Familiarize Yourself With the First COVID-19 Vaccines

Questions about COVID-19 vaccines are firing fast and furious.

Be familiar with how the first vaccines work. The vaccines from Pfizer-BioNTech (BNT162b2) and Moderna (mRNA-1273) are "mRNA" vaccines...using messenger ribonucleic acid (genetic material).

They give our cells a blueprint to make a piece of the SARS-CoV-2 "spike" protein. This triggers our bodies to produce antibodies that will protect us from infection if we're exposed to the real virus.

This is different than other vaccines...which typically use weakened or inactivated parts of the pathogen to prompt an immune response.

Expect clinicians to focus on facts...and dispel misconceptions. For example, mRNA vaccines DON'T affect our DNA. The mRNA is quickly broken down after the protein piece is made.

And they CAN'T cause COVID-19...since they don't use the live virus.

Plus vaccines using mRNA have been studied for decades. That's part of the reason scientists were able to test them for COVID-19 so quickly. Manufacturing also began while waiting for trial results.

Data suggest the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccine has roughly 95% efficacy against COVID-19 after two IM doses of the SAME product.

But it's too soon to say how long immunity lasts...or if vaccination prevents people from getting asymptomatic COVID-19 and spreading it. For now, vaccinated individuals should keep wearing masks, distancing, etc.

People should also be prepared for injection site pain and flu-like symptoms (fatigue, aches, etc). But these should go away in a couple of days...and can be signs the immune system is working.

Consider highlighting dose volumes on labels...the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is 0.3 mL and the Moderna vaccine is 0.5 mL.

Watch for other ways to improve processes as you go.

And be aware, people getting doses will get a "fact sheet" instead of a vaccine information statement (VIS)...since the vaccines are currently available under an emergency use authorization (EUA).

Find info on dosing and storage in our COVID-19 Vaccines chart.

And tell your pharmacist about our Communicating About COVID-19 Vaccination chart to help address vaccine hesitancy and misinformation.

Key References

  • N Engl J Med 2020;383(27):2603-15
  • N Engl J Med 2020;383(20):1920-31
  • www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/hcp/vaccination.html (1-5-21)
  • www.cdc.gov/vaccines/covid-19/hcp/index.html (1-5-21)
  • www.fda.gov/emergency-preparedness-and-response/coronavirus-disease-2019-covid-19/covid-19-vaccines (1-5-21)
Hospital Pharmacy Technician's Letter. January 2021, No. 370101



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