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What’s the COVID-19 vaccine?

COVID-19 vaccines are shots that can protect you from getting COVID-19. 

There are vaccines available from different manufacturers, including Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna. There will likely be more types of vaccines available in the future as research continues. COVID-19 vaccines may be slightly different, but any approved vaccine will help protect you.

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 any live virus in them, and they won’t give you COVID-19.

The COVID-19 vaccines available right now are a new type of vaccine called mRNA vaccines. They teach 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 COVID-19 vaccines now available in the U.S. use two doses over several weeks. The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is a series of two doses, three weeks apart. The Moderna vaccine is a series of two doses, four weeks apart. Whether your provider offers the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna option, you need to get both doses for the full protection against COVID-19.

You’ll likely get a card or some other kind of documentation when you got your first shot and when you need to come back for your second one. 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 your first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.

In the future, other approved vaccines for COVID-19 may have different wait times between shots, or may only use one dose.

Who should get the COVID-19 vaccine?

Most people should get the COVID-19 vaccine eventually. But it’s important for people in certain high-risk groups to get vaccinated first.

Right now, there aren’t enough vaccines available for everyone who wants one. So people who have the highest chance of being exposed to COVID-19 —such as essential workers and people who live in long-term care facilities, and people who have a higher chance of becoming seriously sick or dying if they get COVID-19 — including people who are over 65 or have certain health conditions — are first in line to get the vaccine. As more vaccines become available, other groups of people will be able to get it. 

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) makes recommendations for which groups of people should get the vaccine first. Then each state decides who the vaccine will be available to and how they can get it. For more information about getting the COVID-19 vaccine in your area, use the drop down menu near the bottom of this page under How Do I Get a Vaccine? to find your local vaccine information.

Is the COVID-19 vaccine safe?

Yes. Like all vaccines, the COVID-19 vaccines were carefully tested before they were approved. Many people of different ages, races, ethnicities, and with different medical conditions participated in the studies. The FDA looked at all of the data and determined the vaccine was safe and effective. Scientists will keep studying the vaccine to keep learning more about it. You can read more about COVID-19 vaccine safety research on the CDC website.

COVID-19 vaccines don’t cause infection, and you can’t get COVID-19 from the vaccine. None of the current COVID-19 vaccines in the U.S. contain the live virus that causes COVID-19. If you do get COVID-19 right after you get your vaccine, it doesn’t mean the vaccine caused it. It takes up to a few weeks after you get the second dose for your body to build immunity (protection) against COVID-19 — that means you can still get sick from COVID-19 right before or right after your vaccine. 

The vaccine is safe for most adults. But there are a few reasons someone should not get the COVID-19 vaccine. 

If you had a serious allergic reaction (anaphylaxis) to a previous dose of the COVID-19 vaccine — like not being able to breathe — don’t get any more doses. If you’ve had a serious allergic reaction to any ingredients a COVID-19 vaccine, you shouldn’t get it. You can read a full list of ingredients on the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine fact sheet and the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine fact sheet. The two COVID-19 vaccines now available in the U.S. don’t have eggs, preservatives, or latex in them. 

If you’ve had any kind of allergic reaction to another vaccine or shot of medication before, talk with your nurse or doctor to help decide if it’s safe for you to get the COVID-19 vaccine. After you get the vaccine, you may have to stay 15-30 minutes for observation to make sure you’re safe if you do have a reaction. 

You can learn more about COVID-19 vaccines and possible allergic reactions on the CDC website.

Does the COVID-19 vaccine have side effects?

For some people, COVID-19 vaccines may cause mild side effects, especially after the second dose. Possible side effects include:

  • Soreness in your arm

  • Headaches 

  • Feeling tired

  • Mild fever

These usually don’t last longer than a day or two. 

Side effects do NOT mean that you have COVID-19, and the vaccine can’t give you COVID-19. In fact, these reactions are a sign that the vaccine is working and your immune system is doing what it’s supposed to do: building up protection against COVID-19. 

But it’s still possible to get COVID-19 right after you get the vaccine, because it can take a few weeks after your second dose for your body to build up enough protection against the virus. If you have symptoms of COVID-19, or you have any questions about side effects you may be having, call your nurse or doctor. 

It’s rare, but like any medicine you take, dangerous reactions to the vaccine are possible. If you’re having a serious reaction, like not being able to breathe, call 911 or go to the emergency room right away. 

Does the COVID-19 vaccine make you sterile?

No. The COVID-19 vaccine doesn’t make you sterile or affect your fertility in any way. 

Some people have made false claims about the COVID-19 vaccine and infertility. But research shows that the COVID-19 vaccine is safe and doesn’t cause problems with fertility. COVID-19 vaccines don’t give you COVID-19, make you sick, or change your DNA or genetic material.

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 your community for you to stop isolating and get your COVID-19 vaccine.

How do I get the COVID-19 vaccine?

For more information about getting the COVID-19 vaccine in your area, use the drop down menu near the bottom of this page (under How Do I Get a Vaccine?) to find your local vaccine information. 

Right now, there aren’t enough vaccines for everyone to get it right away. So the CDC gives recommendations to federal, state, and local governments about which groups of people should get the vaccine first. Then each state makes its own plan to decide who can get the vaccine when, and how they can get it. 

Most of the groups first in line for the vaccine are people who have the highest chance of being infected with COVID-19 — such as essential workers and people who live at long-term care facilities — and people who have a higher chance of becoming seriously sick or dying if they get COVID-19, including people who are 65 or older or have certain health conditions. 

As more vaccine doses are made, it will become available to other groups of people and there will be lots of places to get it. You may be able to sign up through your local health department to be notified when you can get the vaccine.

Can I get the COVID-19 vaccine if I’m pregnant or breastfeeding?

The COVID-19 vaccine hasn’t been tested in pregnant or breastfeeding people yet. But there’s no evidence that the vaccine is unsafe if you’re pregnant or breastfeeding.

If you’re pregnant or breastfeeding, and you’re also part of a group that’s eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine, you can get the vaccine if you want it. Talk with your doctor or nurse if you have questions about whether the COVID-19 vaccine is right for you. You can read more about COVID-19 vaccine safety for pregnant and breastfeeding people on the CDC website.

Pregnant people are more likely to die or get very sick from COVID-19 than people who aren’t pregnant. And pregnant people who have COVID-19 may have a higher risk of pregnancy complications, like early birth. So if you’re pregnant, it’s important to do what you can to avoid getting COVID-19 — like wearing a mask and social distancing — whether or not you get the COVID-19 vaccine.

Read more about how to protect yourself and your baby from COVID-19 if you’re pregnant or breastfeeding.

Can children get the COVID-19 vaccine?

Right now, the COVID-19 vaccines have only been studied in adults. The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is approved for people 16 years and older. The Moderna vaccine is approved for people 18 years and older. 

Scientists need to do more research before they can recommend the vaccine for children. If you have questions about whether your child can get the COVID-19 vaccine, contact their nurse or doctor.

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

Yes. Even if you get the COVID-19 vaccine, it’s still important to take other measures to help yourself and your community stay healthy. It usually takes a few weeks after the second vaccine dose 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. 

Right now, scientists don’t know how long the vaccine protects you against COVID-19. It’s also possible that people who’ve gotten the vaccine can still spread the virus to others and get them sick, even if they don’t get sick themselves (scientists are still researching this). And there are many people who can’t get the vaccine for a while, but could still get sick and even die from COVID-19. 

So until scientists say otherwise, it’s important to take every step you can to protect yourself and others, and help stop the spread of COVID-19. This means: wear a tight-fitting, multi-layer mask over your nose and mouth when you leave the house, stay at least six feet away from people you don’t live with, wash your hands often, and avoid crowds and places with bad ventilation — combined with vaccinations, that’s the best way to help end this pandemic.

How much does the COVID-19 vaccine cost?

Vaccines that the government buys with taxpayer dollars are free to the public. But vaccine providers may charge an administration fee to give you the shot. Private health insurance or government-funded plans like Medicaid or Medicare can cover this fee. If you don’t have insurance, the Health Resources and Services Administration’s Provider Relief Fund can cover the fee. You can’t be denied the COVID-19 vaccine for not being able to pay.

For more information, contact your local health department — use the drop down menu near the bottom of this page (under How Do I Get a Vaccine?) to find your local health department’s website. If you have health insurance, you can call the number on the back of your insurance card with any questions about coverage for COVID-19 vaccines.