Nurse's Notes: COVID-19 Vaccines

Nurse's Notes: COVID-19 Vaccines

By Mary Feak, BSN, RN, CPN, School Nurse

A few parents have reached out to me with questions about the available COVID-19 Vaccines. While I am by no means an expert, I thought I would share with you the knowledge that I do have.

There are currently three vaccinations available commercially in the United States for SARS-CoV-2, the virus which causes COVID-19. The first two of these vaccines, manufactured by Pfizer & Moderna, require a two-dose series. The second dose is given 21 days or 28 days after the first dose for Pfizer and Moderna respectively. These vaccines are mRNA-based.

Whereas most vaccines introduce a weakened version of a virus (or part of a virus) into our bodies, mRNA vaccines do not. The mRNA COVID-19 vaccines take advantage of the crown-like shape of the coronavirus. They use the genetic code for one of the “spikes” of the crown. The synthetic mRNA tells our cells to produce a replica of the harmless spike protein on the surface of the virus. From this point on, the function is similar to a traditional vaccine- dependent on our body’s immune response. Our immune system recognizes the protein as foreign and begins to produce antibodies against it. The body “learns” how to fight it and “remembers” for the next time it sees it. Then, if you encounter the real virus, your body will know how to respond.

The third vaccine, produced by Janssen (Pharmaceutical Companies of Johnson & Johnson), is a one-dose option that was approved by the FDA on February 27th. This is a viral-vector vaccine where a harmless virus is used to transport the genetic code for a spike protein into the cell. Once there, the cell reads the code, manufactures the protein, and the same immune response begins.

Because both types of vaccines elicit a response from the immune system, they might make you feel generalized symptoms of illness or localized pain or irritation. These types of side effects mean that the vaccine is doing its job. Your immune system is fighting!


1. Can I contract COVID-19 from a vaccine? When am I considered fully vaccinated?

Since no piece of the virus is injected, it is literally impossible to contract the virus from the shot itself. The only risk of spread would be from contact with the person giving the vaccine or anyone else in your vicinity when you receive it. The vaccine does not cover you immediately, however, as it takes time to produce antibodies. It is therefore important to continue all precautionary measures until you are fully vaccinated. See below regarding recommendations for precautions after that. The CDC considers “fully vaccinated” to be two weeks following the final dose of the series (the first dose for J&J and 2nd for Pfizer or Moderna).

2. What about the new strains?

There are several new strains of the Sars-Cov-2 virus that have appeared in different areas. Some of these are more contagious and/or more deadly than previous strains. Since the basic make-up of the virus is the same, the vaccine should at least lessen severity of illness. Research is underway to determine if a third dose of vaccine would assist in covering for new strains of the virus.

3. Why do I need to keep wearing a mask after I get vaccinated?

Masks prevent transmission of disease. Wearing a mask protects you from catching an illness, but also from spreading one. The vaccines do not make you “immune” to the virus like in the movies. There is no invisible shield that makes you impermeable to attack. Rather, if you do encounter the virus, you are significantly less likely to die, to be hospitalized, or to have long term health effects. You are less likely to have symptoms, less likely to pass it on. These things are less likely but still possible. How long this protection lasts also varies from person to person. For now, the CDC says that we are covered for three months. This is likely to increase once more time passes (and they have more data). The recommendation is to continue wearing a mask when you are around non-vaccinated persons.

4. How new are these types of vaccines?

Not that new, only relatively. Both mRNA and viral vector vaccines have been studied and used against other diseases for a while. Viral vector vaccines were first developed in the 1970s. mRNA vaccines were developed in the 1990s.

5.  Which vaccine should I get?

They all work. Don’t be deceived by numbers in the media saying how effective some are versus others. They were tested in different environments, against different strains of virus. If all the vaccines had been studied with all other variables equal, we would know how they stack up against each other. We don’t have that data. So for now, make your decision with your doctor and family. In my opinion, the sooner the better!

6. When are vaccines going to be available to kids/teens?

We don’t know. The first trial groups only included adults, 18 years or older. Some vaccines are now being given to teens, aged 16 or above. Trials have only just begun to include kids 12 and older. Moderna is conducting trials in Houston. If you are interested in enrolling your kids, 12 or older, here is the web site with information: 

7. What happens when I’m fully vaccinated?

The answer to this question is changing rapidly as we have more and more data with the passage of time. See this link to read the newest guidelines from the CDC.








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About the Author

"Nurse Mary" is in her second year at The Joy School. A native Houstonian, Mary grew up in the Galleria area. One of her closest childhood friends attended The Joy School! Mary attended St. Michael Catholic School and St. Agnes Academy prior to pursuing her Bachelor’s degree at Boston College. She graduated magna cum laude from BC in 2012 with a Bachelor’s degree in Nursing and a Minor in Hispanic Studies.

Mary came to us from Texas Children’s Hospital, where she spent six years as a staff nurse on a pediatric acute care floor. Following her first year at the hospital, Mary was awarded Rookie Nurse of the Year. During the subsequent years at TCH, Mary served as a leader on her unit as both a preceptor and Charge Nurse. She also led the hospital-wide Quality Practice Council as part of the nursing shared governance structure.

Mary lives near her childhood home with her husband, Dan, and their daughter, Ella. 












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