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What’s the COVID-19 vaccine?

COVID-19 vaccines are shots that can protect you from getting COVID-19. Everyone 16 years of age and older is now 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. 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 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.

How do I get the COVID-19 vaccine?

How you make an appointment to get a vaccine varies depending on where you live and whether you’re getting your vaccine from a government-run site, community health center, hospital, doctor’s office, or pharmacy. The CDC has more information about how to find COVID-19 vaccines near you.

Everyone 16 years old and up is now eligible to get a COVID-19 vaccine. Getting the vaccine as soon as you can is one of the best ways to stay safe and healthy, and help stop the COVID-19 pandemic.

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 16 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.

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

It depends on the situation. It’s safe for you to do certain things once you’re fully vaccinated (2 weeks after your final dose).

People who are fully vaccinated can:

  • Be indoors — without masks or social distancing — with other fully vaccinated people.

  • Be indoors — without masks or social distancing — with unvaccinated people from a single household who aren’t at higher risk for serious sickness from COVID-19 and don’t live with anyone who is.

  • Gather outdoors without masks (except in large, crowded settings). 

  • Travel within the U.S. without getting tested or self-quarantining. Guidelines for international travel depend on where you’re going.

If you’re fully vaccinated, you don’t have to quarantine or get tested for COVID-19 after coming into contact with someone who has COVID-19, as long as you don’t have symptoms (unless you live in a group setting, like a prison or group home). If you have COVID-19 symptoms, get tested.

Scientists are still learning exactly how well the vaccine protects you and others. There’s a 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 it’s important to keep taking other steps to prevent the spread of COVID-19 even if you’re vaccinated:

  • Wear a tight-fitting mask over your nose and mouth, and practice social distancing when you’re:

    • In indoor public places (like stores and doctor’s offices)

    • At crowded outdoor events (like concerts, parades, and sporting events)

    • Visiting with unvaccinated people who are at high risk for serious sickness from COVID-19 

    • Visiting with unvaccinated people who live with someone who’s at high risk for serious sickness from COVID-19 

    • Visiting with unvaccinated people from multiple households (including children)

  • Wash your hands often

  • Avoid crowds and places with bad ventilation

  • Get tested if you have COVID-19 symptoms

  • Follow all guidelines at your workplace

  • Talk with your nurse or doctor if you have a health condition or take medicine that affects your immune system — you may need to keep taking all normal precautions to prevent COVID-19

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?

No. Don’t get the COVID-19 vaccine and other vaccines — like the flu or HPV vaccine — at the same time or within 14 days of each other.