On the morning of December 22, 2020, I received the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine. Walking into Methodist Hospital, I felt nervous, blessed, and optimistic. I was nervous because of the unknowns associated with the vaccine, but I silenced my fears by reminding myself of the reason I decided to get immunized—my father. My father is currently battling liver cancer, and his cancer treatment was postponed for months because he had contracted COVID-19.
I also felt immensely blessed to be eligible to receive the vaccine through my employment at TOMAGWA HealthCare Ministries, a nonprofit health clinic. Unfortunately, not all dental professionals are fortunate enough to currently be eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. In fact, in Texas, it has yet to be determined into what phase of the vaccine allocation dental professionals will be categorized.1
While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has stated that dentists and dental hygienists are to be included in the CDC’s 1A phase of the COVID-19 distribution, many states are not following these guidelines.2,3 Individual states are determining their own phases and not including dental professionals in phase 1A, leaving dental professionals who already work in one of the unhealthiest settings even more vulnerable.
If you have had the privilege to be immunized, it is important to note that neither of the two vaccines is 100% effective at preventing the contraction of COVID-19.4 Furthermore, it takes weeks after receiving the second dose for COVID-19 vaccine to reach immunity.5 For these reasons, individuals who receive the vaccine must still social distance and wear masks.6,7 It is believed that if you receive the vaccine and then contract the coronavirus, your symptoms will be milder than if you had not been immunized.8 Nonetheless, if you are hoping that receiving the vaccine will lead to less stringent guidelines for personal protective equipment (PPE), you will be disappointed. Although the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines provide over 90% immunity, there is still a possibility of contracting the virus and spreading it to others.6,7 Furthermore, at this time, it is unknown how much of the population will need to be immunized to reach herd immunity.2 Thus, it is necessary to continue following proper infection control and PPE guidelines.
Comparing the vaccines
If you are eligible for the vaccine and are considering getting immunized, here is what you need to know about the vaccines. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has authorized both vaccines for emergency use.6,7 The vaccines are formulated from spike protein mRNA, meaning they do not contain the live virus and thus cannot infect individuals with COVID-19.6,7 They also both have age restrictions; Pfizer’s is authorized for those 16 years and older, while Moderna is approved for those 18 years and older.6,7 Both vaccines require two shots, a priming dose and a booster shot.6,7 Providers receiving the Pfizer vaccine will receive their booster approximately 21 days after their initial dose.6 Those receiving the Moderna vaccine will have to wait 28 days after the priming dose.7 It is advised that both shots, priming and booster, be the same brand.4
When it comes to effectiveness, the Pfizer vaccine clinical trials indicated that it is 95% effective at preventing COVID-19 infection.4 Moderna’s studies concluded that it is 94.5% effective at preventing COVID-19 infection.4 It is also important to note that the duration of immunity from the COVID-19 vaccine is not known at this time.6,7 Similar to other vaccines, COVID-19 vaccines have mild short-term side effects. These include pain at injection site, fatigue, headache, muscle pain, joint pain, and chills.6,7 Personally, I had a sore arm for two days after receiving the Pfizer vaccine. I have received the flu vaccine every year for the past decade and usually develop a sore arm, but I was noticeably sorer from the COVID-19 vaccine. The soreness was not significant enough to impede daily activity.
An important but personal decision
The decision to get immunized against COVID-19—at this time or at all—is a personal decision. Individuals are advised to discuss receiving the vaccine with their physicians to determine if it is appropriate for them. If you are interested in receiving the COVID-19 vaccine and are unsure if you are eligible to receive it, you can contact your local health department. The American Dental Association also has an interactive guide on their website with information on individual states and vaccine regulations for dentists.1
I will receive my second dose of the Pfizer vaccine on January 13 and hope that immunity will aid me in maintaining the Hippocratic oath of doing no harm. For me, it is not only about my personal health, but also about not infecting other fathers, mothers, grandmothers, grandfathers, and loved ones.
I dedicate this article to my dear friend Yesenia Gutierrez, who lost both her parents to COVID-19.
- COVID-19 vaccine regulations for dentists map. ADA Center for Professional Success. https://success.ada.org/en/practice-management/patients/covid-19-vaccine-regulations-for-dentists-map. Accessed January 10, 2021.
- The importance of COVID-19 vaccination for healthcare personnel. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Updated December 28, 2020. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/vaccines/recommendations/hcp.html
- Strategies for populations recommended to receive initial doses of COVID-19 vaccine (persons included in phases 1a-1c). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Page last reviewed December 23, 2020. https://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/covid-19/implementation-strategies.html
- COVID-19 vaccination: Key facts. American Dental Association. January 4, 2021. https://success.ada.org/~/media/CPS/Files/COVID/ADA_Vaccine_Insight_Key_Facts
- What to expect after getting a COVID-19 vaccine. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Updated January 11, 2021. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/vaccines/expect/after.html
- Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine (BNT162, PF-07302048) Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee December 10, 2020 meeting briefing document. Food and Drug Administration. December 10, 2020. https://www.fda.gov/media/144246/download
- Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee meeting December 17, 2020. FDA briefing document. Moderna COVID-19 vaccine. Food and Drug Administration. December 17, 2020. https://www.fda.gov/media/144434/download
- Facts about COVID-19 vaccines. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Updated January 28, 2021. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/vaccines/facts.html
Amber Lovatos, BSDH, RDH, is the clinical director of dental services at TOMAGWA HealthCare Ministries. She is a professional speaker, key opinion leader for Crest Oral-B and Elevate Oral Care, and governmental affairs consultant for Mouthwatch. Amber is also the cofounder of Dental Hygiene Spark, a social media page dedicated to empowering dental hygienists. Her passions and expertise include teledentistry, abuse, public health, and human trafficking. Amber can be reached at [email protected].