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Everything You Need to Know About the Moderna Vaccine

doctor extracting coronavirus vaccine

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Key Takeaways

  • The Moderna COVID-19 vaccine is the second vaccine to be granted emergency use authorization in the United States.
  • We don't know when children will receive the vaccine, as the first clinical trials included adults only. However, trials have now started in children aged 12 and older.
  • The Moderna vaccine has not been tested for safety or efficacy in pregnant or breastfeeding individuals, but if anybody in those groups is offered the vaccine, they can decide whether they want to take it.

On December 18, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) authorized the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine for emergency use, giving the U.S. a second vaccine in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic (the Pfizer vaccine was granted its emergency use authorization on December 11). 

It’s an exciting development, and it means more vaccines will be distributed across the country over the coming weeks and months. But it won’t be available to everybody at the same time. Here’s everything your family needs to know about the Moderna vaccine. 

How Does It Compare to the Pfizer Vaccine?

First of all, here's the science. Both vaccines are made using a new technology, called messenger RNA (mRNA). Unlike many other types of vaccines that trigger an immune response by injecting a weakened or inactivated germ into the body, an mRNA vaccine teaches our cells how to make its own immune response. It does this by encoding part of the spike protein found on the surface of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, explains the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Both vaccines are administered in two doses – three weeks apart for the Pfizer vaccine, and one month (28 days) apart for the Moderna vaccine. In terms of efficacy, there’s very little difference between the two—95% for Pfizer and 94.1% for Moderna. 

In any case, you probably won't have a choice between the Pfizer vaccine and the Moderna vaccine. "You'll probably need to take whichever option is available first in your area since both COVID-19 vaccines are currently in short supply," says Ramzi Yacoub, PharmD, chief pharmacy officer at SingleCare.

When Will My Family Get the Vaccine? 

On December 1, the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP), an independent committee advising the CDC, voted in favour of making healthcare workers and residents of long-term care facilities the top priority for the COVID-19 vaccine.

After this group receives the vaccine (phase 1a), people aged 75 and over and frontline essential workers will be next (phase 1b). The next priority group is people aged 65-74 and people aged 16-64 years with high-risk medical conditions, plus other essential workers (phase 1c). 

Ramzi Yacoub, PharmD

It’s really difficult to pinpoint the timing of when Americans in various groups can expect to get the vaccine, especially since each state is on a different timeline that depends on its vaccine supply.

— Ramzi Yacoub, PharmD

This means that unless your family includes a frontline healthcare worker, you probably won’t have access to the vaccine for another few months. Yacoub explains, "It’s really difficult to pinpoint the timing of when Americans in various groups can expect to get the vaccine, especially since each state is on a different timeline that depends on its vaccine supply."

"Most states are currently in phase 1a of distribution, but some states, like Colorado, are now entering phase 1b. Other states are predicting they'll progress to phase 1b sometime in January," says Yacoub.

Some leading health experts are proposing as early as late March for the general American population to have vaccine access. "I had been saying by my calculation, sometime by the end of March, the beginning of April that the normal healthy man and woman in the street, who has no underlying conditions, would likely get it," Anthony Fauci, MD, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told MSNBC on December 14, the day the first vaccines rolled out.

Dr. Fauci added that by the second quarter of 2021, the U.S. could see the "overwhelming majority of the population vaccinated."

What About My Children?

Currently, the Moderna vaccine is only authorized for adults aged 18 and over (the Pfizer vaccine can be given to those aged 16 and over). However, both Pfizer and Moderna recently began new vaccine trials including children as young as age 12. If those trials are successful, the next step will be FDA review, before the vaccines are produced and distributed. 

On November 29, Dr. Fauci told NBC it was “going to be months” before the vaccine was approved for children, stating, “You want to make sure you have a degree of efficacy and safety that is established in an adult population—particularly an adult, normal population.” 

Danelle Fisher, MD

Get your children a flu vaccine if they haven’t gotten one yet. No one wants to have the flu plus COVID-19.

— Danelle Fisher, MD

Until studies are carried out on children, we won't know how many doses of the COVID-19 vaccine they'll require. "Each vaccine can vary," says Danelle Fisher, MD, pediatrician and vice chair of pediatrics at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, California.

Dr. Fisher points to the flu vaccine as one example—children under age 8 who are getting the vaccine for the first time need to get two doses, four weeks apart. Thereafter, they get one dose per year, just like adults do. "Get your children a flu vaccine if they haven’t gotten one yet," Dr. Fisher recommends. "No one wants to have the flu plus COVID-19."

Can I Get the Moderna Vaccine If I’m Pregnant or Breastfeeding?

Pregnant people haven't been actively involved in late-stage clinical trials for any COVID-19 vaccines, including the Moderna vaccine. This means there’s a lack of data on whether the vaccine is safe and/or effective for pregnant people.

The CDC says people who are pregnant and part of a group recommended to receive the COVID-19 vaccine may choose to be vaccinated. This extends to anybody who is breastfeeding. None of the COVID-19 vaccine trials have included lactating individuals either, so there’s also a lack of data for that group. 

Sherry Ross, MD

Even though you are pregnant or breastfeeding, it may be in your best interest to take the COVID-19 vaccine. The choice is yours, in conjunction with your healthcare provider.

— Sherry Ross, MD

In a practice advisory published in December 2020, The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recommended that COVID-19 vaccines shouldn’t be withheld from pregnant people who meet the criteria for vaccination per the ACIP recommendations for priority groups. So right now, this only applies to people who are pregnant or breastfeeding and are also healthcare workers. 

Sherry Ross, MD, OB/GYN and women’s health expert at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, California, advises discussing the information with your doctor. “Even though you are pregnant or breastfeeding, it may be in your best interest to take the COVID-19 vaccine,” she says. “The choice is yours, in conjunction with your healthcare provider.”

What to Expect When You Get the Vaccine 

In an FDA briefing document regarding Moderna's COVID-19 vaccine, the following symptoms are listed as potential side effects:

  • Injection site pain, swelling, or redness
  • Tiredness
  • Headache
  • Muscle pain
  • Joint pain
  • Chills
  • Fever
  • Nausea/vomiting

It's possible that children might experience different side effects, says Dr. Fisher. "I would be curious to know about gastrointestinal side effects such as abdominal pain or diarrhea," she says. "Both of those symptoms can be more prevalent in children than adults who get COVID-19. I do hope the rate of side effects is low and that they are mild in nature."

What This Means For You

Unless you're a healthcare worker, it's unlikely that you'll be offered the COVID-19 vaccine for some time, and children and adolescents might not be offered the vaccine until the second half of 2021.

In the meantime, it's crucial to continue to follow the safety guidelines provided by the CDC, as well as any local restrictions. That means staying home as much as possible, wearing a mask when you're out in public, and staying six feet away from other people. When you do meet others, gather outside as much as possible.

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Article Sources
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  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Understanding mRNA COVID-19 vaccines. Updated December 18, 2020.

  2. U.S. Food & Drug Administration. Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine frequently asked questions. Updated December 23, 2020.

  3. U.S. Food & Drug Administration. Moderna COVID-19 Vaccine EUA Fact Sheet for Healthcare Providers. Updated December 2020.

  4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. ACIP recommendations. Updated December 20, 2020.

  5. Connecticut Children's. When will the COVID-19 vaccine be available for kids, and will it be safe for your family?. Published December 24, 2020.

  6. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Flu & young children. Updated October 15, 2020.

  7. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Vaccination considerations for people who are pregnant or breastfeeding. Updated December 28, 2020.