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What’s the COVID-19 vaccine?

COVID-19 vaccines are shots that can protect you against COVID-19, and prevent serious illness and death from COVID-19. The vaccine also lowers your chances of spreading COVID-19 to others. Everyone 12 years of age and older is eligible to get the COVID-19 vaccine.

In the U.S., the FDA has authorized 3 different vaccines: Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson/Janssen. The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is available to people ages 12 and up. The Moderna and Johnson & Johnson/Janssen vaccines are available to ages 18 and up. There will likely be more vaccines available in the future as research continues. COVID-19 vaccines may be slightly different, but any vaccine that you can get will help protect you.

All vaccines available in the U.S. have been carefully tested and proven to be safe and effective. It’s best to get the first vaccine that’s available to you — don’t wait for a specific vaccine unless your doctor tells you to. The sooner more people can get vaccinated, the sooner more people will be protected from COVID-19 and the sooner the pandemic will end.

How do I get the COVID-19 vaccine?

You can get a COVID-19 vaccine at many doctors’ offices, pharmacies/drug stores, hospitals, community health centers, and government-run sites. You may have to make an appointment, but some places offer walk-ins. The CDC has more information about how to find COVID-19 vaccines near you.

Everyone 12 years old and up is now eligible to get a COVID-19 vaccine. Getting the vaccine as soon as you can is the best way to stay safe and healthy, and help stop the COVID-19 pandemic. If you care for a child who is 12 years old or older, talk with their nurse or doctor to see if they’re offering the COVID-19 vaccine.

If you’re under 18, you need parental consent to get the COVID-19 vaccine, and you can only get the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. So make sure to make an appointment somewhere that has the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, or states that they give vaccines to people ages 12 and up. You can also contact your local health department for more information about getting the vaccine if you’re younger than 18.

How much does the COVID-19 vaccine cost?

COVID-19 vaccines are free to the public. You don’t need to have health insurance, and your immigration status doesn’t matter — anyone 12 years old and up can get the vaccine for free.

How does the COVID-19 vaccine work?

COVID-19 shots go in the muscle in your upper outer arm, similar to a flu shot. COVID-19 vaccines help your body develop immunity to COVID-19. The vaccines don’t have the live COVID-19 virus in them, and they won’t give you COVID-19. Both kinds of vaccines work by teaching the cells in your body how to recognize the COVID-19 virus and fight it off if you’re exposed to COVID-19 in the future.

The Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna 2-dose vaccines are a new type of vaccine called mRNA vaccines. mRNA vaccines work by making your body build a harmless piece of the virus that your immune system is programmed to attack. This teaches your body how to build certain white blood cells that recognize and fight the real COVID-19 virus, without you having to get the actual infection. While these mRNA vaccines are new, the technology has been researched for a long time for many other viruses, including Zika, the flu, and others.

The Johnson & Johnson/Janssen vaccine is a 1-dose viral vector vaccine. Viral vector vaccines take a piece of gene from the COVID-19 virus and put it into another harmless virus, which teaches your body to recognize and fight COVID-19. The virus that’s in the vaccine doesn’t cause infection and it doesn’t multiply in your body. Viral vector vaccines have safely been used for decades to prevent many other illnesses.

How many shots do I need to get?

The Johnson & Johnson/Janssen vaccine is 1 shot. The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is a series of 2 shots, 3 weeks apart. The Moderna vaccine is a series of 2 shots, 4 weeks apart. If you get the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccines, you need to get both doses of the same type of vaccine to get full protection against COVID-19.

You’ll get a card or some other kind of documentation that shows when you got your shot, where you got your shot, and what kind of shot you got. If you’re getting a 2-dose vaccine, it will also say when you need to come back for your second shot. If you have questions about the type of shot you got and when you need to come back for your second dose, contact the location that gave you the COVID-19 vaccine.

When am I protected after getting the COVID-19 vaccine?

You’ll have the most protection from COVID-19 after you’re fully vaccinated.

Full vaccination happens:

  • 2 weeks after you get the second dose of a 2-dose vaccine — like the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccines.

  • 2 weeks after you get a 1-dose vaccine — like the Johnson & Johnson/Janssen vaccine.

If it’s been less than 2 weeks since your final shot, or if you haven’t had your second dose, you are NOT fully protected. Keep taking steps to protect yourself from COVID-19 until you’re fully vaccinated.

If I get the COVID-19 vaccine, do I still have to wear a mask and socially distance?

It’s safe for you to stop wearing masks and socially distancing in most situations once you’re fully vaccinated (2 weeks after your final dose).

Once you’re fully vaccinated:

  • It’s safe to go back to doing most activities without wearing a mask or staying 6 feet away from others.

    • Vaccinated people still need to follow all state, local, tribal, or territorial rules, as well as workplace and business guidelines. So if a store, venue, or office asks you to wear a mask, you should wear one. 

    • Vaccinated people still need to wear masks while traveling and on public transportation (like planes, trains, buses, and in stations and airports).

  • You can travel within the U.S. without getting tested or self-quarantining. 

    • All international travelers must take additional precautions, like getting tested for COVID-19 before flying back to the U.S. and 3-5 days after travel. International travel can increase your risk for COVID-19, even if you’re vaccinated, because the spread of new or more dangerous COVID-19 variants differs depending on the country. Read more about guidelines for international travel. 

  • You don’t have to quarantine or get tested for COVID-19 after being in contact with someone who has COVID-19, unless you have symptoms or live or work in a prison or homeless shelter. 

Talk with your nurse or doctor if you have a condition or are taking medicine that affects your immune system. You may need to keep taking all precautions to avoid COVID-19 — like wearing masks and social distancing — even after getting the COVID-19 vaccine.

Research shows that the vaccine works very well to prevent death and serious illness from COVID-19 — so if you’re fully vaccinated, it’s extremely unlikely that you will get very sick or die from COVID-19. But scientists are still learning more about how the vaccine protects you and others who are not vaccinated. There are different variants (AKA strains) of COVID-19, and the vaccine may protect against some strains better than others. Scientists also don’t know exactly how long the vaccine works to prevent COVID-19.

There’s a very small chance that people who’ve had the vaccine can still spread the virus and get other people sick, even if they don’t get sick themselves. And there are still many people who haven’t been vaccinated, but could get sick and even die from COVID-19. So even if you’re vaccinated, you can help keep everyone safe by taking other steps to prevent the spread of COVID-19 — like wearing masks on public transportation, and following state, local, workplace, and business rules around masks and social distancing,

You can read more about the current guidelines for vaccinated people on the CDC website

Remember: it usually takes a few weeks after you finish getting your vaccine(s) for your body to build immunity (protection) against COVID-19 — that means it’s still possible to get sick from COVID-19 between, or right after, your vaccines. So keep taking the same steps to protect yourself and others as unvaccinated people do, until at least 2 weeks after your final dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.

If I have already had COVID-19, do I still need to get the vaccine? 

Yes. You should still get vaccinated even if you’ve had COVID-19. Scientists don’t know yet how long you’re protected from COVID-19 after you’ve had it, so it’s important to get the vaccine to help protect yourself from getting COVID-19 again. 

If you were treated for COVID-19 symptoms with monoclonal antibodies, wait 90 days after finishing treatment before getting a COVID-19 vaccine. Talk to your doctor if you are unsure what treatments you got.

If I have COVID-19, will the vaccine cure it?

No. The vaccine only helps protect you from getting COVID-19 in the future. Right now, there’s no cure for COVID-19 if you currently have it, though there are treatments available to help manage it.

If you’re sick with COVID-19 or think you might have it, wait until you feel better and your nurse or doctor says it’s safe for you to stop isolating and get your COVID-19 vaccine.

Can I get the COVID-19 vaccine and other vaccines at the same time?

Yes. You can get the COVID-19 vaccine and other vaccines at the same time or within close timing of each other. Your doctor or nurse can help you figure out which vaccines you may need.