As the COVID-19 vaccine rollout ramps up, you might be wondering why the mRNA vaccines are a two-dose series. The first dose helps your body create an immune response, while the second dose is a booster that strengthens your immunity to the virus.
What we know about the second dose
The first two vaccines to earn authorization — those developed by Pfizer and its German partner, BioNTech, and Moderna — use messenger RNA (mRNA) to instruct the body to build the coronavirus’ signature spike protein. The body then produces antibodies to combat the Coronavirus when it enters the body.
The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine requires two doses given 21 days apart. The Moderna vaccine requires two doses given 28 days apart. Data from the clinical trials found the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine to be 95% effective after two doses and the Moderna vaccine 94.1% effective, meaning they prevented people who got the vaccine from getting COVID-19.
How does the two-dose series work in practice?
At your first appointment, you’ll receive a vaccination card noting the manufacturer of the vaccine you receive, the dose and date. Keep the card — you’ll need to present it to get the second shot and might need it in the future to prove you’ve been vaccinated. Tip: Take a photo of the card as a backup in case you lose it.
Your second dose should be the same manufacturer as your first shot, and in most cases you will receive it from the same vaccinator and likely in the same location. The process for scheduling your second-dose appointment differs depending on which vaccinator provides your shots.
If you miss your second dose
There are many reasons you might miss your second dose. For instance, weather delays postponing the vaccine shipments of if you test positive for COVID-19 after your first dose but before your second, it is recommended that you wait until you are done with the isolation period before you get your second dose.
If you miss your second dose for any reason, get it as soon as possible. The CDC recommends the second dose of Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines should be administered up to 6 weeks after the first dose. Reach out to the site where you received your first dose to reschedule. You do not need to restart the two-dose series again.
Common, temporary side effects
The second shot produces a stronger immune system response, so reactions are more common. These temporary symptoms are expected, normal reactions when receiving a vaccine. Each person reacts differently to a vaccine, so it’s possible you won’t experience any symptoms.
Below are the reported reactions to the mRNA vaccines:
- Injection site discomfort, such as pain, swelling, redness, or bruising
- Muscle pain
- Joint pain
- Lymph node swelling
Relieve your symptoms
Side effects should resolve within 24-72 hours. Consider having a flexible schedule when making your vaccine appointments in case you experience any reactions. Below are some ways to decrease any discomfort you might feel after the vaccine, especially the second dose:
- Drink plenty of fluids
- Apply cool compresses to the injection site
- Talk with your doctor about taking over-the-counter pain relievers/fever reducers
Can I stop wearing a mask after I’ve had two doses?
Although the vaccines have shown to be more than 90% effective after two doses, it’s unclear how long immunity lasts and whether you can still spread the virus even though you’ve been vaccinated.
For these reasons, you should continue to wear a mask, wash your hands often and practice physical distancing when around people outside your family or those who are unvaccinated. The goal is to get 80-90% of the population vaccinated to reach herd immunity — and that’s when we might get to remove the masks.