What to Expect When You Get a COVID-19 Vaccine

Separate fact from fiction with these answers to common COVID-19 vaccination questions.

If you haven’t already gotten your COVID-19 vaccine, it’s likely you already know people who have. That may have you feeling hopeful and excited for when it’s your turn to be vaccinated or it may leave you still feeling anxious and unsure about whether you want to get the shot when you can.

There is a lot of misinformation about COVID-19 vaccines online, but knowing the facts about the vaccines available in the U.S. should ease your mind so you’re ready to pull up your sleeve when it’s your turn to be vaccinated.

Here are answers to common questions about the vaccines.

Does it matter which vaccine I receive?

At this time, there are three vaccines available in the U.S. – Pfizer BioNTech, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson – although use of the Johnson and Johnson vaccine is currently paused while an investigation into rare but serious blood clots is being conducted. All three are very effective at preventing serious illness, hospitalization and death from COVID-19. Pfizer and Moderna’s vaccines are administered in two doses, while Johnson & Johnson is a one-dose vaccine. Unless your doctor recommends a specific vaccine due to allergies, the best vaccine is the one that is available to you when you can get it.

Do I have to do anything to prepare for the vaccine?

You’ll need to sign up for an appointment to get a vaccine at most locations. You may be asked questions about your eligibility. You’ll also be asked questions to determine whether you should get the vaccine, such as if you had COVID-19 in the past 30 days, received antibodies or plasma treatment for COVID, had other vaccinations within 14 days or have ever had a severe allergic reaction to vaccines. Other than that, just show up with your ID and feel good knowing you’re helping to put an end to the pandemic while also protecting yourself from getting very sick from the virus.

What are the side effects from the vaccines?

You may be concerned because you’ve heard of people feeling sick after they receive a vaccine, but rest assured that none of the vaccines contain a live virus so you cannot get COVID-19 from the vaccines. Common side effects include pain or swelling at the injection site, as well as fatigue, headache, chills or fever. Most side effects are mild and go away in about 24 hours. The good news is that side effects are a sign that your immune system is working to produce antibodies against the virus.

Should I get the second dose if I have side effects from the first dose?

Yes. Unless you have a severe allergic reaction to the first dose of the vaccine (which is extremely rare), you should get the second dose. The side effects are generally mild, go away quickly and are better than any potential symptoms you may have if you aren’t vaccinated and get sick with the COVID-19 virus.

Am I free to do what I want after being vaccinated?

Not exactly. The vaccines take time to take effect so you aren’t fully protected until at least two weeks after your second dose of a two-dose shot (or after the single dose of the Johnson & Johnson shot). Even though the vaccines provide a high rate of protection for those who are fully vaccinated, it is not yet known if they stop you from spreading the virus to others even if you have no symptoms. So continue the same safety measures you’ve been following up until now – wear a mask, stay 6 feet from other people, avoid crowds and wash your hands often.

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Date Last Reviewed: March 18, 2021

Editorial Review: Andrea Cohen, Editorial Director, Baldwin Publishing, Inc. Contact Editor

Medical Review: Perry Pitkow, MD

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