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Your Vaccination Guide
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How effective are the vaccines in preventing severe COVID-19 disease?
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All three vaccines (Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson) have demonstrated to be 100% effective at preventing severe disease once the patient is fully vaccinated.

Which vaccine is better? Which vaccine should I get?
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The Pfizer and Moderna mRNA vaccines had a success rate of well over 90% in preventing illness from COVID-19. So, both are equally effective at preventing the illness from COVID-19. The Johnson & Johnson vaccine has a somewhat less vigorous ability to prevent the symptoms of COVID-19, 66% overall, and 72% in the US, but this is still very acceptable for a vaccine. Importantly, the Johnson & Johnson vaccine performs very well in preventing serious illness from COVID-19 with an efficacy of 85%, meaning that those who did get ill from SARS-CoV-2 infection after vaccination had a much less severe illness. And it is really successful in preventing (100%) hospitalizations due to COVID-19.  Also, it has the added benefit of being only one dose.

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. For safety, the data must include a period of at least two months after a person gets the second shot of the vaccine to watch for any late side effects. 

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 16 years and older is eligible to receive a COVID vaccine. 

Additionally, as of May 10, 2021, the FDA extended emergency use authorization (EUA) to Pfizer’s COVID vaccine for adolescents ages 12 to 15.

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

On April 23 2021, the FDA and CDC lifted the recommended pause on the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine (which was found to cause rare blood clots) after a thorough safety review. 

Read this release for more information. 

How effective is each shot of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines? How long do I need to wait between each shot?
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Recent 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. 

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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While we do know that the currently available COVID-19 vaccines are very good at preventing someone from getting symptoms from the virus, we don’t yet know if they can prevent people from spreading the virus when they have no symptoms. So, we still need everyone to wear masks after getting the vaccine until this information is available.

Will I still have to wear a mask if I get the vaccine?
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The CDC recommends that fully vaccinated people 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 will still be 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.

How long is the vaccine good for/last in the body?
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So far, we have evidence from studies that the protection from the mRNA vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna lasts at least 6 months; and it is very likely that the protection lasts much longer than this. We have had only have about 6 months worth of data since these vaccines became available in December 2020; as more time goes by and these studies continue on how long the antibody response lasts, we will know if and when a booster vaccine might be needed.

The Johnson & Johnson vaccine has not been in use long enough for us to have reliable data on how long the protection from the vaccine lasts yet. It has only been in use since March 2021.

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 not included in the initial studies, however now that several months have passed since we began using the vaccines further study has been done on the vaccines in pregnancy. Preliminary findings from a study of the mRNA vaccines in pregnancy did not show obvious safety issues among pregnant persons who received mRNA vaccines. Furthermore, the way the vaccines work makes it unlikely that it could have a harmful effect on fertility or a breastfed baby. In fact, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) both state that pregnancy and breastfeeding are not reasons to avoid the vaccine. If a pregnant or breastfeeding person is part of a group that is recommended to receive a COVID-19 vaccine (e.g., healthcare personnel), they may be offered the vaccine. But to understand the risks and benefits, they should consult with their care provider before getting it.

Should I be concerned about the use of new technology (mRNA) to make the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines?
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No, you should not be concerned about the technology used to make the vaccines. Like all vaccines, COVID-19 vaccines have been tested for safety before being allowed to be used in the United States.  It’s also important to know that the mRNA technology used for the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines was not just created for the novel coronavirus. It has actually been studied and designed for more than a decade. So, researchers and vaccine experts already had experience with it.

The three available vaccines do not contain a live virus so they do not carry a risk of causing COVID-19 in anyone. Also, material from the mRNA vaccine never enters the center of the cell and does not affect the  person’s own DNA. Lastly, after our body uses the information in the mRNA it is broken down by our cells. Then the immune system makes protective antibodies to protect us against the virus.

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 get the vaccine if I already had COVID-19?
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Yes, even if you had COVID-19, you should still get the vaccine because it is not clear how long the immunity lasts after having had COVID-19. If you have had COVID-19 within the last month, please contact your local health provider or our health team to determine when you should get the vaccine.

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, the current vaccines will still protect most people from the new coronavirus variants, including the UK variant that is now spreading in the US. There are two other variants, one found initially in South Africa and now in several other countries, and another in Brazil that researchers are closely studying that may infect people who already had COVID-19 in the past. Studies are underway to find out if the current vaccines can protect against these variants. There are some new variants in the US as well that researchers are still learning about and watching. These new variants are another reason why it’s important to continue to wear masks, social distance and practice hand hygiene to prevent the spread of COVID-19. For updated news about new variants we will continue [to monitor for the CDC](https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/transmission/variant.html).

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.

The Johnson & Johnson vaccine is the newest vaccine to be approved in the US. How does it work and is it available for use again?
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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 at specifically its ability to prevent serious illness overall. The Johnson & Johnson vaccine will work well to prevent COVID-19, and especially well to prevent serious illness from developing.

On April 23 2021, the FDA and CDC lifted the recommended pause on the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine (which was found to cause rare blood clots) after a thorough safety review. 

The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) – a group that advises the CDC on issues related to vaccination in the United States – reviewed all of the available data regarding the cases of blood clots that was reported after receiving the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. They determined that the number of cases were extremely small compared to the number of Johnson & Johnson vaccines that have been given. This means that the risk of blood clots is very low. For this reason, the vaccine is no longer paused and can continue to be distributed.  

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.

I’m partially vaccinated (received one of two doses of either Moderna or Pfizer). How protected am I after one dose?
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Evidence indicates that after the first dose of the mRNA vaccine, the efficacy is about 80%, which is very good. That said, after the second dose the efficacy is over 90%, so you are still highly encouraged to get the second dose for full protection. 

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.

Weekly vaccine insights from our world-class experts
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We are here to help
We are here to support vaccine concerns, health questions, and to find a vaccine location near you.
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.
Meet Our Doctors
Dr. Tista Ghosh
Dr. Tista Ghosh

Dr. Ghosh is the Senior Medical Director for Grand Rounds Health and our leading expert in epidemiology, the study of understanding and controlling disease. She was trained at America’s health protection agency, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, and has served as the Chief Medical Officer for the state of Colorado and on the U.S. Community Preventive Services Task Force. She works to educate Grand Rounds members about COVID-19 vaccines and prevention and other diseases to make a positive impact on public health.

Dr. Melody Msiska
Dr. Melody Msiska

Dr. Msiska is a Staff Physician and Telemedicine Service Lead at Grand Rounds Health. 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 Health. 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 Health. 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 Health 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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