COVID-19 Vaccine Frequently Asked Questions | Boston Medical Center
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COVID-19 Vaccine Frequently Asked Questions

We now have a new way to help stop the spread of COVID-19 -- vaccines.

Vaccination will help protect you and those around you from COVID-19.

By being vaccinated, wearing a mask, and staying at least 6 ft. away from others, we can help end this pandemic.

Vaccination will help protect you

As COVID infections go up in our communities, your risk of getting COVID-19 goes up too, and you can get seriously sick. But the COVID-19 vaccine prevents infections in about 95 percent of people. And it doesn't just protect you - by getting vaccinated, you'll also help keep your family and your community safe from COVID-19.

BMC has now begun vaccinating patients who are eligible under MA state criteria. The vaccine is also available at other health care organizations and pharmacies as part of the nation-wide vaccination effort. Your overall health and your job will help determine which phase you’ll get the vaccine in. We expect that healthy adults will be able to get vaccines later in 2021.

We will continue to update this page as we learn more about COVID-19 vaccines.

Let’s fight COVID-19 together.

Frequently Asked Questions

Learn about how the COVID-19 vaccines work and when they might be available to you.

What is a vaccine?

A vaccine is a substance that can help protect you against specific diseases. Vaccines cause your immune system to make antibodies, which fight viruses and bacteria. If you get exposed to a disease you’ve been vaccinated against, the antibodies will fight the disease-causing bacteria or viruses before they make you sick. For more information on vaccines, visit the Centers for Disease Control.

How do COVID-19 vaccines work?

The first COVID-19 vaccines that will be available are mRNA vaccines. They work by telling our bodies to make a protein that then produces antibodies. These antibodies help protect you from the virus that causes COVID-19.

When can I get the COVID-19 vaccine?

The goal is for everyone who wants it to eventually get the COVID-19 vaccine. But it will take time to make enough vaccines for everyone. Because of this, the vaccine will be given in phases. When you get the vaccine will be based on things like your job, your age, and your health.

On December 9, Massachusetts release its prioritization guidelines for the vaccine, and has updated the guidelines since then. You can find these guidelines on the Massachusetts state COVID-19 vaccine site.

Vaccinations of people in Phase 1 began in mid-December. Phase 2 began on February 1. BMC patients who are eligible are now getting messages from their doctor's office telling them they can get a vaccine. This may be a text message, email, or phone call. You may also be eligible to get the vaccine at a state vaccination site; you can find more details here.

If you are a healthy adult under 65 years old without a medical condition or high-risk job, we expect that you’ll be able to get a vaccine later in 2021. The timeline depends on factors such as:

  • How many vaccines are approved.
  • How many vaccines each company is able to make.
  • How many people get vaccinated in earlier groups.

Is the vaccine free?

Yes. The federal government has committed to providing the vaccine at no cost to all individuals who want the vaccine. In Massachusetts, insurance companies and providers have agreed to provide the vaccine without out-of-pocket fees or co-payments. You do not need to have health insurance in order to get the vaccine.

Is the vaccine mandatory?

BMC currently has no plans to make the vaccine mandatory for its patients or employees.

Other employers, as well as Massachusetts, could eventually make getting the vaccine required for certain activities, such as going back to work or going to public school – much like other vaccines are. However, we don’t know of any current plans to make COVID-19 vaccines mandatory, and the Biden administration has said that they do not plan to make the vaccine mandatory throughout the U.S.

Is BMC giving both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines? Can I choose which I get?

We anticipate that BMC will continue to receive supply of both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines.

Some important things to keep in mind about the two vaccines:

  • The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are clinically equivalent. Click here for more information comparing the two.
  • You will not be able to choose which you receive; which one you get will depend on our supply of each at the time.
  • Your second dose must be the same type of vaccine you got in the first dose. You cannot get a Pfizer vaccine for the first dose and Moderna for the second or vice versa.

How are COVID vaccines given?

The vaccine will be given as a shot in the upper arm. The first vaccines that will be available require two doses.

For the Pfizer vaccine, the second shot will be three weeks after the first. For the Moderna vaccine, it will be four weeks later.

It’s important that you get both shots. If you don’t, you won’t be as well-protected from COVID-19 as you could be.

Do you need to be a U.S. citizen to get the COVID-19 vaccine?

Anyone who lives in Massachusetts, regardless of immigration status, can receive a COVID-19 vaccination at a site in the state. You do not need to provide an ID or Social Security number to get the COVID-19 vaccine. Getting the COVID-19 vaccine will not have any negative impact on your chances of getting a green card.

Where can I find information from the FDA?

A fact sheet from the FDA can be found here, and is available in 20 additional languages on the FDA website.

How well does the vaccine work?

Learn about how successful the COVID-19 vaccine is at preventing COVID-19.

Does the vaccine keep me from getting COVID-19?

COVID-19 vaccines are very effective (about 95 percent) in preventing COVID-19. While they helped prevent COVID-19 generally, they were particularly good at preventing severe cases of the disease.

It’s important that you get both shots. If you don’t, you won’t be as well-protected from COVID-19 as you could be.

However, it’s important to keep wearing a mask and distancing because:

  • Not everyone will get the vaccine at once. Following public health guidelines will help protect anyone who hasn’t gotten the vaccine yet.
  • Although it’s not likely, it’s still possible to get COVID-19 after getting the vaccine, as no vaccine is 100 percent effective.
  • We’re not sure yet how long the vaccine will protect you from getting COVID-19.

How long does protection from COVID vaccines last?

We don’t know how long protection will last. The studies that are going on now will help to answer that question. You may have to get vaccinated again in the future.

Is the vaccine safe?

The COVID-19 has been through strict safety trials. Learn more about what this means.

Are COVID vaccines safe?

Yes. COVID-19 vaccines have gone through the same trials as other approved vaccines. The COVID-19 vaccines have met the high safety standards these trials set.

The clinical trial process for COVID-19 vaccines was much quicker than for other vaccines, but it was done just as carefully. More than 70,000 people took the different COVID-19 vaccines as part of clinical trials. In addition, the clinical trials included 10 percent Black and 13 percent Hispanic/Latinx participants, which means vaccine safety was tested within a diverse group. There were no major safety concerns in any of the trials.

The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines were approved under emergency authorization because of how serious the pandemic is. It's likely that other vaccines will be approved this way. But the safety standards for emergency authorization are close to the same as the ones vaccines have to meet for regular authorization. The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are clinically equivalent.

Expert groups will also keep looking at the COVID-19 vaccine’s safety after people start to take it.

What are the side effects of COVID-19 vaccines?

Some people in the clinical trials did report side effects. However, these have generally been mild, and are a sign the immune system is working. Reported side effects include headaches, fatigue, chills, and soreness at the injection site. A small number of participants had a fever.

For some people, these side effects were worse after the second dose.

Side effects from a vaccine usually go away on their own within a few days. You can take an over-the-counter medicine such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen to manage side effects after the vaccine. However, it is recommended that you avoid taking these medications right before getting your vaccine.

If your side effects last more than 48 hours, speak to your doctor.

Have there been any serious adverse events after these vaccines?

There were no serious safety concerns noted in the studies of these vaccines.

Cases of Bell's Palsy were reported in participants of the mRNA COVID-19 vaccine clinical trials but occurred at a rate lower than is seen in the general population and developed several weeks after vaccination. There is no evidence that these cases of Bell's Palsy were caused by vaccination.

A small number of severe allergic reactions have been reported after vaccination with both Pfizer and Moderna COVID vaccines and are being investigated. All reactions responded to treatment, and every vaccine site will monitor people for signs of an allergic reaction after vaccination.

Can I get COVID-19 from the vaccine?

No, you cannot get COVID-19 from the vaccine. The vaccine doesn’t actually contain the virus that causes COVID-19.

Can I spread COVID from the vaccine?

No. The current vaccines do not contain the virus that causes COVID-19, which means the vaccine itself won’t cause you to spread COVID-19.

Can I still spread COVID-19 after I get the vaccine, even if I don’t get sick?

While we know the COVID-19 vaccines can prevent severe COVID-19 infections, we do not yet know how effective the vaccines are in preventing asymptomatic infection, which is when you are infected with COVID-19 but don’t have any symptoms. It may be possible to still spread COVID-19 after getting a vaccine, so it is still important to wear masks and keep distances between people.

As people start to get the vaccines, researchers will be looking at how well they prevent asymptomatic infection.

Will the vaccine stay in my body or enter my DNA?

No. The cells that use the mRNA vaccine get rid of the mRNA after they finish using it. The mRNA never gets into the part of the cell where DNA is located.

Does the vaccine affect fertility?

There is no evidence that the COVID-19 vaccine affects fertility. In the safety data from the Pfizer trial, the same proportion of people got pregnant in the vaccine group as the placebo group. Based on this, the vaccine is recommended even if you are planning to get pregnant soon.

Should I get the vaccine?

COVID-19 vaccines were tested in diverse clinical trials. Read more about what that means for specific groups.

Do the COVID-19 vaccines work in Black and Latinx individuals?

The U.S. clinical trials included 10 percent Black and 13 percent Hispanic/Latinx participants.

Data from the Pfizer studies showed that the vaccine has similar success rates in white, Black, and Latinx people.

Should I get the vaccine if I had COVID-19 already?

Yes. Experts recommend getting the vaccine even if you already had COVID-19, because we don't know how long having COVID-19 protects you from getting it again. As long as you're not currently in isolation with COVID-19 and no longer have symptoms, you can get the vaccine.

Can pregnant or breastfeeding people get the vaccine?

Although there are currently no data specifically on COVID-19 vaccine safety in pregnant and breastfeeding people, there is very low concern for safety issues, based on experience with other vaccines and the science of the COVID-19 vaccines.

Therefore, based on guidance by the FDA and the CDC, people who are pregnant or breastfeeding may choose to have the COVID-19 vaccine at BMC.

If you are pregnant or breastfeeding, please talk to your doctor about potential risks and benefits. This tool may also help you understand the potential risks and benefits. We have seen that pregnant people are at increased risk for severe COVID, which means that the benefits may outweigh the risks for many.

As the vaccine is given to more people, researchers are looking at the benefits and potential risks for pregnant and breastfeeding people.

Should I get the vaccine if I have allergies?

The FDA recommends that people who have severe allergies to any ingredient in the Pfizer vaccine do not get this vaccine. In addition, they recommend that you should not get the second dose if you have a severe allergic reaction to the first dose. Everyone who gets the vaccine will be watched for 15 minutes after the injection to make sure they do not have any signs of an allergic reaction. People who have severe allergies to other vaccines or injectable medications will be watched for 30 minutes.

The vaccine does not contain any food products - including eggs - or metals.

Once you are able to get the vaccine, talk to your allergist if you have concerns.

Should I get the vaccine if I have sickle cell disease?

The Sickle Cell Disease Association of America recommends that people with sickle cell disease receive COVID-19 vaccination at this time.

People with sickle cell disease who get COVID-19 may have increased rates of disease complications, hospitalization, intensive care unit admission, and death. Given the high efficacy and safety reported in the vaccine trials, we believe that the benefit of receiving a COVID-19 vaccine greatly outweighs the risk.

My health condition isn’t addressed here. How do I know if the vaccine is safe for me?

People with certain health conditions, including diabetes, heart disease, obesity, were included in the vaccine studies. Therefore, we have evidence the vaccine is safe for people with these conditions. However, people who are immunosuppressed were not part of the trials.

When the FDA approves vaccines, they'll also give recommendations about who should or shouldn't get each vaccine. If you have concerns about whether or not you should get a COVID-19 vaccine when you're able to, talk to your doctor.

Do the vaccines work in older adults?

The Pfizer vaccine worked as well in older adults as it did in younger adults. In this trial, about 45 percent of participants were ages 56-85.

Can the vaccines be given to children?

The FDA approved the Pfizer vaccine for anyone over 16 years of age and the Moderna vaccine for anyone over 18 years of age. When they approve other vaccines, they'll give a recommended minimum age for each.

A small number of children as young as 12 years of age were included in the vaccine studies. There were no safety concerns noted for this group. However, COVID-19 vaccines haven’t been studied in younger children. These studies are now being planned.