COVID-19 Vaccine FAQ
Now that the COVID-19 vaccine is here, we’re all feeling a little more hopeful and less anxious than we have in a long time… and we’re also wondering about this new vaccine and what it means for our families. To help answer some of your questions, we’ve put together an FAQ that we’ll update regularly as more information becomes available. Our providers are also happy to answer any questions you may have related to this vaccine or vaccines, in general.
Read on to learn more about the COVID-19 vaccine and how your family can get protected in the coming months.
For other questions and answers, see our Coronavirus (COVID-19) FAQ.
Q: Is the COVID-19 vaccine FDA-approved?
A: The Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine has received full FDA approval for ages 16 and older. It remains available under emergency use authorization (EUA) for ages five to 15, as a third dose for immunocompromised individuals, and as a single booster dose for people 12 and older. Two other COVID-19 vaccines have EUAs for use in adults 18 and older, including as boosters: Moderna and Johnson & Johnson. Moderna is also authorized as a third dose.
Emergency use authorization means these vaccines can begin distribution in the United States because they meet the FDA’s strict EUA standards for safety, effectiveness, and manufacturing quality. The vaccines will likely go on to pursue FDA approval after more clinical trials to obtain additional safety and effectiveness data. In the meantime, if any safety concerns arise as the vaccines are administered, the EUAs can be changed or revoked.
For the official timeline of vaccine events, see the FDA press releases below:
- 12/11/20: EUA for Pfizer COVID-19 Vaccine
- 12/18/20: EUA for Moderna COVID-19 Vaccine
- 2/27/21: EUA for Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 Vaccine
- 4/13/21: Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 Vaccine Paused
- 4/23/21: Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 Vaccine Resumed; Risk of TTS Added to Vaccine Fact Sheet
- 5/10/21: EUA for Pfizer COVID-19 Vaccine for Adolescents
- 6/25/21: Risk of Myocarditis/Pericarditis Added to Moderna and Pfizer COVID-19 Vaccine Fact Sheets
- 7/13/21: Risk of GBS Added to Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 Vaccine Fact Sheet
- 8/12/21: EUA for Additional Vaccine Dose for Immunocompromised Individuals
- 8/23/21: FDA Approval for Pfizer COVID-19 Vaccine
- 9/22/21: EUA for Pfizer COVID-19 Booster Dose for Certain Populations
- 10/20/21: EUA for Moderna and Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 Booster Dose
- 10/29/21: EUA for Pfizer COVID-19 Vaccine for Ages 5-11
- 11/19/21: Expanded Eligibility for COVID-19 Boosters to All Adults 18+
- 12/9/21: Expanded Eligibility for Pfizer COVID-19 Booster to Ages 16-17
- 1/3/22: Expanded Eligibility for Pfizer COVID-19 Booster to Ages 12-15
- 1/7/22: Moderna COVID-19 Booster Interval Shortened to Five Months
Q: Is the COVID-19 vaccine safe and effective?
A: The Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccines are all safe and highly effective, even against newer variants. While no vaccine offers 100% protection, all three reduce your risk of getting COVID-19, spreading it, and having severe illness if you do get sick. It’s important to remember that breakthrough cases, or fully vaccinated people who get COVID-19, result in very few hospitalizations or deaths. Unfortunately, unvaccinated individuals do not fare as well and now represent most hospitalized COVID-19 cases and deaths. They’re also more likely to get COVID-19 again if they remain unvaccinated. This shows the vaccines are working!
Q: What are the side effects of the COVID-19 vaccine?
A: Like any vaccine, the COVID-19 vaccine may cause soreness at the injection site, fatigue, headache, and fever. Allergic reactions, including anaphylaxis, have also been reported. Additionally, women may develop a rare blood clot after receiving the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine. Recipients of the J&J vaccine should be aware of this potential risk and watch for thrombosis-thrombocytopenia syndrome (TTS) symptoms within three weeks of vaccination: severe headache, abdominal pain, leg pain, or shortness of breath. The CDC and FDA are also monitoring reports of Guillain-Barré Syndrome (GBS) in people who received the J&J vaccine. With mRNA vaccines (Pfizer and Moderna), there is a very rare risk of myocarditis and/or pericarditis (inflammation of the heart) seen mostly in teens and young adults within a few days of vaccination. Symptoms to watch for include chest pain, shortness of breath, and fast or pounding heart. For the latest information, see the CDC’s page on adverse events reported after COVID-19 vaccination.
Despite these rare potential side effects, the CDC and our providers continue to recommend COVID-19 vaccination for everyone five and older, given the greater risk of getting COVID-19 and having severe complications from illness.
We’re keeping a watchful eye on possible safety concerns as the vaccine is administered to people here and abroad. We also want to assure you that the vaccine cannot give you COVID-19. Your body’s immune response to the vaccine may make you feel slightly off for a couple days, but these are symptoms of your body learning to fight the virus (making antibodies), not of infection.
Q: What are the benefits of getting the COVID-19 vaccine?
A: Vaccines are one of the safest, most effective ways to prevent disease. They work so well that many of us will never see the devastating effects of polio or measles firsthand. Like all vaccines, the COVID-19 vaccine will prevent infection or limit the severity of disease should you get it. The benefits of getting immunized also extend beyond the individual recipient. If enough healthy people get immunized, it slows or stops the disease from spreading, protecting those who are too young or unable to be vaccinated due to various health reasons.
Other benefits include low-risk travel, less travel restrictions and requirements, and no need to quarantine after an exposure (if no symptoms develop).
If you are fully vaccinated and experience any COVID-19 symptoms, please mask up and get tested.
Q: When will my family be able to get the vaccine?
A: Your whole family, ages five to 64, can get vaccinated at Metropolitan Pediatrics. Call 1-833-PDX-KIDS to schedule, or book your visit online. Our ability to give boosters to adult family members is very limited as we work on vaccinating our younger patients.
As of May 13, 2021, the CDC has updated its guidance to allow COVID-19 vaccines to be administered at the same time as other routine vaccines. This is very exciting news for pediatrics and makes scheduling easier on all of us.
We’re still waiting to hear when younger kids will be eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine. Right now, it looks like the soonest it could be available for kids under five is April.
To help save lives and end this pandemic, we encourage everyone to get vaccinated when they have the opportunity. We look forward to helping our community get protected!
Q: Who should get an additional dose of COVID-19 vaccine? Why?
A: A third dose is recommended for immunocompromised people to help their bodies develop enough protection against COVID-19. Pfizer and Moderna are both available as third doses, given at least 28 days after the second dose. It’s recommended to get the same vaccine brand as your original series if you can.
A booster is recommended for everyone 12 and older because vaccine protection decreases over time. All three vaccines are available as boosters, but only Pfizer is approved for ages 12 to 17. Boosters can be mixed and matched, but the CDC now recommends Pfizer and Moderna mRNA vaccines over Johnson & Johnson due to their greater effectiveness and stronger safety profiles. Pfizer and Moderna recipients are eligible for a booster five months after their second dose; Johnson & Johnson recipients, two months after their single dose.
Immunocompromised people who get a third dose of Pfizer or Moderna are now eligible to get a booster five months after their third dose.
Oregon Health Authority has a very helpful page about who should get vaccine boosters and third doses.
Metropolitan Pediatrics patients who qualify for a third dose should call and speak with their primary care provider (PCP). Our providers will review each case to make sure a third dose is necessary, and then help you arrange an appointment. Patients who need a booster can go ahead and make an appointment. If you are not a Metropolitan Pediatrics patient, we encourage you to contact your PCP to move forward with getting an additional dose of COVID-19 vaccine.
Q: How do mRNA vaccines work?
A: mRNA vaccines are a new type of vaccine, but the research behind them has been going on for decades. Unlike traditional vaccines that introduce a weakened or inactivated germ to our bodies, mRNA vaccines teach our cells how to make a protein. In the case of the COVID-19 vaccine, our bodies will be given instructions to make the spike protein on the surface of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. Our bodies will then develop an immune response to this foreign protein, making antibodies that will protect us if we ever encounter the actual virus.
mRNA vaccines do not contain the live virus that causes COVID-19, so it is impossible to get sick from the vaccine. They also do not affect or interact with our DNA in any way because mRNA never enters the nucleus of a cell, where DNA is kept.
Q: Do I still have to wear a mask after receiving the COVID-19 vaccine?
A: Yes! In Oregon, masks are required in indoor public settings for ages 5+ and recommended in crowded outdoor settings. Additionally, masks are required on public transportation for everyone ages 2+. Masking is an added layer of protection against breakthrough infections.
Some places may have additional masking requirements. Learn more about Oregon’s mask requirements in airports, healthcare settings, K-12 schools, and other places where the rules may be different.
Oregon Health Authority also recommends wearing face masks at private indoor get-togethers involving two or more households.
Q: Should I get the COVID-19 vaccine while pregnant or breastfeeding?
A: The CDC recommends the COVID-19 vaccine for everyone five and older, including people who are pregnant, breastfeeding, trying to get pregnant, or might become pregnant. There is no evidence that the COVID-19 vaccine affects female or male fertility. In fact, the growing data shows that pregnant people are at higher risk for severe COVID-19 illness and pregnancy complications, so the benefits of getting vaccinated far outweigh the known potential risks.
Read more about the CDC’s strong recommendation that pregnant and breastfeeding people get vaccinated, and the safety data supporting their recommendation: