We’ve received many questions from readers anxious about receiving a COVID-19 vaccine. Several questioned if they should be vaccinated at all while others wondered if they need to continue wearing masks once vaccinated. I hope our responses help answer the questions you may have as well.
Q: I have a history of Guillain Barre Syndrome (GBS). Should I get the COVID vaccine?
A: Guillain Barre Syndrome is a rare disorder where the body’s immune system attacks the nerves. In its most severe form, it can cause weakness that results in paralysis. The exact cause is unknown, but in the majority of cases, it’s associated with a recent viral or bacterial infection. Yes, you can receive the COVID-19 vaccine. To date, there are no cases of the syndrome associated with the COVID-19 mRNA vaccines.
Q: I have a compromised immune system. Is it OK for me to be vaccinated?
A: Immunocompromised persons are at an increased risk for severe illness with COVID-19 and should be vaccinated. The immune system can be suppressed by HIV, cancer treatments involving radiation or chemotherapy, organ transplantation and some medications that treat autoimmune disorders. The mRNA vaccines are safe because they don’t contain live virus. The vaccines may not work as well in immunocompromised individuals, but some protection is better than none.
Q: I had COVID-19. Should I get the vaccine or am I already protected?
A: Yes, get the vaccine. Reinfection within the first 90 days of illness is rare, but not much is known about long-term immunity. There are people who suffered COVID-19 early in the pandemic that contracted the virus again and became ill. The hope is that vaccination will boost immunity, so another infection can be prevented.
Clinical trial volunteers who already had COVID-19 and were vaccinated did well. Vaccination should be delayed in people with COVID-19 until they come out of isolation to not spread the virus to others. People who received monoclonal antibodies or convalescent plasma treatments for COVID-19 should wait 90 days following treatment to be vaccinated. These therapies may dampen the immune response to the vaccine.
Q: Do we need to keep wearing masks after we’re fully vaccinated?
A: Masks and social distancing are still needed for several reasons. To begin with, full protection takes both doses and time. Picture it this way, a person who started the vaccination process on New Year’s Day will not be fully protected until Valentine’s Day.
Second, the vaccines are about 95 percent effective at preventing illness, which means that one out of every 20 vaccinated people remains unprotected. Unfortunately, we cannot predict who’s protected. The commonly available antibody tests don’t reliably indicate who’s protected and therefore shouldn’t be used for this purpose.
Lastly, masks and distancing help those that haven’t been vaccinated. Although the vaccines keep people symptom-free, it’s not known if they keep vaccinated individuals from growing and spreading the virus. Studies are underway evaluating the vaccines’ ability to prevent asymptomatic spread. Masks and social distancing are acts of kindness that protect and keep others safe.
Vaccine Smarts is written by Sealy Institute for Vaccine Sciences faculty members Drs. Megan Berman, an associate professor of internal medicine, and Richard Rupp, a professor of pediatrics at the University of Texas Medical Branch. For questions about vaccines, email email@example.com.