COVID-19 Vaccine FAQs

Why will it take so long for the COVID-19 vaccines to become widely available?

It takes a lot of time to manufacture and distribute these vaccines. Doses will be extremely limited at first, so the government must decide who needs the COVID-19 vaccine first.

Please, visit the Virginia Health Department direct vaccination distribution and allocations

The vaccine is being given first to healthcare workers and residents of nursing homes/long-term care facilities as those people are at the highest risk for infection.  The next available doses will go to individuals who are at risk for more severe illness from COVID-19, such as older adults, people with certain medical conditions and essential workers in higher-risk settings.   After that, the vaccine should become available to the general adult population, plus teens ages 16 and older.

What ages has the COVID-19 vaccine been approved for?

Pfizer’s vaccine has been authorized for ages 16 and up. Moderna’s vaccine is currently authorized for ages 18 and up. Both companies have begun clinical trials for younger kids.

Since Pfizer’s vaccine is already approved for ages 16 and up, when will teens in this age bracket be able to receive it?

Because young adults, teens and kids are not typically at high risk for severe illness from COVID-19, they will likely be in one of the last groups to receive it. There are a few exceptions: Individuals ages 16 and up with high-risk health conditions may have the opportunity to get the vaccine sooner, as well as individuals age 16 and up who are essential workers.

My child is 16 (or older) and has a health condition considered high-risk by the CDC, how do I get them vaccinated?

Individuals that are at least 16 and, are considered high risk by the CDC, can sign up to be put on a waiting list with their counties.

Arlington County, click here

Fairfax County, click here

Loudon County, click here

What about ages 0 to 15? When can we expect a COVID-19 vaccine for infants, kids and younger teens?

With any luck, a full pediatric vaccine will be available by late 2021.  Children’s immune systems evolve as they develop from infancy through the teenage years. As a result, research that’s been done on the COVID-19 vaccine for ages 16 and up needs to be repeated in younger children.

Both Pfizer and Moderna recently began new vaccine trials including children as young as age 12. If they’re successful, the data will need to go through FDA review, followed by the time it takes for production and distribution. This process can take a while, especially for very young ages, which are usually tested last.

How do Pfizer’s and Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccines work?

Both Pfizer and Moderna’s vaccines are made using the same technology: They inject a genetic molecule called mRNA, which causes a person’s cells to create a viral protein (called a “spike”) that triggers the desired immune response. There is no live virus involved – the mRNA molecule is simply a messenger that tells the body how to create an immune response, then it’s quickly broken down by the body and disappears.

How many doses does the COVID-19 vaccine take to be effective?

Nearly all COVID-19 vaccines being studied in the United States, including the approved vaccines by Pfizer and Moderna, require two shots: an initial dose followed a booster 3 weeks later for Pfizer and 4 weeks later for Moderna.  While you do gain some immunity from COVID-19 with the first dose, it’s very important – for your own sake, and your community’s sake – to get both doses.

A few weeks after the second dose, you are protected from COVID-19 at a success rate of about 95% or 94% (Pfizer or Moderna, respectively). It’s worth noting that no vaccine is 100% effective, and this is among the highest efficacy seen with vaccines.

Are Pfizer’s and Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccines safe? Should my family get the vaccine, once it’s available to us?

Health officials closely reviewed all safety data from Pfizer and Moderna’s clinical trials and concluded that the vaccines have not led to serious health problems. For example, in Pfizer’s recipients, less than 1 percent had an allergic reaction.

The CDC will continue to monitor for long term side effects as more people receive the COVID-19 vaccine.  So far, no vaccine has shown to have long term side effects occurring beyond a few weeks of taking the vaccine.

Are there any side effects of the COVID-19 vaccine?

Some people have mild side effects like soreness in their arm, chills, low grade fever, fatigue or headache for about 24 hours. These side effects are a normal part of the body’s immune system response, and commonly occur with many vaccines, including the flu shot.

Any effects of COVID vaccine on pregnancy, the developing fetus, or infants?   

No pregnancy related data have yet been released. Pregnancy and breastfeeding will probably not be contraindications to receiving COVID-19 vaccine; however, there is no safety data in the pregnant woman, her fetus or infants at this time. While these vaccines were not specifically tested in breastfeeding women, it is not likely (based on the mechanisms of action of the vaccines in US trials) that there would be any risk to the child.

Will the COVID-19 vaccine wear off every year, like the flu shot?

Great question. This information is not yet available — so stay tuned.

Would you still recommend continuing full precautions after vaccination?  

Yes! We will need to continue to practice physical distancing, wearing cloth face coverings and masks, and using PPE during medical encounters for some time after the vaccine is introduced. It will be some time before there is evidence that the vaccines not only prevent illness in the person who is vaccinated, but also prevent them from transmitting the virus. Until then we will need to practice these public health measures.

I saw on the news that a COVID-19 mutation was identified in the UK. Will the current COVID-19 vaccine still be effective?

All coronaviruses, including COVID-19, will tend to mutate and evolve over time. This just means that the genetic blueprint, or genome, of the virus is changing. The UK mutation appears to be associated with how contagious the virus is, but not with any part of the virus that affects how the vaccine works.

In other words, the current COVID-19 vaccine should still be effective against the mutated virus.

Modified from Connecticut Children’s Hospital