A safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine is a critical component of the U.S. strategy to reduce COVID-19-related illnesses, hospitalizations, and deaths.
Easy access to COVID-19 vaccines is equally important. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is working with public health departments, health care providers, and other partners to make sure people can easily get a COVID-19 vaccine and that cost is not a barrier. Within Illinois, the CDC recognizes the state and the city of Chicago as separate jurisdictions for the distribution of vaccine. Both Illinois and Chicago, however, are collaborating to ensure that vaccines are delivered and available in accordance with the CDC guidelines and recommendations of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP).
Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine
On August 23, 2021, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the first COVID-19 vaccine. The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, now marketed as Comirnaty, is for the prevention of COVID-19 in individuals 16 years of age and older. The vaccine continues to be available under the emergency use authorization (EUA), including for individuals 12 through 15 years of age and for administration of a third dose in certain immunocompromised individuals. More information about the approval can be found on the FDA website.
On May 12, 2021, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) accepted the recommendation of the independent Advisory Committee on Immunization Practice to expand use of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine to youth ages 12 through 15 years. The announcement comes following the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s expansion of the emergency use authorization for the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine on May 10, 2021. Previously, the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine was authorized for use in individuals ages 16 years and older. The Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine is administered as a series of two doses, three weeks apart, for all ages.
Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen COVID-19 Vaccine
On April 23, 2021, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and the Illinois Department of Public Health lifted the pause on the use of the Johnson & Johnson/ Janssen (J&J) COVID-19 Vaccine in the United States and Illinois. On April 13, 2021, after six cases of an extremely rare but severe type of blood clot associated with low platelet counts were reported in women who had received the J&J vaccine, the CDC and FDA paused use of the vaccine. This pause allowed the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices to conduct an extensive review of what they ultimately found to be 15 cases, as well as inform providers and clinicians about the potential adverse events and how they can be recognized and treated.
The pause was proof that the extensive safety monitoring system is working and was able to detect a very small number of adverse events. The FDA has concluded that the known and potential benefits of the J&J vaccine outweigh its known and potential risks.
People who have received the J&J COVID-19 Vaccine within the past three weeks who develop severe headache, abdominal pain, leg pain, or shortness of breath should seek medical care right away.
Q. When can I get a COVID-19 vaccine?
A. Anyone 12 years of age and older is now eligible and recommended to receive the vaccine. State-supported mass vaccination sites, local health departments, pharmacy partners – in short, every jurisdiction that receives Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine from the state’s vaccine allocation – are fully open to all 12 years of age and above. Pfizer-BioNTech is the only COVID-19 vaccine currently authorized for use in the U.S. for those 12 years of age and older.
Q. Will undocumented people be able to get the vaccine?
A. All populations in Illinois, including individuals who are undocumented, can receive the vaccine. No one will be turned away when it is their time to be vaccinated.
Q. Do the vaccines require more than one shot?
A. The Johnson & Johnson Janseen vaccine only requires a single dose. The Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines require two doses, given weeks apart, to get the most protection.
The first shot of either the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccine starts building protection. A second shot a few weeks later is needed to get the most protection the vaccine has to offer. The Pfizer-BioNTech doses should be given 3 weeks (21 days) apart. Moderna doses should be given 1 month (28 days) apart. You should get your second shot as close to the recommended 3-week or 1-month interval as possible. However, there is no maximum interval between the first and second doses for either vaccine. You should not get the second dose earlier than the recommended interval.
With the Johnson & Johnson Janssen vaccine, protection against moderate to severe disease starts about two weeks after being vaccinated.
Q: Which vaccine is the most effective?
A: The best COVID-19 vaccine is the first one that is available to you. Do not wait for a specific brand. Clinical trials have found the vaccines to be 100% effective in preventing hospitalizations and deaths.
Q. What happens if they run out of the vaccine before I get my second shot?
A. CDC is structuring shipments in such a way that 21 or 28 days after the first shipment, the same number of doses will be shipped, so providers will have enough vaccine for a second dose. The 21- or 28-day requirement between doses is a minimum requirement, not a maximum. If, for some reason, you are unable to receive the second dose at the recommended interval, you can receive the second dose at a later date.
Q. Besides health care workers, who will be able to administer the vaccine?
A. Dentists, pharmacists, and pharmacy technicians have had their scope of practice extended by the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation to allow them to administer the COVID-19 vaccine. IDPH has authorized Emergency Medical Technicians – Intermediate (EMT-I) and Advanced Emergency Medical Technicians to administer the COVID-19 and influenza vaccines after successful completion of an IDPH approved vaccine training program.
Q. Do I have to get a COVID-19 vaccine?
A. There is no federal or state mandate to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. The CDC recommends the vaccine to all Americans 16 and over.
Q. Can my employer require that I receive a COVID-19 vaccine before returning to work?
A. Decisions regarding immunization at private workplaces are up to the employer.
Q. Are schools requiring students to receive a COVID-19 vaccine, similar to mumps and measles? Will restrictions be placed on my child if we refuse to vaccinate?
A. There is no requirement for students to receive the COVID-19 vaccine at this time. Currently, a vaccine for children under the age of 12 is not available, and it may be some time before one is approved.
Q. What happens if I refuse to get vaccinated?
A. There are no legal repercussions (such as fines, sanctions or punishments) for refusing the vaccine. If you do not get vaccinated, you will not be protected against the virus that causes COVID-19 and will be more likely to be infected with the virus. Additionally, you will be at risk of transmitting this deadly virus to loved ones and other community members.
Q. Do I need a vaccine if I have already had COVID-19?
A. Yes, people who have already had COVID-19 should plan to take the COVID-19 vaccine, because the science is currently inconclusive as to whether you will be naturally protected from a second COVID-19 infection in the future. The CDC currently suggests that if you were infected with COVID-19 during the previous 90 days, it is likely that you still have immune protection and that you will be asked to wait to receive your vaccine to allow others to be vaccinated first.
Q. Do I have to get both the flu vaccine and the COVID-19 vaccine?
A. A seasonal flu vaccine will not protect you from COVID-19. Being infected with both the flu and COVID-19 at the same time could lead to a more severe illness, which is why it is more important now than ever to get the flu vaccine.
Q. Is a COVID-19 vaccine safe?
A. The U.S. vaccine safety system is a deliberate and multi-phase process to ensure all vaccines are as safe as possible. Safety is a top priority. Vaccine candidates conduct clinical trials with many thousands of study participants to generate scientific data and other information for the FDA to determine their safety and effectiveness.
If the FDA determines a vaccine meets its safety and effectiveness standards, it can make these vaccines available for use in the U.S. by approval or Emergency Use Authorization (EUA). After the FDA makes its determination, ACIP will review the available data in order to make vaccine recommendations to the CDC. ACIP will then recommend vaccine use. After a vaccine is authorized or approved for use, vaccine safety monitoring systems will watch for adverse events (possible side effects). CDC is working to expand safety surveillance through new systems and additional information sources, as well as enhancing existing safety monitoring systems.
Q: How was the COVID-19 vaccine studied?
A: Each authorized COVID-19 vaccine has been studied in large trials of more than over 30,000 volunteers and shown to be highly effective in preventing COVID-19 disease. The trials involved people of different ages, sex, race/ethnicity, weight, and medical conditions.
Pregnant women and people with weakened immune systems were excluded from the COVID-19 vaccine trials, and so the currently available studies do not provide direct information about vaccine safety and effectiveness in these groups of people. The CDC recommends that those who are pregnant consult with their doctor before taking the vaccine.
Q. Can the COVID-19 vaccine cause me to become infected or infect others?
A. No, you cannot become infected or infect others from receiving the COVID-19 vaccine, because the vaccine contains no live virus. Instead, the vaccine directs your body to produce a protein that teaches your body how to fight off the virus.
Q. How long will it take for COVID-19 vaccines to take effect?
A. The Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines are expected to provide some protection a couple of weeks after your first shot and reaches its greatest effectiveness after your second shot. It is very important to take the second shot within the recommended time period for maximum vaccine effectiveness. The Johnson & Johnson Janssen vaccine is effective 14 days after vaccination.
Q. What have the trials revealed?
A. Through their respective clinical trials, Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna have indicated their vaccines are approximately 95% effective. The Johnson & Johnson Janssen vaccine was found to be more than 74% effective (74.4%).
Information gathered through clinical trials becomes public in the course of the EUA submission. Once the EUA is submitted, these documents become accessible by the public through the FDA.
Q. Can I get a COVID-19 vaccine if I am pregnant?
A. Yes. COVID-19 vaccines should be administered to pregnant individuals who choose to be vaccinated. Pregnant individuals can receive a COVID-19 vaccine in any setting authorized to administer these vaccines, including any clinical setting and nonclinical community-based vaccination sites, such as schools, community centers, and other mass vaccination locations. If you have questions about getting vaccinated, talking with a health care provider may help you make an informed decision. While a conversation with a health care provider may be helpful, it is not required prior to vaccination.
Q. Can children get a COVID-19 vaccine?
A. Children 12 years of age and older are now recommended to get a COVID-19 vaccination. A vaccine for children under the age of 12 is not yet available. Clinical trials are underway for infants and children under the age of 12, but it may be some time before one is approved.
Q. Will youth with high-risk conditions be included in any of the phases?
A. Everyone 12 years of age and older is now recommended to get a COVID-19 vaccination. If you have questions about getting a COVID-19 vaccine, talk to your health care provider for advice. Clinical trials for children under 12 years of age are ongoing to determine if the existing vaccines are safe and effective for them.
Q. Can the COVID-19 vaccine make me sick with COVID-19?
A. No. The COVID-19 vaccines do not contain the live virus that causes COVID-19. This means that a COVID-19 vaccine cannot make you sick. The vaccine teaches our immune systems how to recognize and fight the virus that causes COVID-19. Sometimes this process can cause symptoms, such as fever. These symptoms are normal and are a sign that the body is building protection against the virus that causes COVID-19.
Q. After getting a flu shot, I always get the flu. Will this cause me to get COVID-19?
A. No, you cannot become infected, or infect others, from receiving the COVID-19 vaccine, because the vaccine contains no live virus. Instead, the vaccine directs your body to produce a protein that teaches your body how to fight off the virus. Some people develop flu-like symptoms, such as mild fever and muscle aches, after getting a flu vaccination. These symptoms are not the same as having influenza.
Q. I have allergies. Is this vaccine safe for me?
A. While serious allergic reactions were not seen in vaccine clinical trials of thousands of patients, rare allergic reactions to vaccines are possible. If you have a history of serious allergic reactions, you should discuss your situation with your healthcare provider. The COVID-19 vaccine does not contain any animal products such as eggs.
Q. What are the side effects of this vaccine?
A. Some people may experience side effects, which are a part of the normal immune response to a vaccine. The majority of the side effects, while not seen in every individual, are signs that your body is recognizing the vaccine and mounting an immune response. Based on prior studies, side effects may include pain, redness and swelling at the site of the injection., fatigue, headache, muscle pain, chills, joint pain, fever, nausea, malaise, and swollen lymph nodes. These symptoms may occur within 2 days after the shot and last 1 to 2 days. Side effects may be more frequent after the 2nd shot (booster) and less frequent among older adults.
Long-term side effects are unknown, although most vaccines do not have long-term side effects. Vaccine studies are ongoing and will continue to monitor and watch for adverse events.
Q. It took four years to develop the mumps vaccine, how can the COVID-19 vaccine be safe and thoroughly tested so quickly?
A. Many things helped this vaccine get developed so rapidly. Significant resources were invested to fund the basic research and clinical trials, accelerating timelines greatly. Joining existing trial sites instead of developing new sites was a time saver. The virus has a good vaccination target and relatively low mutation rate. Additionally, the amount of infection in the communities allowed scientists to quickly compare vaccinated to unvaccinated populations and conclusively shows the vaccine worked. Last, but not least, are the huge number of brave volunteers willing to try the “novel” vaccines during the clinical trials.
Q. How long will the vaccine protect me from COVID-19? Will this be an annual vaccination, like the flu?
A. We are still learning about length of immunity. To determine how long protection lasts, follow-up studies are required to detect levels of both types of immune responses – antibody and T cell – as well as any repeated exposure risks. As more information becomes available, more information will be shared on the length of immunity.
Q. Can I get COVID-19 after the first dose of the vaccine?
A. Although the first dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccine offers some immunity, you will still be considered susceptible to COVID-19. The first dose of the vaccine will provide some protection, but the recommendation is to receive two doses to be protected as intended. Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna have indicated that after the two doses their vaccines are approximately 95% effective.
The Johnson & Johnson Janssen vaccine only requires a single dose and is more than 74% effective after 14 days.
Q. Is this vaccine preservative free?
A. Yes. The vaccines currently offered are preservative free.
Q. Will a COVID-19 vaccination protect me from getting sick with COVID-19?
A. Yes. COVID-19 vaccination works by teaching your immune system how to recognize and fight the virus that causes COVID-19, and this protects you from getting sick with COVID-19.
The first two vaccines approved for use in the U.S. – one by Pfizer-BioNTech, the other by Moderna – are known as mRNA vaccines and contain material from the COVID-19 virus that gives our cells instructions to make a harmless protein that is unique to the virus. After our cells make copies of the protein, they destroy the genetic material from the vaccine. Our bodies recognize that the protein should not be there and build T-lymphocytes and B-lymphocytes that will remember how to fight the COVID-19 virus if we are infected in the future.
The Johnson & Johnson Janssen vaccine employs a common cold virus genetically engineered to infect cells and deliver genetic instructions to stimulate an overwhelming immune response. The vaccine uses the cold virus (called adenovirus type 26) to deliver a piece of genetic material (DNA) to make the distinctive “spike” protein found on the surface of the COVID-19 virus. The altered cold virus enters cells and follows the genetic instructions to replicate the coronavirus spike. The body’s immune system can then use these replicas to recognize and to react defensively, triggering an immune response against the actual COVID-19 virus.
Q. How many people need to get vaccinated to have herd immunity to COVID-19?
A. The percentage of people who need to have protection in order to achieve herd immunity varies by disease. Scientists estimate that to control COVID-19 and reach herd immunity, about 7 or 8 of every 10 people (75%-80%) will need to be immune.
Q: Can I get more than one vaccine?
A: No. Current CDC guidance states that the Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson Janseen vaccines are not interchangeable. You should not get more than one type of coronavirus vaccine, and you should not mix the two-dose vaccines.
Q: Is it possible to compare the effectiveness of the three COVID-19 vaccines?
A: No. The only way to accurately compare the effectiveness of vaccines is by direct comparison in head-to-head clinical trials, which did not occur for these vaccines. Furthermore, the clinical trials for these vaccines occurred in different geographic regions and at different points in time with varying incidence of COVID-19.
Q: What can you do once you are fully vaccinated?
A: If you have been fully vaccinated and two weeks have passed since either your second dose of Pfizer or Moderna vaccines or the single dose of the Johnson & Johnson Janssen vaccine, you can:
- Gather indoors with fully vaccinated people without wearing a mask or staying 6 feet apart.
- Gather indoors inside a home or private setting without a mask or staying 6 feet apart with one household of unvaccinated people who are not at risk for severe illness from COVID-19 (for example, visiting with relatives who all live together).
- Travel in the United States and you do not need to get tested before or after travel or self-quarantine after travel.
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.
- However, 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.
If traveling internationally, you need to pay close attention to the situation at your international destination.
- You do NOT need to get tested before leaving the United States unless your destination requires it.
- You still need to show a negative test result or documentation of recovery from COVID-19 before boarding a flight to the United States.
- You should still get tested 3-5 days after international travel.
- You do NOT need to self-quarantine after arriving in the United States.
Q: Once fully vaccinated, what should I keep doing to protect myself and others?
- A: You should still take steps to protect yourself and others in many situations, like wearing a mask, staying at least 6 feet apart from others, and avoiding crowds and poorly ventilated spaces. Take these precautions whenever you are:
- In public
- Gathering with unvaccinated people from more than one other household.
- Visiting with an unvaccinated person who is at increased risk of severe illness or death from COVID-19 or who lives with a person at increased risk.
- You should still avoid medium or large-sized gatherings.
- If you travel, you should still take steps to protect yourself and others. You will still be required to wear a mask on planes, buses, trains, and other forms of public transportation traveling into, within, or out of the United States, and in U.S. transportation hubs such as airports and stations. Fully vaccinated international travelers arriving in the United States are still required to get tested within 3 days of their flight (or show documentation of recovery from COVID-19 in the past 3 months) and should still get tested 3-5 days after their trip.
- You should still watch out for symptoms of COVID-19, especially if you’ve been around someone who is sick. If you have symptoms of COVID-19, you should get tested and stay home and away from others.
- You will still need to follow guidance at your workplace.
Q: What about vaccines received outside the U.S.?
A: If you have received all recommended doses of a COVID-19 vaccine listed for emergency use by the World Health Organization (WHO), you do not need additional doses of an FDA-authorized COVID-19 vaccine (Johnson & Johnson/Janssen, Moderna, Pfizer-BioNTech). If you have not received all the recommended doses of a WHO-approved vaccine, you should complete an FDA-authorized vaccine series.
Q: What if the vaccine received outside the U.S. was not authorized by WHO or approved by FDA?
A: You should complete an FDA-authorized COVID-19 vaccine series (Johnson & Johnson/Janssen, Moderna, Pfizer-BioNTech). You should wait for at least 28 days after your last dose of the non-authorized vaccine before receiving an FDA-authorized vaccine.
Q. Who is paying for the COVID-19 vaccines?
A. The federal government is providing the vaccine free of charge to all people living in the United States.
Q. Can the State purchase more vaccine?
A. No. The federal government oversees the allocation of vaccine to states.
Q. How much will this vaccine cost me? Is it covered by my insurance?
A. There is no cost for the vaccine. However, vaccination providers can charge an administration fee for giving the shot that is reimbursed by the patient’s public or private insurance company or, for uninsured patients, by the Health Resources and Services Administration at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. No one can be denied a vaccine if they are unable to pay a vaccine administration fee.
Q. Will the administrative fees be passed on to the patient in the form of a co-pay or deductible?
Q. Will the manufacturing workers who were deemed essential also be in the first round?
A. Individuals who have been disproportionately affected by COVID-19 and frontline workers with higher risk of exposure because of their inability to perform work duties remotely and proximity to other co-workers or members of the public are included in Phase 1b.