Frequently Asked Questions About COVID-19 for Pharmacists

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How do COVID-19 vaccines work? 

The vaccines help your body to build immunity to the virus that causes COVID-19 without getting the disease. They train your immune system to recognize and destroy the COVID virus. That’s called immunity, and it keeps the virus from making us sick. Different types of vaccines work in different ways, but all types of vaccines leave your body with the ability to quickly produce a supply of special proteins called antibodies that will fight the virus if you’re exposed to it. 

What are the side effects of COVID-19 vaccines? 

The COVID-19 vaccines can cause temporary side effects like fever, headache, feeling tired, sore arm, or chills. They usually last just a few days and go away on their own. These side effects show that the vaccine is working. They happen when your body is building protection against the virus.

Can providers give patients COVID-19 vaccines with other vaccines?

Yes. Providers can give patients COVID-19 vaccines at the same time as other vaccines, such as the flu vaccine.

Why do I need to get a vaccine if I have a 99% chance of surviving COVID-19? 

It’s much safer to take the vaccine and avoid getting COVID-19 altogether, because the disease can have serious, life-threatening complications. If you become infected with COVID-19, you may develop health problems that last your whole life. You can also infect others if you’re infected yourself. With millions of people contracting COVID-19 in the United States, a 99% survival rate still means hundreds of thousands will die.

Is it safe for people who are pregnant or breastfeeding to get a COVID-19 vaccine?

Growing evidence confirms that the available COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effective for people who are pregnant.

CDC recommends COVID-19 vaccination as soon as possible for all people who are pregnant, trying to become pregnant, wanting to become pregnant someday, or breastfeeding.

COVID-19 can be a dangerous disease during pregnancy and is known to present higher risks for severe illness if you are pregnant. COVID-19 during pregnancy also increases the risk of preterm birth and might increase risks for other adverse pregnancy outcomes. Getting a COVID-19 vaccine can protect you against severe illness from COVID-19 and help keep your baby safe.

How do I know the vaccine won’t give me COVID-19?

It’s impossible to get COVID from any of the vaccines in use or in testing in the United States. None of these vaccines contains the live virus that causes COVID-19, so they can’t make you sick with the disease. The vaccines train your body to recognize and destroy the COVID virus, but they don’t contain the virus.

Why should I get a vaccine that isn’t 100% effective? 

COVID-19 is a serious, contagious disease. Taking one of the currently available vaccines reduces the likelihood that you’ll get infected. It also protects others by reducing your chance of spreading the virus to them.

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.

Why should I get a COVID-19 vaccine if I still will be able to transmit the virus? 

A COVID-19 vaccine reduces the likelihood that you’ll get infected yourself, so you’ll also be less likely to infect others. Experts are monitoring the vaccines to see exactly how much they reduce the spread of COVID-19.

In rare occasions, some vaccinated people can get COVID-19 from the highly contagious Delta variant and spread it to others. Importantly, only a very small amount of spread happening around the country comes from vaccinated individuals.

How can a vaccine be developed so quickly and still be safe? 

Because this pandemic is so dangerous, vaccines are being produced at the same time that they are being tested in the final phases of clinical trials. This makes it possible for vaccines to complete all safety and effectiveness testing and be ready for the public in a much shorter time than is typical.  

Can my job require me to prove that I got vaccinated?

The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), and with certain exceptions, other federal laws, can’t stop your employer from asking you to prove you’ve been vaccinated against COVID-19 in order to work. But your state might limit what employers can ask you, so check with your state government’s website to see what’s allowed as a condition of employment.

Why are people having allergic reactions to the COVID-19 vaccine? 

A small number of people receiving the COVID-19 vaccination have reported an allergic reaction called anaphylaxis. Most people who’ve gotten COVID vaccinations, including people with a history of serious allergic reactions to foods, venom, or other substances not related to vaccines, have taken the vaccine without complications. People who have a history of anaphylaxis or severe allergic reaction to other vaccines should ask their health care provider about whether to get the vaccine.

Where I am in line for a vaccine? 

Vaccines are here now and everyone age 12 and older in the United States can get them. You have three ways to find vaccines near you:

  • Go to vaccines.gov
  • Text your ZIP code to 438829
  • Call 1-800-232-0233

How much will the COVID-19 vaccine cost me? 

Vaccines are free for the public.  

Who shouldn’t get COVID-19 vaccines? 

Everyone age 12 and older should get a COVID-19 vaccine, except people who have a history of severe allergic reactions to ingredients in the COVID-19 vaccines. People with serious allergies to other vaccines or injections should talk to their doctor before getting the COVID-19 vaccine.

Do the vaccines work on the new COVID variants?

Scientists continue to study different forms, or variants, of the virus that causes COVID-19 to see if the vaccines will work against them. Current data suggest that the available COVID-19 vaccines in the United States offer protection against most variants, including the highly contagious Delta variant. For this reason, COVID-19 vaccines are an essential tool to protect people against COVID-19, including illness caused by the new variants. CDC will continue to monitor the impact these new variants may have on how well the vaccines work.

Why is there a heavy focus on vaccinating the Black community? 

People of color who get COVID-19 are nearly 4 times as likely as non-Hispanic White people to be hospitalized and nearly 3 times as likely to die from the disease. It’s important to vaccinate people with higher risks as soon as possible to reduce serious and fatal cases of the disease and to slow the spread.

Does the COVID-19 vaccine cause Bell’s palsy? 

The FDA hasn’t found that the small number of Bell’s palsy cases reported during clinical trials of messenger RNA (mRNA) vaccines were caused by the vaccination because clinical trial volunteers weren’t any more likely to get the condition than people in the general population. Bell's palsy is a temporary condition and symptoms usually resolve themselves in a short time or can be treated with medication.

Do I need to get a COVID-19 vaccine if I’ve already had COVID-19? 

Yes. Scientists don’t yet know how long natural antibodies in people who’ve had COVID-19 will protect them from being reinfected.

What are the benefits of getting a COVID-19 vaccine? 

There are several benefits to getting a COVID-19 vaccine: 

  • A COVID-19 vaccine will reduce your risk of getting COVID-19. 
  • Getting a vaccine may also help keep you from getting seriously ill even if you do get COVID-19. 
  • Getting vaccinated yourself may also protect people around you.  
  • A COVID-19 vaccine is a safer way to help build protection than catching the disease. 
  • A COVID-19 vaccine is an important way to help stop the pandemic, along with wearing a mask and staying 6 feet apart from people who don’t live with you.

What can I do once I’m fully vaccinated?

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 and 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.

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.

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.

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 made available, 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 currently available COVID-19 vaccines are safe and highly effective against severe illness, hospitalization, and death due to COVID-19, including from the Delta variant. 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.