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What seniors need to know about the COVID-19 vaccines

Written By: Carmel Dyer, MD | Updated: December 22, 2020
Senior patient speaking with doctor

A geriatric medicine expert breaks down what senior citizens need to know about the COVID-19 vaccines.

Seniors are the hardest hit when it comes to COVID-19 infections. Some may exhibit no symptoms at all or may develop a mild case, while others become severely ill and require hospitalization. With age and coexisting medical conditions as two major risk factors for severe illness from COVID-19, many seniors may have questions about this new vaccine.

Was it developed too fast?

Infectious disease experts note standard procedures were used in the development of the vaccine. These standard procedures, coupled with newer methods of creating vaccines, expedited its availability in record time.

Clinical trials for vaccines for COVID-19 were more aggressive compared to vaccines for other infectious diseases. Instead of having few sites enrolling, multiple sites worldwide enrolled participants simultaneously in regions with high numbers of cases. Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech enrolled over 30,000 and 40,000 persons, respectively, and AstraZeneca, as of Dec. 11, had enrolled 20,000 participants. UTHealth researchers are currently enrolling participants for the AstraZeneca trial. Many medical professionals advocate for the use of these vaccines to help stop the spread of the virus and develop herd immunity.

What are the side effects?

It is not possible to know all the side effects currently. Most will develop side effects like what they experience with the flu vaccine. Short-term side effects like those experienced with a flu vaccine are common, such as soreness at the injection site, fever, chills, or headache. As more people receive the vaccine, we will learn more about any long-term side effects.

What do I have to pay?

Medicare will pay for the vaccine, whether a person has traditional Medicare or if they are in a Medicare Advantage plan. UT Physicians is developing procedures for the efficient distribution of vaccines once we get them. Seniors should be wary of scams that ask you to pay for the vaccine, ask for your Social Security number, or promise to get you in a queue for the vaccine.

When will I get it?

Senior residents of long-term facilities will be among the first persons to get the vaccine, along with medical professionals on the front lines of the pandemic. Those over the age of 65 and with underlying medical conditions will fall into subsequent categories.

For more information on the coronavirus and to review frequently asked questions about the vaccine, visit the UT Physicians COVID-19 Information Center here. To review information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, visit their site.

As the clinical practice of McGovern Medical School at UTHealth Houston, UT Physicians has locations across the Greater Houston area to serve the community. To schedule an appointment, call 888-4UT-DOCS.