Stay up to date on vaccinations during COVID-19

A message to Michigan families:

Almost one year into the unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic, we share the exhaustion and frustration that many are feeling. As we continue to fight the spread of COVID-19, we encourage you to continue to follow the health guidelines laid out by Governor Whitmer and the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS).

Scientists and researchers are learning more and more about COVID-19 every day. And hope is on the horizon: two vaccines have been approved with high efficacies rates, with additional promising vaccines coming soon.  

Still, we’re continuing to see the spread of misinformation, false and dangerous treatments and home remedies. We urge you to refer to your doctor and other credible sources like IVaccinate.org and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website for answers to your health questions, especially questions about vaccines. 

The COVID-19 pandemic gives a glimpse of the impact of serious diseases without vaccinesand is a stark reminder of how diseases without vaccines can harm our nation’s economy and public health. Vaccines have drastically reduced infant deaths and disability caused by preventable disease in the U.S. Before vaccines, parents in the United States could expect that every year: 

  • Polio would paralyze 10,000 children. 
  • Pertussis (whooping cough) would kill 8,000 infants. 
  • Measles would infect about 4 million children, killing about 500. 
  • Rubella (German measles) would cause birth defects and intellectual disabilities in as many as 20,000 newborns. 
  • Diphtheria would be one of the most common causes of death in school-aged children. 
  • A bacterium called Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib) would cause meningitis in 15,000 children, leaving many with permanent brain damage. 

Fewer Michigan children are currently up to date on their routine vaccines because of postponed well-child visits during the COVID-19 pandemic, making it easier for diseases to spread. Among those are vaccines for potentially deadly pertussis (whooping cough) and particularly contagious measles, which broke out nationally recently and included 46 cases in Michigan. 

 At a time when our healthcare system is already overwhelmed and working hard to vaccinate as many residents against COVID-19 as supply allows, it’s important that we avoid outbreaks of preventable, potentially deadly diseases. That’s why we’re encouraging Michigan families to reach out to their doctor and make a plan for staying up to date or getting caught up on vaccinations. 

 Following the CDC-recommended immunization schedule protects infants and children by providing immunity early in life, when they are most at risk for getting seriously ill from these diseases if they are exposed. This schedule has been developed so that your child receives the vaccines at the age when he or she will have the best response to develop immunity. 

 The CDC and American Academy of Pediatrics are recommending that healthcare providers still see patients in person for well-child visits, and especially those for children under age 2 who need the routine vaccines. To support this recommendation and social distancing, many healthcare offices are changing the way they operate to separate well visits from sick visits. If your doctor’s office is not open or not offering well-child visits, make it a priority to get caught up when offices open up again. 

As the COVID-19 vaccine supply grows, more residents will be able to receive the vaccine later in 2021. Until then, we all must continue preventive measures to slow the spread of COVID-19, including wearing masks, social distancing, and washing our hands. Together, we will get through this pandemic – especially now with the hope the safe, effective and approved COVID-19 vaccines hold for our future.  

Frequently Asked Questions

Staying safe during COVID-19

The goal of the vaccine-approval process is to end up with a vaccine that is effective (the vaccine works in preventing the illness) and safe (there are no serious side effects or other problems). In the United States, this process has produced safe and effective vaccines for the flu, polio, measles, mumps, pertussis, and more. The process has saved millions of people from getting sick and dying for decades.

The stages of development generally follow this timeline:

  • Exploratory stage: This is the start of lab research to find something that can treat or prevent a disease. Vaccine development typically begins not at a pharmaceutical company, but in a research laboratory in a university, medical center, or small biotech company. Scientists in these laboratories are most often funded by grants from the government or private foundations.
  • Pre-clinical stage: Scientists use lab tests and testing in animals, such as mice or monkeys, to learn whether a vaccine might work. Many potential vaccines don’t make it past this point. But if the tests are successful and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) signs off, it’s on to clinical testing.
  • Clinical development: This is a three-phase process of testing in humans.
    • Phase I usually involves fewer than 100 people and seeks to answer two main questions: does the vaccine generate the expected immune response (does it work in creating antibodies to protect someone from the disease) and is the vaccine safe (does the vaccine show any serious side effects)?
    • Phase II involves several hundred people, comparing those who did and did not receive vaccine. During this phase, scientists try to determine the proper dose of vaccine to be given, and they continue to study the vaccine’s safety. They also determine how to manufacture the vaccine — making sure the process and packaging creates a consistent vaccine, so that each batch produces similar results.
    • Phase III involves tens of thousands of study participants who are similar to the population that will receive the vaccine, again comparing those who did and did not receive vaccine. During these studies, as with the previous phases, no one working with the patients, testing the samples collected from patients, or calculating the results, knows which participants received the vaccine and which did not (this is called a “double-blind” study). Researchers are also studying how long the vaccine can be used before it expires, taking into consideration how it will be transported and stored.
  • Regulatory review and approval: Scientists with the FDA and U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention closely review the data from the clinical trials before a vaccine can be licensed and approved.
    • Additionally, the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) – a group of independent medical and public health experts who review data on new and existing vaccines and diseases – will make recommendations for approval and use within specific age groups.
  • Manufacturing: The vaccine goes into production. The FDA inspects the factory and approves drug labels.
  • Quality control: Scientists and government agencies use databases such as the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS) and the Vaccine Safety Datalink Project to monitor vaccine safety.
    • VAERS collects and analyzes reports of adverse events that happen after vaccination. Anyone can submit a report, including parents, patients, and health care professionals. That report is then evaluated by medical experts and examined for trends to identify any vaccine safety issues.
    • The Vaccine Safety Datalink Project, a network of health care organizations across the U.S., analyzes health care information from over 24 million people, which scientists use to actively monitor safety.
    • Vaccine recommendations may change if safety monitoring reveals new information on vaccine risks (like if scientists detect a new serious side effect).
    • The approved COVID-19 vaccines will be utilizing these standard safety programs, which are already in place, and will also be utilizing the new quality control program known as V-Safe. This new program is a vaccination health checker which uses smartphone technology to monitor and receive reports about adverse side effects.

Sources:
CDC: Ensuring the Safety of COVID-19 Vaccines in the United States
CDC: Ensuring COVID-19 Vaccines Work
Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia: Questions and Answers about COVID-19 Vaccines
CDC: V-safe After Vaccination Health Checker

Thanks to unprecedented, worldwide collaboration from scientists, health and government officials, and manufacturers, the medical community was able to focus on the development and production of a safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine.  Through this strong collaboration we were able to see the COVID-19 vaccine research grow and expand so that we now have the first three COVID-19 vaccines authorized for use through an Emergency Use Authorization (EUA).

The first two COVID-19 vaccines that have been authorized for EUA, including the one authorized for youth ages 12-15, were built using a technology called mRNA, rather than using a weakened or dead virus as traditional vaccines do. Traditional vaccine production involves growing viruses in living cells and purifying the virus. There are challenges associated with this process that takes time. The mRNA vaccine has an advantage in that large amounts of the mRNA can be synthesized very rapidly.

mRNA vaccines teach our cells how to make a piece of a protein that triggers an immune response inside our bodies. That immune response, which produces antibodies, is what protects us from getting infected if the real virus enters our bodies. mRNA vaccines are being held to the same rigorous safety and effectiveness standards as all other types of vaccines in the United States.

In an Adenovirus-based vaccine, like the authorized Johnson & Johnson vaccine, scientists take part of the SARS-CoV-2 virus’s code (its DNA) and adds it to a modified adenovirus (the virus that can cause the common cold). This teaches your immune systems to learn to recognize and fight the SARS-CoV-2 virus without causing you to be infected. The vaccine will not give you the COVID-19 virus or cause you to be infectious to others.

While COVID-19 vaccines have been developed more quickly than has been done with other vaccines, speed did not decrease safety. In addition to the advantage for mRNA vaccine production, the timeline was shortened without sacrificing quality by:

  • Overlapping phase I and phase II clinical trials. Phase I studies include a small number of people and evaluate whether the vaccine causes an immune response and is safe. Scientists could look at data from a group of people as phase II was progressing to make these evaluations.
  • While completing large phase III trials, manufacturers began producing the vaccine, so that if it were shown to be safe and effective, they would have large numbers of doses ready. This is not normally done because if the vaccine does not work, the manufacturer will have spent a significant amount of money to produce something that needs to be thrown away.
  • While waiting for a vaccine to be ready, many other aspects of vaccine delivery were prepared (e.g., developing plans for how to distribute the first, limited quantities available, ensuring adequate supplies for distributing and administering vaccine.)

Past research on vaccines has identified potential successful approaches which has reduced the development time for a COVID-19 vaccine. These mRNA vaccines are a product of decades of study on RNA therapies and treatment by medical scientists. Beyond vaccines, cancer research has used mRNA to trigger the immune system to target specific cancer cells. mRNA technology has been used successfully for cancer immunotherapy by harnessing the body’s immune system to identify and kill cancer cells in the same way the immune system identifies and targets infection from viruses or diseases.

Sources:
CDC: Understanding mRNA COVID-19 Vaccines
Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia: Questions and Answers about COVID-19 Vaccines
The Promise of mRNA Vaccines

To date, a vaccine has not yet been authorized for children under age 12, but Pfizer-BioNTech has a vaccine that has received authorization for adolescents age 12 to 15. This is in addition to the vaccines previously authorized for those 16 and older. Vaccine programs are rolling out at high schools, community clinics and pharmacies. This eligibility expansion provides the opportunity to further protect your child from COVID-19 and help get life back to normal.

The currently authorized COVID-19 vaccines have gone through clinical trials and scientific review just like any other vaccine — including those your teenager has likely already received — and no standards of quality or safety were sacrificed.

Vaccination gets our kids back to the programs, activities and social interactions they need for appropriate academic, social-emotional and physical development. The sooner all eligible Michiganders are vaccinated, the sooner we can get our state — and our kids’ lives — back to normal.

Source:

Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia: Should My Child Get the COVID-19 Vaccine?

In many cases, teens with pre-existing conditions like diabetes, IBD or other autoimmune diseases, or those who are taking medications that compromise their immune system, are at higher risk of complications from COVID-19 infection. The COVID-19 vaccines that have been authorized for use cannot cause COVID-19, even in those with weak immune systems. Therefore, individuals with immune-compromising conditions may get the COVID-19 vaccine, as long as they are not in one of the following categories:

  • Have a severe allergy to a vaccine component (i.e., one that causes anaphylaxis or requires medical intervention)
  • Have a history of severe allergy to any vaccine or injectable medication

Talk with your child’s healthcare professional to discuss individual risks and benefits and determine whether your child should receive the vaccine.

Source:

Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia: Should My Child Get the COVID-19 Vaccine?

Routine well-child visits and vaccine visits are essential, even during the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s important that your family continue to receive their immunizations on time and according to the schedule recommended by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Many of these diseases are serious. At a time when our healthcare system is already overwhelmed, it’s critical that we avoid outbreaks of preventable diseases, like measles, pertussis (whooping cough), and mumps.

Learn more about why it’s important to follow the CDC-recommended schedule.

The U.S. currently has three COVID-19 vaccines authorized and recommended for emergency use authorization. The Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine is recommended for use in those 12 years of age and older. The Moderna COVID-19 vaccine and Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccines are recommended for use in those 18 years of age and older.

In addition to mask requirements and phone screenings, many medical offices are taking extra steps to make sure that well visits can happen safely during the COVID-19 outbreak, including:

  • Scheduling sick visits and well-child visits during different times of the day
  • Asking patients to remain outside until it’s time for their appointment to reduce the number of people in waiting rooms
  • Offering sick visits and well-child visits in different locations

Prepare for the visit by calling your child’s healthcare provider to ask when your child’s vaccinations are due and what policies and procedures are in place at the office.

Sources:
CDC: Routine vaccinations during COVID-19
CDC: Keep Children Healthy during the COVID-19 Pandemic

When available to them, get them vaccinated with the COVID-19 vaccine. To date, vaccines are available to those 12 and older and a vaccine for younger populations is expected to be authorized for emergency use in the coming months.

Help stop the spread of COVID-19 by teaching your child about COVID-19 health and safety measures.

  • Stay home when you are sick, except to get medical care.
  • Cover your coughs and sneezes with a tissue and throw the tissue in the trash.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing; going to the bathroom; and before eating or preparing food.
  • If soap and water are not readily available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol. Always wash hands with soap and water if visibly dirty.
  • Clean and disinfect high-touch surfaces daily in household common areas (like tables, hard-backed chairs, doorknobs, light switches, remotes, handles, desks, toilets, and sinks).
  • Launder items, including washable plush toys, as appropriate and in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions. If possible, launder items using the warmest appropriate water setting for the items and dry items completely. Dirty laundry from a sick person can be washed with other people’s items.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is recommending that children over the age of 2 wear masks when going out in public where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain (e.g., grocery stores and pharmacies), especially in areas of significant community-based transmission.

The U.S. currently has three COVID-19 vaccines authorized for emergency use. The Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine is authorized for use in those 12 years of age and older. The Moderna COVID-19 vaccine and Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccines are authorized for use in those 18 years of age and older.

Source:
CDC: COVID-19 Frequently Asked Questions
CDC: Families & Children

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends masks in indoor public places for those who are not fully vaccinated and aged 2 or older.

Cloth face coverings should NOT be put on babies or children younger than 2 years of age because of the danger of suffocation. Children younger than 2 years of age are listed as an exception as well as anyone who has trouble breathing or is unconscious, incapacitated, or otherwise unable to remove the face covering without assistance.

Wearing cloth face coverings is a public health measure people should take to reduce the spread of COVID-19 in addition to (not instead of) social distancing, frequent hand washing, and other everyday preventive actions.

Masks protect both the wearer and others. Masks are a simple barrier to help prevent your respiratory droplets from reaching others. Studies show that masks reduce the spray of droplets when worn over the nose and mouth. A cloth face mask also offers you some protection too and how well it protects you from breathing the virus in depends on the fabric used and how the mask is made.

Wearing a mask over your nose and mouth is required on planes, buses, trains, and other forms of public transportation traveling into, within, or out of the United States and while indoors at U.S. transportation hubs such as airports and stations. Travelers are not required to wear a mask in outdoor areas of a conveyance (like on open deck areas of a ferry or the uncovered top deck of a bus).

More specifics on face coverings from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services can be found here.

Sources:
CDC: Your Guide to Masks
CDC: COVID-19 Frequently Asked Questions
MDHHS: Face Coverings Frequently Asked Questions

The symptoms of COVID-19 appear to be similar in children and adults. Children with confirmed COVID-19 have generally presented with mild, cold-like symptoms, such as fever, runny nose and cough. Vomiting and diarrhea have also been reported.

Babies under 1 year old and children with certain underlying conditions may be more likely to have severe illness from COVID-19. Studies are ongoing regarding how the disease impacts everyone, including children.

Health officials are advising parents to watch for symptoms related to a rare but serious inflammatory condition seen in children and linked to COVID-19, called multisystem inflammatory syndrome (MIS-C). If you notice any of the following symptoms, call your pediatrician:

  • A fever lasting more than 24 hours
  • Abdominal pain, diarrhea or vomiting
  • Rash or changes in skin color
  • Trouble breathing (call 911 if this symptom is present)
  • Your child seems confused or overly sleepy​

Be sure to let your pediatrician know if your child has tested positive for COVID-19 or has been exposed to the virus. Your pediatrician will let you know if your child can be seen in the office or if you need to go to the emergency department.

While potentially serious, MIS-C appears to be rare, and most cases of COVID-19 in children are mild.

Sources:
CDC: COVID-19 Frequently Asked Questions
CDC: For Parents – MIS-C associated with COVID-19
CDC: MIS-C and COVID-19
AAP: MIS-C and COVID-19

There are many different kinds of vaccines being explored to combat COVID-19.

The first two vaccines that have been authorized under Emergency Use Authorization (EUA), including the one available to youth 12-15, use a technology called messenger RNA (mRNA) to protect against infectious diseases. To trigger an immune response, many vaccines put a weakened or inactivated germ into our bodies, but not mRNA vaccines. Instead, they teach our cells how to make a protein—or even just a piece of a protein—that triggers an immune response inside our bodies. That immune response, which produces antibodies, is what protects us from getting infected or seriously ill if the real virus enters our bodies.

COVID-19 mRNA vaccines give instructions to our cells to make a harmless piece of what is called the “spike protein.” The spike protein is found on the surface of the virus that causes COVID-19 disease.

COVID-19 mRNA vaccines are given in the upper arm muscle. The cells use these instructions to make the protein piece. After the protein piece is made, the cell breaks down the instructions and gets rid of them.

Next, the cell displays the protein piece on its surface, similar to how the COVID-19 virus would. Our immune systems recognize that the protein doesn’t belong there and begins building an immune response and making antibodies, like what happens in natural infection with COVID-19.

At the end of the process, our bodies have learned how to protect against future infection. The benefit of mRNA vaccines, like all vaccines, is that those vaccinated gain protection without ever having to risk the serious consequences of getting sick with COVID-19.

In an Adenovirus-based vaccine, like the authorized Johnson & Johnson vaccine, scientists take part of the SARS-CoV-2 virus’s code (its DNA) and adds it to a modified adenovirus (the virus that can cause the common cold). This teaches your immune systems to learn to recognize and fight the SARS-CoV-2 virus without causing you to be infected. The vaccine will not give you the COVID-19 virus or cause you to be infectious to others.

Sources:
University of Michigan: The Top 5 COVID-19 Vaccine Candidates Explained
CDC: Understanding mRNA COVID-19 Vaccines
Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia: Questions and Answers about COVID-19 Vaccines
CDC: Different COVID-19 Vaccines
MDHHS: How mRNA vaccines work
MDHHS: How Adenovirus-based vaccines work

Influenza (flu) and COVID-19 are both contagious respiratory illnesses, but they are caused by different viruses. COVID-19 is caused by infection with a new coronavirus and flu is caused by infection with influenza viruses.

There are some key differences between flu and COVID-19:

  • COVID-19 seems to spread more easily than flu and causes more serious illnesses in some people. It can also take longer before people show symptoms and people can be contagious for longer.
  • Another important difference is there are multiple FDA-licensed influenza vaccines produced annually to protect against the flu. Currently, we have two (many under development) COVID-19 vaccines that have been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for emergency use authorization.

Because some of the symptoms of flu and COVID-19 are similar, it may be hard to tell the difference between them based on symptoms alone, and testing may be needed to help confirm a diagnosis.

Source:
CDC: Similarities and Differences between Flu and COVID-19​

Right now, we do not know how long antibodies last after infection. There is not enough information currently available to say if or for how long after infection someone is protected from COVID-19, which is also known as natural immunity. Early evidence suggests natural immunity from COVID-19 may not last very long, but more studies are needed to better understand this. Cases of reinfection with COVID-19 have been reported but remain rare​.​ It’s important to remember that the virus that causes COVID-19 is very new, and scientists are actively working to study it.

Data from clinical trials indicate that mRNA COVID-19 vaccines are safe in persons with evidence of a prior COVID-19 infection. Vaccination should be offered to persons regardless of history of prior symptomatic or asymptomatic COVID-19 infection. Viral testing to assess for COVID-19 infection or serologic testing to assess for prior infection solely for the purposes of vaccine decision-making is not recommended.

Vaccination of persons with known current COVID-19 infection should be deferred until the person has recovered from the acute illness (if the person had symptoms) and criteria have been met for them to discontinue isolation. This recommendation applies to persons who develop COVID-19 infection before receiving any vaccine doses as well as those who develop infection after the first dose but before receipt of the second dose. While there is otherwise no recommended minimum interval between infection and vaccination, current evidence suggests that reinfection is uncommon in the 90 days after initial infection. Therefore, persons with documented acute COVID-19 infection in the preceding 90 days may delay vaccination until near the end of this period, if desired.

Sources:
Interim Clinical Considerations for Use of mRNA COVID-19 Vaccines Currently Authorized in the United States
CDC: Frequently Asked Questions about COVID-19 Vaccination
Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia: Questions and Answers about COVID-19 Vaccines

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