Q. What are my options for the COVID-19 vaccine?
A. There are 3 vaccines that have received an Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA): the Pfizer vaccine, the Moderna vaccine, and the Janssen (Johnson & Johnson) vaccine. The Pfizer and Moderna vaccine are both mRNA vaccines. The Johnson & Johnson vaccine is a viral vector vaccine. DC Health recommends that you take the first vaccine available to you.
Q. How well do the COVID-19 vaccines work?
A. Clinical trials have shown the Pfizer and the Moderna vaccines to be about 95% effective at preventing COVID-19 illness. The Johnson & Johnson vaccine is about 85% effective at preventing severe COVID-19. Please note that the vaccines were tested at different times and in different places, and the Johnson & Johnson vaccine was tested when there were more people infected with variant strains of the virus that causes COVID-19. This means that it’s hard to compare the numbers against each other. The bottom line is, they are all very effective!
Q. How many doses of the vaccine do I have to get?
- One dose for the Johnson & Johnson vaccine
- Two doses for the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines.For the two-dose vaccines:
- The first shot helps the immune system recognize the virus, and the second shot strengthens the immune response. You need both to get the best protection.
- The recommended time period between the first and second doses is 21 days for the Pfizer vaccine and 28 days for the Moderna vaccine.
- It is important to get both doses of the same vaccine and not to mix-and-match, or the vaccine might not work as well.
Q. How long does the COVID-19 vaccine take to start working? Do I get some protection after the first dose of the two-dose vaccine?
- For the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines: You might get some protection after receiving the first dose, but full protection is expected about 2 weeks after receiving the second dose.
- For the Johnson & Johnson vaccine: You get some protection 2 weeks after vaccination but full protection is expected 28 days after the one dose.
Q. What are the side effects of the COVID-19 vaccines?
A. Common side effects of the COVID-19 vaccines are pain at the injection site, fever, feeling tired, headache, chills, muscle aches and joint pains. Most symptoms are mild to medium intensity. Side effects usually appear 1-2 days after vaccination and last a day or two. Symptoms may be worse in people younger than age 55-60 and after the 2nd dose of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines. Having any of these common side effects shows that the vaccine is working as intended and stimulating an immune response from your body.
Q. Are the vaccines safe? I’ve heard the process was rushed and important steps were skipped.
A. While the COVID-19 vaccines were developed in record time, they are still being held to the same safety standards of all vaccines. The vaccines went through the standard phases of clinical trials and have been tested on more than 100,000 people from different races and ethnicities. While these trials may not uncover rare adverse events (that you may see when millions of people get the vaccine), we can be comfortable that these trials were large enough to detect any major safety concerns. Due to the pandemic, the vaccine was manufactured and planned for mass distribution while the trials were still happening, which usually doesn’t occur as it may result in a significant waste of money if the product doesn’t get approved. This meant that once the data from the trials was reviewed and approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the vaccines were very quickly ready for use. Clinical trial participants will continue to be monitored to gain more information about the vaccines, including such things as how long immunity lasts.
Q. Do I need to get vaccinated if I’ve already had COVID-19?
A. Yes. It is not yet certain how long or how well a past COVID-19 infection protects someone from getting infected again. The vaccine can also boost immunity you already have from a past COVID-19 infection. Since re-infection with COVID-19 is uncommon in the 90 days following an infection, you may choose to delay getting vaccinated until after 90 days has passed.
Q. Can the vaccine give me COVID-19 or cause me to test positive for COVID-19?
A. No. The COVID-19 vaccines do not contain any of the live virus that causes COVID-19, only the code for one of its viral proteins. However, it typically takes a few weeks for the body to build immunity after vaccination. That means it’s possible you could be infected with the virus that causes COVID-19 just before or just after vaccination and get sick. If you develop cough, shortness of breath, runny nose, sore throat, or loss of taste or smell after getting the vaccine, you should not assume these symptoms are from the vaccine, and should take steps to isolate yourself and call your healthcare provider.
Q. How much will the COVID-19 vaccine cost?
A. The vaccine will be free, but doctors will be able to charge an administration fee. (This may be covered by your health insurance.)
Q. Who should NOT get the COVID-19 vaccine?
- Anyone with a previous severe or immediate allergic reaction (e.g. anaphylaxis) to the first COVID-19 mRNA vaccine dose, any of the vaccine ingredients, or polysorbate. For a list of vaccine ingredients see:
- fda.gov/media/144414/download (Pfizer)
- modernatx.com/covid19vaccine-eua/eua-fact-sheet-recipients.pdf (Moderna)
- fda.gov/media/146305/download (Johnson & Johnson)
- People younger than 16 years old (it has not yet been fully tested on this age group)
- People currently ill with COVID-19 and are isolating, people with symptoms who are isolating, or people who have been exposed to COVID-19 and are quarantining. This is to protect the staff and other patients in the vaccine clinic. You can get your vaccine once your isolation or quarantine is completed.
After getting the vaccine
Q. Once I get vaccinated, will I receive any sort of documentation to show that I have received the COVID-19 vaccine?
A. You will receive a COVID-19 Vaccination Record Card after getting your vaccine. If you are getting a two-dose vaccine, the card will remind you of when you will need to return for your second dose. You will need to bring the card with you when you return for the second dose so that it can be documented on the card.
Q. What happens if my second dose gets delayed?
A. You should get the second shot as close to the recommended interval as possible (21 days for the Pfizer vaccine and 28 days for the Moderna vaccine). If for some reason you are late getting your second shot, get the second shot as soon as you can. Don’t wait any longer than 6 weeks to get your second shot. Also, do not get your second dose earlier than what is recommended (up to 4 days earlier is acceptable). We are still learning if the vaccine works as well if it is taken outside of the currently recommended time periods.
Q. Can I stop taking precautions like wearing a mask and social distancing after I get the vaccine?
A. No. Everyone should continue to take COVID-19 precautions until public health officials instruct otherwise. One of the main reasons for this is that the vaccine has been demonstrated to be effective at preventing symptomatic COVID-19 illness, but it is not yet proven to prevent asymptomatic infection. Asymptomatic infection is when a person is carrying the virus but has no symptoms of illness. Asymptomatic infection is known to be a major way the virus that causes COVID-19 spreads. Ongoing vaccine studies will answer this question.
Q. Do I still have to quarantine after I get the vaccine?
A. Vaccinated people who were in close contact with someone with COVID-19 are not required to quarantine if they meet all of the following:
- Are fully vaccinated (i.e., ≥2 weeks following receipt of the second dose in a two-dose series, or ≥2 weeks following receipt of one dose of a single-dose vaccine)
- Have remained asymptomatic since the current COVID-19 exposure
However, you should still monitor yourself for symptoms of COVID-19 for 14 days after you were exposed, and isolate and call your healthcare provider if you develop symptoms.
Q. Can a person sick with COVID-19 receive the vaccine?
A. No. They should wait to get the vaccine until they are feeling better and have completed their isolation period so that they don’t put healthcare providers and other patients at risk of being exposed.
Q. Can pregnant women get the vaccine?
A. Pregnant women were not included in the early COVID-19 vaccine studies, but some women enrolled in the clinical trials got the vaccine before they knew they were pregnant, and some became pregnant during the study period. In these instances, the vaccine was effective and no negative effects have occurred. Specific COVID-19 vaccine studies in pregnant women are in progress now and we await results from these studies. Pregnant women are known to be at higher risk for complications from COVID-19 such as preterm birth. Vaccine studies in pregnant women are underway. U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the American College of Obstetricians (ACOG) have recommended that pregnant women be vaccinated. Pregnant women should consult with their health care providers regarding vaccination
Q. Can breastfeeding women get the vaccine?
A. Yes. Although the vaccine has not been specifically studied in breastfeeding women, it is felt to be safe. The COVID-19 virus is not transmitted through breastmilk, so it is expected that vaccination would not be a concern either.
Q. If I’m trying to get pregnant, can I get the vaccine? Should I delay getting pregnant until after I’ve been vaccinated?
A. Yes you can get the vaccine if you are trying to get pregnant. It is not necessary to delay pregnancy until after you have been vaccinated.
Q. Can children get the vaccine?
A. Children under the age of 16 cannot receive the Pfizer vaccine. Children under 18 cannot receive the Moderna vaccine or the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. Since the original clinical trials did not include children under 16, it has not yet been proven to be safe and effective in this age group.
Q. Is the vaccine being tested on children now? When will children be able to get the COVID-19 vaccine?
A. Trials studying the vaccine in children are currently in progress. As more information becomes available, the age groups eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine will be adjusted.
Q. Should people with chronic medical conditions get the vaccine?
A. Yes. COVID-19 vaccination is especially important for people with underlying health problems like heart disease, lung disease, diabetes, and obesity. People with these conditions are more likely to get very sick from COVID-19.
Q. Should people who are immunocompromised get the vaccine?
A. CDC currently recommends this group receive the vaccine. There is not much data so far about performance of the vaccine in immunocompromised individuals. It is possible that the vaccine may not be as effective in some individuals with immune compromising conditions. On the other hand, immunocompromised people are at increased risk for severe COVID-19 infection. Immunocompromised people should discuss whether they should get the vaccine with their healthcare provider, but recognize that more needs to be learned about the effectiveness of the vaccine in this group.
Q. Will I need to get a COVID-19 vaccine every year like the flu vaccine?
A. It is still too early to know. Ongoing studies should answer this question.
Q. Can I get a COVID-19 vaccine and flu vaccine at the same time?
A. No, you should not get a COVID-19 vaccine and a flu vaccine at the same time. COVID-19 vaccines should be given alone with at least 14 days either before or after you get any other vaccines, including a flu vaccine. This is because there is currently limited information on the safety and effectiveness of getting other vaccines at the same time as a COVID-19 vaccine. As more information becomes available, this recommendation may change. Your healthcare provider can help you decide the best vaccination schedule for you and your family.
Access to the vaccine
Q. When will the general public be able to get the vaccine?
A. The US federal government distributes the vaccine to local areas. The federal government has set a goal of distributing 20 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine by the end of March 2021 and 100 million doses of vaccine within the first half of 2021. Localities make the vaccine available to residents in order of risk priority groups. The first groups to receive the vaccine were frontline healthcare workers and residents and staff of nursing homes. Currently DC is offering the vaccine to residents 65 and older and residents 18-64 with qualifying medical conditions. To schedule an appointment, please visit vaccinate.dc.gov or call the District’s call center at 855-363-0333, Monday through Friday from 8 am to 7pm and Saturday from 8 am to 4 pm. Residents who are not yet eligible for the vaccine can submit their email address or mobile phone number to public.govdelivery.com/accounts/DCWASH/subscriber/new?topic_id=DCWASH_2000 to receive updates when the registry opens to additional populations.
Q. How do the COVID-19 vaccines work? Do they all work the same?
A. The mRNA vaccines (Pfizer and Moderna) work differently than the Johnson & Johnson viral vector vaccine.
How the mRNA vaccines work: mRNA is the blueprint living things use to make proteins. Viruses and humans both use mRNA. The vaccine contains the mRNA code for the COVID-19 virus spike protein. The spike protein is what the virus uses to attach to and infect human cells. The vaccine causes human cells to produce some spike protein, which tricks the immune system into thinking a person is infected with the real virus. This causes the body to make an immune response. Then, if the person gets exposed to the real virus, the immune system kills the virus and the person does not get sick.
How the viral vector (Johnson & Johnson vaccine works: This vaccine works by using a different virus called an adenovirus that has been weakened so it cannot replicate. The adenovirus carries the spike protein code and, similar to the mRNA virus, it instructs human cells to make some spike protein to cause the body to make an immune response.
Q. What is herd immunity and why is it important in relation to COVID- 19?
A. Herd immunity occurs when a large enough percentage of a given population is immune to a certain infection such that when someone gets the infection, the microbe has difficulty finding new people to infect. When herd immunity is reached, epidemics die out. The amount of the population that needs to be immune to reach herd immunity varies for every infection. It can vary from 50-90% for viral infections. It is not yet known what percentage of people would need to be immune to COVID-19 to reach herd immunity. Widespread vaccination is the safest and best way to reach herd immunity, to stop the COVID-19 pandemic and to return life to normal.
Q. Will the vaccines work on the variant strains of COVID-19?
A. Current scientific evidence indicates that the vaccines will work on the mutant strains of COVID-19. All viruses mutate over time. The mutant strains so far are not different enough from the original COVID-19 virus to make the vaccine not work. Scientists are watching and monitoring this issue closely. It may mean that more people will have to be vaccinated to achieve herd immunity.
Q. Can the vaccines change my DNA?
A. No, they cannot. The mRNA in the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines does not enter the nucleus of human cells where DNA is stored. The mRNA is naturally broken down within the cell after a short period of time.
The Johnson & Johnson vaccine does contain DNA encoding a gene from the COVID-19 virus, and does enter the nucleus of the human cell, but it does not contain the machinery to change human DNA.
Q. Are the vaccines produced using fetal cells?
A. The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are not produced using fetal cells. The Johnson & Johnson vaccine is grown in cells originally isolated from fetal tissue. The source fetal tissue from which cells were derived is decades old and no new fetal tissue was needed to produce the vaccine.
Q. Do the vaccines contain preservatives, like thimerosal?
Q. I’m not eligible to get the vaccine right now, what can I do until it’s my turn?
A. Continue to help slow the spread of COVID-19: Wear a mask, wash your hands often, stay 6 feet away from other people, and stay home if you are sick. Doing all of these things will help keep people healthy until a vaccine is widely available.