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Why you need your second COVID-19 vaccine

If you’ve gotten your first dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna COVID-19 vaccine, you may be tempted to skip your second dose. Maybe you’re busy, don’t have reliable transportation or think you already have enough protection from the virus. Jayne Morgan, M.D., a cardiologist and clinical director of Piedmont's COVID-19 task force, explains why it’s crucial to get your second shot. 

Why do you need two COVID-19 shots?

“Pfizer and Moderna’s clinical trials were done with two doses,” says Dr. Morgan. “All of the information that went to the FDA that supported the emergency use authorization of these vaccines was based on data from two doses. We don’t have any data from people receiving a single dose. We can extrapolate and guess, but we have no scientific data because that’s not how the clinical trials were designed.”

She says the clinical trials showed that the first dose gets people to about 50-60% immunity from the virus. To get to 94-95% immunity, you must get both doses. If you only get one shot, you’ll have a weaker immune response and may be more susceptible to virus variants.

“By getting the second dose, you’re going to get the highest possible immunity to keep from contracting the virus,” says Dr. Morgan.

Getting vaccinated can also help slow the spread of COVID-19 variants.

“When you’re fully vaccinated, you’re decreasing the opportunity for the virus to live, replicate and mutate,” she says.

When should you get the second COVID-19 vaccine?

The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines are given 21 days apart and the Moderna vaccines are administered 28 days apart. But what if you got your first shot a few months ago and didn’t return for your second dose? It’s not too late.

“We still want you to get your second dose as soon as you can,” says Dr. Morgan. “The CDC says ideally you should get it within 42 days. But if you exceed 42 days between doses, you don’t need to restart the entire dosing regimen—just get the second dose as soon as you can.”

How to prepare for your second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine

Here are some tips from Dr. Morgan to prepare for your second dose:

  • Bring your vaccine card. “If you lost or don’t have your card, you can contact your vaccination provider to access your record,” she says. “However, if none of that is possible, still come anyway. We can look you up. Do not skip your second dose because you cannot locate your card.”

  • Wear a short-sleeved or sleeveless top. This makes it easier for the vaccination provider to access your arm.

  • Don’t proactively take over-the-counter pain medications. Only take medicines like ibuprofen or aspirin if you have side effects after getting vaccinated.

  • Take your medications as prescribed. Don’t skip or delay prescribed medications like blood thinners, cholesterol medication or diabetes medicine.

  • Stick to your regular meal schedule. There’s no need to change your routine pre-vaccine: Eat your meals and drink coffee or tea like you usually do.  

“Also, there is no need to space out other vaccine appointments in two-week intervals surrounding your COVID-19 vaccine,” she says. “Per the new CDC update, all vaccines can be given simultaneously and/or within very short time frames of one another. This includes your flu or shingles shot, as well as childhood immunizations for children 12 to 15 years of age who are being vaccinated with the Pfizer COVID vaccine and may need to catch up on some of their other vaccinations as well.”

Remember, even if it’s been more than 42 days since your first COVID-19 vaccine dose, it’s not too late to get your second one.

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