FAQs: COVID-19 Vaccines

Partners In Health experts answer your questions about COVID-19 vaccines

Posted on Mar 1, 2021

Toni K. Williams RN shows a vial
Toni K. Williams RN shows a vial of the Moderna COVID vaccine, during a February event led by Boston Health Care for the Homeless workers, who helped vaccinate the staff at St. Ambrose Shelter in the Dorchester neighborhood of Boston. Photo by Jodi Hilton / for PIH

Partners In Health clinical leaders and experts address questions about COVID-19 vaccines, in an ongoing list that will be updated as new developments and findings unfold. 

Are the vaccines in circulation safe?

All evidence says yes. To date, no serious safety concerns have been reported during trials or use in the United States of the vaccines with FDA authorization. All available vaccines are approved for use by the FDA under an emergency-use authorization because of the pandemic..

What are the side effects?

You may have some side effects from COVID-19 vaccination, which are normal signs that your body is building protection from the virus. Common side effects are pain and swelling on the arm where you received the shot, fever, chills, tiredness, and headache (similar to flu vaccine side effects), all of which usually go away in a few days at most. Severe allergic reactions are extremely rare.

If you get the vaccine, can you still carry the virus in your body and infect others?

We don't know yet. While available vaccines are remarkably good at preventing serious illness, we do not yet know if they prevent you from getting -- and thus spreading -- the virus. You should continue to wear your mask, practice social distancing, and wash your hands even after being vaccinated until the spread of COVID-19 is under control.

If you already had COVID, do you still need to be vaccinated?

Yes. The CDC recommends that everyone get vaccinated, even if they have had COVID-19 before and recovered, or tested positive for antibodies. Early evidence suggests natural immunity from COVID-19 may not last forever. Current vaccine trials are immunizing people who have never been infected with SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19), as well as those who have been previously infected.

How much does it cost to get vaccinated?

Nothing. All vaccines provided in the U.S. are free to everyone, including people without insurance. For those who have insurance, your information will be collected so the vaccine provider can bill for administrative costs, but there will be no out-of-pocket cost.

When can I get my vaccination?

States received their first shipments of the first two FDA-authorized vaccines in mid-December 2020. Supply of COVID-19 vaccines is currently limited, so local and state governments are working to distribute the vaccines as they receive more shipments. The FDA authorized a third vaccine in late February, as well. For all COVID-19 vaccines, PIH is advocating for distribution that is fair, ethical, timely, and transparent.

PIH stands in solidarity with communities that have borne the brunt of the virus—communities of color, the poor, and the marginalized. Because of deep inequities that have long existed within the country, Black, Latinx, Native and other communities of color have suffered from, and died of, COVID at higher rates. Justice demands that the overall needs of these communities be prioritized in the ongoing public health response to the current emergency, and beyond.

For U.S. residents, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has searchable, state-specific information. 

For the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, do I need to get both shots in the vaccination series, or is one enough?

For COVID-19 vaccines that require two shots, you need to get both. The first shot essentially prepares your body to fight the virus, and the second shot completes the ability to do so.

When will vaccines be available in other countries, outside the U.S.?

The huge disparity between vaccine supplies for rich countries and supplies for low-income countries is a continued injustice. Current global plans only include vaccinations for 3% of people in the 154 most impoverished countries this year, but we’re hopeful that recent commitments toward global vaccine equity will shorten the timeline to worldwide availability.

Globally, PIH is pushing to make sure vaccines are accessible to everyone as soon as possible. We have joined initiatives like the People’s Vaccine to make sure drugs are developed, manufactured, and distributed with the good of all in mind, and we are supporting ministries of health in acquiring and distributing vaccines.

What's going on with COVID-19 variants? Are current vaccines effective against them, or will I need an additional vaccine later?

Vaccine companies are working to update and improve vaccines for effectiveness against variants, such as the ones that originated in the United Kingdom and South Africa, but that doesn't mean you should wait to get a shot -- if you are eligible for a vaccine and able to receive one, all experts agree that you should take it. Most studies so far show efficacy against variants in current vaccines.

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