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Differences between the COVID-19 vaccines and a seasonal flu vaccine

Some side effects related to the COVID-19 vaccine are the usual suspects for any vaccine, but there are some specific to the COVID-19 vaccine as well.

CALIFORNIA, USA — There’s a lot of new developments with COVID-19 and the vaccine, but, at least with a vaccine, you might have some level of familiarity.

Many people have gotten vaccinations for either the flu or chickenpox, so, even if COVID-19 is still a mystery to you, there’s at least some grounding in knowing what it's like to get vaccinated for a disease.

To be clear, a COVID-19 vaccine and a flu vaccine are not the same things. That being said, Dr. Veronica Bandy, professor of Pharmacy at University of the Pacific, said there are some similarities to help you understand everything a bit better.

When it comes to vaccines, you can expect a sore arm, fatigue, headache or fever; Bandy said those are the usual suspects you could expect with any vaccine. According to the CDC, flu vaccines can cause soreness, headache, fever, nausea, and muscle aches.

With the COVID-19 vaccines from Moderna and Pfizer, they have their own specific side effects like muscle ache, chills, fatigue, and joint pain, but it's not unheard of for a vaccine to have effects that are specific to it.

Bandy said the HPV vaccine has its own distinct effects as well.

“For some reason, patients with that (HPV) vaccine have a higher instance of passing out or feeling faint, and that’s specific to that vaccine,” she said. 

The COVID-19 vaccine also differs from the seasonal flu vaccine with the number of injections you would get, at least with the Moderna and Pfizer versions. After getting the first shot, those vaccines will have you return for a booster shot a few weeks later.

All but one of the COVID-19 vaccines in Phase 3 clinical trials need two shots to be effective, according to the CDC.

Bandy said that, while both vaccines fight COVID-19, they aren't interchangeable when it comes to that second dose. They should both be from the same manufacturer.

With the Moderna and Pfizer vaccine, Bandy said there are similar rates of side effects and effectiveness, so, at this point, there’s not much reason to shop around for which is the best of the two.

“From a public perspective, it’s what’s available to you. So if you have access to one vaccine versus the other and you have access to it, at this point in time during the pandemic, we would recommend as health care providers that you obtain that vaccine,” she said.

While the COVID-19 vaccine is being reserved for healthcare professionals right now, Bandy said the general public can expect a familiar experience once that vaccine rolls out to the general public and the local pharmacies. She's anticipating a similar experience to what many people experience when they get their flu shot. 

She expects pharmacies could be seating people in regular immunization rooms and possibly even set up drive-thru clinics. Though it is possible that pharmacies have people wait around for 15 minutes to monitor for any side effects.

“Since we have a little bit of time compared to the health systems right now…when we have the availability for the public to access it, I think we will have the mechanisms to distribute that between all the pharmacies which are located throughout San Joaquin County and in rural as well as populated areas as well as public health,” Bandy said.

For more on flu vaccines, click HERE.

For more on the Pfizer vaccine, click HERE.

For more on the vaccinations related to COVID-19, click HERE.

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