About the Virus

What symptoms should I look for?

Common symptoms include fever, a dry cough, fatigue, difficulty breathing or shortness of breath. Runny noses and stuffy sinuses are less common. Patients may exhibit gastrointestinal problems or diarrhea.

How long does it take to show symptoms after exposure?

Most people fall ill five to seven days after, but symptoms may appear in as few as two days or as many as 14 days.

What should I do if I feel sick?

Stay at home, except to get medical care. The current CDC guidance recommends that you call a medical professional if you notice symptoms and live in or have traveled to an area with a known coronavirus outbreak, or have had close contact with someone who has traveled to an area with an outbreak, or have had close contact with anyone infected. Don’t rush to the emergency room - it is most likely packed with sick people and overworked employees and doctors. The CDC also suggests that you avoid public transportation, ride-sharing services and taxis, and that you separate yourself from other people and animals in your home as soon as possible.

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What if someone in my family gets sick?

Follow the steps listed above if you think your children, or anyone else in your household, may be infected. Children infected with the new coronavirus tend to have mild or no symptoms, and it is unclear how easily they transmit the disease to other people. Patients at high risk should check in with their doctor as soon as they have symptoms.

Why is covid-19 so deadly?

Human immune systems have never before encountered the virus, which has killed more than 4,800 Arkansans and more than 435,000 Americans. Sometimes-overwhelming immune responses to the virus are what cause severe cases of covid-19, even death, Dr. Charles “Corey” Scott, a Little Rock-based emergency medicine physician, said.

“The vaccines give your body a head start on the infection versus just getting infected when your body does not have time to make antibodies fast enough,” Scott said. “It takes your body days to mount a response without any immunity.”

When should I seek emergency treatment?

The CDC says the following symptoms - if you are otherwise healthy - should prompt you to seek emergency treatment. Difficulty breathing, persistent pain or pressure in the chest, confusion or inability to arouse, bluish lips or face, any other symptom that is severe or concerning

How does this compare with the flu?

The coronavirus seems to be more deadly than seasonal flu and quite contagious. Early estimates of the coronavirus death rate from Wuhan, China, where the outbreak originated, have been about 2%, while the seasonal flu, on average, kills about 01.% of people who become infected. But children appear to be more affected by the flu.

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How does the virus spread?

The virus that causes covid-19 most commonly spreads between people who are within about 6 feet of one another. It appears to spread through respiratory droplets or small particles in the air when an infected person coughs, sneezes, sings, talks, or breathes. These droplets can land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby or possibly be inhaled into the lungs.

It may be possible that a person can get covid-19 by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching their own mouth, nose, or possibly their eyes, but this is not thought to be the main way the virus spreads.

Research has demonstrated that the virus’s survival depends on the type of surface it lands on. The live virus can survive anywhere between three hours and seven days, depending on the material. But there is good news: The virus is relatively easy to destroy using any simple disinfectant or bleach. Here’s how long the virus typically lasts on common surfaces:

Is there a cure?

There is no cure for covid-19. People with covid-19 should receive supportive care to help relieve symptoms. The Food and Drug Administration has approved one drug, remdesivir, to treat covid-19 in certain situations.

There are currently two vaccines authorized and recommended to prevent covid-19, made by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna. Vaccines to protect against covid-19 are being administered in Arkansas. Most people currently being vaccinated in the state are healthcare workers, long-term care facility residents and staff, EMS and law enforcement or firefighters who serve as first-responders.

The state is currently in Phase 1 of its vaccination plan. Phase 2 is intended to vaccinate the general population, and is expected to begin sometime after April. Read more about the state’s vaccine plan here.

About Vaccines

When can I get vaccinated?

Doses are in short supply, so federal and state health officials have offered them first to health-care, school and education and other essential workers, and to segments of the population that are most likely to become seriously ill or die from the virus, including nursing home residents and anyone 70 and older. To get the vaccine now, a person must be in one of those groups. Other segments of the population will be added as vaccine supplies increase.

If I am eligible, where do I go to get vaccinated?

Click here to see a map of pharmacies in Arkansas providing the vaccine.

Is either vaccine now available, Pfizer/BioNTech or Moderna, better than the other?

In clinical trials, the Pfizer vaccine was 95% effective in preventing covid-19 in people who had not been previously infected; Moderna was 94.1%. Scientists say that amounts to virtually no difference. The vaccines differ in transport and storage — the Pfizer brand must be kept at super-cold temperatures before it is thawed for use, for example. Still, the two vaccines function in much the same way.

Are there any restrictions?

Pfizer’s vaccine is for people 16 and older. Moderna’s vaccine is for people 18 and up. Testing is just getting underway in children to determine if they can be given shots as well. The CDC panel said pregnant women could get the shot, but said want to talk to their doctors first. The panel also suggests avoiding any other vaccinations for two weeks before and after a covid shot. A CDC webpage says these types of vaccines are not thought to be a risk to breastfeeding infants, so women who are breastfeeding can get the shot.

When will I get my second shot?

It depends on the brand of vaccine. Pfizer’s is three weeks later. Moderna’s is one month later. You’ll get a vaccination record card as a reminder.

Shots will be recorded in state and local vaccine registries that already keep track of other vaccinations. Covid-19 vaccines can’t be mixed and matched, so if a second dose is needed, providers will check to make sure you get the right one.

The CDC said it can take one to two weeks to be fully vaccinated after the second shot. Not all vaccines in development require two shots. Johnson & Johnson is testing a single-dose vaccine.

Are there side effects?

Some people could have temporary side effects right after the shot, including fever, fatigue, chills or soreness in your arm. They are most likely after the second shot and doctors don't expect them to last long. People who have had severe allergic reactions to other vaccines or drugs should talk to their doctors first, the CDC panel said. Those who’ve had any kind of severe allergic reaction in the past should be watched for 30 minutes after vaccination. Others should be watched for 15 minutes.

What if I’ve already had covid-19?

Vaccinations should be offered to people regardless of whether they’ve been infected with coronavirus, the CDC panel said. People who are currently infected and have symptoms should wait until they’ve recovered. If you’ve been recently exposed to the virus, the panel recommends waiting until after the quarantine period of 14 days. It says getting vaccinated shortly after an exposure is unlikely to prevent you from getting infected.

After my shots, when am I protected?

Peak protection comes about two weeks after receiving the second dose, according to the CDC.

What does “immunity” consist of?

It is unlikely people who have been vaccinated will develop a severe case of covid-19, or possibly even a symptomatic case. Unknown is whether they can be asymptomatic carriers and transmit the virus to others, according to the CDC.

“It is possible that an immunized person could still catch the virus and spread it to other people without getting sick themselves,” said Dr. Amanda Novack, Baptist Health’s medical director for infection prevention. “These are good vaccines, but not perfect, so even fully vaccinated people can still rarely get sick with the virus.”

One critical difference is that a vaccinated individual who contracts the virus would spread less infectious material, Scott said. Antibodies prevent a large amount of the virus from replicating inside the vaccinated person’s body, rendering it less contagious.

How long will I be immune from covid-19 after being fully vaccinated?

Despite preliminary studies suggesting immunity could last months or years, scientists don’t yet know. The CDC has said they won’t know how long immunity produced by vaccination lasts until the agency has more data on how well the vaccines work.

How many vaccinations will it take to achieve “herd immunity” and contain the virus?

A New York Times analysis estimated as of Jan. 30 that 7.3% of Arkansans have gotten at least one vaccination so far. That’s far short of the 75% experts say is needed.

Should I worry that these vaccines were developed so quickly?

Historically, vaccine development has taken years. The covid-19 vaccines were created over months. Health experts credit advancements in technology, in particular genetic sequencing, and also that coronaviruses are not new. Scientists have been studying these viruses for years after similar, yet smaller, epidemics broke out in China in 2002 and the Middle East in 2012.

Scientists “did try to make vaccines for a lot of these different diseases,” Scott said. But the diseases died out before vaccines could be created. With covid-19, “it is much easier to do trials and tests because it is still out there and spreading so quickly,” Scott said.

Will the shots alter my DNA?

Daniel Cate, a pharmacist and co-owner of Marketplace Pharmacy in Little Rock, said that is one of the biggest misconceptions he has handled.

The vaccines are made of mRNA, or messenger ribonucleic acid, “which is a bit of coding that our cells will use to make a spike protein that looks just like part of the virus that causes covid,” according to Baptist Health’s Novack. Because mRNA is fragile, it does not survive long in the body and has no effect on DNA, which is contained in a cell’s nucleus, Scott said.

How does the vaccine work?

The mRNA in the vaccine provides cells with a set of instructions on how to make spike proteins that look like part of the coronavirus, which then appear on the surface of the cells.

The immune system then recognizes the spike proteins and starts to mount a defense against the foreign proteins, creating antibodies against covid-19. That’s why it is crucial to get a vaccine, experts say.

Why can’t I start “normal life” as soon as I’m fully vaccinated?

While the vaccines offer light at the end of the pandemic tunnel, experts say that until a large percentage of the population gets the shots, it is still too soon to stop taking precautions.

How much will I have to pay to get my vaccinations?

The vaccines are free to recipients. Insurance, Medicare or Medicaid can be billed. Some providers may charge a fee for the injection.

What kind of paperwork is needed?

Vaccine recipients need to sign consent forms. They should bring their insurance, Medicare or Medicaid cards. Before vaccination, all recipients will be given a fact sheet regarding the vaccines.

How can I get answers to my other questions about the coronavirus and vaccines?

Ask the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette using this form: arkansasonline.com/coronavirus/form/

Try the state Health Department's covid-19 call center at (800) 803-7847, or email ADH.CoronaVirus@arkansas.gov.

Visit the Health Department website's vaccination page: https://www.healthy.arkansas.gov/programs-services/topics/covid-19-vaccination-plan.

Sources: CDC, The New York Times, Associated Press, Cleveland Clinic, Arkansas Department of Health