- One physician in Alabama made headlines last week after having to explain to severely ill patients that COVID-19 vaccines couldn’t help them after they’d developed the disease.
- The vaccines work by helping your immune system learn to identify and fight off the coronavirus.
- As a result, vaccines protect you from getting and transmitting the virus that causes COVID-19.
By now, you’ve probably heard of the many amazing things the COVID-19 vaccines can do.
They help stop the transmission of the virus, they keep people out of the hospital with serious cases, and most importantly, they help save your life and the lives of those around you.
But there’s one thing the vaccines can’t do — they can’t help fight COVID-19 if you already have it.
One physician in Alabama made headlines last week after having to explain this to severely ill patients.
In a story that went viral last week, Dr. Brytney Cobia begged followers on Facebook to get the vaccine as soon as possible in the wake of seeing new patients in critical care who didn’t have the vaccine.
How does the COVID-19 vaccine protect me?
COVID-19 vaccines are effective. They work by helping your immune system learn how to identify and fight the coronavirus.
As a result, the vaccines help protect you from getting and transmitting the virus that causes COVID-19.
“Vaccines work by helping your body build up antibodies prior to an infection,” said Dr. Teresa Amato, chair of emergency medicine at Long Island Jewish Forest Hills in New York. “The vaccine [reaches it’s most effective state] about 10 to 14 days after completion of the injections. That time period is when your body increases production of antibodies and makes some memory cells to help fight the virus if you are exposed.”
The vaccines can also help keep you from getting seriously ill if you do develop COVID-19, because your immune system is better able to attack the virus before it spreads or becomes more serious.
It’s important to remember that the vaccines don’t mean your chances of getting COVID-19 are 0 percent, and in extremely rare cases, vaccinated people have needed to be hospitalized or died from the disease.
However, the vast majority of people who are currently becoming sick enough to need hospitalization in the United States are people who haven’t been vaccinated.
Why doesn’t the vaccine help treat COVID-19?
Vaccinations aren’t treatments — they’re preventive measures.
“The goal of all vaccines, including the COVID vaccines, is to stimulate the body’s immune system and antibody response if the offending virus or bacteria were to enter the person’s system,” said Dr. Theodore Strange, interim chair of medicine at Staten Island University Hospital in New York.
This can be done in multiple ways.
One of them is giving people an inactive piece of virus messenger which then stimulates the person’s immune system to create antibodies in the event of exposure to the virus, Strange explained.
Think of it like a suit of armor. The vaccines provide a suit of armor before going into battle to help protect you against an attack. If you go into battle without a suit of armor and become wounded, putting the armor on after the fact will not help you.
“Vaccines are not acute treatments of the disease,” added Strange. “It takes the body time before the immune response is built up, including the fact that more than one vaccination may be needed to attain the immunity.”
What can we do to stay safe?
The best thing we can do to keep ourselves and others safe from COVID-19 is to get the vaccine now.
If you contract the virus, the vaccine can’t help you. The safest and most responsible choice we can make is to become vaccinated because, as Cobia has seen time and time again, once it’s too late, it’s too late.
“As a physician, it is important to be nonjudgmental when asking a patient about their COVID-19 vaccine status. However, it has become increasingly difficult to see patients critically ill with a COVID-19 infection that declined a vaccine earlier. Once a patient is infected with the virus and is ill, a vaccine is ineffective at decreasing symptoms,” said Amato.
“It is unfortunate that people are hesitant about the vaccine,” she added. “I have personally cared for patients infected with COVID-19 who really regret not having gotten the vaccine sooner.”
And for those who are currently fully vaccinated, the CDC has recently updated its guidelines in light of the new Delta variant, which has proven to be even more contagious than previous versions.
Even if you’re fully vaccinated, the CDC recommends wearing a mask and physically distancing when indoors in places that have a high concentration of new COVID-19 cases.
For any questions or concerns regarding the COVID-19 vaccines, speak with your doctor or visit the CDC.
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