Three vaccines for COVID-19 have been authorized for emergency use in the United States from Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson (Janssen). The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend the Pfizer-BioNTech’s coronavirus vaccine for people 5 and older, and the Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines for people 18 and older.
In August 2021, the FDA gave full approval for the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine. That means this vaccine has been fully cleared for use in people ages 16 and older.
Children and adolescents can get COVID-19 just as easily as adults and transmit it to others. In early November 2021, the CDC authorized use of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for children 5-11 years old. These vaccines offer a lower dose than adolescent and adult doses. They are safe and effective in this age group, and can prevent severe illness in children.
You will not be charged for getting the vaccine. The federal government is providing the vaccine to the American public free of charge.
Path to improved health
The mRNA vaccines – Pfizer and Moderna – require two doses, delivered by a syringe (a shot). The shots will be scheduled three–four weeks apart, depending on which vaccine is given. It is really important to get both doses of the vaccine to have the best protection against COVID-19. The Johnson & Johnson vaccine is given as a single dose. The mRNA vaccines are recommended for most situations.
A booster shot maximizes protection again COVID-19. The CDC has approved vaccine booster shots for all adults 12 years and older. A booster dose is an extra vaccine dose given to people when the immune response to a initial vaccine series was adequate but may have decreased over time. People who got an mRNA vaccine as their primary vaccine (Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna) should get a booster at least 5 months after the second dose. People who got the Johnson & Johnson vaccine should get a booster at least 2 months later.
People age 18 and older can “mix and match” booster doses, which means you can get a vaccine that’s different from your initial series. People 12-17 can only receive the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine as a booster dose.
Are the vaccines safe?
Yes! The FDA and CDC have determined that the Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson vaccines have met rigorous safety and effectiveness standards. No serious safety concerns or side effects were seen in clinical trials. However, the CDC and the FDA continue monitoring the side effects as the vaccines are given to the public. In general, the vaccine side effects, such as headache, fever, fatigue, and chills, have been generally mild to moderate and in trials, lasted only a day or two. For the mRNA vaccines, more people experienced these side effects after the second dose than after the first dose, according to the FDA.
These symptoms are very common with vaccines and a sign that the body is responding to the vaccine. There have been reports of a few cases of severe allergic reactions to a component of the mRNA vaccines. Individuals receiving any of the vaccines should be monitored for 15-30 minutes after injection. mRNA vaccines have been observed to cause myocarditis (inflammation of the heart) in younger individuals. However, these cases are rare, and the majority of people have mild symptoms and get better without needing intensive treatment. The risk of myocarditis is much higher from COVID-19 than the vaccines.
Additionally, there have been a few reports of blood clots along with low platelet counts after receiving the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. These reports were studied thoroughly. It was determined that these events were rare, and millions of people have been vaccinated without any major issues. As with other non-COVID-19 vaccines, rare cases of Guillain-Barre syndrome can occur.
Call your family doctor immediately if you experience any unusual symptoms after getting the J&J vaccine, including severe or persistent headache, backache, chest pain, severe abdominal pain, shortness of breath, leg swelling, petechiae or bruising.
Questions or concerns about the vaccine side effects? Check with your family doctor.
Why should I get the vaccine?
Getting vaccinated doesn’t prevent you from becoming ill. You can still get sick and have symptoms. But it will reduce your risk of severe disease, complications, being hospitalized, and even death. Getting vaccinated and getting a booster dose protects others around you who may not be able to get the vaccine yet (like children under 5). Reducing the risk of severe disease also helps prevent overwhelming the health care system.
Is it safe to get the vaccine while I’m pregnant or breastfeeding?
Yes! There is now more data about the safety and effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccination during pregnancy. The CDC strongly recommends that all people who are breastfeeding, pregnant, recently pregnant, are trying to get pregnant or might become pregnant get vaccinated to prevent serious illness from COVID-19.
Is it possible to get COVID-19 from the vaccine?
It’s not possible to catch COVID-19 from the vaccines, including when you’re breastfeeding. They do not use live SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. Instead, two vaccines are mRNA-based and use messenger RNA (ribonucleic acid) to tell your body to make a particular protein that will activate your immune system and protect you against the virus if you’re exposed.
The Johnson & Johnson vaccine uses a different virus (that causes the common cold) that is unable to replicate in human cells. This virus serves as a vehicle to transport DNA to tell your body to make the spike protein and activates the immune system. The DNA does not alter or change your DNA in any way. This technology has been studied for decades and used in other vaccines.
Can I still get COVID-19 after I get the vaccine?
There is a small chance that you could still get sick if you are exposed to the virus, as the vaccines are not 100% effective at preventing infection, especially when there are variants circulating. Also, if you are exposed to the virus just before or after getting the vaccine, you could get sick before the vaccine has time to work. However, the odds are greater that you won’t become seriously ill, or need to be hospitalized, after receiving the vaccine.
If I’ve already had COVID-19, should I get vaccinated?
Health experts say that you should get the vaccine even if you’ve already had COVID-19. They believe the vaccine could provide stronger immunity for those who have had the virus. This is because coronaviruses often do not create long-lasting natural immunity in humans.
Do I still need to wear a mask and physically distance if I’ve been vaccinated?
Yes! The vaccine was shown to prevent serious illness but hasn’t been shown to prevent infection with the virus. Wearing masks and practicing physical distancing in schools, public buildings and crowds can help prevent the spread of the variants.
Things to consider
Severe side effects from the COVID-19 vaccines are rare. The most common include pain at the injection site, headache, fever, fatigue, and muscle ache. These side effects last only a day or two. The CDC and FDA are monitoring closely for any safety issues and have confirmed that the vaccines are safe and effective.
People with severe allergies to certain components may not be able to get the vaccine; this does not include allergies to foods such as shellfish or peanuts. The CDC has published guidelines for getting the vaccine which outline precautions for vaccination in people who have known allergies to components of the vaccine or had an allergic reaction to the first dose of a mRNA vaccine. As always, if you are unsure, check with your family doctor first.
If you are pregnant or nursing, consider getting the vaccine as you are at an increased risk for illness with COVID-19. If you have questions, consult your doctor. While the original vaccine clinical trials did not include people who were pregnant or nursing, we now have data from people who became pregnant after getting the vaccine. No safety concerns have been seen. There is even evidence that getting the vaccine can help protect your baby.
Vaccines are available in doctor offices, pharmacies, and community locations. Find out where to get the vaccine at vaccines.gov. You can also text your zip code to 438829 and get a text with the nearest location where the vaccine is available.
Questions to ask your doctor
- Is there any reason I should not get the vaccine?
- Will the vaccine affect any underlying health conditions?
- What side effects should I watch for and what should I do?
- Where can I get the vaccine?
- Should I get a booster shot?
Copyright © American Academy of Family Physicians
This information provides a general overview and may not apply to everyone. Talk to your family doctor to find out if this information applies to you and to get more information on this subject.