Local 4′s Dr. Frank McGeorge answers COVID vaccine questions

Answering questions on COVID vaccines, vaccination process

Coronavirus Vaccine stock image (WDIV)

DETROIT – Since the coronavirus pandemic began, Dr. Frank McGeorge has been keeping viewers up-to-date and informed on all fronts.

He’s been answering your questions about the vaccine, the vaccination process and more.

More: Michigan COVID-19 vaccinations: How to find appointments, info on phases

Below is an updating list of the questions McGeorge has received and answered.

Can I get the COVID-19 vaccine if I’m on an antibiotic?

Antibiotics do not affect the vaccine and it is OK to continue them. Also, the vaccine won’t have an effect on whatever bacterial infection you are taking the antibiotics for.

Why do I have to reschedule mammogram?

The COVID vaccines can cause an enlargement of lymph nodes. Especially in the armpit near the injection site. The problem is that the lymph nodes can sometimes be seen on a mammogram and cause unnecessary concern for underlying cancer. As a result, the Society of Breast Imaging published new guidelines for scheduling mammograms to avoid potential false positives.

They recommend, “If possible and when it does not unduly delay care, consider scheduling screening exams prior to the first dose of a COVID-19 vaccination or 4-6 weeks following the second dose of a COVID-19 vaccination.”

Why do you have to wear a mask after getting vaccinated?

After you’re vaccinated, because the vaccines have a 95 percent efficacy, your chances of developing symptomatic COVID-19 from exposure are small. If you don’t have symptoms after exposure, chances are the vaccine is successfully protecting you.

The reason for continuing mask use is the possibility that fully vaccinated people could still be able to spread the virus to others who aren’t vaccinated. We’re still waiting to learn more about that risk.

Will vaccines need to be given every year?

Unfortunately, the truth right now is that we just don’t know. There are a couple of scenarios where a booster might be needed. It’s possible that the immunity does wear off. It’s also possible that variant strains might require their specific booster.

Is it safe to get the COVID vaccine if you’re allergic to shellfish? How do variants form?

Should we wait more than a month to get the second shot because of the side effects?

No. You should get the vaccine as close to 21 days after for the Pfizer vaccine and 28 days for the Moderna.

How do variants form?

Every time a virus replicates there are potential errors in the genetic instructions that are passed onto the next generation of virus.

Researchers label a virus a variant when a number of these errors, or mutations, accumulate and change something important about the virus.

The U.K. or South African variants have a large number of mutations and most likely developed in a single individual who was infected for a long time. That allowed each mutation to add onto the ones that happened earlier in the infection.

Read more here.

Answering COVID variant questions: How many are there? How are they being found?

Recently people have been asking about how many variants of COVID-19 actually exist.

The answer is that there is a huge number of variants, but internationally we are primarily focused on only three right now.

That is because the mutations that make them up have changed some important way the virus behaves, whether it is the ability to spread or the ability to evade immunity.

Within the US we are also concerned about and more closely following a variant that has been described in California.

Another frequently asked question is about how the new variants are being found.

The answer is that labs around the world are constantly doing gene sequencing on samples taken from infected patients.

Read more here.

How Much does the Vaccine Cost?

The vaccine is free to everyone, but providers are allowed to bill a fee to your insurance for administering the shot.

However, they cannot charge you anything. Even if you have a co-pay or deductible there should be no out of pocket cost to you.

When will children be able to get vaccinated?

We just don’t know at this point. We won’t know until more data emerges. More studies need to be done and it’s going to take some time.

Children don’t bear the brunt of the serious disease so we’re going to want a lot more research before children start getting vaccinated.

READ: Michigan releases preliminary COVID vaccination timeline for other phases

How long will the vaccine keep you safe?

We don’t have that information yet and unfortunately the only way for us to find out is to continue to study it over time.

How long can I go after my first dose before getting the second and will it still be effective?

Ideally, you should receive the second shot within four days of the date that it’s due. There is no clear data on the effectiveness if it’s significantly delayed beyond that. That said, the CDC guidance is that you should simply get the second shot as soon as possible. At this time the repeating the series isn’t recommended.

Is it true that you shouldn’t drink alcohol the day before or after receiving the vaccine?

No. There aren’t any dietary restrictions -- including alcohol -- that residents need to consider with regard to the vaccine. However, excessive drinking before or after the vaccine will likely make any potential side effects -- like a headache or body ache -- more unpleasant.

What’s the longest time you can wait for your second shot?

The recommendation is to get it as soon as possible if it’s delayed. We don’t have data on what happens if that second shot is late. So, it’s important that those giving the vaccines make giving those second dose a priority.

How soon can one start the first Moderna shot after taking the first Pfizer shot if a second Pfizer is not offered?

Switching between vaccines is not recommended. Your second shot should be from the same manufacturer as the first one. Even if it means it’s delayed because of availability.

I just received my second dose of the shingles vaccine. How long should I wait to get the COVID-19 vaccine?

The recommendation is to wait at least 14 days between any other vaccine and the COVID-19 vaccine.

If the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are both MRNA vaccines, why does one need to be stored at -94 degrees Fahrenheit and the other one only at -4 degrees Fahrenheit?

The temperature differences are requirements from the manufacturers and are related to proprietary information they have on what the most stable temperature is for their vaccine. Although both are MRNA vaccines, there are differences in the genetic sequences used and the coating used to get the MRNA into our cells.

Is the monoclonal antibody cocktail President Trump received available to patients?

With the exception of one medication, President Donald Trump received the same care and treatments as all other COVID-19 patients.

The monoclonal antibody treatments are now available for non-hospitalized patients diagnosed with COVID. Both state and federal agencies that track their use have commented that there hasn’t been widespread adoption of those treatments -- specifically Bamlanivimab from Eli Lilly and the combination product from Regeneron. Some facilities are using them consistently, but the overall demand for the treatment hasn’t been what some had thought it would be.

If I was hospitalized with COVID and received Remdesivir, can I still receive the vaccine?

Yes, you can still get the vaccine if you were treated with Remdesivir, but it’s more complicated if you received either convalescent plasma or one of the monoclonal antibody treatments like Bamlanivimab. The antibodies received might interfere with, or react with the vaccine. It’s recommended to delay vaccinations for 90 days after receiving these treatments.

Will the vaccine be effective against future coronaviruses?

The currently available mRNA vaccines are specific to the spike protein of the SARS-CoV-2 virus and that is the only coronavirus you would be protected from.

Can a person become reinfected with the variant within a few months of catching COVID-19?

No. Recovery from a COVID-19 infection -- regardless of which variant you were exposed to -- should provide at least 90 days of immunity against other SARS-CoV-2 variants as well.

I have had COVID-19 and recovered do I still need to get vaccinated?

Yes. If you’ve had recent COVID-19 it’s estimated that the immunity lasts at least three months. So you can put off the vaccine around 90 days when your immunity is expected to wane a little bit. If you’re unsure, just get vaccinated.

If you are asymptomatic and have COVID-19 and got the vaccine you are expected to be okay. If you are experiencing COVID-19 symptoms you should get tested. If you test positive, you should stay home.

Should I still wear a mask after being vaccinated? When can I hug my grandchildren?

The medical answer is to wear a mask and no, it’s not safe -- don’t hug your grandchildren.

The practical answer is to assess your own risk. If you have been successfully vaccinated -- that’s 2 shots and waiting for another 7 to 14 days after the second dose -- you would be reasonably expected to be fully vaccinated. There’s a 1 in 20 chance that you’re not adequately protected.

If the COVID-19 vaccine works, why would someone still have to wear a mask and social distance after getting it?

The coronavirus vaccines are injected deep into the muscles and stimulate the immune system to produce antibodies. This appears to be enough protection to keep the vaccinated person from getting ill.

But what’s not clear is whether it’s possible for the virus to bloom in the nose and be sneezed or breathed out to infect others even as antibodies elsewhere in the body have mobilized to prevent the vaccinated person from getting sick.

My husband is scheduled to receive his vaccine in a couple weeks, should I be concerned about him possibly passing the virus to me?

No. There is no risk of someone spreading the virus from getting the vaccine. The MRNA vaccines do not contain any trace of the live virus.

READ: What is the science behind these vaccines?

Should people who experienced side effects with the first dose still get the second dose?

If you had significant side effects with the first dose you’ll likely have a fever with the second dose. That’s not a reason to skip the second dose. You need the second dose.

Unless it was a medically-concerning side effect, like anaphylaxis, the side effects are only temporary and when compared to the risk of COVID-19, you should still receive the second dose.

What can I do to prevent side effects?

While you can’t prevent such side effects, you can treat them when they occur.

Are the side effects different for the first and second dose?

The side effects are the same for both doses, but they are significantly more common after the second dose because the immune system has been activated by the first dose. Additionally, side effects are more common in people under the age of 55.

Should I take Benadryl/Tylenol/ibuprofen before getting the COVID-19 vaccine?

No. Absolutely not. Some of the antihistamines and pain killers could blunt your overall immune response. Taking an antihistamine would be a bad idea. We don’t really know what it would do, but blunting an allergic response that doctors would need to know about would be a bad idea.

Additionally, side effects take a while to appear and whatever medication you’d take would have worn off by the time you experience them.

I have health problems, should I be getting the vaccine?

People have asked if health problems such COPD, bronchitis, heart attacks and more would make the vaccine unsafe. Ultimately, health problems are more of a bigger reason to get the vaccine. If you do have any concerns, you should discuss it with you doctor who knows your health history.

Is it safe to get the vaccine if I ... ?

Based on the trials that have been done, there is no specific disease or illness that makes the vaccine unsafe or would be a contraindication to receive it. While that is a very broad statement and everyone should discuss their specific situation with their doctor, you should keep an eye on developments as the vaccine is more widely administered.

What are the components of either vaccine that are worrisome for individuals having an allergic reaction?

The vaccine ingredient that is being focused on as the most likely culprit behind allergic reactions is polyethylene glycol. The chemical is necessary to maintain the outer-coating of the MRNA, allowing it to get into cells and produce spike protein.

PEG is very common in medications, cosmetics and even laxatives. Because of the concern, any known allergy to PEG, or cross-reacting chemical polysorbate, is a reason to not get the MRNA COVID vaccines.

Why is the Pfizer vaccine recommended for people 16-years old and above while Moderna is for people 18-years old and above?

If it seems arbitrary, it’s because it is. The age difference is simply related to the way the original study data -- that was submitted to the FDA for emergency authorization -- was collected. There was a significant debate before the Pfizer vaccine’s minimum age was made 16 rather than 18.

Is the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine better?

The current best vaccine is whichever one you can get. Over time, there will be more data on each vaccine, but there will be ample supply that we can make decisions based on effectiveness, particularly in specific groups of people -- like youths and the elderly, but that’s a ways off.

What, if any are the effects of the vaccine on women who are breastfeeding?

No specific studies have been done to evaluate any possible effect that the vaccine would have on breastfeeding. That’s the most scientifically accurate answer.

With that noted, there is no reason to think the vaccine would have any adverse effect on breastfeeding or the child.

Hank Aaron took the shot and died a couple days later, did that vaccine cause his death?

Aaron died 18 days after receiving the Moderna vaccine at the age of 86. There is no evidence that his death was connected to receiving the vaccine.

Furthermore, there is no connection between either vaccine and any deaths that have been investigated.

RELATED: Tracking Michigan COVID-19 vaccine data

Questions about coronavirus? Ask Dr. McGeorge

About the Author:

Dr. McGeorge can be seen on Local 4 News helping Metro Detroiters with health concerns when he isn't helping save lives in the emergency room at Henry Ford Hospital.