For nearly a year now, Dr. Eliesel Lacerda De La Cruz has been generous enough to share his medical knowledge and experience with us as we do our best to navigate through the COVID-19 pandemic. We caught up with Southcoast Health's Chief of Infectious Disease Prevention Monday morning with a number of questions about the COVID vaccine. The doctor himself has received both rounds of the vaccine.

Listen to Michael and Maddie's entire interview with Dr. Lacerda De La Cruz:

Are you nervous about what the unknown side effects of the COVID vaccine might be?

"We know that the majority of severe side effects from vaccines (in general) come within the first eight weeks, and we didn't see that with this vaccine. We do not expect any significant side effects to this."

People are also concerned about getting a severe reaction to the vaccine, meaning experiencing COVID symptoms. Dr. Lacerda De La Cruz said that the most common reactions are a sore arm at the injection site.

"More moderate reactions are people getting a headache or a low-grade fever, especially after the second dose, but we have seen that any severe reactions are rare. This is also very encouraging considering we have vaccinated thousands of SouthCoast Health employees," Dr. Lacerda De La Cruz said.

Some are worried about injecting the unknown virus into their bodies.  

"You're not getting the full virus, you're only getting a little part of it, which builds up the antibodies in case you get exposed to the virus later on. It is 94-95 percent effective."

Do people who get COVID and fully recover have stronger protection than those who receive the vaccine?

"That remains to be seen," the doctor said. "In some cases, the immune response you get from a vaccine is more robust, it's stronger than the one you get naturally, but we don't know if that's the case with the COVID vaccine yet. Some ongoing studies in New York suggest that naturally beating COVID will give you between eight weeks and five months of natural immunity. The COVID vaccine is designed to give immunity from six months to a year."

What about this new strain of COVID that has arrived in the United States?

"The new strain is more contagious and tends to transmit among younger people, but there's no information yet that makes us believe that it's more dangerous in severity than other strands of COVID. The concern is that the virus will continue to mutate as it is circulating among the population and become so different from the original strain that we'll be back to square one having to create a new vaccine. That, however, hasn't happened yet, and we expect the vaccine to be fully effective against this new strain."

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