Ask A Doctor: Will A COVID-19 Vaccine That’s Been In Cold Storage Be Painful?

A UT Health San Antonio physician answers listeners’ questions about their health during the coronavirus pandemic.

By Michael Marks & Shelly BrisbinDecember 15, 2020 9:54 am,

In this installment of Ask a Doctor, UT Health San Antonio physician Dr. Fred Campbell answers more of Texas Standard listeners’ most pressing questions about the coronavirus.

For people who do not have a primary care physician, will the COVID-19 vaccine be available at pharmacies like the flu shot, or will folks need to have a doctor’s referral to get it?

Like the flu shot, COVID-19 vaccines will be available at pharmacies, approved under the auspices of the company’s medical director. That means people will be able to obtain a vaccine, even if they don’t have specific approval from a family physician.

If you obtain the first of two required COVID-19 vaccine doses, is it necessary that the second shot be from the same company?

Campbell says the two shots a person receives must be from the same vaccine maker. He says that record-keeping will be an important priority for those providing the vaccines.

Is the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine painful, since it must be stored at extremely low temperatures before it is administered?

“The vaccine itself is always thawed to a liquid form before administration,” Campbell said. “So it will be above the freezing point.”

He says it’s unlikely the vaccine will cause pain because of its temperature.

The Moderna vaccine reportedly does not require extreme cold storage before it is administered, and Campbell says either vaccine will retain its potency for a few hours after being thawed out. He believes allowing the vaccine to warm to a comfortable temperature will not be an issue unless it must be transported long distances, above its ideal temperature.

Is the logistical lift required to vaccinate most Americans similar to the effort that was required to administer the polio vaccine in the 1950s and ’60s?

“I am old enough that I actually helped participate in the vaccine project with polio,” Campbell said. “I was a Boy Scout back in the ’60s when we were giving out sugar cubes with the Sabin oral vaccine. So it was a project that involved people coming into schoolhouses, to churches, to other places, and lining up for long periods of time to get their vaccination in an oral form.”

March of next year will mark one year since much of the United States went into lockdown because of COVID-19. Where do you think the nation and the state will be in terms of the pandemic at that time?

Campbell says hundreds of thousands of people will be safer, in some respects, because of the availability of COVID-19 vaccines.

“I don’t think that March is likely to be safe for most of the population, however, that have not been vaccinated, and we would still need to do all of the common sense things we’ve been talked about, including social distancing and wearing a mask, until much later,” Campbell said.

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