How officials will encourage the public to take both COVID-19 vaccine doses

Posted at 4:04 PM, Dec 09, 2020

Some of the COVID-19 vaccine candidates call for more than one shot, so how do we make sure patients come back?

Three experts all tell us preparing people for the side effects will be critical.

A nursing researcher described those side effects in a JAMA article. She suspects she had the experimental vaccine as part of Pfizer’s Phase III clinical trials.

After the second shot, she said she was light-headed, nauseous, had a headache, ran a fever, and was hardly able to lift her arm from muscle aches. She wasn't warned and it scared her into thinking she might have COVID-19.

“The immune system is revving up,” said LJ Tan, Chief Strategy Officer at the Immunization Action Coalition. “It's responding to that vaccine, and I think we need to tell our patients that so that they expect that. Otherwise, they're going to say, ‘wow that thing hurt, I'm not coming back for that second dose.’”

For comparison, a recent shingles vaccine also requires more than one dose and can be painful. Providers and advocates lead education efforts on what to expect. The return rate after the first shot for shingles is about 80%, which is considered high.

One suggestion is to put information on side effects in COVID-19 vaccine distribution kits.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has already said it plans to include index cards that tell patients what they had and when their next dose is due. That's on top of electronic reminders like email or texts.

The federal government has also promised to cover most costs for the vaccine.

One doctor says he'd take that a step further.

“I feel extremely strongly that we should do everything we can in terms of customized, personalized patient support programs, and even recommend that the federal government go beyond free and provide small rewards or incentives for people who complete the two-dose program,” said Dr. A. Mark Fendrick, Director of the University of Michigan's Center for Value-Based Insurance Design.

There's some protection for people who only get one dose of the Pfizer vaccine, but nearly full protection is better. The second dose also boosts antibodies.

“That's important because of waning immunity. The higher your antibodies when you start, the longer it takes for that to decrease over time, and potentially make you more susceptible,” said Dr. Gregory Poland, Director of the Mayo Clinic's Vaccine Research Group.

That means the best thing is to get both doses as was tested in the study.