Everything you need to know about the COVID-19 vaccines

Published April 20, 2022

nurse with a syringe

It’s no secret that the past few years have been overwhelming. So it’s only natural for the rollout of the COVID-19 vaccines to come with its own set of new questions. Please take a moment to review this important information that our clinical team has compiled about the COVID-19 vaccines to date.

Who can get vaccinated?

As of April 19, 2021, everyone over the age of 16 in the US is eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine. On May 10, 2021, the FDA expanded the emergency use authorization of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine to include adolescents 12 through 15 years of age, and as of May 12, 2021, the CDC now recommends that this vaccine be used among this population, and providers may begin vaccinating them right away.

On Thursday, August 12, 2021, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) amended the emergency use authorizations (EUAs) for both the Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines to allow for the use of an additional (third) dose in certain individuals with weakened immune systems. On Wednesday, August 18, 2021, the CDC released the Administration’s plan for COVID-19 booster shots for all American people. On Monday August 23, the FDA fully approved the first COVID-19 vaccine for the prevention of COVID-19 disease in individuals 16 years of age and older. The vaccine also continues to be available under emergency use authorization (EUA), including for individuals 12 through 15 years of age and for the administration of a third dose in certain immunocompromised individuals. And as of Tuesday November 2, children ages 5 to 11 are eligible for the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine, after the CDC signed off on an expert panel's recommendation. So currently, the CDC recommends that everyone ages 5 years and older get their primary series of COVID-19 vaccine, and everyone ages 12 years and older also receive a booster.

(Updated info on booster shots is below)

Where can I get vaccinated?

Check out this CDC resource to find the COVID-19 vaccination location closest to you.

What is it?

Two of the FDA-approved vaccines available are from Moderna and Pfizer, which are both mRNA vaccines. Think of mRNA vaccines as instruction manuals for your immune system to create the antibodies needed to fight off COVID-19. The vaccines are given as two injections three to four weeks apart. The third vaccine that was just approved at the end of February is a single-dose adenovirus-based vaccine from Johnson & Johnson. Unlike the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, which store the virus' genetic instructions in single-stranded RNA, the Johnson & Johnson vaccine uses double-stranded DNA, added to another virus called Adenovirus 26.

For more detailed answers to lots of other questions about the COVID-19 vaccines, check out this CDC resource.

How do I know it's safe?

All three vaccines are FDA-approved for emergency use authorization, which means they met the rigorous standards established by the FDA during their clinical trials. Additionally, data has shown that the vaccine’s benefits far outweigh the potential dangers of COVID-19.

What about the Johnson & Johnson vaccine?

Johnson & Johnson briefly paused their vaccine administration due to a rare side effect that involved blood clots and low platelets. This occurred in a small number of individuals under the age of 50 within two weeks of receiving the dose. The FDA lifted the pause on the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, saying its benefits outweighed the risks. However, if you are at increased risks for blood clots, we recommend choosing an alternative vaccine.

Please seek help immediately if you received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine and are experiencing any of the following symptoms:

  • Severe or persistent headaches
  • Blurred vision
  • Chest pain
  • Leg swelling
  • Persistent abdominal pain
  • Easy bruising

Are there side effects?

As with most vaccines, there is always potential for side effects to occur. While there are no known lasting side effects, initially, after receiving the vaccine, you might experience:

  • Injection site pain
  • Redness
  • Swelling
  • Flu-like symptoms (headache, fever, body aches)

If you have a history of severe allergic reactions, you will be closely monitored for at least 30 minutes after getting the vaccine. All other people should be monitored for at least 15 minutes after getting the vaccine.

Why should I get vaccinated?

Studies have shown that getting vaccinated could reduce your risk of contracting COVID-19 or experiencing a severe case of COVID-19, which can help prevent hospitalizations and even death.

What if I already had COVID-19?

After you contract COVID-19, your body creates antibodies to help you fight the infection. However, these antibodies wear off over time. That's why we recommend getting vaccinated even if you had coronavirus in the past. You can wait up to 90 days after infection to receive your vaccine. While not mandatory, waiting decreases your chances of experiencing more severe side effects.

I am fully vaccinated, can I still get COVID-19?

Fully vaccinated people do have a small chance of getting COVID-19. Their chance is lower if they live in an area of high vaccination rates such as Vermont where 77% of adults are vaccinated. Their chance is higher if they live in an area of low vaccination rates, such as Louisiana, Mississippi, and Arkansas, where vaccination rates are less than 50%. If a person who has been fully vaccinated with any of the 3 vaccines and they get COVID, they will have mild symptoms and more than likely will not need hospital level treatment. Those who are unvaccinated or incompletely vaccinated are at the highest risk for transmitting the virus and succumbing to severe illness and hospitalization.

Do I need to wear a mask after I get the vaccine?

As of July 27, 2021, the CDC has released new guidelines for fully vaccinated people.

If you are fully vaccinated, you can participate in many of the activities that you did before the pandemic, HOWEVER, to maximize protection from the Delta variant and prevent possibly spreading it to others, wear a mask indoors in public if you are in an area of substantial or high transmission.

Wearing a mask is most important if you have a weakened immune system or if, because of your age or an underlying medical condition, you are at increased risk for severe disease, or if someone in your household has a weakened immune system, is at increased risk for severe disease, or is unvaccinated. If this applies to you or your household, you might choose to wear a mask regardless of the level of transmission in your area.

You should continue to wear a mask where required by laws, rules, regulations, or local guidance. You are considered fully vaccinated two weeks after receiving the 2nd dose of the Moderna or Pfizer COVID vaccine, or a single dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

What we know about Omicron...

The Omicron variant spread more easily than the original SARS-CoV-2 virus. The CDC expects that anyone with Omicron infection can spread the virus to others, even if they are vaccinated or don’t have symptoms.

Current vaccines are expected to protect against severe illness, hospitalizations, and deaths due to infection with the Omicron variant. However, breakthrough infections in people who are fully vaccinated are likely to occur. With other variants, like Delta, vaccines have remained effective at preventing severe illness, hospitalizations, and death. The recent emergence of Omicron further emphasizes the importance of vaccination and boosters.

Learn more about Omicron here.

What about “breakthrough” infections?

Breakthrough infections refer to people who are fully vaccinated and test positive for COVID-19. No vaccine is 100% effective, and the COVID-19 vaccines, though incredibly effective, are no exception. The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines have a 95% and 94% efficacy against symptomatic COVID-19. Of those with symptomatic COVID-19, almost none had a severe infection.

Updated info on booster shots

On Friday, November 19, 2021, the CDC expanded the recommendation to all people over 18 to receive COVID boosters. And on Thursday December 9 2021, the FDA authorized the Pfizer/BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine for use as a booster in people ages 16 and 17, and the US CDC recommended it for this age group. We can help you better understand why, when, and what type of booster to get. Then as of Wednesday, January 5, 2022, the CDC recommends that adolescents age 12 to 17 years old should receive a booster shot 5 months after their initial Pfizer-BioNTech vaccination series. As of March 29, 2022, people over the age of 50, and immunocompromised individuals, can now also get an additional booster 4 months after their first booster to increase their protection further. This is especially important for those 65 and older and those 50 and older with underlying medical conditions that increase their risk for severe disease from COVID-19.

Click here for more info on the COVID-19 boosters, who can get one, and how.

I previously got 2 doses of Moderna or Pfizer COVID vaccine

The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) recommends that all adults who previously was vaccinated with either Modenra or Pfizer vaccines have a booster 6 months or greater after their last dose to help with continued protection against COVID

I previously got the J&J vaccine

The ACIP recommends that those who received one J&J vaccine receive a booster 2 months after the initial immunization. After 2 months, you will be eligible for your booster with any of the 3 types of vaccines.

Will I feel ill after my booster?

Based on data from the many people who have already gotten the boosters, the reactions after the booster are similar to the second vaccination, not worse.

Are there any risks to the booster?

Getting a booster is safe. Temporary swollen lymph nodes were slightly more common with the booster than the second dose of a vaccine (5% of people). In the study population, there were no vaccine related serious adverse events, myocarditis, pericarditis, anaphylaxis, appendicitis, or Bell’s palsy reported.

Where can I get a booster?

You can get your booster for many places near where you live or work. To find the locations, visit this website: https://www.vaccines.gov/

Why do we need boosters? I thought I was fully vaccinated.

‍Fully vaccinated people do have a chance of getting COVID-19, called “breakthrough” infections due to new SARS CoV-2 variants. The risk is about 1/5000 to 1/100 to have a breakthrough COVID infection as noted in this Washington state study. The majority of those cases were in those 18 - 64. A person’s chance is lower if they live in an area of high vaccination rates. If a person who has been fully vaccinated with any of the 3 vaccines and they get COVID, they will have mild symptoms and more than likely will not need hospital level treatment. Those who are unvaccinated or incompletely vaccinated are at the highest risk for transmitting the virus and succumbing to severe illness and hospitalization.

I am still thinking about getting my first COVID vaccine.

For some people, this is a big decision. There are many good places to get information. We recommend that you start first with a trusted physician or nurse practitioner. Here is a good source of information from our own blog as well.

We are here for you

Our number one piece of advice during this time is to GET VACCINATED. And if you are not fully vaccinated, continue to wear a mask in indoor settings and seek medical attention if you become ill. If you are fully vaccinated, pay attention to the advice from public health officials in your area about masking.

And lastly, be sure to reach out to your care team with any questions through the Firefly app. Not a member yet? Get started by signing up on our website, or giving us a call at (855) 869-9284.