spread of germs.

If you haven’t yet been vaccinated, I encourage you to do so. According to an article in The American Journal of Medicine, the most common reasons given for not getting vaccinated are:

Lack of physician recommendation.

Misconceptions that healthy people do not need immunizations.

In fact, there are many myths regarding the vaccine that experts have debunked. These include:

Myth: Coronavirus vaccines were developed too fast to be safe.

Fact: Coronavirus vaccines are safe and the technology used to develop the vaccines has been around since the 1990s. They have undergone strict and rigorous clinical trials and approval from medical experts. More than 147 million individuals in the United States are fully vaccinated.

Myth: Coronavirus vaccines alter DNA.

Fact: The messenger RNA (mRNA) vaccines do not change or interact with your DNA in any way – it cannot enter the part of the cell where DNA is located. The mRNA instruct cells how to make a protein that triggers an immune response to build immunity against the virus.

Myth: You don’t need the vaccine if you already had COVID-19.

Fact: Those with previous COVID-19 infection should get the vaccine. Studies have shown the vaccine generates a larger antibody response than infection; meaning those vaccinated might have more protection against coronavirus and its variants for longer.

Myth: You can get coronavirus from the vaccine.

Fact: You cannot catch COVID-19 from the vaccine. The vaccines do not contain live virus. Like many vaccines, there may be mild side-effects after vaccination, but this just means your body is building protection.

Myth: The coronavirus vaccine side effects are dangerous.

Fact: The coronavirus vaccine can have side effects, but the vast majority are short term and self-resolving. These might include pain at the injection site; body aches; headaches or fever. These indicate the vaccine is working. Speak to your primary care provider about specific concerns.

Myth: I am not at risk of COVID-19, as I am healthy and take vitamins.

Fact: Everyone is at potential risk of sickness from COVID-19 and, while vitamins may help the immune system, the best form of protection is vaccination. Experts do not yet know all of the reasons why some people have mild illness while others die from the disease. Even if you may not be sick enough to be hospitalized, there are still potential long-term disabilities such as fatigue and difficulty breathing that might result from infection.

The introduction of the vaccine has caused the number of COVID-19 cases to steeply decline. While other states are reaching vaccination percentages of 70 percent, a theorized level for stopping the spread of COVID-19, South Carolina remains around 40 percent at this time.

Regardless, any additional increase in our vaccination rate, even if it is just you today deciding to become vaccinated, is beneficial, as it is a continuum. The following heart-felt recollection of a patient’s response to obtaining the vaccine highlights the impact of this tool against the pandemic. It happened at one of our team’s large vaccine clinic events.

During the 15-minute observation period after vaccination, a patient was bouncing and shaking in his seat. I walked over, and he immediately spoke up.

“It’s because I am just so excited I got my second vaccine,” he said. “I cannot stop shaking with excitement!”

He talked about how he had felt stressed, isolated and fearful for his life for the past year, and now he was so comforted and excited for the protection this vaccine offers. He shared his life stories, future aspirations post-vaccination and his gratitude.

This patient along with many others walked out of the clinic with smiles, newfound relief and voiced appreciation of the hard work health care professionals are doing to keep everyone safe.

For our community and the safety of those loved ones around us, I encourage everyone to get the COVID-19 vaccine.

Heather Leisy, MD, MBA, MPH, joined HopeHealth in June 2019 as the director of preventive medicine. She provides preventive medical care at the HopeHealth Medical Plaza in Florence and researches and implements methods to improve patient outcomes.

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