Your vaccination questions

Know before you go

Staying on top of the latest vaccine information can be overwhelming. And a lot of it can seem confusing. We're here to make it all easier for you. Because the more you know, the more confident you'll be when it's time for you to get vaccinated.

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Helpful Terms to Know

Herd immunity

"Herd immunity," also known as "population immunity" or "herd protection," is the indirect group protection from an infectious disease that happens when a population is immune through either vaccination or previous infection. To safely achieve herd immunity against COVID-19, a large amount of a population needs to be vaccinated. Experts do not yet know what percentage of people would need to get vaccinated to achieve herd immunity. Another goal of herd immunity is to help protect those who cannot get vaccinated (eg, due to health conditions like allergic reactions to the vaccines).

Antibodies

Antibodies are proteins made by the immune system to fight infections like viruses. They may also help to prevent future occurrences of those same infections.

Vaccine

A vaccine prompts your immune system to produce antibodies as if you were exposed to the disease. The vaccine is designed to provide you with immunity to that disease without you having to get the disease first.

Dosing

Dosing refers to the amount and schedule of a medicine or a vaccine.

Placebo

A placebo is a drug or vaccine without an active substance, like a sugar pill or a saline injection with no active ingredients.

Clinical trial

Clinical trials are research studies designed to answer specific questions about the safety or effectiveness of different drugs, vaccines, or other therapies by studying the drug's effects on volunteers.

Efficacy

Efficacy refers to how well a treatment works in a clinical trial.

Pandemic

A pandemic is a disease that has spread over several countries or continents, usually affecting a large number of people.

Emergency Use Authorization (EUA)

An Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) is a means of making available the use of medical products (such as drugs, vaccines, or devices) during a public health emergency, such as the COVID-19 pandemic.

Under an EUA, the FDA may allow the use of unapproved medical products, such as vaccines, in an emergency to diagnose, treat, or prevent serious or life-threatening diseases or conditions. Federal law requires that strict criteria have to be met first, eg, there must be no other adequate, approved, or available options.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA)

The FDA is a federal agency that is part of the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). One of the FDA's responsibilities is to protect and promote public health by helping to speed advances that make medical products more effective, safer, and less expensive. The FDA also helps the public get the accurate, science-based information they need to use medical products and foods to keep and improve their health. When there is FDA approval of a drug or biologic, like a vaccine, that means the FDA has evaluated the full data on the safety and efficacy and has determined that the benefits are greater than the known and potential risks for the intended population.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

The CDC is one of the major operating divisions of the Department of Health and Human Services. The CDC works to protect the country from health, safety, and security threats, both foreign and within the US. As the nation's health protection agency, the CDC's mission is to save lives and protect people by conducting critical science and providing health information that protects the nation against expensive and dangerous health threats, and by responding when these arise.

BIPOC

BIPOC is an acronym that stands for "Black, Indigenous, and People of Color."

Get The Facts

How did COVID-19 start?

The novel (new) coronavirus that first appeared in China had never been seen before, so it quickly gained the attention of scientists around the world.

Scientists did investigations to find out how the new virus started. They conducted surveys in the community and in health facilities and collected nose and throat samples for lab analyses. These investigations showed them who was infected, when they became sick, and where they had been just before they got sick.

Using this information, scientists determined that the virus possibly came from an animal sold at a market. The new virus was found to be a coronavirus, and coronaviruses cause a severe acute respiratory syndrome. This new coronavirus is similar to SARS-CoV, so it was named SARS-CoV-2. The disease caused by the virus was named COVID-19 (COronaVIrusDisease-2019) to show that it was discovered in 2019.

An outbreak is called an epidemic when there is a sudden increase in cases. As COVID-19 began spreading in Wuhan, China, it became an epidemic. Because the disease then spread across several countries and affected a large number of people, it was classified as a pandemic.

Why did COVID-19 affect some communities more than others?

It became clear early on in the pandemic that people of color, including Latinx, Black, and Native American people, were getting sick and dying of COVID-19 at higher rates than White people and at higher proportions than their share of the population.

COVID-19 has been worse for people of color at every stage, including:
  • Higher risk of exposure
  • Higher rates of hospitalization
  • Higher rates of death

Certain conditions and socioeconomic circumstances are more prevalent in some communities and may be contributing to these differences. These may include:
  • Other health conditions, like diabetes, heart disease, and lung disease, that can make COVID-19 worse
  • Living in homes with multiple family members of different generations
  • Living in busy cities and taking public transportation that makes social distancing difficult
  • Not having a job that can be done from home; many people of color were designated as essential workers
  • Having less access to healthcare
  • Racism and discrimination, which can worsen one's health, making a COVID-19 infection more dangerous

Why might BIPOC communities have trouble trusting the US government and health system?

Given the historical mistreatment of BIPOC people by the medical community, relationship-building efforts are currently being made to acknowledge and correct past and current biases. These efforts are aimed at making health institutions, among others, more trustworthy for BIPOC communites.

There are many examples in US history of BIPOC people being mistreated, experimented on, and lied to by the medical system.

In the Black community, some examples include:
  • Experiments on enslaved people
  • Forced sterilizations of Black women
  • The Tuskegee syphilis study that did not treat Black men for decades in order to watch how the disease affected their bodies

Additionally, the scientific community has a long history of unethical medical research practices in Native American communities, including:
  • Forced sterilizations of Native American women
  • The Havasupai "diabetes project" in the 1990s in which researchers told participants they were taking blood samples for diabetes research but used the samples to study schizophrenia instead

In addition to this, Native Americans must also grapple with a US government that has repeatedly lied, misrepresented itself, and broken promises for centuries.

Latinx populations in the US have also had experiences with forced sterilizations among women in prison, including allegedly forced hysterectomies at an ICE facility in 2020.

As a result, BIPOC communities might choose not to visit the doctor at all when they are sick, or they might mistrust the advice they are given when they do visit.

When they decide to visit the doctor, doctors' false beliefs (or implicit biases) might cause them to give poorer care to BIPOC patients than to White American patients. (Examples of poorer care caused by implicit biases can include speaking down to a patient, making them wait longer, or providing better treatment options to White people.)

To help establish greater trust and confidence among BIPOC communities, continued relationship building is key. That's why there is an ongoing effort to reach out to clinicians, community leaders, and healthcare leaders and partners to help provide information and resources on the COVID-19 vaccines for underserved communities that have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic.

Why should I trust vaccines that were created so quickly?

From discovery to development, there are many reasons for why the COVID-19 vaccines were made available so quickly:
  • A large number of volunteers enrolled in the vaccine studies, which helped scientists perform clinical trials and review data sooner than expected
  • Breakthroughs in vaccine technology even before the pandemic enabled pharmaceutical companies to move quickly to respond to the virus
  • The EUA from the FDA meant that the vaccines were made available sooner
  • Due to the seriousness of the pandemic, the FDA worked to reduce the typical amount of time needed for the clinical trials. The trials were standard in design, but the overall timelines were reduced by overlapping portions of the trials

Will the vaccines change my DNA?

No. None of the authorized vaccines change or interact with your DNA.

I have no serious diseases and I take care of my health. Can I protect myself against COVID-19 by taking vitamins and supplements?

No, there are no clinical studies to demonstrate protection from COVID-19 using vitamins and supplements. Even if you are healthy, a vaccine is recommended. That's because a vaccine may:
  • Prevent you from getting COVID-19 or from becoming seriously ill or dying due to COVID-19
  • Add to the number of people in the community who are protected from getting COVID-19, contributing to herd immunity

Getting Vaccinated

Why should I get a vaccine?

Vaccines are one of the greatest success stories in public health. They have helped get rid of smallpox and dramatically reduced the number of people who suffer from the devastating effects of other infectious diseases like measles and whooping cough.

COVID-19 vaccines may:
  • Help prevent you from getting COVID-19 or from becoming seriously ill or dying due to COVID-19
  • Add to the number of people in the community who are protected from getting COVID-19, helping to contribute to herd immunity

What vaccines are available?

Currently, there are 3 authorized COVID-19 vaccines in the US. For more information on the authorized vaccines, please visit the CDC website at: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/vaccines/different-vaccines.html

Which vaccine is better?

Currently, there are 3 COVID-19 vaccines authorized under an EUA by the FDA. Studies show ALL 3 vaccines may keep you from getting COVID-19 or from becoming seriously ill or hospitalized, even if you do get COVID-19.

It's important to remember that for the COVID-19 vaccines to get an EUA by the FDA, they have to meet strict legal requirements. Based on all scientific evidence available to FDA:
  • it is reasonable to believe that the vaccines may be effective in preventing COVID-19
  • the known and potential benefits of the vaccine when used to prevent COVID-19 outweigh its known and potential risks

How will I know when it's my turn?

The FDA has authorized the emergency use of the COVID-19 vaccines in various age groups: 18 years of age and older and 12 years of age and older. Find out more about who can get the vaccines from the CDC and where you can get vaccinated or by contacting your state, territorial, tribal, or local health department. You can contact your state health department for more information on its plan for COVID-19 vaccination.

Can I choose which vaccine I get?

The CDC does not recommend one vaccine over another. You should get any COVID-19 vaccine that is available when you are eligible. Do not wait for a specific brand. It has been determined that the benefits of all 3 COVID-19 vaccines outweigh the unknown risks in the current public health emergency.

Is it free?

Yes! According to the CDC, the COVID-19 vaccines will be given to all individuals in the US at no cost—with or without insurance—meaning the US government is making the vaccines available for free at this time.

What should I do if I experience side effects?

There are 2 ways to report possible side effects:
  1. By notifying the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS), a national system designed to monitor the safety of the vaccines and collect data on side effects that are:
    • Unexpected
    • Appear to happen more often than expected
    • Have unusual patterns of occurrence

  2. By using a new smartphone-based tool called V-SAFE, which can check on people's health after they receive a COVID-19 vaccine. When you receive your vaccine, you should also receive a V-SAFE information sheet telling you how to enroll. If you enroll, you will receive text messages directing you to surveys where you can report any problems or adverse reactions you have after receiving a COVID-19 vaccine.

Understanding Safety

We understand that when it comes to COVID-19 vaccination and vaccine safety, there's a lot of information out there. It can seem confusing at times, especially when it feels like new information is coming out every week.

That's why we want to help you stay on top of the latest news and information.

The CDC is the best resource for a wide range of topics. Go here or click on a specific topic below to get the detailed information you need.

Where can I learn more?

If you have more questions, be sure to talk to your vaccination provider or your doctor. You can also reach out to your state, territorial, tribal, or local health department, especially with any questions about vaccine availability.

You can also find more information online at the following websites:

  • The CDC has up-to-date resources on COVID-19
  • The FDA has resources about EUAs of vaccines

You can contact your state health department for more information on its plan for COVID-19 vaccination.

Now that you have answers to your questions, let's get you vaccinated.