Dr. Ezike, Director of Illinois Department of Public Health, Answers Questions from Nursing Home Workers About the COVID-19 Vaccine


At our Nursing Homes weekly telephone town hall on Thursday, January 14th, Ngozi O. Ezike, MD, the Director of the Illinois Department of Public Health — and the most respected public health expert in Illinois — joined as our special guest to answer questions about the COVID-19 vaccines. Dr. Ezike explained why these two historic coronavirus vaccines made by Pfizer and Moderna. will save lives and allow our society to return to a sense of normalcy once the vaccines are distributed and taken en masse.

Here below is the text of Dr. Ezike’s answers to our nursing home workers:

What kind of side effects is written for this?

Dr. Ezike: There are some side effects that happen immediately after the shot like soreness in the arm. You can have some pain and swelling, fatigue, headache, muscle pain generally, chills, pain in joints, fever, and your glands can swell up within the first two days of getting it but it should be resolved by then.

I advise employers to not do everybody in your unit at the same time so if people do experience side effects you don’t lose your entire workforce. However, a lot of people didn’t get sick or feel side effects in the first shot but more people had symptoms after the 2nd dose. If you do not experience side effects it doesn’t mean that it didn’t work, everyone is different.

Will it mess with any other medication you’re on?

Dr. Ezike: We don’t know for sure if it will mess with any medication. I know people are asking about allergies or if they have an egg allergy but there is no egg or preservatives in the vaccine. Since it doesn’t have preservatives, we don’t think it should interact or conflict with any medication that you take.

If you’ve been tested for COVID and worked around COVID everyday  has your antibodies or immune system built up to it and if it has then why should you take the shot?

Dr. Ezike: There are two possible scenarios. One could be that you have been around COVID a lot and maybe you wore your mask pretty well and you didn’t get it and think well I didn’t have it that time and I’ve steadily been tested and I still haven’t caught it. I would like to think in that situation it’s like when you have unprotected sex and don’t get pregnant. It’s still a risk and just because you didn’t get it now doesn’t mean you can’t get it later.

And the other scenario is that it is possible that you had COVID and had a mild case when there was little to no testing and there could be some antibodies and could be a reason why you’re not sick now but again there’s always that chance; everyone’s immune systems are different.  

If I’ve already gotten COVID why do I need to take the vaccine?

Dr. Ezike: The CDC recommends that you should wait 3 months or 90 days after the infection and you can get the vaccine. But the truth Is we don’t know how long the antibodies will last after you have the infection or the vaccine. I have seen studies that saw that people after COVID had antibodies after 6 or even 8 months so you don’t know how long it can last in your immune system.

We also don’t know the length of the protection from the vaccine because it hasn’t been around for more than a year so in this case it should be used for extra protection. It’s a hard question for me to answer because there’s not a way to know your antibodies.

Is there a downside to getting the vaccine if you’ve already had COVID?

Dr. Ezike: There’s not a downside in my opinion. I do know that for people that have had COVID when they get the vaccine on the first dose they felt more of a reaction or side effects. Their bodies are not seeing it for the first time.

But it doesn’t mean people should not get the two shots and we want to do it the way it was done in the study to get the 94-95% effective rate; the two shots in the study were done within 28 days and if you’re off by a couple of days that’s fine but we want to do it as close as we can in the study for maximum effectiveness.

As a nursing mom I’ve been breastfeeding so if I do take the vaccine is it gonna have an impact on my baby?

Dr. Ezike: We don’t think there’s gonna be any harm to the baby. We don’t even think it will pass through the breastmilk; remember that this vaccine does not have the actual virus in it so if you get the measles or mumps vaccine that actually does have the real virus but this does not so there’s no chance it will pass.

Is it approved by the FDA?

Dr. Ezike: It did get emergency used authorization by the FDA so it has been authorized. They were the ones who received the study from Moderna and Pfizer; it was hundreds of pages and they reviewed the results and said that any vaccine that showed it was safe and it was at least 50% effective would make the cut but fortunately these two vaccines are 94-95% effective.

Have they tested any animals on this?

Dr. Ezike: I’m not sure. They did test it on 70,000 people to see how they reacted but it is possible that in the early stages of the study they might have tested or had some animal trials. I’ll have to see what was done because I don’t have details but that’s usually what they do before they even test on humans. It’s part of the normal process.

I’ve heard the vaccines have not been tested on animals and some people were given water (placebo).

Dr. Ezike: I will briefly go over the study and the results. So how they figure out how its effective is that the 70,000 people involved in the study don’t know if you’re going to get the water placebo or get the real medicine/vaccine. So half of the people will get the real deal or fake thing.

The laboratory researchers know who got what and they will figure out who caught COVID and who didn’t. So let’s say that they did this for 2 months because there’s so much COVID around so people caught COVID quickly so the 100 people who caught COVID the researchers would figure out who were the ones that got the real deal and who got the placebo.  

They found out that the 95 people who got COVID were the ones that had the placebo and the other 5 people that got the vaccine did not. It’s important to remember it’s not 100% it’s not like you can do whatever you want; we have to get COVID out of our community all together you shouldn’t throw away your mask. 

Also, the flu shot is only 40-50% effective, so the fact that this vaccine is 95% effective is amazing and I’m putting my money on that.

Well if it’s not 100% effective how could I trust that it will protect me?

Dr. Ezike: That’s just how medicine works sometimes. Think about birth control. Some methods are above 90% effective but there’s always the small chance that you will get pregnant. You have no control over it, you just happen to be in the minority.

I have workers at my job that immediately felt sick after they took the shot. I know someone that recently recovered from COVID and got the shot 14 days after they tested negative.  A lot of people were feeling lightheaded and not feeling good.

Dr. Ezike: So first of all it is recommended by the CDC that you are supposed to wait 90 days after COVID onset. That person shouldn’t have taken it 14 days after.

In my personal opinion I do not think that the person can get hurt, but they can definitely feel more intense symptoms, and that’s why its best to wait the 90 days.

On top of that, it could potentially be less effective but we do not know that yet. We want to stick to the recommendations of the study because that is how the vaccine will protect you 95% of the time.

I heard a story of a man that after he took the shot he died about 2 weeks later and its been on my mind has there been any reports that you know of of any similar situations like that?

Dr. Ezike: I heard about the gentleman in Florida and it’s really hard to have that happen. But I’ll put it in this perspective. Let’s say I got the vaccine I have heart problems and I smoke and have diabetes that means I’m already at a higher risk to have a heart attack before COVID even happened; nobody knows when they’re going to have a heart attack it could happen anytime.  

Anybody can point the finger and blame the vaccine on it, but 70 million people have already gotten the vaccine and we haven’t seen anything coming in at large numbers like that. You guys work with a very elderly population some of them are actually on hospice and I don’t know if the patients have taken the vaccine but there is a chance  that they were going to go on to be with the lord anyway and they happened to die in the nursing home so are you going to say the vaccine killed them?

You’re going to have a lot of situations where a lot of elderly people is going to pass and people will blame the vaccine but in reality, it’s just that their time was going to elapse. Again, we could only focus on the results of the study, and there was nothing that concluded that the vaccine would lead to death, nor can we conclude in that situation with the young man that the vaccine was the cause of death; it’s just unfortunate timing.

Closing remarks from Dr. Ezike

I want to say one thing since I know there are many of people of color in this call; many of you know of the Tuskegee study and think that the COVID vaccine is like that and that they are trying to make us guinea pigs.

If we look at who got this vaccine first, we gave it to the ICU doctors, the ICU nurses, all the hospital staff, respiratory therapists, all the general doctors, surgeons; even if you thought they were plotting something bad or they were going to hurt POC they wouldn’t take out all the doctors first.

If we talk about Tuskegee there are different things being said about the study. Yes it was bad they recruited a bunch of black men in Alabama and they picked people who already had syphilis for the study; they did not inject syphilis to random black people. So in this study the researchers were watching them and sticking with them as the disease got worse and it went from primary symptoms of syphilis to spreading to the palms, feet, intense rashes and watched it even go up to the brain until it impacted the heart.

The problem with this is that at some point during the study the researchers found that penicillin works to clear this up. The researchers should have said “we have to stop this study we don’t need to keep watching it we already know if we gave everyone penicillin it would cure them” but they didn’t do it they decided to keep watching them as syphilis killed them.

So that’s ridiculous and inappropriate and because of that we now have ethical teams and institutional boards to monitor that no such foolishness like that will happen in a study again; so the Tuskegee study was an issue of withholding treatment.