The COVID-19 pandemic has had a dramatic impact on all of our lives and those of our loved ones. We all want to get back to a time when we can feel safe and protected so that we can return to doing the things we enjoy. The only way for that to happen is for the spread of this virus to be stopped. That point will occur when we achieve something called “herd immunity” meaning enough people are immune that the virus is unlikely to be spread from one person to another because those people have immunity already. This typically occurs when 60-70% of the population has been vaccinated, but because of the increased infectivity of the COVID-19 variant most common in the U.S., this number is estimated to be 80%. This is why we’ve put together the answers to these frequently asked questions below. It is so that you can learn for yourself what our medical experts and many around the country are saying about these vaccines and make the right choice for you, your family and our community.

What are the benefits of getting vaccinated?
  • Getting the vaccine can protect you from getting severely sick or possibly even dying from COVID-19. The vaccines work with your immune system so your body will be ready to fight this coronavirus if you are exposed to it. As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, getting the vaccine is a powerful step in taking charge of your health. 
  • Getting the vaccine also helps others – your family, friends, neighbors and community. Older people and those living with chronic medical conditions such as heart disease, diabetes or being overweight are more likely to experience severe — even fatal — cases of COVID-19 if they catch it. The more people who receive the COVID-19 vaccine, the lower their risk of catching it from others. 
  • The more people who get vaccinated, the sooner we can all safely start to do things we enjoy yet have put off for months, such as returning to work, school, sports, family celebrations and social activities. 
  • The sooner that we all get vaccinated, the sooner we can stop this virus. It is important that we get as many people vaccinated as soon as possible so that we can not only stop the spread of the virus in our communities, but that we can also reduce the time the virus has to develop new variants that could cause more severe illness or become immune to our current vaccines. The more variants that develop the longer this pandemic might persist.
Are the vaccines safe?

More than 100 million Americans and 300 million people world-wide have been fully vaccinated with one of the available vaccines and are now protected against COVID-19. The CDC has carefully monitored and kept track of any and all potential side effects or complications from the vaccines provided in the US. That data clearly shows that these vaccines are both safe and highly effective. The vaccines were developed to do exactly what they do – help prevent you from developing severe illness or dying from COVID.

How effective? In the US, only 0.6% (or 6 out of every 1,000 people) still went on to develop COVID-19 symptoms after having been vaccinated. That degree of protection is a remarkable achievement for any vaccine.

The vaccines were developed too fast. Can I trust the science?

Although it’s hard to believe that these vaccines were able to be developed, tested and produced without cutting corners, it’s true. These vaccines went through the standard 3 phases of clinical trials to assess their safety, appropriate dosing levels and ability to prevent disease. Health experts took all the usual and necessary steps to produce safe vaccines. They weren’t authorized for emergency use until after tens of thousands of people had received them and were monitored closely for months to ensure the vaccines were safe and effective. In fact, vaccinated participants in those trials continue to be followed to watch for the development of any late complications; none have been reported with the mRNA vaccines (Pfizer and Moderna). 

Related to the specific live virus vaccines made by Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca, monitoring of those receiving the vaccines after the trials picked up the rare occurrence of a specific kind of blood clot occurring in women from 18 to 50 years of age. The CDC (Centers for Disease Control) has a special system for monitoring any post-vaccination side effects, and they are continuing to watch for any additional cases of these blood clots.

How were they able to go from initial outbreak to Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) and distribution so quickly?

There were three driving forces that helped. The first is the fact that the technology for these vaccines was built on 20 years of research and science, using processes that have been developed and tested over many years. That knowledge and experience enabled pharmaceutical companies to develop the plans for and produce these vaccines much more quickly than the old methods. Next was the financial support from the government that allowed them to start preparing for production so that they were ready to go if and when the vaccine received EUA. Lastly, because of how infectious and widespread the coronavirus that causes COVID was at the time of their trials, it made it much easier to recruit volunteers for the studies and to have enough people get (or not get) infected to prove if the vaccine worked.

Since then, millions of people around the world have been vaccinated without significant adverse effects.

Should I be concerned about the side effects? I’ve known people who have felt sick for days after getting vaccinated. 

Side effects after receiving a vaccine can be normal and are often a sign that your body is activating to protect you. For most people, the symptoms are typically mild and last only a day or two. They are not something you should worry about unless you know you have a specific allergy to an ingredient in the medication or have a history of severe allergies (called anaphylaxis) to another vaccine or injectable medication.
After vaccination, some people may feel one or more of the following, though many don’t notice anything at all beyond a sore arm near the site of the shot:

  1. Chills
  2. Tired or fatigue
  3. Headache
  4. Muscle aches
  5. Joint aches 
I’m terrified of needles. How do I get over the fear?

Trypanophobia or fear of needles is fairly common. The needles used for these vaccines are typically some of the thinnest that are used so many people have commented that they didn’t even feel the injection. If you’re worried, please let the person administering the vaccine at the clinic know so that they can help you through this.

One helpful tip is to practice slow, deep breathing and focus your attention there. Breathing exercises have been used in eastern medicine for thousands of years. Slow, deep breaths can decrease the release of stress hormones and slow heart rate. When you are stressed, your body revs up, but when you take slow, deep breaths, it is like you are engaging the brake.

Which vaccine should I get? Are they all equally effective? Do I have a choice? 

The best vaccine is the one you have access to first. Each vaccine is virtually 100% effective in saving your life from COVID – and they will allow us to get back to the things we love and miss. 

In some cases, you may be able to choose which vaccine you get. Many sites offering the vaccines advertise which vaccine they are giving. You would need to make an appointment at a location offering the vaccine of your choice.

I’ve already had COVID-19. Do I still need to get vaccinated?

Medical experts recommend that people who have had COVID-19 still get vaccinated. It isn’t clear yet how long immunity lasts after an actual infection and some people that are infected with COVID-19 don’t make a lot of something called neutralizing antibodies. These are antibodies that directly block the ability of the virus to enter your cells. The vaccines help you to develop a high level of those neutralizing antibodies and stimulate your body to remember this for later so that you should have immunity for even longer. There are cases where a person has had COVID-19 and recovered and later gets re-infected. Getting vaccinated will help prevent that.

If you’ve been diagnosed with COVID-19, when should you get the vaccine? The risk of re-infection after having had COVID-19 is very low in the first 90 days, so you may choose to wait that long, although waiting is not necessary. Of course, people with current COVID-19 symptoms should wait until their acute illness has resolved before being vaccinated, which is about 10 days after the start of symptoms or a positive test.

I’m not worried about or don’t think I will get COVID. And if I do, I’m young and healthy and will recover quickly. Why should I get vaccinated?

Being young and healthy does not guarantee that you will be asymptomatic or experience a very minor case of the virus. COVID-19 has proven to be unpredictable, and although the majority of those who get it do recover within a few weeks, and those that have more severe cases do tend to be older or already have compromised immune systems, there are also cases where someone young and healthy has become very ill or even died. Younger people are one of the most commonly infected age groups and, on top of the risk of developing a severe case of COVID-19, they can also be a source of spread to others.

In addition, some people who have had COVID-19, even if their case was mild, have developed a syndrome known as “long COVID-19.” These people recover from their initial infection, but then continue to experience symptoms long after their initial recovery. In some of these individuals we have also seen long-term damage done to organs such as the heart, lungs and brain.

I want to wait until more people are vaccinated. What is the harm in that?

Time is of the essence. Waiting too long to be vaccinated allows the coronavirus to continue spreading throughout the community, and new variants are emerging. Getting COVID-19 can be very dangerous to you and can spread the disease to others. The sooner you get vaccinated, the sooner you are protected from the virus and can safely resume activities you love. Vaccines can only save lives if people are getting vaccinated. 

I heard that the COVID-19 vaccines cause infertility as a side effect. Should I be concerned about getting the vaccine if I am pregnant or trying to get pregnant?

There is careful monitoring for side effects in people that have been vaccinated and infertility is NOT a side effect of any of the COVID-19 vaccines. 

The American Academy of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends that pregnant people have access to COVID-19 vaccines. This past year, more than 100,000 pregnant women have received the COVID-19 vaccine. Most of them received the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines, although some received Johnson & Johnson. As data gets accumulated from this group of women, it appears that the pregnancy outcomes are no different than the population of pregnant women without COVID-19 who do not get the vaccine. Getting COVID-19 infection during pregnancy, however, may increase the risk of pregnancy complications including premature delivery.

According to the data reviewed by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for the Pfizer vaccine, 23 women turned out to be pregnant after the clinical trial began. There were 2 women that reported bad side effects, but it turned out that both of them were in the placebo group. No pregnant woman in the vaccine arm had any issues.

To go one step farther to prove the safety of their vaccine, despite the fact that pregnant women are usually excluded from clinical trials, Pfizer began officially enrolling pregnant women into their ongoing COVID-19 vaccine clinical trial in February. More data will likely become available later this fall, but that shows the comfort level of the FDA and Pfizer to take that step.

Are irregular periods a side effect of COVID-19 vaccines -- for example, heavier bleeding than normal, early periods, late periods?

Right now, there’s no scientific evidence that suggests COVID-19 vaccines are making periods irregular nor was this identified in any of the clinical trials of the vaccines. There’s also no biological mechanism, based on how the vaccines work, that would explain these occurrences. While abnormal periods can happen after a person receives the COVID-19 vaccine, it is most likely due to chance and does not necessarily mean the vaccine caused the abnormal period.

I’ve heard one should not have a mammogram if they get the vaccine. Is this true?

The COVID-19 vaccine, like other vaccinations, stimulates your immune system. This can cause a temporary enlargement of lymph nodes near where the person was vaccinated. Those lymph nodes can sometimes be seen by the radiologist reading your mammogram and make it appear to be abnormal even when you are OK and there is no indication of cancer. Since enlarged lymph nodes can result in a “false positive” on your mammogram, you could get a request to return for further testing — a call-back — which can be unsettling.

Therefore, mammograms should be scheduled before your first dose of a COVID-19 vaccination or four to six weeks after the last dose. That way, there is time for your lymph nodes to return to their normal size. As with any testing recommended by your healthcare provider, women age 40 and above should not delay recommended mammographic screening.

Can “vaccine shedding” cause side effects in unvaccinated people?

No, for multiple reasons. The first is that these vaccines stay locally in the muscle in which they are injected. They do not enter the bloodstream and circulate so they cannot cause you to shed anything. In addition, none of the vaccines contain any of the actual components of the virus, let alone a whole virus itself. The spike protein your body makes in response to the vaccine is primarily made locally in the muscle where the vaccine is administered and may possibly be seen in low levels in the blood, but it should not be shed in significant quantity in respiratory or other secretions.

On the other hand, someone who has been infected with the virus that causes COVID-19 WILL shed virus and are contagious. People with COVID-19 shed large amounts of virus from respiratory secretions, which is how COVID-19 spreads.

Shedding can’t happen without a live-virus vaccine. The mRNA vaccines – Pfizer and Moderna – are not live-virus vaccines and do not replicate. The Johnson & Johnson vaccine is considered a live vaccine because it contains adenovirus (but NOT the coronavirus.) Still, the adenovirus in the Johnson & Johnson vaccine can’t replicate (multiply or reproduce), so there’s no way they can shed. 

The Pfizer vaccine has just received Emergency Use Authorization for 12 to 15-year-olds. Aren’t children at lower risk for getting COVID-19?  Why should I have my young teenager get vaccinated?

It’s a common misconception that teens and young adults are at much lower risk of contracting COVID-19. They are at less risk for severe disease, including the need for hospitalization, but they can easily catch and spread COVID-19 to others, which serves to keep the pandemic going. Vaccinating younger people is of key importance in our reaching adequate community immunity. Also, though much more rare, severe illness and even death, can and do occur in younger patients, so protecting our young people from this risk is important for them as well.