COVID-19 Vaccine FAQ
With the arrival of COVID-19 vaccines, we’re all feeling a little more hopeful and less anxious than we have in a long time… and we’re also wondering about these new vaccines and what they mean 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 COVID-19 vaccines or vaccines, in general.
Read on to learn more about COVID-19 vaccines and how your family can get protected.
For other questions and answers, see our Coronavirus (COVID-19) FAQ.
Q: Which COVID-19 vaccines are FDA-approved?
A: In the United States, there are four COVID-19 vaccine choices: Pfizer, Moderna, Johnson & Johnson, and Novavax. Only Pfizer and Moderna have full FDA approval as a primary vaccine series for certain ages. The others are available under emergency use authorization as follows:
Pfizer – Approved as 2-dose primary series for ages 12+
- 3-dose primary series for ages 6 months to 4 years
- 2-dose primary series for ages 5 to 11
- Third dose for immunocompromised people ages 5+
- Booster for ages 5+
- Second booster for high-risk groups
Moderna – Approved as 2-dose primary series for ages 18+
- 2-dose primary series for ages 6 months to 17 years
- Third dose for immunocompromised people ages 6+ months
- Booster for ages 18+
- Second booster for high-risk groups
Johnson & Johnson
- 1-dose primary vaccine for ages 18+
- Booster for ages 18+
Authorized as 2-dose primary series for ages 18+
Emergency use authorization (EUA) 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.
Q: Are the COVID-19 vaccines safe and effective?
A: The Pfizer, Moderna, Johnson & Johnson, and Novavax COVID-19 vaccines are all safe and highly effective, even against newer variants. While no vaccine offers 100% protection, all four 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 COVID-19 vaccine side effects?
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 anyone ages 12 years and above, the CDC now recommends waiting eight weeks between first and second primary doses to further reduce the risk of this condition, especially for males ages 12 to 39. As an added benefit, spreading primary doses at least six weeks apart may also help your body develop more antibodies.
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 six months 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 and less travel restrictions and requirements.
If you are fully vaccinated and experience any COVID-19 symptoms, please mask up and get tested.
Q: What is the timing between COVID-19 primary vaccine doses?
A: The answer depends on which vaccine brand you receive:
Pfizer (Ages 6+ Months)
- Ages six months to four years: Three doses spaced at least three weeks between doses #1 and #2, then at least eight weeks between doses #2 and #3.
- Ages five and older: Two doses spaced at least three weeks apart.
Moderna (Ages 6+ Months)
- Two doses spaced at least four weeks apart.
Johnson & Johnson (Ages 18+)
- One dose
Novavax (Ages 18+)
- Two doses spaced at least three weeks apart.
Q: Who should get an additional COVID-19 dose or booster and why?
A: An additional dose is recommended for immunocompromised people to help their bodies develop enough protection against COVID-19. A third dose is available for Pfizer recipients ages five and older and Moderna recipients ages six months and older. A second dose of mRNA vaccine (Pfizer or Moderna) is recommended for J&J recipients. Additional doses are given at least 28 days after the second mRNA dose or single J&J dose. It’s recommended to get the same vaccine brand as your original mRNA series if you can.
A booster is recommended for most age groups because vaccine protection decreases over time. A booster is available for Pfizer recipients ages five and older and Moderna and J&J recipients ages 18 and older. Pfizer recipients ages five to 17 must get a Pfizer booster. Adults can choose any booster, though mRNA boosters are more effective. Boosters are given at least five months after the second mRNA dose or two months after the single J&J dose.
- Immunocompromised people who received a third dose of Pfizer or Moderna should get a booster three months after the third dose. Those who received J&J initially with a second dose of mRNA vaccine should get a booster two months after the second dose.
- A second booster (Pfizer or Moderna) is now recommended for everyone 50 and older, immunocompromised people 12 and older (Pfizer only for ages 12-17), and J&J recipients who received the brand for both their primary dose and booster, at least four months after their first booster.
Oregon Health Authority has a very helpful page about who should get vaccine boosters and third doses.
Metropolitan Pediatrics patients who qualify for an additional dose should call and speak with their primary care provider (PCP). Our providers will review each case to make sure an additional 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: When will my family be able to get vaccinated?
A: Your whole family ages six months and older can get vaccinated at Metropolitan Pediatrics. Call 1-833-PDX-KIDS to schedule or book your visit online.
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.
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: 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: Sometimes. In response to the downward trend in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations, Oregon Health Authority (OHA) ended the indoor mask mandate in most public spaces.
OHA will still require face masks in healthcare settings until further notice. Please continue to wear a mask when visiting our offices, so we can safely care for all our families. By working together, we will provide a safe space for our most vulnerable patients, including those too young to be vaccinated, to receive essential care. And don’t worry if you forget your mask, we’re happy to provide one for you.
- Metropolitan Pediatrics requires all visitors two years of age and older to wear a face mask during their visit, including in the exam room.
Although masks are optional in most indoor public spaces, we encourage families to assess their own level of risk and decide what works for their family going forward. It’s still more protective for kids to continue masking in class for a while, especially as we learn how this change will affect community spread. And it’s particularly important for those with vulnerable loved ones to continue masking inside public places as an added layer of protection.
Masking is not recommended for children younger than two.
Q: Should I get the COVID-19 vaccine while pregnant or breastfeeding?
A: The CDC recommends the COVID-19 vaccine for everyone six months 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:
COVID-19 Vaccines While Pregnant or Breastfeeding
COVID-19 Vaccine Resources
- COVID-19 Vaccines (FDA)
- Vaccines for COVID-19 (CDC)
- Questions and Answers about COVID-19 Vaccines (Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia)