Frequently asked questions about COVID-19 vaccinations
How do I know the COVID-19 vaccine is safe?
All vaccines require extensive research, documentation and closely monitored clinical trials to determine effectiveness and safety before being submitted by pharmaceutical companies for approval. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is responsible for ensuring the safety, effectiveness and availability of vaccines in the United States. The FDA requires extensive testing by manufacturers before making vaccines available to the public to protect safety and identify any potential side effects. If the FDA determines that a vaccine meets its safety and effectiveness standards, it can make these vaccines available for use in the United States by approval or Emergency Use Authorization (EUA).
Can a vaccine that was created this quickly be safe?
Given the widespread impact on health and safety, the global medical and research communities have placed unprecedented collaborative focus on developing a COVID-19 vaccine. While this vaccine is available to the public faster than is typical, the COVID-19 vaccine passed clinical trials and has undergone rigorous testing to help ensure it is both effective and safe.
What's actually in the COVID-19 vaccines? What are the ingredients of the vaccine?
Ingredients of the COVID-19 vaccines can be found on the EUA Fact Sheets for Recipients and Caregivers linked below:
Is one COVID-19 vaccine preferred (or safer) than the other? Does it matter which one I take?
The only way to accurately compare the effectiveness of medical products, such as vaccines or drugs, is by direct comparison in head-to-head clinical trials, which did not occur for these vaccines. Furthermore, the clinical trials for these vaccines occurred in different geographic regions and at different points in time with varying incidence of COVID-19. All of the COVID-19 vaccines that the FDA has authorized for emergency use are at least 50% more effective than placebo in preventing COVID-19, consistent with FDA recommendations provided in our October 2020 guidance document, Emergency Use Authorization for Vaccines to Prevent COVID-19. A vaccine with at least 50% efficacy would have a significant impact on disease, both at the individual and societal level. The CDC does not recommend one product over another. Most importantly, the sooner a person is vaccinated, the sooner they can develop immunity to the virus.
What are the risks of contracting COVID-19? What are the risks of not vaccinating?
COVID-19 is a highly contagious respiratory virus that has infected millions of people and caused millions of deaths according to the World Health Organization and United States-specific information, according to the CDC. Older adults, people who are pregnant and people who have severe underlying medical conditions like heart or lung disease or diabetes seem to be at higher risk for developing more serious complications from COVID-19 illness. Severe illness from COVID-19 is defined as hospitalization, admission to the ICU, intubation or mechanical ventilation, or death. There have also been increasing reports of long-term complications of COVID-19 including brain fog, difficulty breathing, extreme fatigue and depression.
How do COVID-19 vaccines work?
According to the CDC, COVID-19 vaccines help our bodies produce antibodies and develop immunity to the virus that causes COVID-19 without us having to get the illness. Additionally, the vaccine causes the body to produce “memory” lymphocytes that will remember how to fight that virus in the future. It typically takes a few weeks for the body to produce antibodies and immunity after vaccination. Therefore, it is possible that a person could be infected with the virus that causes COVID-19 just before or just after vaccination and then get sick because the vaccine did not have enough time to provide protection.
Two of the vaccines approved by the FDA that use the same novel mRNA technology (Pfizer and Moderna), inject small pieces of genetic material that the body's cells use to produce a protein similar to the coronavirus. In response to this protein, the body then creates antibodies that are primed to fight off the virus.
The vaccine developed by Janssen (Johnson & Johnson) that was approved for Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) is a viral vector vaccine that uses a weakened version of a different virus to teach our cells to make a protein that triggers an immune response inside our bodies. That immune response, which produces antibodies, is what protects us from getting infected if the real virus enters our bodies. The vaccine will not cause an infection of either COVID-19 or the virus that is used as the vector. Vaccines of this type have been well-studied in clinical trials and have been used to respond to recent Ebola outbreaks.
Sometimes after vaccination, the process of producing antibodies and building immunity can cause symptoms, such as fever. These symptoms are normal and are a sign that the body is building immunity. Understand how COVID-19 vaccines work.
I read that the vaccines are mRNA vaccines. What is mRNA and what role does it play with the vaccine?
According to the CDC, mRNA (or messenger RNA) vaccines “teach” our cells how to make a protein, or even just a piece of a protein, that triggers an immune response inside our bodies. That immune response, which produces antibodies, is what protects us from getting infected if the real virus enters our bodies. Understand how mRNA COVID-19 vaccines work.
Where can I learn more about the clinical trials for the COVID-19 vaccine?
- Pfizer: Coronavirus COVID-19 Scientific Research and Resources
- Moderna: Moderna's Work on a COVID-19 Vaccine Candidate
- Janssen (Johnson & Johnson): Janssen (Johnson & Johnson) COVID-19 Vaccine
Is a COVID-19 vaccine available for children?
Yes. The vaccine is available for people aged 5 and older. Several vaccine manufacturers also are conducting trials in younger children, beginning at age 6 months. Speak to your child’s pediatrician to confirm when your child could receive a vaccine.
Do patients have to pay for the COVID-19 vaccine?
According to the CDC, COVID-19 vaccines will be given at no cost to patients. However, vaccination providers can charge an administration fee for administering the vaccine. This fee is reimbursed by the patient’s public or private insurance company or, for uninsured patients, it is paid by the Health Resources and Services Administration’s Provider Relief Fund. There is no out-of-pocket cost for vaccine recipients.
Are the available mRNA COVID-19 vaccines recommended for pregnant women?
COVID-19 vaccination is now recommended for women who are pregnant, breastfeeding, trying to get pregnant now, or might become pregnant in the future. Talk with a doctor about getting vaccinated. Women who are pregnant are more likely to become severely ill with COVID-19 compared with those who are not pregnant. If you are pregnant, talk with your doctor about getting vaccinated, what to do if you test positive and where to go for care after hours.
What are some tips that will help the general public decide if the COVID-19 vaccine is the best choice for them?
The best way to decide if the vaccine is the best choice for you is to educate yourself on the COVID-19 virus and the vaccine. Some ways to do that are by speaking to your doctor or healthcare provider and reviewing resources like the ones listed below:
Does the COVID-19 vaccine protect against the newly identified coronavirus variants?
Studies to-date suggest that antibodies produced through vaccination with currently authorized COVID-19 vaccines provide some protection against variants. This is being closely investigated and more studies are underway. Learn more about new variants of the virus that causes COVID-19.
What are the benefits of getting a COVID-19 vaccination?
According to the CDC:
- Vaccination will make it less likely for you to get COVID-19
- Vaccination will be a safer way to help build protection through community immunity
- Vaccination will be an important tool to help stop the pandemic
How many doses of the COVID-19 vaccine for a primary vaccine series will I need, and do my two doses of the vaccine need to be from the same manufacturer?
The CDC offers the latest information on the different COVID-19 vaccines available as well as vaccination and booster recommendations. You can also talk with your doctor if you have questions about whether the vaccine is right for you.
At the time of vaccination, you will receive patient fact sheets that will note which vaccine you received. We encourage you to communicate with your provider about the vaccine you received both when you schedule and when you receive your second dose. When you receive your first dose, you should receive documentation noting which vaccine you received. Keep that document and bring it with you for your second dose (if needed).
Can I receive the COVID-19 vaccine at the same time as other routine vaccines?
The COVID-19 vaccine and other vaccines may now be administered without regard to timing. This includes simultaneous administration of the COVID-19 vaccine and other vaccines, including the influenza vaccine, on the same day, as well as administration within 14 days. It is unknown whether reactogenicity – the property of a vaccine of being able to produce common, "expected" adverse reactions – is increased with coadministration, including other vaccines known to be more reactogenic, such as adjuvanted vaccines (i.e. DTaP, Hep A, Hep B, HIB, HPV, Tdap and Pneumococcal).
If I tested positive and have recovered from COVID-19, do I still need the vaccination?
Data from clinical trials indicate that COVID-19 vaccines are safe in persons with evidence of a prior SARS-CoV-2 infection. Vaccination should be offered to persons regardless of history of prior symptomatic or asymptomatic SARS-CoV-2 infection. Viral testing to assess for acute SARS-CoV-2 infection or serologic testing to assess for prior infection solely for the purposes of vaccine decision-making is not recommended.
Vaccination of persons with known current SARS-CoV-2 infection should be deferred until the person has recovered from the acute illness (if the person had symptoms) and criteria have been met for them to discontinue isolation. This recommendation applies to persons who develop SARS-CoV-2 infection before receiving any vaccine doses as well as those who develop SARS-CoV-2 infection after the first dose but before receipt of the second dose. While there is otherwise no recommended minimum interval between infection and vaccination, current evidence suggests that reinfection is uncommon in the 90 days after initial infection. Thus, persons with documented acute SARS-CoV-2 infection in the preceding 90 days may delay vaccination until near the end of this period, if desired.
Should I stop taking my routine medications before COVID-19 vaccination?
For most people, it is not recommended to avoid, discontinue, or delay medications for underlying medical conditions around the time of COVID-19 vaccination. If you take medications that suppress your immune system, you should speak with your healthcare provider about what is currently known and not known about the effectiveness of getting a COVID-19 vaccine when taking immune-suppressing medications. If you have questions about medications that you are taking, talk to your doctor or vaccination provider.
What are the risks of the COVID-19 vaccine?
The FDA’s rigorous testing helps ensure that vaccines are safe and highly effective. However, all medications, including vaccines, carry a small risk of side effects. Most common side effects are identified in clinical trials before the vaccine is approved, but less-common side effects may not be detected until the medicines or vaccines are more widely available. That’s why vaccines are continuously, carefully monitored for possible side effects even after they are licensed.
After receiving the COVID-19 vaccine, what side effects could I experience?
COVID-19 vaccine recipients can expect to experience symptoms such as pain, swelling, reddening at the injection site, swelling in lymph nodes on the same side as the vaccinated arm, fever, fatigue, headache, chills, and muscle/joint pain after vaccination.
I received my first dose of the vaccine, and I am not sure if I am experiencing side effects or if I have COVID-19?
Sometimes after vaccination, the process of building immunity can cause symptoms, such as fever, body ache, headache, and fatigue. These symptoms are normal and are a sign that the body is building immunity, according to the CDC. While COVID-19 infection can cause these same symptoms, additional and more specific COVID-19 symptoms may include cough, shortness of breath, congestion/runny nose, and new loss of taste and smell. If side-effect symptoms worsen or do not subside within 72 hours, contact your primary care physician. If you experience an adverse event, please contact your primary care physician as soon as possible.
What are the risks of experiencing side effects from the vaccine compared to the risks of experiencing serious health problems from COVID-19?
COVID-19 can cause severe medical complications and lead to death in some people. There is no way to know how COVID-19 will affect you personally. If you get COVID-19, you could spread the disease to family, friends and others around you, even if you do not show any symptoms and you do not become ill. Getting a COVID-19 vaccine can help protect you by creating an antibody response in your body without you becoming sick with COVID-19. Or, if you get COVID-19, the vaccine might keep you from becoming seriously ill or developing serious complications. Getting vaccinated may also help protect people around you from COVID-19, particularly people at increased risk of severe illness from COVID-19.
Should I use medications to reduce fever or pain prior to receiving my COVID-19 vaccination to lessen the presence of side effects?
Medications that reduce fever (antipyretic) or pain (analgesic) like Tylenol (acetaminophen), Advil/Motrin (ibuprofen) or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs may be taken for the treatment of symptoms you experience after vaccination, if medically appropriate and you do not have allergies to these medications.
What effect might the COVID-19 vaccine have on individuals with chronic conditions (including asthma, diabetes, heart disease, neurological issues, etc.)?
According to the CDC, adults of any age with certain underlying medical conditions are at increased risk for severe illness from the virus that causes COVID-19. COVID-19 vaccines may be administered to people with underlying medical conditions provided they have not had a severe or immediate allergic reaction to any of the ingredients in the vaccine. If you have a chronic condition, follow-up with your healthcare provider to learn more about the COVID-19 vaccine.
More information on chronic conditions can be found at this link.
If I have a history of Guillain-Barre syndrome or Bell’s palsy, can I proceed with a FDA-authorized COVID-19 vaccination?
Talk with your doctor about your questions and concerns and for help deciding if the vaccination is right for you. If you don’t have a doctor, we can help you find a doctor.
Does the flu vaccine cover COVID-19 too?
No. The flu vaccine is important to protect you from influenza, particularly during the current coronavirus pandemic, but it does not vaccinate you for COVID-19. Receiving both a flu vaccine and COVID-19 vaccine are important to stay healthy. The flu vaccine is important to protect you from influenza, particularly during the current coronavirus pandemic. Receiving the COVID-19 vaccine will help protect you and prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
Do I need to get both the flu and COVID-19 vaccines?
Yes. The flu vaccine is important to protect you from influenza, particularly during the coronavirus pandemic, but it does not vaccinate you for COVID-19. Receiving the COVID-19 vaccine will help protect you and prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
What should I do if I’ve received any COVID-19 vaccine and suspect I’m having a reaction?
In most cases, discomfort from pain or fever after receiving a COVID-19 vaccine is a normal sign that your body is building protection, according to the CDC. Contact your doctor or healthcare provider if the redness or tenderness at the injection site gets worse after 24 hours and/or if your side effects are worrying you or do not seem to be going away after a few days. If you get a COVID-19 vaccine and you think you might be having a severe allergic reaction after leaving the vaccination site, seek immediate medical care by calling 911.
How can I report a vaccine reaction or side effect to the COVID-19 vaccine in the CDC’s V-safe program and what is it?
According to the CDC, V-safe is a smartphone-based tool that uses text messaging and web surveys to provide personalized health check-ins after you receive a COVID-19 vaccination. Through V-safe, you can quickly tell the CDC if you have any side effects after getting the COVID-19 vaccine. Depending on your answers, someone from the CDC may call to check on you and get more information. And V-safe will remind you to get your second COVID-19 vaccine dose if you need one.
Is a COVID-19 vaccine available for children?
Yes. The vaccine is available for people aged 5 and older. Find out more about the vaccines available.
Several vaccine manufacturers also are conducting trials in younger children, beginning at age 6 months. Speak to your child’s pediatrician to confirm when your child could receive a vaccine.
Will my child have side effects from the COVID-19 vaccination?
The most common side effects in children are pain at the injection site, tiredness, headache, chills, muscle pain, fever and joint pain. Find out more about side effects in children from the CDC.
A full listing of the side effects is now available on the FDA website and a summary is found in the fact sheet that is provided to everyone who receives the vaccine.
Can my child receive the COVID-19 vaccine at the same time as other routine vaccines?
The COVID-19 vaccine and other vaccines may now be administered without regard to timing. This includes simultaneous administration of the COVID-19 vaccine and other vaccines on the same day, as well as administration within 14 days. It is unknown whether reactogenicity – the property of a vaccine of being able to produce common, "expected" adverse reactions – is increased with coadministration, including other vaccines known to be more reactogenic, such as adjuvanted vaccines (i.e. DTaP, Hep A, Hep B, HIB, HPV, Tdap and Pneumococcal).
If my child already had COVID-19, should they get the COVID-19 vaccine?
Yes, children of eligible age should get the COVID-19 vaccine regardless of whether they have had COVID-19 because experts do not yet know how long they are protected from getting sick again after recovering from the virus that causes COVID-19. Even if they have already recovered from COVID-19, it is possible—although rare—that they could be infected again.
Vaccination of adolescent children with known current SARS-CoV-2 infection should be deferred until the adolescent child has recovered from the acute illness (if the person had symptoms) and they have met criteria to discontinue isolation. This recommendation applies to children who experience SARS-CoV-2 infection before receiving any vaccine dose and those who experience SARS-CoV-2 infection after the first dose of an mRNA vaccine but before receipt of the second dose.
If my child was diagnosed with multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children (MIS-C) after having COVID-19, should they proceed with getting the vaccine?
Current evidence suggests that the risk of SARS-COV-2 reinfection is low in the months after initial infection but may increase with time due to waning immunity. Thus, people with a history of multisystem inflammatory syndrome (MIS-C or MIS-A) should consider delaying vaccination until they have recovered from illness and for 90 days after the date of diagnosis of MIS-C or MIS-A, recognizing that the risk of reinfection and therefore, the benefit from vaccination, might increase with time following initial infection.
Where can I go to get my child a COVID-19 vaccine?
We recommend that you contact your primary care doctor, provider or pediatrician’s office to determine the best location for your child to receive a COVID-19 vaccine.
How can I prepare my child for a vaccination?
- CDC: Preparing your child for a vaccination visit
- American Academy of Pediatrics. About the COVID-19 Vaccine: Frequently Asked Questions
- American Academy of Family Physicians. COVID-19 Vaccine
- Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Frequently Asked Questions about COVID-19 Vaccination for Children and Teens
Speak to your doctor or healthcare provider to learn more about the COVID-19 vaccine.