While the landscape of the COVID-19 pandemic continues to evolve, you may have questions about vaccines, variants, booster shots, and more. Dr. Katie Sharff, an infectious disease specialist for Kaiser Permanente in Portland, Oregon, answers common questions about the safety and importance of the COVID-19 vaccine. 

I’m young and healthy and doubt that I’d get that sick, why should I get vaccinated?
We see young, healthy people getting really sick, hospitalized, and even dying of COVID. We also see people who have had no other health issues in the hospital, and it’s really tragic. So even if you are an individual with no medical conditions, it doesn’t mean that you have a free pass. COVID gets everybody — it really doesn’t care who you are or what your past history is. This virus is quite tricky, and it appears to be getting trickier as it mutates and becomes more contagious and possibly causing more severe disease. And you need to get vaccinated to protect yourself because the virus is smart, and it will continue to mutate. It gives me a lot of anxiety, because I worry about the next variant that could be even more contagious or cause more severe disease than what we are dealing with right now.

The vaccine hasn’t been around long enough, how can we know it’s safe?
When we think about this vaccine development, we have years and years of research into the types of vaccine platforms that were used for the Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson vaccine. One reason we were able to accelerate the development is because there was great collaboration between scientists around the world and additional funding from government and pharmaceutical agencies that helped support this quick development. These are widely distributed and some of the most scrutinized vaccines in history and are really demonstrating a great safety and efficacy track record.

Why should I get the vaccine if I can still get COVID anyway? 
If you were to be one of those vaccinated individuals who has a breakthrough infection, you’re going to have mild symptoms. When you get the COVID vaccine, it prevents severe illness, hospitalization, and death. Those are really important things, because we don’t want you to have severe illness or be hospitalized with the virus. It’s critically important that we get everyone vaccinated here in the U.S. and throughout the world so that we can stamp out this disease and not have these mutant viruses, like Delta, that are going to cause more severe disease — or even no longer respond to the vaccines down the road.

Are we really going to need booster shots?
I guess I would remind people that boosters are not unusual for vaccines. For many of the vaccines you got as a child, you needed a booster dose. And if you get a tetanus vaccine, you get a booster dose every 10 years. The doses are designed to enhance or augment that immune response so you’re more protected. I want people to understand that this was probably expected that we would need a booster dose for the COVID vaccines to really enhance our immune response. And when they’re offered, I would recommend that you take them.

Once I have had COVID, do I still need to get vaccinated? 
We have really good data that the vaccines can actually boost your immunity. So if you had COVID, you might have some protection from that illness. But, we know that protection is going to wane and drop off over time. And as we see some of these new variants emerge, like Delta, there is a risk of getting reinfected … we know that people do get reinfected. So getting the vaccine will boost your immune response so you have that longer protection. For those individuals who have had a mild COVID illness, maybe early in the pandemic, what we’re seeing is that don’t develop as strong of an immune response … and it doesn’t last as long. And so yet, again, as we see development of these more contagious variants, it’s yet another reason to go get that additional shot to boost your immune system so you stay protected as this pandemic, unfortunately, drags on.

Learn more at kp.org/covidvaccine/nw.

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