Dr. Amy J. Markezich works at Overlake Medical Center in Bellevue, specializing in pulmonology. She has seen firsthand the devastation that the COVID-19 virus can do to some patients. Recently, she took a moment to answer questions about the new vaccines that are available to help prevent the deadly disease.
Is the COVID-19 vaccine safe?
The COVID-19 vaccine is extremely safe and effective. In fact, there have been only a small handful of allergic reactions that have occurred out of millions of doses of the vaccine given. If in a rare circumstance, there is an allergic reaction; it happens in the first 15 minutes after the dose is given. This is why people who receive the vaccine are usually monitored for 20 minutes after they receive the dose, out of an abundance of caution. The most common side effects are very mild and can include arm soreness, headaches, fatigue, or chills, and usually only last a short period of time, such as a day or two.
What would you say to people who are on the fence about getting this vaccine?
I would tell them that the more people who get the vaccine, the faster we will be on the way to returning to normalcy. The potential side effects of the vaccine are mild, and they pale in comparison to getting severely ill from COVID-19. COVID-19 not only can be fatal, but I have seen a number of “long hauler” patients who survive the illness but end up having lasting symptoms months after recovering from the disease. Many of them are still not able to return to work. Taking the vaccine helps to prevent developing an illness that can be long-lasting and can also help to protect vulnerable friends and family members.
How do you start the process of getting the vaccine?
Washington State Department of Health has set up a “Phase Finder” website where you can look up if you are eligible. The address is findyourphasewa.org. If you are eligible, it will then tell you which locations you can make an appointment to get the vaccine. If you are not yet eligible (as in the phase you qualify for is not active yet), you can submit your contact information so that you can be contacted when your phase opens up.
There are different COVID-19 vaccines; which one is best?
Currently, the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines are FDA-approved and available. The safety and efficacy of these vaccines are equivalent, so I would recommend getting whichever one is available to you. Remember, if you get the first dose of the Moderna vaccine, the second dose also has to be the Moderna vaccine. This is also true for the Pfizer vaccine.
As a doctor working on the frontlines with COVID-19 patients, what do you want the general public to know?
COVID-19 is an extremely serious, dangerous, and unpredictable virus. While most people do get mild illness, I have taken care of many patients who are young and without risk factors who have gotten critically ill from this. I have also seen many patients in my clinic months after they were sick who still haven’t recovered and have been left with lasting side effects. In addition, I have seen far too many patients die alone, with their only contact with family at the end of their lives being through video chat. The more people who take the vaccine, the fewer of these tragic deaths will occur.
When you learned vaccines would be available, how did that news make you feel?
I and all of my co-workers in the ICU were ecstatic. As soon as we heard about it, we couldn’t wait to get the vaccine ourselves. It felt like we were finally starting to see the light at the end of a very dark tunnel.
Did you get the vaccine? Tell us about your experience.
I have gotten the first dose of the Pfizer vaccine, and am scheduled to get my second dose in two days. The vaccine was very easy, and all I experienced was some fatigue a few hours after getting it, and some mild arm soreness that only lasted a day. I felt like it was much easier than the flu shot, which I get every year. I am very excited to get my upcoming second dose.
What else do you want people to know about the vaccines?
While the vaccine is exciting and a game-changer, it is important that we continue to all do our part in helping to prevent the spread while this pandemic is going on, including wearing masks, avoiding indoor gatherings, continuing to social distance.