COVID-19 Vaccine Frequently Asked Questions

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COVID-19 Vaccine Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Updated: Friday, May 7



ABOUT COVID-19 VACCINES

What COVID-19 vaccines are currently available?

The Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccines have received Emergency Use Authorization from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and are currently available. Multiple COVID-19 vaccines continue to be under development. (Source: U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Different COVID-19 Vaccines).


Why are there different types of COVID-19 vaccines?

In May 2020, the U.S. government announced Operation Warp Speed, a vast public-private initiative led by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the U.S. Department of Defense to accelerate the development, manufacturing, and distribution of COVID-19 vaccines, therapeutics, and diagnostics. This helped fund as many companies as possible to develop, test, and manufacture a COVID-19 vaccine, before knowing which would be most effective. (Source: New England Journal of Medicine: Developing Safe and Effective Covid Vaccines — Operation Warp Speed’s Strategy and Approach).


How do COVID-19 vaccines work?

There are two main types of COVID-19 vaccines currently available to those in the U.S.: messenger RNA (mRNA) and viral vector. COVID-19 vaccines help us develop immunity to COVID-19 without ever having to experience COVID-19’s devastating effects. Different types of vaccines work in different ways to offer protection, but with all types of vaccines, the body is left with a “memory” of how to fight that virus in the future. None of the vaccines use the live virus from COVID-19 and you are not able to become infected from COVID-19 from these vaccines.

The Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines are mRNA vaccines. All viruses have a unique genetic code. The mRNA COVID-19 vaccines take part of the genetic code of the virus that causes COVID-19 to tell your cells to make a specific part of the COVID-19 virus called the spike protein. The immune system then makes antibodies that quickly recognize this spike protein to destroy the virus and protect against it. While these are new vaccines, mRNA vaccines have been researched for decades. (Source: U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Understanding mRNA COVID-19 Vaccines). (Source: U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Information about the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine). (Source: U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Information about the Moderna COVID-19 Vaccine).

The Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine is a viral vector vaccine. Vector vaccines contain a weakened version of a live virus—a different virus than the one that causes COVID-19—that has genetic material from the virus that causes COVID-19 inserted in it (this is called a viral vector). Once the viral vector is inside your cells, the genetic material gives cells instructions to make a protein that is unique to the virus that causes COVID-19. Using these instructions, your cells make copies of the protein. This prompts your body to build “memory” of the virus so it will remember how to fight that virus if you are infected in the future. (Source: U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Understanding How COVID-19 Vaccines Work).


What is Emergency Use Authorization?

During public health emergencies, such as the current COVID-19 pandemic, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) can issue an emergency use authorization (EUA) to provide more timely access to critical medical products (including medicines, tests, and vaccines) that may help when there are no adequate, approved, and available alternative options. (Source: U.S. Food and Drug Administration: Emergency Use Authorization for Vaccines Explained). 

The EUA process is different from FDA approval or clearance. Under an EUA, in an emergency, the FDA makes a product available to the public based on the best available evidence, without waiting for all the evidence that would be needed for FDA approval or clearance. This allows the FDA to make products available within weeks rather than months to years. EUAs are in effect until the emergency declaration ends but can be revised or revoked by the FDA at any time as scientists and physicians continue to evaluate the available data and patient needs during the public health emergency. (Source: U.S. Food and Drug Administration: Understanding the Regulatory Terminology of Potential Preventions and Treatments for COVID-19).


Given how quickly these COVID-19 vaccines were developed, were "corners cut" in the process?

There were no "corners cut" in regard to scientific process and safety. As of May 2021, the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) has granted Emergency Use Authorizations (EUA) for three COVID-19 vaccines which have been shown to be safe and effective after review of data from the manufacturers and findings from large, multi-phased clinical trials. The data demonstrates that the known and potential benefits of the vaccine outweigh the known and potential harms of becoming infected with COVID-19. (Source: U.S. Centers for Disease Control: Ensuring the Safety of COVID-19 Vaccines in the United States). 

Vaccines that receive EUA go through clinical trials with multiple phases. In phase 1 clinical trials, the vaccine is given to a small number of generally healthy people to assess its safety at increasing doses and to gain early information about how well the vaccine works to induce an immune response. In the absence of safety concerns from phase 1 studies, phase 2 studies include more people, where various dosages are tested on hundreds of people with typically varying health statuses and from different demographic groups, in randomized-controlled studies. These studies provide additional safety information on common short-term side effects and risks, examine the relationship between the dose administered and the immune response, and may provide initial information regarding the effectiveness of the vaccine. In phase 3, the vaccine is generally administered to thousands of people in randomized, controlled studies involving broad demographic groups (i.e., the population intended for use of the vaccine) and generates critical information on effectiveness and additional important safety data. This phase provides additional information about the immune response in people who receive the vaccine compared to those who receive a control, such as a placebo. The efforts to speed vaccine development to address the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic have not sacrificed scientific standards, integrity of the vaccine review process, or safety. (Source: U.S. Food and Drug Administration: Emergency Use Authorization for Vaccines Explained)

The clinical trials are ongoing – volunteers will continue to be monitored and data will continue to be collected. GW is a clinical trial site for COVID-19 vaccines. To read more about GW’s role, visit covidvaccine.gwu.edu/.


What are the expected side effects of the COVID-19 vaccines?

Sometimes after vaccination, the process of building immunity can cause symptoms - this is normal and is a sign that the body is building immunity. The most common side effects from COVID-19 vaccines have included fatigue, muscle pains, joint pains, headaches, and pain and redness at the injection site. For COVID-19 vaccines that require two doses, symptoms were more common after the second dose of the vaccines and the majority of side effects were mild. (Source: U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Understanding How COVID-19 Vaccines Work). (Source: U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: What to Expect after Getting a COVID-19 Vaccine).


Are the side effects the same for the available COVID-19 vaccines?

Results from clinical trials show that their side effects and safety profiles are very similar. (Source: U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Information about the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine). (Source: U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Information about the Moderna COVID-19 Vaccine). (Source: U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Understanding Viral Vector COVID-19 Vaccines).


Are there any concerns about long-term effects from COVID-19 vaccines?

mRNA technology is not new and has been studied for decades. In fact, it has shown great promise for both infectious disease and cancer. Experts believe there is enough short-term data on the mRNA COVID-19 vaccines and long-term data on other mRNA vaccines to recommend getting vaccinated. While it cannot be stated affirmatively that there are no potential long-term effects, mRNA does degrade within a few days and it does not integrate into your DNA. It is believed the risk is quite low for long-term effects. Meanwhile, the risk of long-term effects from COVID-19 can be substantial. Volunteers from clinical trials will continue to be followed and monitored. (Source: U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Understanding mRNA COVID-19 Vaccines)

Other vaccine candidates, such as vector vaccines, utilize more traditional vaccine technology and have been used for recent disease outbreaks. There are no major concerns about long-term effects. Volunteers from these clinical trials will also continue to be followed and monitored. (Source: U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Understanding Viral Vector COVID-19 Vaccines).


Can I get COVID-19 from the vaccine?

You cannot get COVID-19 from any of the COVID-19 vaccines available. The mRNA only allows your body to create the surface protein of the virus called the spike protein. Since it does not contain the whole virus, but only instructions for the spike protein, there is no possibility of getting COVID-19 from the vaccine. For vector vaccines, only the virus’ genetic material is included in the vaccine. This will provide protection, but since it contains only the genetic material, you cannot get infected. (Source: U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: What to Expect after Getting a COVID-19 Vaccine).


How is the COVID-19 vaccine administered?

The vaccine is administered in the arm, similar to a flu shot. You will then be monitored for 15 minutes. If you have a history of severe allergies, you will be monitored for 30 minutes. (Source: U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Vaccine Safety Monitoring and Reporting in Your Facility).


How many doses do I need? 

For the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, you will need two doses, approximately 21 days apart. For the Moderna vaccine, you will need two doses, approximately 28 days apart. For the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, you will need only one dose. (Source: U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: What to Expect after Getting a COVID-19 Vaccine). (Source: U.S. Food and Drug Administration: FDA Statement on Following the Authorized Dosing Schedules for COVID-19 Vaccines).


What if I do not get my second dose within the recommended time frame?

Make your second appointment as close to the recommended time frame as possible. Even if it is a week later, the data suggests you are just as likely to be protected. It is important not to skip your second dose, even if taken later. (Source: U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: What to Expect after Getting a COVID-19 Vaccine).


When am I considered fully vaccinated against COVID-19?

People are considered fully vaccinated two weeks after their second dose in a 2-dose series, like the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccines, or two weeks after a single-dose vaccine, like the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. (Source: U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: When You’ve Been Fully Vaccinated).


Does the COVID-19 vaccine stop me from getting infected? Can I still spread the virus to others after vaccination? 

We’re still learning how well COVID-19 vaccines keep people from spreading the disease. Early data show that the vaccines may help keep people from spreading COVID-19, but we are learning more as more people get vaccinated. We’re still learning how long COVID-19 vaccines can protect people. Therefore, it is vital to continue following all safety precautions such as wearing PPE and practicing physical distancing in public spaces, even after being vaccinated. (Source: U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: When You’ve Been Fully Vaccinated).


Does the vaccine affect my risk of severe illness from COVID-19?

Individuals who become ill with COVID-19 but are vaccinated have a significantly reduced risk of becoming severely ill. (Source: U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Benefits of Getting a COVID-19 Vaccine).


How many strains of COVID-19 are there? Does the COVID-19 vaccine protect against the new strains?

There are multiple variants, including those detected in the U.S., U.K., South Africa, and Brazil. The variants have made the viruses more transmissible. Many of these variants seem to spread more easily and quickly. We’re still learning how effective the vaccines are against variants of the virus that causes COVID-19. Early data show the vaccines may work against some variants but could be less effective against others. (Source U.S. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention: New COVID-19 Variants). (Source: U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: When You’ve Been Fully Vaccinated).


Will there be additional COVID-19 vaccines available?

As of May 2021, large-scale (Phase 3) trials are in progress or being planned in the United States by AstraZeneca and Novavax. (Source: U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Different COVID-19 Vaccines).


After I get vaccinated, do I still need to wear a mask? What is the recommendation on travel after vaccination?

After you are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, you may be able to start doing some things that had been restricted during the pandemic. We’re still learning how vaccines will affect the spread of COVID-19, so some restrictions and guidance will remain in place until we know more. After you’ve been fully vaccinated, you should continue protecting yourself and others in many situations by wearing a mask that fits snugly against the sides of your face and doesn’t have gaps. 

People are considered fully vaccinated two weeks after they receive their second dose in a two dose series, like the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccines, or two weeks after they receive a single-dose vaccine, like the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

According to guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), If you’ve been fully vaccinated against COVID-19, you can gather indoors with others who are also fully vaccinated without wearing a mask. You can gather indoors with unvaccinated people from one other household (for example, visiting with relatives who all live together) without masks, unless any of those people has an increased risk for severe illness from COVID-19. You can participate in activities outdoors without wearing a mask, except in crowded settings. If you’ve been around someone who has COVID-19, you do not need to stay away from others or get tested unless you have symptoms. You can also travel domestically and internationally. (Source: U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: When You’ve Been Fully Vaccinated).


VACCINATION IN SPECIFIC POPULATIONS

Are there any groups of people who should not get a COVID-19 vaccine?

Three main groups were excluded from the initial vaccine studies: some children, those with immunosuppression, and pregnant or breastfeeding women. Individuals in these groups should consult with their health care provider. (U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Interim Clinical Considerations for Use of mRNA COVID-19 Vaccines Currently Authorized in the United States).


What is the recommendation for pregnant or breastfeeding women and the COVID-19 vaccine?

Pregnant women are currently eligible to receive the vaccine in D.C., Maryland, and Virginia. Pregnant or breastfeeding women should speak with their health care provider when considering whether to get a COVID-19 vaccine. While the clinical trials for the COVID-19 vaccines were not tested in pregnant or breastfeeding women, pregnant women are at higher risk of severe disease from COVID-19 and are part of the group recommended to get the COVID-19 vaccine if they choose. (Source: U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Vaccination Considerations for People Who are Pregnant or Breastfeeding). (Source: COVID-19 Vaccine in D.C.: coronavirus.dc.gov/vaccine). (Source: COVID-19 Vaccine in Maryland: covidlink.maryland.gov). (Source: COVID-19 Vaccine in Virginia: vdh.virginia.gov/covid-19-vaccine).

More information is available at the American Society for Obstetrics and Gynecology.


What is the recommendation for renal failure, dialysis, or transplant patients and the COVID-19 vaccine?

Those with chronic kidney disease or who have undergone an organ transplant are currently eligible to receive the vaccine in D.C., Maryland, and Virginia. Those with chronic kidney disease and on dialysis were included in the clinical trials for COVID-19 vaccines. Those on immunosuppressive medication were not included and should consult with their health care provider. The CDC has added chronic kidney disease to its list of medical conditions putting patients at higher risk for severe disease from COVID-19 infection. (Source: U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: People with Certain Medical Conditions). (Source: COVID-19 Vaccine in D.C.: coronavirus.dc.gov/vaccine). (Source: COVID-19 Vaccine in Maryland: covidlink.maryland.gov). (Source: COVID-19 Vaccine in Virginia: vdh.virginia.gov/covid-19-vaccine).


If a person is on chemotherapy, is there a certain time they should get the COVID-19 vaccine?

Those with cancer are currently eligible to receive the vaccine in D.C., Maryland, and Virginia. Those receiving chemotherapy were not included in the initial clinical trials and should consult with their health care provider to determine when to get the vaccine.
 
It is generally recommended that vaccines not be given to patients undergoing chemotherapy or radiation treatment. This is largely because vaccines need a healthy immune system response to work. Such a response may be suppressed by cancer treatment. (Source: American Cancer Society: COVID-19 Vaccines in People with Cancer). (Source: COVID-19 Vaccine in D.C.: coronavirus.dc.gov/vaccine). (Source: COVID-19 Vaccine in Maryland: covidlink.maryland.gov). (Source: COVID-19 Vaccine in Virginia: vdh.virginia.gov/covid-19-vaccine).


Are there any concerns for patients with filler injections getting the COVID-19 vaccine?

Yes, there have been reactions between those who have recently received certain types of filler injections and the vaccine. These rare reactions are temporary and respond to treatments such as oral corticosteroids and hyaluronidase, and often resolve without treatment. If you have concerns, please consult with your health care provider. (Source: American Society of Dermatologic Surgery: Guidance Regarding SARS-CoV-2 mRNA Side Effects in Dermal Filler Patients).


Should I get the COVID-19 vaccine if I have severe allergies?

Early data indicates that if you have a history of severe allergic reactions to vaccines or injectable medications, or ingredients in vaccines, you may be at increased risk of an allergic reaction to the COVID-19 vaccine. Please consult with your health care provider prior to vaccination.

The anaphylaxis reaction rate for the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is approximately 11.1 cases per million doses. The anaphylaxis reaction rate for the Moderna vaccine is approximately 2.5 cases per million doses. There is a remote chance for severe reaction to the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. The majority of anaphylaxis reactions have been in people with a history of anaphylaxis or serious allergy. (Source: U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Allergic Reactions Including Anaphylaxis After Receipt of the First Dose of Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine – United States, December 14–23, 2020)(Source: U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Allergic Reactions Including Anaphylaxis After Receipt of the First Dose of Moderna COVID-19 Vaccine — United States, December 21, 2020–January 10, 2021). (U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: COVID-19 Janssen Vaccine EUA Fact Sheet for Recipients).

The majority are also occurring within the 15-minute observation period after getting the vaccine. People who have had severe allergic reactions or who have had any type of immediate allergic reaction to a vaccine or injectable therapy should be monitored for at least 30 minutes after getting the vaccine.

There have been reports that some people have experienced non-severe allergic reactions within four hours after getting vaccinated (known as immediate allergic reactions), such as hives, swelling, and wheezing (respiratory distress). If you have had an immediate allergic reaction—even if it was not severe—to any ingredient in an mRNA COVID-19 vaccine, CDC recommends that you should not get either of the currently available mRNA COVID-19 vaccines but get another available vaccine, such as the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. If you had an immediate allergic reaction after getting the first dose of an mRNA COVID-19 vaccine, you should not get the second dose. However, your health care provider may recommend you receive a dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine instead. Please consult with your health care provider for additional care and advice. 

Low risk individuals include those with allergies not related to vaccines or injectable medications, such as seasonal, pet, or environmental allergies. (Source: U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: COVID-19 Vaccines and Allergic Reactions)(Source: U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Clinical Consideration for Use of COVID-19 Vaccines).


If I have heart issues, should I get the COVID-19 vaccine?

Those with heart conditions are currently eligible to receive the vaccine in D.C., Maryland, and Virginia. It is highly encouraged that individuals who are at high-risk for severe disease from COVID-19 receive the vaccine. Those with heart conditions were specifically included in the clinical trials for the vaccines. (Source: American Heart Association: Heart Disease and Stroke Medical Experts Urge Public to Get COVID-19 Vaccinations). (Source: COVID-19 Vaccine in D.C.: coronavirus.dc.gov/vaccine). (Source: COVID-19 Vaccine in Maryland: covidlink.maryland.gov). (Source: COVID-19 Vaccine in Virginia: vdh.virginia.gov/covid-19-vaccine).


Is there a minimum age for who can receive the COVID-19 vaccine right now?

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has authorized the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for individuals 16 years and older. (Source: U.S. Food & Drug Administration: Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine).

The FDA has authorized the Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines for individuals 18 years and older (Source: U.S. Food & Drug Administration: Moderna COVID-19 Vaccine).


If I had COVID-19, should I get vaccinated?

Yes, it is recommended that those who have already been sick with COVID-19 get vaccinated as it is unknown how long natural antibody protection will last. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) currently recommends waiting 90 days from infection if you were treated for COVID-19 symptoms with monoclonal antibodies or convalescent plasma. Talk to your doctor if you don’t know what treatments you received or if you have other questions about the vaccine. (Source: U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Frequently Asked Questions About COVID-19 Vaccination).


VACCINATIONS AT GW

Who is eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine at GW?

GW follows the District of Columbia COVID-19 Vaccination Plan. As of April 12, 2021 all D.C. residents 16 years and older are eligible to receive a COVID-19 vaccine. You can register at vaccinate.dc.gov. The GW Hospital and GW Medical Faculty Associates will also be reaching out to GW patients who live in D.C. via phone and email on a rolling basis. We have many valued patients and health care workers who live outside of the District. We encourage those who live outside D.C. to access COVID-19 vaccine information from the health department in the state, city, or county where they reside. More information is available at smhs.gwu.edu/covid-19-vaccine. (Source: DC Health: Vaccination Program Phases with Tiers).


Where is GW administering the COVID-19 vaccine at GW? 

All COVID-19 vaccination appointments for GW patients will take place at: The Walter E. Washington Convention Center, Hall B. 801 Vernon Pl, NW, Washington, DC 20001 (Entrance is located on the north side of L Street between 7th and 9th Street, NW).


How long does it take to get the COVID-19 vaccine at GW?

Please plan on 45 minutes for the entire process. This includes 15 minutes of monitoring time. If you have a history of severe allergies, you will be monitored for 30 minutes.


Is there a cost for receiving the COVID-19 vaccine at GW?

The vaccine will be offered at no cost to all individuals interested and eligible. However, insurance information will be requested. 


How will I schedule my second dose for the COVID-19 vaccine at GW?

GW will work with each individual to schedule their second dose.


How will you ensure the safety of administering the COVID-19 vaccine?

GW staff will be wearing PPE and practicing social distancing when administering the vaccine. In addition, all GW staff providing the vaccine will be educated and trained in advance. Those receiving the vaccine will be monitored for 15 minutes after receiving the vaccine. Those with a history of allergies will be monitored for 30 minutes. 


Which GW health care workers are currently eligible to get the COVID-19 vaccine at GW?

Beginning April 19, those GW health care workers who reside in D.C. are eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine at GW. GW health care workers who reside in Maryland and Virginia should register to be vaccinated in their home state.


Is the COVID vaccine required for GW health care workers?

GW will require students, faculty, and staff who are in person this fall to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 prior to being on campus. Other personnel are not required to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, but we highly encourage individuals to consider signing up to receive the vaccine. (Source: GW: Vaccine)


How can GW patients sign up to receive the COVID-19 vaccine?

The GW Hospital and GW Medical Faculty Associates will be reaching out to patients via phone and email on a rolling basis. Once contacted, GW patients will receive an invitation with a registration link. If you have not yet received an invitation, you should sign up at vaccinate.dc.gov.


Can GW patients who live in Maryland and Virginia get vaccinated at GW?

GW is required by DC Health to only vaccinate GW patients who reside in D.C. We encourage our patients who live outside D.C. to access COVID-19 vaccine information from the health department in the state, city, or county where they reside. Maryland residents can visit covidlink.maryland.gov. Virginia residents can visit vdh.virginia.gov/covid-19-vaccine. We encourage GW patients to take the first vaccine offered to you and get your second dose at the same site. The best vaccine to get is the one you can get the soonest.


How will I be notified if I am eligible to receive the vaccine as a GW patient?

GW Hospital and GW Medical Faculty Associates will be reaching out to eligible GW patients via email and phone on a rolling basis.