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COVID-19 vaccine illustration
Illustration of the COVID-19 vaccine.
(Chava Sanchez
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LAist)
Health
Answers To Your COVID-19 Vaccine Questions: Safety, Eligibility, Access, And Much More
The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine requires two doses over three weeks. The Moderna vaccine requires two doses over four weeks. All Californians over 16 are vaccine eligible starting April 15.
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The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has given emergency use authorization for three COVID-19 vaccines:

  • A two-shot series from Pfizer-BioNTech
  • A two-shot series made by Moderna
  • A single-dose immunization from Johnson & Johnson

The vaccines are provided to the public for free.

Here's what we know so far:

Are The Vaccines Effective?

In clinical trials:

▹ The Pfizer vaccine was found to be 95% effective.

▹ The Moderna vaccine was found to be 94% effective.

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▹ The Johnson & Johnson vaccine was found to be 72% effective.

Here's some important context: The 72% figure is how effective the J&J vaccine was in preventing any infection at all. Across all trials, the vaccine showed 85% efficacy against severe forms of COVID-19 and 100% efficacy against hospitalization and death. That makes it "a really good vaccine," according to Dr. Anthony Fauci, the government's top infectious disease expert. He agrees with experts who say the best vaccine is the one you can get.

How Are The Vaccines Kept?

▹ Pfizer

  • Pfizer's vaccine can be stored in a regular freezer for up to two weeks, and can be stored in a refrigerator for five days before it expires. On Feb. 25, the FDA changed the initial specs which had previously required ultra-cold storage.

▹ Moderna

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  • Moderna's product can be stored in a typical freezer, and can be refrigerated for 30 days before expiring.

▹ Johnson & Johnson

  • J&J's product can be stored in a normal refrigerator for at least three months.

Are The Vaccines Safe?

▹ Pfizer

In clinical trials, about 20,000 people aged 16 and older received at least one dose of the Pfizer vaccine. An FDA analysis found "no specific safety concerns." Some short-term mild to moderate side effects are common, mostly:

・Swelling・Pain・Redness at the injection site・Fatigue・Sometimes a fever that resolves within about 24 hours.

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The FDA says these side effects have typically lasted several days, and have occurred more often after the second dose.

♢ ♢ ♢

▹ Moderna

The Moderna vaccine is for people aged 18 and older. It has a "favorable" safety profile, "with no specific safety concerns identified," according to the FDA advisory committee. The most common side effects have been:

・Injection site pain・Fatigue・Headache・Muscle pain・Joint pain・Swollen lymph nodes・Chills・Nausea and vomiting・Fever

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The FDA says these side effects have typically lasted several days, and have occurred more often after the second dose.

♢ ♢ ♢

▹ Johnson & Johnson

The Johnson & Johnson vaccine is for people aged 18 and older. The FDA determined that the vaccine "meets [the agency's] expectations for safety and effectiveness," according to Dr. Peter Marks, director of the FDA's Center for Biologics. Here are the most common side effects, which have been "mild to moderate and lasted 1-2 days":

・Pain at the injection site・Headache・Fatigue・Muscle aches

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After the first month of monitoring for Moderna and Pfizer's vaccines, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a report saying the data is "reassuring about safety of the vaccines." Most reports of adverse events, the CDC said, "were non-serious."

♢ ♢ ♢

If you want to help the CDC track vaccine safety, sign up for its v-safe tool.

You'll receive text messages and web surveys about how you're feeling and whether you're experiencing side effects. Depending on your answers, someone from CDC may call to check on you. The more data the CDC collects, the clearer picture it'll have about safety. Register here (and take a look at the FAQ).

Can The Vaccines Give Me COVID-19?

No.

They do not contain SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that gives you COVID-19.

How Many Shots Of Vaccine Will I Need?

▹ The Pfizer vaccine is two doses, given three weeks apart.
▹ The Moderna vaccine requires two doses, given four weeks apart.
▹ The Johnson & Johnson vaccine is one dose.

As of Jan. 21, 2021, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention upgraded its guidance, saying it's OK to wait up to six weeks to get your second shot, in case you can't get it on the recommended timetable because of a shortage or some other reason.

Can I Mix Vaccines?

The CDC updated its guidance to say that in "exceptional situations" -- for example, officials have run out of the vaccine you got in the first round, or you're not sure which shot you got in the first round -- only then is it OK to mix Moderna and Pfizer vaccines. That's because they're extremely similar in that they both use messenger RNA to stimulate an immune response to the virus.

J&J is a different type of vaccine and it's not yet been addressed whether you can mix it with the others.

How Long Will They Last?

That's still a huge question. Unfortunately, we don't have enough data yet to answer it.

The Food and Drug Administration's fact sheet on the Pfizer vaccine states, "the duration of protection against COVID-19 is currently unknown."

The FDA says it doesn't yet have data to determine how long the Moderna vaccine will provide protection; however, on Jan. 11, 2021, Moderna said immunity should last at least a year.

The FDA also says it doesn't yet have data to determine how long the Johnson & Johnson vaccine will provide protection, nor is there evidence that the vaccine prevents transmission of SARS-CoV-2 from person to person.

Do I Need To Get Vaccinated If I've Already Had COVID-19?

Yes.

Reinfection is rare, but it is possible.

When you get COVID-19, your body produces antibodies that protect you from reinfection, but we don't know yet how long that "natural immunity" might last.

And it varies from person to person.

"We've seen [a durable immune response] persist up to eight months," La Jolla Institute for Immunology's Alexander Sette told Vox. But this is only the case for 90% of people, he said. "For 10% of people, they don't seem to have a good immune response eight months out."

When Can I Get Vaccinated?

▹ As of March 1, here's who became eligible:

▹ Everyone who works in the health care industry

▹ Residents of nursing homes and assisted living facilities

▹ Everyone over age 65

▹ Everyone who works in education

▹ Everyone who works in the food industry

▹ Everyone who works in child care

▹ Everyone who works in emergency services (police, fire, and more. You can find a full list here.)

▹ On March 15, eligibility expanded to include everyone aged 16-64 who is at an increased risk of severe illness if they should become infected, because they have one of these conditions:

▹ On April 1, Californians 50+ become eligible.

▹ On April 15, Californians 16+ become eligible.

When Will Everyone Be Vaccinated?

Government officials estimate it will be late spring or early summer before they're able to vaccinate everyone.

What About Children?

There are no COVID-19 vaccines for children, but trials are underway.

Moderna's "KidCOVE study" includes babies 6 months old to children under 12. The company is also studying kids 12-17. Its vaccine is currently cleared for people 18 and older.

Pfizer's trial also includes babies 6 months old to children under 12. In addition, the company is studying kids 12-15. Its vaccine is currently cleared for people 16 and older.

How Will I Know When It's My Turn?

The state has rolled out MyTurn, a website where you can find out if it's your turn to get vaccinated.

You can also schedule appointments on MyTurn, but for now it will only set up appointments for health care workers and people 65 and older in L.A. and San Diego Counties.

How Do I Sign Up For A Vaccination Appointment?

There are a variety of ways to get an appointment. Unfortunately, because of the supply shortage and the intense demand, it can be difficult to get one. People have reported calls getting disconnected and websites crashing.

We have a separate guide to help you navigate the system(s):

How To Get Your COVID-19 Vaccine Appointment

And here are the local governmental sites:

Los Angeles city As of Jan. 22, it has this message: "We're currently processing existing appointments and not taking new appointments. Please check back at a later time to book new appointments."

Los Angeles County Those without computer access can call (833) 540-0473 between 8 a.m. and 8:30 p.m. for help making an appointment.

MyTurn Besides being able to find out on this new state website if it's your turn to get vaccinated, you can also schedule appointments on it, although for now it will only set up appointments for health care workers and people 65 and older in L.A. and San Diego Counties.

Orange County Those without computer access can call (714) 834-2000. The county says this COVID-19 Hotline will answer "general questions."

Riverside County People 65 and older who need help can call 211.

San Bernardino County Those without computer access can call (909) 387-3911 for help making an appointment.

Ventura County As of Jan. 22, it has this message: "All appointments are now full. Once more vaccines are received more appointments will be made available. Please check back."

How Do I Get My Second Dose?

It varies.

And there's such a tangle of answers that we gave it its own guide.

How To Get The Second Dose Of Vaccine

This is everything we know so far. ☝️

Are There People Who Shouldn't Get The Vaccine?

Yes.

You should not get the vaccine if you've had a severe allergic reaction to any ingredient in the vaccine, or if you had a severe allergic reaction after a previous dose of the two-shot vaccines.

Ingredient list:

Pfizer
Moderna
Johnson & Johnson

The CDC's fact sheet on the Pfizer vaccine says before getting your shot, you should tell your vaccination provider about all of your medical conditions, including if you:

▹ Have allergies
▹ Have a fever
▹ Have a bleeding disorder (or you're on a blood thinner)
▹ Are immunocompromised (or you're on a medicine that affects your immune system)
▹ Are pregnant or plan to become pregnant
▹ Are breastfeeding

For the Moderna vaccine, the FDA advisory committee found "the frequency of non-fatal serious adverse events was low."

J&J's fact sheet says to tell your vaccination provider about all of your medical conditions, including if you:

• have any allergies • have a fever • have a bleeding disorder or are on a blood thinner • are immunocompromised or are on a medicine that affects your immune system • are pregnant or plan to become pregnant • are breastfeeding • have received another COVID-19 vaccine

Can I Stop Wearing A Mask And Social Distancing Once I'm Fully Vaccinated?

Sometimes.

You are considered "fully vaccinated" two weeks after getting the second dose (in a 2-dose series), or two weeks after receiving the single-dose shot.

Guidelines for fully vaccinated people were updated by the CDC on March 8. These recommendations are for "non-healthcare settings."

According to the CDC, if you're fully vaccinated:

  • You can gather indoors with other fully vaccinated people without masks or physical distancing.
  • You can gather indoors with unvaccinated people from one other household without masks and physical distancing --unless any of those people (or anyone they live with) has an increased risk for severe illness from COVID-19.
  • You do not need to quarantine or get tested following a known exposure COVID-19 unless you have symptoms.
    • But if you live in a group setting (like a correctional or detention facility or group home) and are around someone who has COVID-19, you should still stay away from others for 14 days and get tested, even if you don't have symptoms.
  • Continue mask-wearing and physical distancing in public.
  • Continue mask-wearing and physical distancing when visiting unvaccinated people from multiple households.
  • Still avoid medium and large gatherings.
  • Still get tested if you experience COVID-19 symptoms.
  • Still follow guidance issued by individual employers.
  • Still delay domestic and international travel and follow CDC and health department travel requirements and recommendations.

What Else Do You Want To Know? Ask Us Questions

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This story will continue to be updated as new information becomes available.

Image Credit (top): Illustration and image by Chava Sanchez/LAist