Frequently Asked Questions about COVID-19 Vaccines

COVID-19 vaccination is recommended for everyone age 6 months and older in the US, including pregnant or breastfeeding individuals. Booster doses are recommended for everyone age 5 years and older.

Getting COVID-19 vaccines at the same time as other recommended vaccines is safe and convenient.

The following information addresses frequently asked questions about COVID-19 vaccines. Information about COVID-19 vaccines changes rapidly. View the latest information on COVID-19 vaccination from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA).


About the Vaccines

Who should be vaccinated against COVID-19?

In the US, COVID-19 vaccination is recommended for everyone age 6 months and older. For more information about COVID-19 vaccines available in your local area, visit www.vaccines.gov.

View Frequently Asked Questions about COVID-19 vaccination for children

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If I already had COVID-19, do I still need to get vaccinated?

Yes, CDC recommends COVID-19 vaccination regardless of whether or not an individual was previously infected. Vaccination induces a much higher antibody response than natural infection.

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Which COVID-19 vaccines are available in the US?

The following vaccines are currently approved for use in the US:

  • The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine (COMIRNATY®) has been approved by FDA for the prevention of COVID-19 disease in individuals age 16 years and older. The vaccine is also available under emergency use authorization (EUA) for children age 6 months and older.
  • The Moderna vaccine (Spikevax®) has been approved by FDA for the prevention of COVID-19 disease in individuals age 18 years and older. The vaccine is also available under emergency use authorization (EUA) for children age 6 months and older.
  • CDC recommendations include a preference for mRNA COVID-19 vaccines (Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna)
  • The J&J/Janssen vaccine is authorized for use in individuals age 18 years and older who are unable or unwilling to receive an mRNA vaccine.

All eligible individuals are encouraged to get vaccinated as soon as possible.

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What is an mRNA vaccine? Do mRNA vaccines affect DNA?

The vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna are messenger RNA (mRNA) vaccines. mRNA is found in all living cells, and mRNA vaccines work by teaching cells how to make a protein or a piece of a protein that triggers an immune response inside the body. That immune response, which produces antibodies, is what protects against infection if you are exposed to the virus.

mRNA is not the same as DNA, and it cannot combine with our DNA to change our genetic code. It is also relatively fragile, and will only remain inside a cell for about 72 hours, before being degraded. mRNA vaccines do not affect or interact with DNA in any way. mRNA never enters the nucleus of the cell, which is where DNA (genetic material) is located.

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Who should receive a COVID-19 vaccine booster?

Booster doses are recommended for all COVID-19 vaccine recipients age 5 years and older:

If you received the J&J/Janssen vaccine (and you are age 18 years or older), you should get a booster at least 2 months after your vaccine

If you received the Moderna (mRNA) vaccine (and you are age 18 years or older), you should get a booster at least 5 months after getting your second vaccine dose

If you received the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine (and you are age 5 years or older), you should get a booster at least 5 months after getting your second vaccine dose

Additional Booster Shots 

A second booster dose may be given to adults age 50 years and older and certain individuals who have undergone solid organ transplants or who have other conditions that weaken their immune systems:

  • Adults age 50 years and older should receive a second booster dose of an mRNA COVID-19 vaccine at least 4 months after the first booster dose
  • Moderately or severely immunocompromised individuals age 12 years and older should receive a second booster dose of an mRNA COVID-19 vaccine at least 4 months after the first booster dose

In addition, adults age 18–49 years who are not immunocompromised and who received the J&J/Janssen vaccine as both their primary and booster dose may receive a second booster dose using an mRNA COVID-19 vaccine at least 4 months after the first J&J/Janssen booster dose.

View additional guidance from CDC

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Which booster should I get?

Any of the COVID-19 vaccines authorized in the US can be used for a booster dose. CDC recommendations include a preference for individuals to receive an mRNA COVID-19 vaccine (Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna). The J&J/Janssen vaccine is authorized for use in individuals age 18 years and older who are unable or unwilling to receive an mRNA vaccine, and is also authorized for use as a heterologous (or “mix and match”) single booster dose for individuals age 18 years and older following completion of primary vaccination with a different COVID-19 vaccine.

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Will COVID-19 vaccines work against new COVID-19 variants?

Data show that all of the COVID-19 vaccines currently approved or authorized in the US are highly effective in reducing risk of severe disease, hospitalization, and death. The emergence of new variants further emphasizes the importance of vaccination, boosters, and other prevention efforts needed to protect against COVID-19.

Viruses constantly mutate, and public health experts expect new variants of a virus to occur. Multiple variants of SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19) have been documented in the US and globally. The US government has developed a Variant Classification scheme that defines three classes of SARS-CoV-2 variants:

  • Variant of Interest (VOI)
  • Variant of Concern (VOC)
  • Variant of High Consequence (VOHC)

Scientists are monitoring changes in the virus, and information about these variants is rapidly emerging. The new variants appear to spread more easily and quickly, which may lead to more cases of COVID-19; however, vaccines work well in preventing severe illness, hospitalization, and death.

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Vaccine Safety

How do we know that the vaccines are safe?

All vaccines used in the US are required to go through extensive safety testing before they are licensed by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and recommended for widespread use by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Recommended COVID-19 vaccines have been studied in multiple clinical trials, each of which has included thousands of individuals who were followed for a minimum of two months. Decades of experience with other vaccines indicate that the vast majority of adverse reactions occur within the first two months of vaccination.

All approved COVID-19 vaccines will continue to undergo the most intensive safety monitoring in US history, including using vaccine reporting systems to ensure the safety of COVID-19 vaccines.

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Is it safe to get a COVID-19 vaccine while pregnant or breastfeeding? Do COVID-19 vaccines affect fertility?

COVID-19 vaccination is recommended for women who are pregnant, breastfeeding, trying to get pregnant, or might become pregnant in the future. Pregnant and recently pregnant women are more likely to get severely ill with COVID-19 compared with non-pregnant people. Breastfeeding is rarely a safety concern with vaccines.

There is no evidence that COVID-19 vaccines impact fertility or are harmful to the mother or infant.

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Is it possible to get COVID-19 after receiving the vaccine?

None of the new vaccines contain the live virus that causes COVID-19, so it is not possible to get the disease from the vaccine.

It typically takes a few weeks for the body to build immunity after vaccination. That means it is possible for an individual to be infected with the virus that causes COVID-19 just before or just after vaccination.

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Are COVID-19 vaccines safe for people with allergies?

Individuals who have had severe allergic reactions to other vaccines or injectable therapies should not get vaccinated against COVID-19. People who have other allergies (e.g., allergies to food, animals, venom, environmental, or latex) may be vaccinated but should remain at the vaccination site for 15-30 minutes for observation. Individuals who carry epinephrine (EpiPen©) should bring it with them as a precaution.

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Are COVID-19 vaccines safe for people with liver disease, heart disease, or other chronic health conditions?

Multiple studies show that older adults and those with certain medical conditions—including cancer, chronic kidney disease, chronic lung disease, dementia, diabetes (type 1 or type 2), down syndrome, heart disease, HIV, liver disease, and sickle cell disease—are at higher risk of severe illness or death from COVID-19 and should be vaccinated. COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effective.

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Should I be worried about myocarditis or pericarditis following COVID-19 vaccination?

There have been rare reports of inflammation of the heart (myocarditis or pericarditis) following vaccination with the mRNA COVID-19 vaccines (Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna). Most of the reported cases have been among male adolescents and young adults and have occurred within several days following the second dose of the vaccine. Most patients with myocarditis and pericarditis who received care responded well to medicine and rest and quickly recovered.

If you have any of these symptoms within a week after COVID-19 vaccination, seek immediate medical care:

• Chest pain
• Shortness of breath
• Feelings of having a fast-beating, fluttering, or pounding heart

CDC is actively monitoring these reports and continues to recommend COVID-19 vaccination for everyone age 6 months and older. The known and potential benefits of COVID-19 vaccination outweigh the risks. COVID-19 causes more myocarditis than COVID-19 vaccines.

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Should I be concerned about Guillain Barré syndrome (GBS) after COVID-19 vaccination?

There have been rare reports of Guillain Barré syndrome (a neurological disorder in which the immune system damages nerve cells, causing muscle weakness and sometimes paralysis) in some individuals who have received the J&J/Janssen COVID-19 vaccine. In most cases, symptoms began within 6 weeks of being vaccinated. If you have any of the following symptoms after receiving the J&J/Janssen vaccine, seek immediate medical care:

  • Weakness or tingling sensations, especially in the legs or arms, that is worsening and spreading to other parts of the body
  • Difficulty walking
  • Difficulty with facial movements, including speaking, chewing, or swallowing
  • Double vision or inability to move eyes
  • Difficulty with bladder control or bowel function
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Getting Vaccinated

After I have been vaccinated, do I still need to wear a mask and take other precautions?

Even if you are up to date on COVID-19 vaccinations, CDC still recommends wearing a mask in certain instances, and you still need to follow guidance at local businesses, schools, and workplaces.

Anyone who is not up to date on COVID-19 vaccinations should still wear a face mask, practice social distancing, and take other precautions. Face masks can help prevent an infected individual from spreading the virus. Face masks are not recommended for children younger than age 2 years or for individuals who have trouble breathing or who cannot easily remove them.

Wearing a mask is most important if you have a weakened immune system, you are at increased risk for severe disease due to your age or underlying medical condition, or someone in your household has a weakened immune system, is at increased risk for severe disease, or is unvaccinated. If this applies to you or your household, you might choose to wear a mask regardless of the level of transmission in your area.

In the US, people are still getting sick, being hospitalized, and dying due to COVID-19. Precautions such as wearing masks in public places, staying at least 6 feet apart from others, and avoiding crowds and poorly ventilated spaces can help reduce the spread of COVID-19.

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What side effects might people have from the vaccines?

Side effects may include a sore arm, pain, swelling or redness at the injection site, fever, fatigue, or other symptoms. These symptoms are normal, should be expected, and are a sign that the body is building immunity. These side effects usually go away in a few days.

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What can be done to relieve side effects of COVID-19 vaccines?

Side effects are normal signs that the body is building immunity. These side effects usually go away in a few days. Over-the-counter medicines, such as aspirin, antihistamines, or acetaminophen, may help relieve fever, pain, or discomfort after getting vaccinated—but should not be used before getting vaccinated.

To reduce pain and discomfort in the arm, apply a clean, cool, wet washcloth over the area, and use/exercise your arm gently. To reduce discomfort from fever, drink plenty of fluids and dress in layers that can be removed.

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Should I delay my COVID-19 vaccine if I am scheduled for surgery?

There is no need to delay getting vaccinated against COVID-19 until after surgery. Fever is a potential side effect of COVID-19 vaccines, and having a fever after surgery raises concerns about a possible surgical wound infection. For that reason, it is a good idea to allow at least one week between getting vaccinated and having surgery.

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What is the purpose of my COVID-19 vaccination card, and what should I do if I lose it?

The COVID-19 vaccination card is simply a medical record to help keep track of which type of vaccine you received, when you received it, and when you are due for another dose if necessary. You should keep your vaccination record in a safe place, as with all medical records. It is a good idea to make a copy of the vaccination card and keep the copy secure as well. Avoid carrying the card in your wallet to prevent losing it. Laminating the card is not necessary, and can make it difficult to add additional doses. If you lose your card, contact the site where you received your vaccine or your local health department for a replacement.

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Who should not receive COVID-19 vaccines?

Authorized COVID-19 vaccines are safe for most people, with few exceptions:

  • Current vaccines are not authorized for children younger than age 6 months
  • Individuals who have had severe allergic reactions to other vaccines or injectable therapies should not get vaccinated against COVID-19. Those with other allergies may be vaccinated but should remain at the vaccination site for 15-30 minutes for observation, following vaccination.
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Interaction with Antibiotics and Other Drugs

Do COVID-19 vaccines interfere with other drugs and medications?

COVID-19 vaccines do not interfere with the vast majority of prescription and over-the-counter drugs that can be taken safely and effectively by those receiving COVID-19 vaccines. Talk to a healthcare professional if you have specific questions about your medical care.

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Is it safe to take an antibiotic before or after receiving a COVID-19 vaccine?

COVID-19 vaccines do not influence or interact with antibiotics, so when indicated, antibiotics may be taken at any time relative to COVID-19 vaccine administration.

 

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Is it safe to take a pain reliever when getting a COVID-19 vaccine?

Do not take a pain reliever or fever-reducing drug before receiving a COVID-19 vaccine because these drugs may impact the immune response to the vaccine. If you experience side effects after getting vaccinated, it is safe to take these drugs as needed to treat pain. Patients routinely taking low-dose aspirin or anti-inflammatory medications may continue to take these medications as recommended.

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Updated June 2022

Sources: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Food and Drug Administration