FAQ: What you need to know about the 2nd COVID-19 dose, minority participation in vaccine trials, mammograms after vaccine

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As vaccines continue to get into more arms, The Sumter Item has heard some in the community voice concerns about side effects and other pieces of information that can be cleared up with credible information from health experts.

Following are some common questions about the COVID-19 vaccine and the vaccination process in general. Information is from Dr. Catherine Rabon, hospitalist and chief medical officer at McLeod Health Clarendon, and Prisma Health.

Question: What is the vaccine doing in my body?

Answer: The approved vaccines use messenger RNA, or mRNA, a vaccine technology that has been studied for decades. It teaches the cells in your body to make a harmless piece of the "spike protein" found on the surface of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, causing your immune system to produce antibodies that fight against infection.

The vaccines do not interact with your DNA. Your DNA is protected by a membrane that prevents things from passing through easily. The vaccine does not enter the protected nucleus, where DNA is housed, so it does not have access to your DNA.

Q: Can you get COVID-19 from the vaccine?

A: No. The side effects are the body's immune response to the vaccine in those 24 hours after you receive it. You cannot get COVID-19 from the vaccine because the vaccines don't contain the live virus that causes COVID-19.

Q: What are the common side effects of the second dose for COVID-19, and how are they different than the first dose?

A: Some people will feel temporary symptoms after receiving a COVID-19 vaccine. Reactions tend to be mild and last less than one or two days. After receiving the COVID-19 vaccine, individuals may experience some side effects that include a low-grade fever, headache, aches and pains for a day, feeling kind of fatigued and a bit of a sore arm at the injection site.

Q: Is it normal or expected to feel worse after you receive the second dose compared to the first?

A: It is more common to experience these symptoms with the second dose because your body is building on the immune response that was initiated from the first vaccine.

Q: Are certain people more likely to feel side effects?

A: While everyone may have a variable response to the vaccine, younger individuals are more likely to experience side effects than older individuals because younger individuals' immune systems are more robust.

Q: How were the vaccines developed so fast?

A: Scientists have been researching coronavirus vaccines for years during previous outbreaks caused by related coronaviruses, such as SARS and MERS. Usually, vaccine development takes years, but this earlier research gave scientists a head start to allow these vaccines to be developed and approved in record time.

Q: Did minorities participate in the vaccine trials?

A: According to Prisma Health, in the Pfizer trials, 13% of the participants were Hispanic and 10% were Black. A total of 43,931 enrolled in the Pfizer trial. For the Moderna vaccine, of the 30,000 who enrolled, 20% were Hispanic and 10% were Black.

Q: Can I get a mammogram (breast cancer screening) if I've had a COVID-19 vaccine?

A: All vaccines, including COVID-19, can cause temporarily enlarged lymph nodes in a woman's armpits. If this is seen on a mammogram, radiologists may recommend follow-up imaging. Unless there is a concern about a breast problem, women who have received a COVID-19 vaccine are advised to wait 4-6 weeks after their second dose before getting a mammogram.