Your Vaccination Guide

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Last updated on 1/18/22

Expert Answers to Your Vaccine Questions

Check out these up-to-date insights and answers to your COVID-19 vaccine questions from our Chief Medical Officer and senior medical experts.

Are the vaccines safe? How many people were studied? Was that enough?
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The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) sets tough standards that must be met before they will allow for an emergency use authorization (EUA) for a vaccine, which it granted to the Pfizer and Moderna vaccine in December 2020 and the Johnson & Johnson vaccine in February 2021. (NOTE: as of August 2021, the Pfizer mRNA vaccine has been granted FULL authorization by the FDA due to abundant evidence of its safety and efficacy).

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also reviews vaccine studies along with a group of doctors and other vaccine experts who don’t work for the government. These groups found that the vaccines are safe. Safety information will continue to be gathered as more and more vaccinations are given.

Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson all tested their vaccines on large groups of people. The Pfizer SARS-CoV-2 vaccine studies had 43,448 people, and the Moderna SARS-CoV-2 vaccine study had more than 30,000 people. The Johnson & Johnson vaccine clinical trials enrolled 45,000 people.

How can I find the vaccine?
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Everyone aged 5 years and older is eligible to receive the Pfizer COVID vaccine. The Moderna and Johnson and Johnson vaccines are authorized for age 18 and older. 

VaccineFinder.Org is a free resource to find locations with vaccine availability near you.

What have been the main side effects people experienced from the vaccine?
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In most cases, post-vaccine symptoms are reported to include: 

  • Pain at injection site 
  • Fatigue
  • Headache
  • Muscle pain
  • Chills 
  • Joint pain
  • Fever
  • Injection site swelling
  • Injection site redness
How effective are the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines? How long do I need to wait between each shot?
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  • Studies indicate the efficacy after the first dose of the mRNA COVID-19 vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna is about 80%. After two doses the efficacy reaches over 90%. The Johnson & Johnson vaccine is only one dose, and has an efficacy of 66% overall, and 72% in the US arm of their trials. Note: these studies were done before the Delta and Omicron variants emerged. Their ability to prevent infection from these variants is somewhat reduced, though all three of these vaccines remain excellent at preventing serious illness, hospitalization, and death even from the Delta variant.  
  • For the Pfizer vaccine, you need to wait 21 days between doses. For the Moderna vaccine, it is 28 days between doses. As noted, the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is only one dose.
How effective are the vaccines in preventing people from spreading the virus when they have no symptoms?
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We know that the currently available COVID-19 vaccines are very good at preventing someone from getting symptoms from the virus, and data also suggests that they are very good at preventing people from spreading the virus to others even when they have no symptoms. That said, certainly, no vaccine is 100% effective, so there will still be folks who are vaccinated and still get sick, or who pass it on without having any symptoms. This has been the case now with the Delta and Omicron variants in circulation.

Will I still have to wear a mask if I get the vaccine?
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In the face of the Delta and Omicron variants and the widespread transmission the CDC recommends that if a fully vaccinated person lives in/is visiting an area where the transmission rates are “high” or “substantial”, that they wear a mask while in indoor public spaces.  (Check here for your county transmission rates)

If you reside in or are visiting an area with low transmission rates (less than 50 cases/100,000 people) you can can resume activities that you did prior to the pandemic without wearing a mask or physically distancing, except where required by federal, state, local, ribal or territorial laws, rules and regulations, including local business and workplace guidance.

  • Travel Exception: You are still required to wear a mask on planes, buses, trains and other forms of public transportation traveling into, within or out of the United States, and in transportation hubs such as airports and train stations.

People who have a condition or are taking medications that weaken the immune system, should talk to their healthcare provider to discuss their activities and may need to continue to take precautions to prevent COVID-19, including wearing a mask.

With the Omicron variant now so prominent across the US and spreading rapidly, some cities and counties with high transmission rates are returning to mask mandates. These mandates should be followed even if vaccinated in an attempt to counter this spread.

If I am vaccinated, but have a known close contact exposure to someone with COVID, do I need to quarantine?
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No, as long as you do not develop symptoms and you have completed the full vaccine series of an mRNA vaccine (Pfizer, Moderna) within the last 5 months, or Johnson and Johnson in the last 2 months or if you’ve had a booster, a close contact exposure means you should wear a mask for 10 days when around people. You should get tested 5 days after the exposure.

If I get one of the mRNA vaccines, will I need a booster after the first 2 doses? What about a booster of the Johnson and Johnson vaccine?
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Under emergency use authorization from the FDA (EUA), all adult patients can now access boosters of Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson and Johnson, and are recommended to do so in the face of the new variant of concern named Omicron.  

      • Adults (18+) should now get an mRNA booster (Moderna or Pfizer) 6 months after completing the initial series of 2 doses
      • Persons age 16-17 can get a Pfizer booster 6 months after completing the initial series of 2 doses
      • Regarding Johnson and Johnson,  ANYONE 18+ y.o. who previously had a Johnson and Johnson vaccine should get a booster as long as 2 months have elapsed since the single dose. NOTE: The Johnson & Johnson vaccine has fallen somewhat out of favor due to clotting issues related to it, so the preferred vaccines are the mRNA vaccines. 

Also approved was heterologous boosting, which means individuals can also choose which vaccine they receive as a booster – they are not required to stick with the one they got initially.

How can we best distinguish expected vaccine side effects from symptoms of acute illness with COVID-19?
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If patients have symptoms of injection site pain/tenderness, fatigue, fever, muscle/body aches, etc. within hours to a couple days after receiving the injection, then these are very likely related to the vaccine and not COVID-19. If there are other more specific symptoms like a runny nose, coughing, chest pain, loss of taste/smell, vomiting, or diarrhea then it could be COVID-19, or some other virus, and not likely caused by the vaccine. If this occurs, you should isolate yourself per CDC guidelines and get tested for COVID-19.

How do I prepare for my vaccine appointment?
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In preparation for your vaccine appointment, be sure to take your driver's license / ID card, and your insurance card with you along with the vaccination form filled out.  Be sure to wear a short-sleeve shirt, or a shirt with sleeves loose enough to easily pull it up and allow access to your upper arm.  It is not recommended that you take any Tylenol or Ibuprofen prior to the vaccine, but these can be taken afterwards if needed for minor aches and pains that might occur.

I’m pregnant, breastfeeding, or trying to get pregnant. I know they didn’t study the vaccines in pregnant women so should I get it?
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  • It is true that pregnant and breastfeeding women were largely excluded from the initial clinical trials, though now that the vaccines have been in use since December 2020, data from tens of thousands of reporting pregnant individuals (via v-safe, the v-safe pregnancy registry, and VAERS)  support the safety of the vaccine in this population. Moreover, studies also show that getting vaccinated while pregnant not only protects the woman against severe COVID and death, but confers immunity to the newborn, as well. 
  • CDC, WHO, and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) all indicate that vaccination in pregnancy is important to protect pregnant women who are at higher risk of severe outcomes should they get COVID.  
Should I get an antibody test before getting the vaccine?
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Antibody testing is not currently recommended to assess the need for vaccination.

Should I worry about how fast these vaccines were created?
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No, there is no reason to worry about the safety of the vaccine. The factors that led to the quick turnaround of the vaccines. There are many reasons the safe vaccines could be made so quickly. First, the technology used to make the mRNA vaccines has been studied and created for more than a decade. Second, making a vaccine with the mRNA technology (the Pfizer and Moderna products) is also much simpler and faster than the other forms, such as those used to make the flu vaccine. So there is a shorter manufacturing time. The Johnson & Johnson vaccine uses a process already in use for other, non-COVID-19 vaccines. Third, the US government helped fund the studies and vaccine creation, so that helped speed up the process as well. Lastly, the pandemic made the need for the vaccine a top priority for people. So getting enough people to take part in the studies was quick and easy.

Should people with certain autoimmune diseases or other conditions avoid the vaccines?
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No, having an autoimmune condition is not not a reason to avoid the vaccine. The vaccine is approved for people with autoimmune diseases and weakened immune systems from health conditions or a medication. To understand the risks and benefits, people with these conditions should consult with their care provider before getting the vaccine.

Are there any long-term effects that we need to be watching out for in the upcoming year?
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There are no long-term effects to watch out for. But scientists will continue to watch for side effects that people report after getting the vaccine through an app on their smartphones or computers, and information they share with their vaccine providers. 

Did they study the vaccine in kids? Can children get the vaccine? Are they safe?
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Though the vaccines were not studied in children in the initial clinical trials in 2020 and early 2021, these studies are ongoing now to assess vaccine safety and efficacy in children and adolescents. In fact, on May 10, 2021 the Pfizer COVID vaccine was the first to be given Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) by the FDA for use in those age 12 to 15.  After reviewing the data from Pfizer’s studies, the FDA concluded that their vaccine is safe and effective for this age group. 

Moderna and Johnson and Johnson are also continuing their studies in children and adolescents and it is anticipated that they, too, will receive authorization for use in adolescents in the coming months.

Will the vaccine protect me from the new variants?
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  • At this time, data indicates the current vaccines will still protect most people from the coronavirus variants, including the UK variant (also called Alpha), the South African variant (Beta), the Brazil variant (Gamma), and the Delta variant that is now dominant in the US. 
  • For updated news about new variants from the CDC: (https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/transmission/variant.html).
What do we know about the Omicron variant?
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  • The Omicron variant originated in South Africa in late 2021 now is the dominant SARS-CoV-2 variant circulating in the US. It has far surpassed the Delta variant in prevalence. 
  • The Omicron variant likely will spread more easily than the original SARS-CoV-2 virus and how easily Omicron spreads compared to Delta remains unknown. CDC expects that anyone with Omicron infection can spread the virus to others, even if they are vaccinated or don’t have symptoms.
  • More data are needed to know if Omicron infections, and especially reinfections and breakthrough infections in people who are fully vaccinated, cause more severe illness or death than infection with other variants.
  • Current vaccines are expected to protect against severe illness, hospitalizations, and deaths due to infection with the Omicron variant. However, breakthrough infections in people who are fully vaccinated are likely to occur. With other variants, like Delta, vaccines have remained effective at preventing severe illness, hospitalizations, and death. The recent emergence of Omicron further emphasizes the importance of vaccination and boosters.
  • Scientists are working to determine how well existing treatments for COVID-19 work. Based on the changed genetic make-up of Omicron, some treatments are likely to remain effective while others may be less effective.
How much does the vaccine cost?
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COVID-19 vaccine is free. The health care provider may choose to charge an administration fee for distributing the vaccine, if this occurs the fee will be covered by your insurance company. For uninsured patients, the government will cover the administration fee. No one can be denied a vaccine if they are unable to pay the vaccine administration fee.

Tell me about the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. How does it work? Is it recommended?
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  • The Johnson & Johnson vaccine differs from the currently available COVID-19 vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna in a few ways. First, it is given in a single dose. Additionally, this vaccine uses a common cold virus, to introduce the spike proteins of COVID-19 into our cells, thereby evoking an immune response. It is important to understand that this is an altered form of the common cold virus that cannot cause any harm or multiply, so no one will get sick from it. This common cold virus has been used in this same way for other vaccines, as well, with no problems. Another difference between this vaccine and the vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna is that it does not require such cold temperatures to transport and store unlike the mRNA vaccines. This makes the Johnson and Johnson vaccine less complicated for hospitals, clinics, and pharmacies to handle.

 

  • The results from Johnson & Johnson large clinical trials indicate that the vaccine has an efficacy of 72% in the United States arm of the trial, and 85% when they looked specifically at its ability to prevent serious illness overall. That said, its efficacy is not holding up so well in the face of the Omicron variant, and this vaccine has also fallen out of favor due to the rare but very serious risk of blood clots, especially in women under 50. So, the CDC now recommends that if an mRNA vaccine is available, and the patient is able to get it (no contraindications) they should opt for that rather than the Johnson & Johnson product. 

 

  • If you have received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, you are advised to monitor for severe headache, abdominal pain, leg pain, or shortness of breath occurring within three weeks after vaccination, and should contact your local health care provider for evaluation right away if such symptoms occur.

 

  • If you received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine and have not developed any of the side effects associated with signs of blood clots, as noted above, within three weeks after vaccination, the risk of an adverse reaction is unlikely. Read this release for more information.
I have heard that only getting half doses of the vaccine, or only the first dose and not the second can help more people get the vaccine faster. Should I do this?
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No. It is not recommended that we change the schedule of getting both vaccine shots from what was studied. The current recommendation is for a full dose of the vaccine to be given, and then again 3 weeks later for the Pfizer vaccine, and 4 weeks later for the Moderna vaccine.

My parents are elderly and are not sure they should get the vaccine. Does it work in older adults? Did they study it in older adults?
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Yes, Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson did study their vaccines in older people, a group who often don’t respond as strongly to vaccines. The success rate of vaccines is still very good at 94% for the Pfizer vaccine in people  55 and over and 86% for the Moderna vaccine in people  65 and older. For comparison, younger people had a 95% success rate for these vaccines. So, these two vaccines are still very useful for preventing COVID-19 in older people.

Is it OK to get the COVID-19 vaccine with other vaccines?
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Yes, COVID-19 vaccines and other vaccines may now be administered without regard to timing, including simultaneous administration of COVID-19 vaccines and other vaccines on the same day, as well as coadministration within 14 days. 

Did they study the vaccine in people of color?
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For the mRNA vaccine from Pfizer, 10% of U.S. people in the study were Black, 13% were Hispanic, 6% were Asian, and less than 2% were Native American. Over all the studies Pfizer did worldwide, not just in the US, 10% of the people  were Black, 26% were Hispanic, 5% were Asian, and less than 1% were Native American. 

In the Moderna vaccine studies, roughly 20% of the people were Hispanic, 10% were Black, and 4% were Asian. Information on the number of American Indians in the study was not provided.

Among U.S. participants in Johnson & Johnson phase 3 trial, 74% were white, 15% were Hispanic, 13% were Black, 6% were Asian, and 1% were Native American.

How effective is the AstraZeneca vaccine?
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Currently AstraZeneca is not approved for utilization in the United States. AstraZeneca reports that the vaccine is 76% effective overall after the second dose. This is above the standard set by the U.S. FDA for a vaccine to be considered useful (50% efficacy).

Is it safe to travel if I’ve been vaccinated?
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While the CDC still recommends against travel in general, they have updated their travel guidelines specifically for fully vaccinated travelers: 

  • Fully vaccinated people can resume domestic travel and do not need to get tested before or after travel or self-quarantine after travel.
  • Fully vaccinated people do not need to get tested before leaving the United States (unless required by the destination) or self-quarantine after arriving back in the United States.
  • Travelers still need to show a negative test result or documentation of recovery from COVID-19 before boarding a flight to the United States.
  • Travelers should still get tested 3-5 days after international travel.
  • Travelers do NOT need to self-quarantine after arriving in the United States.

What about Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS) and these vaccines?
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  • After more than 16 million Johnson and Johnson/Janssen COVID-19 vaccine doses administered, there have been around 258 preliminary reports of GBS identified in VAERS as of November 10, 2021. These cases have largely been reported about 2 weeks after vaccination and mostly in men, many ages 50 years and older. CDC will continue to monitor for and evaluate reports of GBS occurring after COVID-19 vaccination and will share more information as it becomes available.
  • Persons with a history of GBS may receive a COVID-19 vaccine unless they have a contraindication (ie. a known allergy to the vaccine’s components.)

Archives

What are the vaccine side effects?
Does the vaccine protect me from new variants?
Are the vaccines safe?

We are here to help

We are here to support vaccine concerns, health questions, and to find a vaccine location near you.

Meet Our Doctors

Dr. Melody Msiska
Dr. Melody Msiska

Dr. Msiska is a Staff Physician and Telemedicine Service Lead at Grand Rounds. She oversees our team of top doctors, nurses and healthcare experts as they meet and care for patients from across the country in virtual visits. Whether by phone, app or computer, Dr. Msiska is passionate about using technology to make sure everyone has access to high-quality healthcare so they can get better faster and save time and money along the way.

Dr. Todd Thames
Dr. Todd Thames

Dr. Thames is a Senior Medical Director at Grand Rounds. He believes strongly in listening closely to patients to understand the many issues and experiences that affect their health. After decades of working in hospitals and the healthcare industry, Dr. Thames focuses his strengths in healthcare management, medical education and patient care on raising the standard of healthcare for Grand Rounds members.

Dr. Heather Hockenberry
Dr. Heather Hockenberry

Dr. Hockenbery is our Senior Staff Physician and Clinical Lead at Grand Rounds. She brings over a decade of direct patient care experience to her role as leader and mentor to our large medical team. Drawing on her vast knowledge of medicine and her one-on-one experience caring for patients from all walks of life, Dr. Hockenberry helps her team deliver the highest possible healthcare to all our Grand Rounds members.

Andrea Ballesteros, RN
Andrea Ballesteros, RN

Andrea Ballesteros comes to the Grand Rounds team after years of experience caring for patients in a hospital setting. As a Spanish-Speaking Bilingual Registered Nurse, she makes sure Grand Rounds members get the care and information they need in the language they understand. From connecting members to the right doctors for their conditions to supporting them through COVID-19 issues and behavioral health crisis, Andrea brings high-quality compassionate care to every member’s experience.

Trusted Sources

Where to turn for additional vaccine resources
CDC COVID-19 vaccination information
State by state vaccination plans

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