The United States has begun the roll out the COVID-19 vaccine, in hopes of putting an end to the pandemic. With every state having already entered the first phase of the rollout, it is recommended everyone over the age of 16 gets vaccinated once the opportunity becomes available. With the information constantly updating, we are working hard to keep you well-informed. We have compiled answers to frequently asked questions to help you in your efforts to get vaccinated.

How We Naturally Build Protection Against Viruses

When germs, such as the virus that causes COVID-19, invade our bodies, they attack and multiply, resulting in an infection that causes illness. Our immune system utilizes many tools to combat the infection including red blood cells, used to carry oxygen to tissues and organs, and antibodies, proteins that bind to the virus and trigger a cascade of events that destroy the virus.

When a person is first infected with the virus that causes COVID-19, the body can take several days to develop and utilize the tools needed to combat the infection. For some people, it may take longer. For others, the virus is too strong for their immune system to fight, and they become very ill.  If the infection has been surpassed, the recovered person’s immune system remembers what it learned about how to protect the body against that disease.

Types of Vaccines

There are several different types of vaccines; however, mRNA vaccines are the only ones currently approved for administration. mRNA vaccines, unlike more conventional vaccines, do not contain material from the virus that causes COVID-19.  Instead, they teach our cells to make a harmless protein that is unique to the virus.  The protein triggers an immune response inside our bodies that produces antibodies, which protect us if we are exposed to the virus that causes COVID-19.

Currently, there are two US Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-approved vaccines available:

Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine: The FDA has given emergency use authorization to the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine, which is available for people 16 years of age or older. This vaccine has an efficacy rate of 95 percent, meaning that about 95 percent of people who get the vaccine are protected from becoming seriously ill with the virus.  It requires two injections given 21 days apart.

Moderna vaccine: The FDA has given emergency use authorization to the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine for people 18 years of age or older. Data has shown that the vaccine has an efficacy rate similar to the Pfizer vaccine. It requires two injections given 28 days apart.

Once the vaccine becomes available in your community and you are able to schedule your appointment, here are five things you need to know:

Five Things You Need to Know About the COVID-19 Vaccine

1. How do we know vaccines are safe?

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has granted Emergency Use Authorizations (EUA) for two COVID-19 vaccines. Data from the manufacturers and findings from large clinical trials have shown the vaccines are safe and effective. According to the data, the known and potential benefits of this vaccine outweigh the known and potential harms of becoming infected with coronavirus.

After a vaccine is authorized or approved for use, many vaccine safety monitoring systems watch for possible side effects that may not have been seen in clinical trials.

The current monitoring tool being used by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is V-safe – a new smartphone-based, after-vaccination health checker for people who receive COVID-19 vaccines. V-safe uses text messaging and web surveys from CDC to check in with vaccine recipients following COVID-19 vaccination. V-safe also provides second vaccine dose reminders, if needed, and telephone follow up to anyone who reports medically significant (important) adverse effects. For more information, visit vsafe.cdc.gov.

2. Does getting sick with COVID provide better protection than the vaccine?

The protection someone gains from having an infection depends on the disease and varies from person to person. Since this virus is new, we do not know how long protection lasts for those who get infected or for those who are vaccinated. Current evidence suggests that getting the virus again is uncommon in the 90 days after being first infected.

The CDC will keep the public informed when new evidence becomes available as experts are currently working to learn more about both natural immunity and vaccine-induced immunity.

One thing is for certain, COVID-19 has caused serious illnesses and deaths. When a person gets infected with coronavirus, they run the risk of becoming very ill or getting a loved one sick. Getting the COVID-19 vaccine is a safer, more responsible choice.

3. Do people who have tested positive need to be vaccinated?

Yes, you should be vaccinated regardless of whether you already had COVID-19 infection or not, due to the severe health risks associated with COVID-19 and the fact that a coronavirus reinfection is possible. Talk to your provider if you are unsure what treatments you received or if you have more questions about getting a COVID-19 vaccine.

4. Can COVID-19 vaccines cause you to get sick?

None of the authorized and available vaccines or vaccines currently in development in the United States contain the virus that causes COVID-19, meaning that a COVID-19 vaccine cannot make you sick with COVID-19. All of the currently approved vaccines teach our immune systems how to recognize and fight the virus that causes COVID-19.

Much like any other vaccine, the COVID-19 vaccine can sometimes cause mild side effects after the first or second dose, including:

  • Pain, redness or swelling where the shot was given
  • Fever
  • Fatigue
  • Headache
  • Muscle pain
  • Chills
  • Joint pain

These symptoms are normal and are a sign that the body is building protection against the virus. You will likely be monitored for 15 minutes after getting a COVID-19 vaccine to see if you have an immediate reaction. Most side effects happen within the first three days after vaccination and typically last only one to two days.

5. Once I’ve been vaccinated can I stop wearing a mask and other mitigation efforts such as social distancing?

No, the CDC recommends following the existing precautions to continue to avoid the spread of coronavirus. Wearing a cloth face covering or surgical mask in public places offers extra protection in places such as the grocery store, where it’s difficult to avoid close contact with others. Also, avoid large crowds and keep a six-foot distance between you and others not living in your household. Be sure to wash your hands or use alcohol-based hand sanitizer regularly or after touching shared surfaces like grocery carts or door handles.

Who is eligible?

The CDC has outlined the following phases for vaccine administration. These phases vary by state so we encourage you to follow up with your local health authorities to determine when you can receive the vaccine in your community.

Phase 1a: Health care personnel and residents of long-term care facilities

Phase 1b: Frontline essential workers, people aged 75 years and older

Phase 1c: People aged 65—74 years, people aged 16—64 years with underlying medical conditions, other essential workers

As vaccine supply increases but remains limited, the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) will expand the groups recommended for vaccination. The goal is for everyone to be able to easily get a COVID-19 vaccination as soon as large enough quantities of vaccine are available.

There is currently no COVID-19 vaccine for children under 16 years of age. Several companies have started enrolling children as young as 12 years of age in COVID-19 vaccine clinical trials, and studies including younger children will begin soon.

COVID-19 vaccination might not be recommended for people with certain health conditions. Talk to your provider if you have questions about getting the vaccine.

Outcome

Whether you have received COVID-19 vaccine or are scheduled to, it is still crucial to continue following CDC guidelines. Doing so will slow down the spread of the virus and will ease the burden on yourself, your loved ones and health care workers.

Protect yourself and others by continuing to:

  • Wear a mask or face covering
  • Stay at least 6 feet (about 2 arm lengths) from others who don’t live with you
  • Avoid crowds. The more people you are in contact with, the more likely you are to be exposed to COVID-19

For additional resources visit cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/vaccines.

To learn more information about specific availability and administration of the vaccine in the communities we serve, please visit p3hp.org/coronavirus/vaccine.