The COVID-19 Vaccine Explained


Madeline LaMarche, Managing Editor

As conversation about the new COVID-19 vaccine arises, a sense of hope is instilled in the United States. After living in a world that was abruptly put on hold for almost a year, will we finally get some answers about the mystery virus which maintains its grip on our society? Although these long-awaited developments will (hopefully) initiate a return to normal life, there are things everyone should know about the vaccine and its distribution before making an appointment.

Allyson Larsen, Pingree’s nurse, received her first shot in mid-January and her second in early February by volunteering for the Department of Public Health at a clinic to vaccinate first responders. She was eligible for phase one of vaccine distribution, which included health care workers, first responders, and staff of assisted living facilities.

The vaccine was distributed to these phase-one recipients between December 2020 and February 2021. The second phase began to be administered in early February. Some Pingree staff members have already received one or both injections! According to Ms. Larsen, Pingree teachers qualify for this second phase, but the majority of them probably will not receive their first injection until mid-March because of the large number of people in phase two.

Most students fall into the general category of phase three, which is expected to launch in April. It’s important to note, however, that those under 16 are not yet authorized for vaccination. Since this third phase is when the vaccine will be largely open to the public, it’s difficult to predict the exact timeline for individual vaccinations of Pingree students.

Ms. Larsen shared her experience with her first injection in a recent interview. “My arm was a little sore, but not as sore as it felt after a tetanus shot,” she said. “I could move my arm and it didn’t stop me from working and only lasted a day at most. I never felt fatigued.”

She also mentioned some other details of the physical vaccination, such as the fact that most people are eligible to receive the vaccine even if they have allergies to other vaccines or food. In addition, Ms. Larsen acknowledged that the process took a bit longer than most injections. Because it is a new vaccine, time was allotted to wait for possible reactions. Interestingly, she commented that it is discouraged to premedicate prior to the injection with Advil, ibuprofen, or aspirin, since these antiinflammatory medications “can suppress [the] immune response.” This might be important information for those planning to receive the vaccine soon, considering that the purpose of the shot is to force the body to develop antibodies after the vaccination.

Why is it important to be vaccinated, anyway? By having COVID-19 antibodies, the immune system will be able to fight off the virus with more ease, which can decrease the severity of symptoms and can even prevent hospitalization. While not required, the vaccine is strongly recommended for Pingree students entering next fall. Ms. Larsen shares her opinion about the ethics of becoming vaccinated: “I believe having the vaccine is doing your part to limit the spread of COVID-19, and lessen the burden of hospitalization for everyone. All vaccines have been shown to be effective at preventing the disease.”

According to Ms. Larsen, people who are vaccinated still have to follow state guidelines until proven unnecessary and are strongly encouraged to wear masks, stay six feet apart, and isolate when needed. But, by being vaccinated, they have the power to protect the people around them from getting the disease, reducing hospitalizations. Ms. Larsen believes that the best thing about the current vaccine is that it offers people peace of mind and decreases the fear of getting the disease. “Having the vaccine means that if you do get COVID-19, you most likely won’t be so sick that you have to be hospitalized,” says Larsen. “We want to believe it will prevent spread, but it has to be proven first.”

Even as people are getting vaccinated and numbers of COVID-19 infections are going down nationwide, there are concerns about new strains. Strains of a virus are constantly changing; this is why influenza vaccines need to be adapted and distributed every year. SARS CoV-2, which is a strain of COVID-19, will be no different, considering that there are already at least two new variants. However, right now, doctors believe that the current vaccines offer some protection from versions of these strains.

Massachusetts has had seven cases of a specific COVID-19 strain, known as the UK strain, three of which came from people who had recently traveled. Ms. Larsen hopes that “this will remind people to continue to be vigilant in their mitigation practices and not travel unnecessarily at this time.” The state is trying to improve its vaccine distribution, and knowing that these strains exist may encourage even more people to become vaccinated.

Aside from new virus strains, there is still uncertainty surrounding COVID and the life that comes after it. President Joe Biden’s new executive orders on the virus appear to alleviate some public concern by prioritizing speed, safety, and equality thus far. For example, these orders aim to ramp up the pace of manufacturing and testing, check for shortages in personal protective equipment, and expand the supply of rapid tests. The new presidential administration is tackling the pandemic quickly and enforcing Biden’s detailed plans.

The complete reopening of America after an unprecedented year remains a priority, but there are many steps to get there. Becoming educated about this vaccine – and educating others about it – is crucial in this process. Data about COVID-19 and the vaccine is constantly being updated. The CDC website is a great source for finding more information. When becoming vaccinated, continue following regulations to ensure others’ safety.

It remains to be seen what the world will look like post-coronavirus; there are still many steps we need to take in order to initiate the return to normal life. Maintaining optimism and an open mind can help to sustain patience during this process. There are signs of progress, and especially with these new administration initiatives and vaccines, things are looking up.