COVID-19 vaccines: What do we know?

By Amy Duckro, DO | Dec 15, 2020


For months, the world has been watching and waiting for a COVID-19 vaccine. The promise of a resolution to this pandemic seems to be the main topic of conversation on video calls with friends, on social media, and within our own households. Finally, after a year of intense efforts from our scientific research community, the Food and Drug Administration approved one vaccine and another is closing in on approval.

While Coloradans anxiously wait to receive a vaccine, I wanted to provide some insight on the COVID-19 vaccines we will be seeing in Colorado as early as this week. Here's what we know today.


The federal government is overseeing COVID-19 vaccine distribution. Public health officials in each state are to then issue guidelines prioritizing who should receive the vaccine first. Health officials in Colorado will have the ultimate authority to prioritize at-risk populations in our state.

And, as of December 11, the state has listed who will receive the first doses of the Pfizer vaccine. Front-line healthcare workers in direct contact with COVID-19 positive patients are among those first prioritized, along with people most vulnerable to severe illness from the virus, such as those living in skilled nursing facilities. With one of the fastest-growing senior populations in the country, we have a lot of these facilities in our state.

Is it safe?

In medicine, the risks versus benefits must always be considered. The same holds for vaccines. Like most recommended vaccines, the ones for COVID-19, which will be administered in two doses weeks apart, can produce side effects. Some people who participated in clinical trials studying these vaccines reported fevers, headaches, fatigue, muscle aches, and soreness around injection sites. These minor symptoms are a sign that the body is responding to the vaccine as expected and building immunity and, in most cases, had fully resolved within two days of getting the vaccine.

At Kaiser Permanente, we have decades of experience administering vaccinations safely and efficiently, strictly following public health and medical guidance. Our infectious diseases physicians, including myself, have been tracking the available evidence for the COVID-19 vaccines in development.

As COVID-19 vaccines receive approval, safety and efficacy data will also be released to the public. This data will be closely reviewed by our infectious disease physicians, researchers, and vaccine experts in collaboration with state public health officials.

Herd immunity

It is important to remember that while a vaccine will be vital to ending this pandemic, it will take a long time for widespread vaccination to be achieved. It is essential that we all continue to take public health measures seriously such as physical distancing, frequent hand washing, limiting group gatherings, restricting non-essential travel, and wearing masks. We have the power to control the spread of COVID-19 if we adhere to these recommendations.

Regarding vaccination, experts won't know how long individual immunity lasts until the response to vaccination is tracked over time. COVID-19 can have serious, life-threatening complications, and there is no way in advance to know how COVID-19 will affect you. And if you get infected, you could spread the disease to friends, family, and others around you. COVID-19 vaccination will help protect you and those around you from illness by creating an antibody response.

The holidays are here and we all want to get out, enjoy the company of our friends and family, and share our usual traditions. But this year it must be different. Hospitals are full, healthcare workers and first responders are tired, and COVID-19 infection rates in Colorado and across the U.S. continue to climb. Please remember an investment now in the prevention measures we know to be effective in stopping COVID-19 will be the fastest way for us to overcome this virus and return to normal lives. COVID-19 vaccination is an important component in this fight.

Stay safe, Colorado.

Amy Duckro, DO, is Kaiser Permanente's lead infectious diseases expert in Colorado leading the organization's local COVID-19 response.