A fire fighter gives the vaccine to a blonde haired woman wearing a black mask.
Street Spirit Editor Alastair Boone gets her COVID vaccine. (Alameda County Fire)

While public health officials have not yet announced when unhoused people will receive the coronavirus vaccine, they have indicated that those who live in homeless shelters will be able to receive the vaccine soon. And with immunization right around the corner, many unhoused people have questions and concerns about the vaccine.

“Oh no, I’m scared of that,” said Street Spirit vendor Joanne Knott. “I gotta wait till I see other people take it. I’ve been hearing bad things. I just don’t feel comfortable with it right now.” 

At the time of publication, Alameda County had vaccinated over 102,000 healthcare workers as well as people over the age of 65. If you are over the age of 65 or are a healthcare worker, you are currently eligible to become vaccinated—regardless of your housing status. Vaccines should always be free, even if you are asked to provide your insurance information. For information about how to make an appointment, visit: https://covid-19. acgov.org/vaccines. 

Street Spirit is closely following the vaccine rollout. We will publish the information about when and where homeless people can get vaccinated as soon as it becomes available. In the meantime, here’s some information to answer your questions about the COVID-19 vaccine. 

If you still have concerns about receiving the vaccine after reading, you can email COVIDACHCH@acgov.org and an employee of Alameda County Healthcare for the Homeless (ACHCH) will answer your questions. At this time, ACHCH employees will not be able to answer questions about when or where you can get the vaccine, but all other queries are welcome. (The following information comes from Alameda County’s “Vaccine FAQ.”) 

Are COVID-19 vaccines safe? 

Yes. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has granted Emergency Use Authorizations (EUA) for two COVID-19 vaccines that have been shown to be safe and effective, as determined by data from the manufacturers and findings from large clinical trials. These data demonstrate that the known and potential benefits of both vaccines outweigh the known and potential harms of becoming infected with the coronavirus. 

How will a COVID-19 vaccine impact the pandemic? 

A COVID-19 vaccine could: Reduce number of people with COVID-19, reduce severity of illness, reduce hospitalizations, and reduce deaths. 

Which vaccines are available to prevent COVID-19? 

There are two vaccines currently available: one from Moderna and one from Pfizer. Both have shown to be 94- 95 percent effective and both require two doses, given about three weeks apart. Based on currently available data, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) and California Department of Public Health advises that both doses are required for complete protection. 

What are possible side effects from the vaccine? 

Some people have experienced side effects after getting the COVID-19 vaccine, like temporary pain or swelling on the arm where they got the shot, and fever, chills, tiredness, or headache throughout the rest of your body. Such side effects are normal for any vaccine and should be expected as the body builds cells to defend against COVID-19. 

How do COVID-19 vaccines work? 

Being vaccinated against COVID-19 helps the body develop a memory response to fight off the virus that causes COVID-19, without having to get the illness. COVID-19 vaccines also decrease the likelihood of severe illness or death if infection does occur. For more information, see Understanding How COVID-19 Vaccines Work (CDC). 

How is the safety of the COVID-19 vaccines monitored in the U.S.? 

The U.S. vaccine safety system ensures that vaccines are as safe as possible. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has determined that the Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effective based on large clinical trials with diverse participants. 

What systems are in place to monitor for side effects in real time? 

There are systems in place to monitor for adverse events and side effects of the vaccine in real time, including: 

V-safe app from the CDC is a smartphone-based, after-vaccination health checker for people who have received the COVID-19 vaccine. V-safe uses text messaging and surveys to check in with COVID-19 vaccine recipients after vaccination. Simply put, anyone with symptoms enters their information into V-Safe so that researchers can continue to study the safety of the vaccine on all populations. 

The Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS) is a national system used by the CDC and the FDA. This system collects reports from healthcare professionals, vaccine manufacturers, and the public regarding any adverse events that may happen after vaccination. 

National Healthcare Safety Network (NHSN) is an acute and long-term facility monitoring system that reports to the Vaccine Adverse Events Reporting System (VAERS). 

Vaccine Safety Datalink (VSD) is a network of nine healthcare organizations from across the U.S. that conduct active surveillance and research. This system is used to aid in determining if possible side effects identified in the VAERS are actually related to the vaccine. 

Clinical Immunization Safety Assessment (CISA) Project is a collaboration between seven medical research institutions and the CDC. CISA provides consultation on a case-by-case basis, and conducts research about vaccine safety. 

How well does the vaccine protect me from COVID-19? 

The Pfizer vaccine and the Moderna vaccine have shown to be 94-95% effective. For complete protection, both vaccines require two doses, given about three weeks apart. 

How long does immunity last after being vaccinated? 

It is not yet known how long immunity will last after vaccination. We will have more knowledge about how long immunity lasts once we have more data on how well the COVID-19 vaccine works in real-world conditions. Experts are working hard to learn more about how long vaccine-induced immunity will last, and we will update the public once we have more information. 

Alastair Boone is the Director of Street Spirit.