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EVMS doctor shares differences between first, second COVID-19 vaccine doses

The doctor at Eastern Virginia Medical School said the second dose of the vaccine has more side effects that many people under the age of 55 could experience.

NORFOLK, Va. — As the second of the two-dose COVID-19 vaccine makes its way into the arms of Virginians, medical experts are telling 13News the differences some may feel between the two doses. 

“Your body has already seen the first one [dose], and the second one is to boost that immune response. As far as an immune response, there might be more significant side effects,” Dr. Edward Oldfield said, professor and expert in infectious diseases at Eastern Virginia Medical School. 

Oldfield himself received the second dose of the vaccine last week and reported no negative side effects as a result. Still, he says people’s immune responses will differ on a case-by-case basis, especially as more people will begin receiving the second dose. 

“It’s very individual, the people I’ve heard had more severe reactions are younger [people], not older ones,” Dr. Oldfield said.

The second of the vaccine’s two doses is designed to raise the body’s immunity to the novel coronavirus, after it’s been introduced by the first dose, according to Dr. Oldfield. That includes the possibility of side effects and adverse reactions for some people on the receiving end of it, which he says can be more frequent in younger-aged individuals.

“I think about it as a good thing, because it means your body is really responding to this vaccine. In general, the second dose is worse. But with me, the second dose was milder than the first dose,” Dr. Oldfield said.

For both Moderna and Pfizer vaccines, the second dose is the crucial element that delivers on the vaccine’s more than 90-percent efficacy rate. Dr. Oldfield says the efficacy rate after the first dose is only between 50-75 percent.

Splitting the vaccine into two doses weeks apart also prolongs the vaccine’s effectiveness.

However, people who are younger and on average have stronger immune systems are actually more susceptible to some of the adverse effects from the vaccine, and older people are less susceptible because of typically weaker immune systems. 

“Interestingly for people under 55, they have more symptoms from the vaccine than people over 55,” Dr. Oldfield said. 

Dr. Oldfield said the possibility of negative side effects shouldn’t deter people from wanting the vaccine. In order to reach herd immunity, roughly 80-percent of people need to have been vaccinated, and that the vaccine will be effective whether someone feels it or not. 

“People need to understand that that reaction from the second dose, is telling them how effective that vaccine is,” Dr. Oldfield said.