COVID-19 Vaccines: Just The Facts

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Vaccines to prevent COVID-19 are currently the best hope for ending the pandemic. Knowing the benefits, how they work, possible side effects, and the importance of continued infection prevention steps is essential in this goal.

Getting a COVID-19 vaccine can help protect you by creating an antibody response in your body without having to become sick. It will help prevent you from getting COVID-19 or, if you do still get it, your illness will be less severe and with fewer complications. Getting vaccinated will also help protect people around you who are more vulnerable to the increased risk of serious illness from COVID-19.

The FDA has reviewed several vaccine results and to date has given two Emergency Use Authorization that is based on less data than typically required. However, the data shows the vaccines are safe and effective under thorough review and trials. The type of vaccine developed has been researched for many years. The schedule for when you can get the vaccine based on your age, occupation and health status continues to change. Please go to for the current information and instructions for obtaining an appointment for vaccination.

Two vaccines are being administered in January and February, with others to be authorized for use soon. The two currently given are:

Pfizer Vaccine

Data has shown that the vaccine starts working soon after the first dose and has an efficacy rate of 95 percent seven days after the second dose. This means that about 95 percent of people who get both doses of vaccine are protected from becoming seriously ill with the virus. The vaccine is for people 16 and older and requires two injections 21 days apart.

Moderna Vaccine

Data shows that this vaccine has an efficacy rate of 94.1 percent. It is for people 18 years and over, and it requires two injections 28 days apart.

How they work

Both vaccines use messenger RNA (mRNA). Coronavirus has a spike structure on its surface called an S-protein. The vaccines give our cells instructions on how to make a harmless piece of an S-protein. After vaccination, our cells begin making the protein pieces and display them on the cell surfaces. Your immune system then recognizes the protein does not belong there and builds an immune response making antibodies. The vaccines do not affect or interact with our DNA in any way—mRNA never enters the cell’s nucleus, where our DNA (genetic material) is kept. The cell breaks down and gets rid of the mRNA soon after it is finished using the instructions.

This is not a live virus. You cannot get the virus from the vaccines developed in the U.S. because you are not receiving a live virus that causes COVID-19.


If you have had an extreme response to other vaccines or injectable medications, ask your doctor if you should get a COVID-19 vaccine. Talk to your doctor for a recommendation if you are pregnant or breast-feeding. At this time, children under 16 have not been in clinical trials, but those trials are starting. It is recommended that if you have already had COVID-19, you should still get vaccinated, as it is not known how long natural immunity lasts after having had the virus. 

A COVID-19 vaccine can cause mild side effects after the first or second dose. These side effects are pain, redness and swelling at the injection site, fever or chills, fatigue, headache and muscle/joint pain.

Nurses will monitor you at the vaccination location for 15 minutes after getting the vaccine to see if you have a rare immediate severe reaction requiring medical care. If you have a severe reaction to the first dose of the vaccine, talk with your doctor before getting the second dose. Most common side effects of receiving the vaccine may last a few days and can be treated with pain relievers.

After vaccination

If you’ve been exposed to COVID-19 and you develop general symptoms more than three days after the vaccination, isolate and get tested. Your immune system will not be protecting you yet, and you could get the virus in the immediate weeks after immunization. You may also sign up for check-ins with the CDC following your vaccination. On your smartphone, go to to register. You will receive weekly texts asking about side effects and your general health following the vaccine and remind you of your second dose’s date and time. You should make an appointment for your second dose at the time you receive your first one. Both doses must be with the same manufacturer’s vaccine.

You still need to mask up, socially distance and wash your hands

It is not known how long the vaccine protects you and you could be an asymptomatic carrier even after being vaccinated. Studies may provide more clarification soon, but until then—wear your mask, keep your distance and wash your hands.

Until most of the population is vaccinated, recommendations are to continue avoiding close contact with anyone sick, with anyone outside of your immediate family with whom you live, and to continue distancing, especially if you are in a high-risk category for serious illness. These risk factors include over age 65, obesity, heart disease, chronic pulmonary diseases and diabetes.

Always wear cloth or surgical face masks whenever out in public or within six feet of another person. Practice good hygiene, such as handwashing and using hand sanitizer. Do not share utensils, dishes, glasses, or towels, and disinfect high-touch surfaces.  Also, always stay home if sick or showing any symptoms,even those you think could be a cold or another virus. Symptoms are similar, and you should always assume viral symptoms are COVID before risking the exposure to others.