These materials will be updated to align with the latest CDC guidance about COVID-19 booster vaccines. Learn about the new guidance.

FAQs About the Vaccines for Older Adults

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As an older adult, you are at greater risk of being hospitalized or dying if you get COVID-19. These frequently asked questions will help you understand more about the available vaccines and build your vaccine confidence. They will also help you learn the steps to get vaccinated so that you can feel safe and confident.

When should older adults get a COVID-19 vaccine?

  • Because older adults are at higher risk of severe COVID-19, the CDC recommends that adults age 65 and older get vaccinated as soon as possible.

How do I get a COVID-19 vaccine?

  • Covid-19 vaccines are now here for everyone age 5 and older.
  • You have three ways to find vaccines near you:
    • You can search for vaccines near you at vaccines.gov.
    • Text your ZIP code to 438829
    • Call 1-800-232-0233

What can I expect at my COVID-19 vaccination appointment?

  • When getting your vaccine, wear a mask and stay at least 6 feet apart from others.
  • You should receive a paper or electronic version of a fact sheet that tells you more about the specific COVID-19 vaccine you are being offered.
    • The fact sheet contains information to help you understand the risks and benefits of receiving that specific vaccine.
  • You should receive a vaccination record card or printout that tells you which COVID-19 vaccine you received, the date you received it, the vaccine lot number, and where you received it.
    • You should bring the card with you for your second vaccine shot, if two shots are needed. o Keep the record card in a safe place in case you need it later to show you have been vaccinated.
  • You should be monitored onsite for at least 15 minutes after being vaccinated for a rare but serious allergic reaction.

If the vaccine I got requires a second shot, how do I schedule the second shot?

  • Ideally, you should have a second shot appointment scheduled before you leave the place where you got your first shot.
  • If you don’t have an appointment for a second shot or you are not sure, contact the location that set up your first appointment for help. This may be your state or local health department, hospital, pharmacy, or other vaccine provider.
  • Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen COVID-19 vaccine only requires one shot. The Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines require two shots to get the most protection. The timing between your first and second shot depends on which vaccine you received:
    • You should get your second Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine shot no earlier than 21 days after your first shot.
    • You should get your second Moderna vaccine shot no earlier than 28 days after your first shot.
  • You should get your second shot as close to the recommended time interval as possible.

Does it cost anything to get the vaccine?

  • There is no cost to you to get a COVID-19 vaccine. If you have Medicare, bring your Medicare card to your vaccine appointment so the vaccine provider can bill Medicare.

How do COVID-19 vaccines work?

  • Vaccines teach your cells how to make a harmless protein that your immune system knows doesn’t belong in your body. Your immune system responds by producing antibodies, which protect you against infection should the real virus enter your body.
  • COVID-19 vaccines can’t give you COVID-19 because they don’t contain the live virus that causes COVID-19.
  • COVID-19 vaccines don’t affect your DNA. You can find more information about COVID-19 vaccines and how they work on CDC website.

Are there side effects with taking the COVID-19 vaccines?

  • Side effects from the vaccines are common, particularly after the second shot of the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines.
  • Side effects may include fever, feeling tired, headache, muscle pain, joint pain, chills, and pain or swelling on the arm where you got the shot.
  • These side effects are usually mild and should last at most a few days.

Are the COVID-19 vaccines safe?

  • Yes. The COVID-19 vaccines available in the United States meet the FDA’s rigorous standards for safety and effectiveness. Tens of millions of people in the United States have received COVID-19 vaccines, and all COVID vaccines will continue to be monitored for safety.
  • Serious health effects from vaccines are very rare. It’s highly unlikely that COVID-19 vaccines will cause long-term health problems.
  • Your risk for serious health problems is much lower from the vaccine than your risk if you’re unvaccinated and get COVID-19. COVID-19 can leave you with heart and lung damage and other conditions that require long-term treatment. Vaccines are much safer paths to immunity than the disease itself.

How effective are the COVID-19 vaccines?

  • All available COVID-19 vaccines are highly effective at preventing severe illness, hospitalization and death due to COVID-19, including from the Delta variant.
  • Remember: You’re not fully protected from COVID-19 unless you’re fully vaccinated.
    • Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen vaccine requires one dose.
    • The Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines require two doses.
  • If you meet the criteria for having a compromised immune system, you should get a third dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccine at least 4 weeks after your second dose.

Who can get a COVID-19 vaccine booster?

COVID-19 vaccines continue to work very well at preventing severe illness, hospitalization, and death.

But protection against infection appears to decrease over time.

A booster shot is an extra dose that helps keep up protection.

You’re eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine booster shot if:

  • It’s been at least 6 months since you got the second dose of a Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccine AND you’re any of the following:
    • At least age 65.
    • At least age 18 and have an underlying medical condition (such as asthma, diabetes, or obesity).
    • At least age 18 and are at increased risk for getting and spreading COVID because of where you live (such as a health care facility, college dormitory, or correctional facility).
    • At least age 18 and are at increased risk for getting and spreading COVID because of your job (such as a health care worker, teacher, or grocery store worker).

OR:

  • You’re at least age 18 and it’s been at least 2 months since you got a dose of Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen vaccine.

If you’re eligible for a booster, you may choose which vaccine to receive as a booster dose. Your booster shot doesn't have to be the same vaccine you received before.

For more information about boosters, or if you have questions about your eligibility, check out our booster resources or talk to a health care provider.

Note that a booster is not the same as the recommended third vaccine dose for people with compromised immune systems.

Why should I get vaccinated if I can still get infected with COVID-19?

  • It’s important to understand that infection doesn’t necessarily lead to illness. If you’re fully vaccinated against COVID-19 and the virus manages to enter your body and begins to multiply—that is, infect you—your immune system will be prepared to quickly recognize the virus and keep it from doing real damage. That’s why most people who get infected with COVID-19 despite being vaccinated—so-called breakthrough cases—have no symptoms (asymptomatic) or only mild-to-moderate illness.
  • Nearly everyone in the United States who is getting severely ill, needing hospitalization, and dying from COVID-19 is unvaccinated.
  • CDC recommends you get vaccinated as soon as you can.

Can I get a COVID-19 vaccine if I have a medical condition or take medications for other medical conditions?

  • People with underlying medical conditions can receive the FDA-authorized COVID-19 vaccines as long as they haven’t had an immediate or severe allergic reaction to a COVID-19 vaccine or to any of the ingredients in the vaccines.
  • Vaccination is an important consideration for people with certain underlying medical conditions because they are at increased risk for severe COVID-19.

After I’m fully vaccinated, do I need to continue to wear a mask and stay 6 feet apart from people who don’t live with me?

  • If you’re fully vaccinated, you can participate in many of the activities that you did before the pandemic. To maximize protection from the highly contagious Delta variant and prevent possibly spreading it to others, wear a mask inside public places if you’re in an area of substantial or high spread of COVID-19.
  • If you’re not yet vaccinated, you should continue to:
    • Wear a mask when inside public places.
    • Keep at least 6 feet part from people who don’t live with you and who may not be vaccinated.
    • Avoid crowds.
    • Avoid poorly ventilated spaces.
    • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or use alcohol-based hand sanitizer when soap and water are not available.
  • Vaccinated and unvaccinated people must still follow federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial laws, rules, and regulations. That includes public transportation, airport/airplane, local business, and workplace guidance.

Do people with compromised immune systems need extra doses of a COVID-19 vaccine?

  • People with compromised immune systems are less able to fight infections. If any of the following apply to you, you may not be fully protected from COVID-19 even if you’ve received two doses of Pfizer-BioNTech’s or Moderna’s mRNA COVID-19 vaccine:
    • You have a moderate or severe primary immunodeficiency disorder, such as DiGeorge syndrome or Wiskott-Aldrich syndrome.
    • You have an advanced or untreated HIV infection.
    • You’ve ever had an organ transplant or had a stem cell transplant within the last 2 years.
    • You’re being treated with corticosteroids or other immunosuppressant medicines for such conditions as arthritis, asthma, or an autoimmune disease, such as lupus, sarcoidosis, inflammatory bowel disease, rheumatoid arthritis, and psoriasis.
    • You’re being treated for cancer.
  • To get the most benefit from the mRNA COVID-19 vaccines, people with compromised immune systems should get a third dose. Wait at least 4 weeks after you get your second dose to get your third dose.
  • You should also continue to follow current COVID-19 prevention measures until your health care provider says it’s safe for you to stop:
    • Wear a mask that covers your nose and mouth around people you don’t live with and when inside public places.
    • Stay at least 6 feet apart from people you don’t live with.
    • Avoid crowds and poorly ventilated indoor spaces.
    • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or use hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol when soap and water aren’t available.

What if I have more questions?

  • If you have more questions around getting a COVID-19 vaccine, visit the CDC website.

SAFETY IS THE TOP PRIORITY
 

The FDA and CDC have the highest standards when it comes to ensuring the safety and effectiveness of vaccines. Their process includes the following procedures:
  • Scientists must first test vaccines extensively in medical studies to ensure they are safe and effective.
  • Before the FDA authorizes a vaccine for use among the public, it ensures its safety by independently:
    • Reviewing the data from the medical studies, and
    • Inspecting the manufacturing facilities.
  • Even after a vaccine has been authorized, the FDA and CDC closely monitor vaccine administration to identify even rare side effects or reactions.
  • The FDA and CDC closely review any reports of side effects or reactions and share these facts with the public.

The extremely rare cases of blood clotting and Guillain-Barré Syndrome following Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen vaccine and heart inflammation following Pfizer-BioNTech’s and Moderna’s vaccines—a very small number of cases out of millions of vaccinations—show that the FDA and CDC’s vaccine safety monitoring systems work and catch even the rarest reactions.

Thorough investigations have confirmed that all three available vaccines are safe and effective. Medical experts stress that the benefits of receiving any of the COVID-19 vaccines in use in the United States far outweigh any potential risks.

The monitoring systems ensure that doctors are notified to watch for signs of serious reactions, no matter how rare, and are aware of proper courses of treatment.

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