Doctor administering vaccine

Share this with those in your care to answer common questions regarding COVID-19 vaccines.

Going about our daily lives in the midst of a pandemic has been a challenge. Now, new vaccines are here. You may be feeling hopeful—but you may also be feeling unsure about what to expect. Here are some key facts to help you plan ahead.

Why do I need a COVID-19 vaccine?

Getting vaccinated helps protect you against a disease that can have serious or even life-threatening complications. That’s a lot of benefit packed into just one or two shots.

A COVID-19 vaccine is only OK’d for use when the research shows that it substantially lowers the risk of getting the disease. If you’re in the small group of people who still get COVID-19 after being vaccinated, experts believe that the vaccine may help prevent serious illness. That could save you from having to be hospitalized, needing intensive care, or requiring a ventilator to help you breathe. It might even save your life.

Receiving a COVID-19 vaccine will also help protect your family, close contacts, and community. If you are less likely to get COVID-19, you’ll be less likely to pass it on to others.

Who will get first access to a COVID-19 vaccine?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that health care workers and residents of long-term care facilities (such as nursing homes) should be at the front of the line. Other essential workers and high-risk groups (such as older adults and people with certain health conditions) should come next.

However, each state has its own individual plan for who will be vaccinated first. The exact order may be different depending on where you live, but the goal is to get the vaccine out to everyone as soon as possible.

Will I need more than one dose of vaccine?

It depends on the manufacturer. Some vaccines require two shots, and you need to get the same brand of vaccine for both. The first shot primes your immune system to recognize the virus that causes COVID-19. The second one boosts your immune response to it. If you miss the second dose, you won’t get the full benefit.

Currently, there’s only one approved single-dose vaccine. It uses different technology but delivers the same result: protection against COVID-19.

How do COVID-19 vaccines interact with my immune system?

All vaccines work along with your body’s natural defenses to build immunity (protection against an infection). Different types of COVID-19 vaccines are available. It’s important to know that none of the vaccines can actually give you COVID-19.

The first two out of the gate are made differently from traditional vaccines. They don’t use any real virus at all. Instead, they are made with a molecule called messenger RNA (mRNA).This molecule teaches your own cells how to make a harmless piece of protein found only in the virus that causes COVID-19. After your cells make the protein, your immune system recognizes that it shouldn’t be there and builds immune cells to defend against it. And once this lesson is learned, it sticks. So if you run into actual COVID-19 in the future, your immune cells will remember that piece of protein and be ready to fend off the virus.

What happens to the mRNA? Once your cells have made copies of the protein, they destroy the mRNA from the vaccine. The mRNA doesn’t hang around in your body and it never interacts with the DNA in your cells.

The single-dose vaccine is not made with mRNA. Instead, it uses a harmless cold virus to deliver genetic material specific to the coronavirus. In this way, the vaccine is similar to a Trojan horse—carrying in the information our immune system needs in order to learn about and defend against COVID-19. It’s known as a viral vector vaccine. And just like mRNA vaccines, this method does not affect your DNA.

How can I feel confident about a vaccine that was developed so fast?

In the past, it has taken longer for new vaccines to reach the market. But COVID-19 vaccines must meet the same strict standards for safety and effectiveness as earlier vaccines. Two main things have helped speed up the process without cutting safety corners.

First, scientists had already been working for years on finding faster ways to make vaccines. This gave them a head start on developing new vaccines for COVID-19.

Second, Operation Warp Speed helped accelerate the process even more. This is a program led by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the U.S. Department of Defense. It is focused on getting safe, effective COVID-19 vaccines out to the public as soon as possible. Among other things, Operation Warp Speed has partnered with companies to produce large amounts of promising vaccines while they are still in the testing stage. That way, if and when the vaccines are approved, the first doses are ready to ship right away.

Do the vaccines have any side effects?

Many people feel a little under the weather after getting an mRNA vaccine for COVID-19. It might feel like a mild case of flu, but it’s not a sign that you’re sick. Instead, it’s a sign that the vaccine is working as it should.

The most common symptoms are tiredness, chills, headache, muscle pain, and soreness at the site of the shot. Some people run a fever as well. These symptoms generally start within a few days after getting the vaccine, and they only last for one to three days. But you may need to lie low until they go away, so plan for the possibility of some downtime after the shots.

Could the vaccines cause longer-term side effects?

To check for this possibility, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requires researchers to monitor study volunteers for at least two months after they get the vaccine. A vaccine has to clear this safety hurdle before it can be approved. After approval, the FDA and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) still keep tracking the safety of vaccines. That way, even very rare or long-term side effects can be identified.

Won’t the virus go away on its own eventually?

You may have run across the term herd immunity. This is the point at which so many people are immune to a virus through infection or vaccination that its spread is stopped. Because COVID-19 is so new, no one knows for sure exactly how many people would have to become immune to reach that point. But scientists agree it’s a huge number—some estimate that at least 200 million Americans would need to be infected or vaccinated to reach herd immunity. We still have a long way to go. And vaccination is by far the safest, surest way to get there.

How will vaccination affect the spread of COVID-19 in my community?

Getting vaccinated against COVID-19 may help protect not only you, but also those around you. This includes family members, friends, coworkers, and neighbors who are at increased risk for severe illness due to their age or health conditions.

If I am careful about safety precautions, do I still need to get vaccinated?

Yes. To fight a pandemic, you need every weapon you have. Masks and social distancing reduce your risk of being exposed to COVID-19 and spreading it to others. But in case you are exposed, vaccination gets your body ready to fend off the virus, so that you don’t become sick.

Once I get vaccinated, can I stop wearing a mask or social distancing?

In certain situations, yes! If you’re fully vaccinated, you don’t have to worry about masks or physical distancing in most settings. In other words, it's safe to get back to your usual pre-pandemic activities.

According to the CDC, you’re considered fully vaccinated:

  • Two weeks after your second dose of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines
  • Two weeks after your Johnson & Johnson vaccine

However, there are times you still need to take precautions: 

  • Follow federal, state, and local rules and regulations about masking. For example, a business or workplace might require masks and social distancing.
  • Mask up on planes, trains and other forms of public transportation.
  • If you develop symptoms of COVID-19, get tested and stay home.

That's another good reason to get vaccinated when your turn comes up—the more we all do to protect ourselves, the sooner our lives can start returning to normal.

Got more questions?

These are new vaccines for a new disease, so it’s understandable to have questions. Discuss them with a health care provider you trust. For the latest news and recommendations from the CDC, go to

Encourage immunizations and improved health outcomes with credible, easy-to-understand vaccine acceptance content.



Last updated: May 27, 2021

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