Vaccine Basics

cov-whygetvaccine.jpgGetting vaccinated is one of many steps you can take to protect yourself and others from COVID-19. Protection from COVID-19 is critically important because for some people, it can cause severe illness or death.

Stopping a pandemic requires using all the tools available. Vaccines work with your immune system so your body will be ready to fight the virus if you are exposed. Other steps, like masks and social distancing, help reduce your chance of being exposed to the virus or spreading it to others. Together, COVID-19 vaccination and following public health recommendations to protect yourself and others will offer the best protection from COVID-19.

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Vaccines Status

Three vaccines have been authorized for emergency use or are approved by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA).

Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine: On August 23, 2021, the FDA approved the first COVID-19 vaccine. The vaccine has been known as the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine, and will now be marketed as Comirnaty, for the prevention of COVID-19 disease in individuals 16 years of age and older.

This is a two-dose vaccine, given 21 days apart. Clinical trial data show the vaccine is 95 percent effective at preventing COVID-19 infection starting seven days after the second dose. Individuals will not be considered fully protected until one to two weeks after they receive the second dose. The clinical trials revealed no major unanticipated adverse events. This vaccine arrived in Alabama on December 14.

The vaccine also continues to be available under emergency use authorization (EUA), including for people 12 through 15, for the administration of a third dose in certain immunocompromised people, and for a single booster dose in certain people.

Moderna COVID-19 Vaccine: This vaccine is authorized for emergency use in individuals aged 18 years and older. This is a two-dose vaccine, given 28 days apart. A third dose is recommended in certain immunocompromised people. Clinical trial data shows the vaccine is about 94 percent effective after two doses. No serious safety concerns were found. This vaccine arrived in Alabama on December 21.

Johnson & Johnson – Janssen COVID-19 Vaccine: This vaccine is authorized for emergency use in individuals age 18 years and older. This is a single dose (one shot) vaccine. You are not considered fully protected until one to two weeks after you get the vaccine. The clinical trials showed no major unanticipated adverse events. This vaccine arrived in Alabama the week of March 1.

Large-scale (Phase 3) clinical trials are in progress or being planned for COVID-19 vaccines in the United States. To learn more about U.S. COVID-19 vaccine clinical trials, including vaccines in earlier stages of development, by visiting clinicaltrials.gov.

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Third Doses and Booster Doses

People with moderately to severely compromised immune systems should receive an additional dose of mRNA COVID-19 vaccine after the initial 2 doses.

People aged 65 years and older, residents aged 18 years and older in long-term care settings, and people aged 50–64 years with underlying medical conditions should receive a booster shot of Pfizer-BioNTech’s COVID-19 Vaccine at least 6 months after completing their Pfizer-BioNTech primary series. Other groups may receive a booster shot based on their individual risk and benefit.

People seeking booster doses need to determine locations where Pfizer vaccine is available. County health departments predominantly provide Moderna vaccine at their clinics. To find a COVID-19 vaccine clinic near you, text your zip code to 438829 or visit vaccines.gov.

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Why Should You Get Vaccinated?

  • It's safe, simple, and free of charge.
  • It could keep you from getting COVID-19. If you still get COVID-19, it could keep you from becoming seriously ill.
  • It will help you do your part to slow the spread of COVID-19 and protect the health of your family, your friends and your community.
  • It's an mRNA vaccine. These types of vaccines have been studied for more than two decades to evaluate their safety and effectiveness.
  • It's the first step to returning to normal.

Why Should You Get Vaccinated? Download Posters:

Download The Facts About COVID-19 Vaccines and FAQs and Key Messages about the COVID-19 Vaccine for Communities.

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Before and After Vaccination

We’re still learning how vaccines will affect the spread of COVID-19. If it has been less than 2 weeks since your shot, or if you still need to get your second dose, you are NOT fully protected. Keep taking all prevention steps, such as washing your hands, wearing a mask, staying six feet apart, and limiting gatherings, until you are fully vaccinated. Based on what we know about COVID-19 vaccines, people who have been fully vaccinated can resume activities they did before the pandemic.

Learn more from When You've Been Fully Vaccinated from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Visit Prevention and Treatment for more information.

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Vaccine Safety

The U.S. vaccine safety system ensures that all vaccines are as safe as possible. Safety is a top priority while federal partners work to make COVID-19 vaccines available.

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How the COVID-19 Vaccine Works

To understand how COVID-19 vaccines work, it helps to first look at how our bodies fight infection. When germs, such as viruses, invade the body, they attack and multiply. This invasion, called an infection, is what causes illness. The immune system uses several tools to fight infection. The first time the body encounters a germ, it can take several days to make and use all the germ-fighting tools needed to get over the infection. After the infection, the immune system remembers what it learned about how to protect the body against that disease. Vaccines help develop immunity by imitating an infection. Vaccines greatly reduce the risk of infection by working with the body’s natural defenses to safely develop immunity to disease.

COVID-19 vaccines will help our bodies develop immunity to the virus that causes COVID-19 without us having to get the illness. Different types of vaccines work in different ways to teach the immune system how to recognize a germ without getting sick and be ready to quickly attack the germ if we are exposed to the germ. It takes about two weeks after completing a vaccine series before your body makes an immune response to protect against infection and illness.

Most COVID-19 vaccines will require two doses spaced 21 or 28 days apart. People will need both doses to be protected. It is possible that a person could be infected with the virus that causes COVID-19 just before or just after vaccination and then get sick because the vaccine did not have enough time to provide protection or because someone did not get both recommended vaccine doses.

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Side Effects

Most people do not have serious problems after being vaccinated. Side effects may feel like flu and even affect your ability to do daily activities, but they should go away in a few days. Often times, people will have symptoms like mild fever, tiredness, and body aches after getting a vaccine. These symptoms are normal and signal your body’s immune response to the vaccine to help you prevent future infections. For more information, visit What to Expect After Getting a COVID-19 Vaccine.

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Page last updated: September 30, 2021