What to know about the COVID-19 vaccine's side effects — 5 questions answered

As the COVID-19 vaccine is being rolled out to healthcare workers, some still have questions about its safety and side effects.

Here are five questions ASC leaders may have about the vaccine:

Question: What are some reported side effects of the COVID-19 vaccine? Up to 15 percent of COVID-19 vaccine recipients reported side effects that were "significantly noticeable," according to a Dec. 1 report. Side effects included redness and pain at the injection site, fever, and chills.

The FDA was investigating five allergic reactions to the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine. Two of those cases include Alaskan healthcare workers, one of whom had an anaphylactic reaction about 10 minutes after getting the shot and another who had eye puffiness, lightheadedness and a scratchy throat.

Q: Are side effects with vaccines common? Yes. After getting an injection, you may experience pain or swelling in the arm where you got the shot, according to the CDC. Fever, chills, tiredness and headaches are all common as well, and they're expected to go away after a few days.

Most COVID-19 vaccinations will require two shots, and the CDC says to get both shots even if you experience side effects with the first shot.

Q: What are officials doing to ensure the vaccine's safety? The FDA has given emergency use authorization to two COVID-19 vaccines, according to the CDC. The authorizations were granted after data showed the vaccines' effectiveness and safety.

Authorities are monitoring vaccine safety, and researchers will quickly study it to determine if it's a true concern. Those who get the vaccine can report back to the CDC through its V-safe survey, a smartphone tool that allows patients to log any side effects and get a reminder about the second dose.

Q: What should I tell staff or patients who are hesitant about the vaccine? Public health experts are urging experts to educate healthcare workers and patients about the vaccine and side effects. Four chief pharmacy officers told Becker's Hospital Review how their systems are educating patients.

"We are communicating at all levels to enhance the awareness of the safety and efficacy of this vaccine," Kuldip Patel, PharmD, of Durham, N.C.-based Duke University Hospital told Becker's Hospital Review. "Through huddles, town halls, staff meetings and leader rounding, we are cascading information to all of our healthcare workers to become educated about the vaccine so that they can help those in the community understand the benefits of the vaccine versus the risks of infection. Those who have safety concerns are encouraged to speak with their primary care provider. We also have infection prevention and infectious diseases experts who are doing a tremendous job of advocating for the vaccine. Encouraging everyone to be cognizant and vigilant with using reliable sources of medical information is critical so that we can all be better informed."

Q: How are ASCs mitigating potential staff shortage if multiple team members experience vaccine side effects? ASC leaders shared their plans to address potential side effects among staff members with Becker's ASC Review.

One ASC is having staff vaccinated in shifts, and another plans to vaccinate on Fridays over time so employees can recover from any side effects.

"Ensuring we have support during the workday so [staff] can go to the hospital vaccination clinic across the street [is our focus]," Linda Meikle, BSN, RN, administrator at Columbus, Ohio-based Taylor Station Surgical Center, said. "Coordination of how many colleagues get vaccinated on the same day in the same department is essential to mitigate any staffing shortages in case of side effects that require the colleagues to stay home."

More resources on vaccine education are available on the CDC's website.


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