We may not have an approved vaccine for COVID-19 just yet, but people are already starting to ask questions about what to expect once we have an effective vaccine available. Here, we answer some of the more frequently asked questions about the importance of the vaccine, if it’s safe, how it will be distributed once it’s been approved and more.

Coronavirus Updates, Your Health | 13 days ago

Questions About the Highly Anticipated COVID-19 Vaccine? Here's What We Know

We may not have an approved vaccine for COVID-19 just yet, but people are already starting to ask questions about what to expect once we have an effective vaccine available. Here, we answer some of the more frequently asked questions about the importance of the vaccine, if it’s safe, how it will be distributed once it’s been approved and more.

We've heard a lot about the potential of a COVID-19 vaccine in the news lately. As we wait for updates on the reality of what a vaccine may look like, we understand you may have a lot of questions. Atrium Health experts are keeping up with the latest information about the vaccine. These experts include infectious disease and vaccine experts, teammates from community health and more. Here, they review how safe and effective the approved vaccines are, and make recommendations to keep our patients and the communities we serve safe. 

Learn more about the COVID-19 vaccine from Christine Turley, MD, vice chair of research at Atrium Health Levine Children’s and principal investigator of the STRIVE Vaccine Research Program by reading these frequently asked questions.  


1. What do we know about COVID-19 vaccines?

 There are currently 135 COVID-19 vaccines being studied in clinical trials worldwide. At the moment, two are close to being ready to be approved.  

Vaccine trials study how patients are affected by the vaccine. Experts then compare that information with patients who get a placebo (medicine that won’t affect the patient). This will help prove the vaccine is effective and will work.  

COVID-19 Vaccine Trials 

What is it? Experts test and compare patients who get a vaccine or a placebo  

Why? To see if it is it safe and effective 

Both sets of patients are tested for: 

  • Illnesses
  • Reactions 
  • Side effects 

Experts check to see if patients get sick or have reactions from the vaccine. They compare this to patients who get the placebo.  

Questions like these are studied: 

  • How sick or what type of reaction did patients have?
  • How many patients had this reaction or got sick?
  • What is the risk of getting this vaccine?  

The answers to these questions help experts see if the vaccine is safe.  


How are vaccines made available to the public? 

Ongoing vaccine trials 

  • Trials allow experts to learn whether a vaccine works and is safe. They can test how effective the vaccine is and if it is safe for patients.
  • People volunteer to take part in these trials. This helps experts learn more and help more people.
  • You can learn more about Atrium Health’s STRIVE COVID-19 vaccine research. Once registered, you may be invited to take part in COVID-19 vaccine trials in the future. You may be given access to trials if you are interested.   

Vaccines available via FDA Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) 

  • This allows vaccines that are not approved to be used in emergencies.
  • Products authorized by an EUA can be used to diagnose, treat or prevent serious or life-threatening diseases or conditions.  

Recommended and approved vaccines  

  • Every year the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) publish a list of:
    • Recommended vaccines (like the flu shot)
    • Required vaccines (like school-required shots)
  • These vaccines typically have been shown to be safe and effective through large-scale trials. 

2. Is Atrium Health planning to give the COVID-19 vaccine to teammates and patients?
Experts across Atrium Health are still studying and reviewing information on the vaccine. They want to make sure giving vaccines to our teammates and patients is the right thing to do. 

3. Is a COVID-19 vaccine necessary?
The best way to prevent infection for our teammates and patients is to find an effective vaccine for the virus. At the same time, we promote COVID-Safe Behaviors like social distancing, handwashing and wearing masks. 

4. Is a COVID-19 vaccine safe?
For a vaccine to be approved, it must work in a lot of people and must be safe to use.  Normally, vaccine trials take a long time. While this vaccine trial is shorter than most, experts are still making sure it will work and be safe. The FDA considers a vaccine effective if it can lower the number of infections by at least half in those who get the vaccine. 

5. How effective is the COVID-19 vaccine?
Many different COVID-19 vaccines are in different stages of development. To receive EUA (Emergency Use Authorization), companies must show the vaccine can lower infections by at least 50 percent. This means that if there are 100 people infected by the disease per day, the vaccine should lower that to 50 per day. It is likely the vaccines will work in a different way in different types of people. This is why testing a diverse group of people is essential to the success of a vaccine. Atrium Health is committed to creating a vaccine registry with representatives across all communities, populations and ethnicities in the footprint we serve, to ensure that everyone has an equal chance of receiving an effective vaccine. 

6. How will Atrium Health decide who gets the vaccine?
Once a vaccine is released, each state will at first be given a limited supply. Atrium Health has been asked by North Carolina to decide who should get the vaccine first based on national and state guidance. While we strongly recommend teammates to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, Atrium Health is not making the vaccine mandatory at this time. However, it could be in the future as more information on the vaccine becomes available.

North Carolina has 4 Phases to give the vaccine to the public 

Phase 

Who gets the vaccine? 

Phase 1 

  • Priority populations 
  • Critical healthcare workers at high risk of exposure
  • Essential workers
  • Long-term care staff and residents  

Phase 2 

  • Teachers and school staff
  • Migrant workers who live in close living arrangements who don’t have 2 or more chronic conditions
  • People who are in jail or prison
  • Residents of homeless shelters
  • Frontline workers who are relatively healthy
  • Adults 18 to 64 years old with 1 chronic condition 
  • People 65 and older with 1 or no chronic conditions 

Phase 3 

  • Workers in critical industries who aren’t part of first 2 phases and students 

Phase 4 

  • Everyone else (about 4 million people) 

7. How many doses of a COVID-19 vaccine will be needed?
The first COVID-19 vaccine being made available is expected to be taken in 2 doses. This is per manufacturer. 

8. How long before a COVID-19 vaccine takes effect?
Researchers are hoping people will start to have immunity to COVID-19 1 to 2 weeks after the second vaccination.

9. Will the COVID-19 vaccine need to be given every year? 
It is likely the COVID-19 vaccine will be given every year (like the flu vaccine). However, we’re still studying this to better understand it before making a decision.

10. If someone had COVID-19, do they need to get the vaccine? 
Some people do not have antibodies to fight the disease even after testing positive for COVID-19. There is still a lot to learn about this disease. Positive COVID-19 antibodies do not mean you are totally immune. To develop immunity (or protection) against a virus, you need the antibodies to fight the infection. A vaccine, like the flu shot, helps you to build that immunity.

11. If I get the COVID-19 vaccine, can I stop wearing my mask ?
For now, people are mandated by their respective governor to wear a mask while in public. Even those who get a vaccine will still need to wear a mask.

12. How much will the vaccine cost?
Just like the flu vaccine, there will not be a cost for Atrium Health teammates to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. As for the general public, this information has not been determined.

13. Will I have to get the flu vaccine AND the COVID-19 vaccine?
The flu vaccine and COVID-19 vaccine are for different viruses. In the future, people may have to get both vaccines every year. A recommedation has not been made yet. Once we know more about the COVID-19 vaccine, we will share more information. 

14. Atrium Health has a new vaccine research program, STRIVE for Healthier Futures. How can I learn more about it? 
“STRIVE for Healthier Futures,” was created at Atrium Health with a goal to provide accurate information about COVID-19 research, as well as vaccines that are in the development phase.  The first step in a COVID-19 vaccine research study is creating a registry (or list of names) of people who consent to learn more about COVID-19 research and clinical trials. People who sign up for the STRIVE registry may be invited to take part in COVID-19 vaccine trials in the future. They may also be given access to trials if they are interested.  


Atrium Health is looking for at least 10,000 volunteers to join the registry. For more information, go to AtriumHealth.org/CovidVaccine.