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You Asked: Do COVID-19 Vaccines Have Side Effects?

Health care workers received the first doses of a COVID-19 vaccine on Monday, Dec. 14.

States will begin receiving the first doses of COVID-19 vaccines this week, and many anticipate receiving more at least weekly. Every state has made their own vaccination plans, so check with your health department for specific information.  Meanwhile, here are answers to some of your general questions about the vaccines.

Will I have to pay for the vaccine?

No. 

Vaccine providers will be able to bill insurance for a fee to administer the vaccine, but will not be able to charge you. They can seek reimbursement for uninsured patients from the Health Resources and Services Administration’s Provider Relief Fund.

Can I get or spread COVID-19 from the vaccine?

No. 

There are several different types of vaccines. Rotavirus and MMR vaccines use a live but weakened version of the virus to teach your body to develop long-term immunity to a disease. Flu and rabies shots use an inactive version of the virus, but that’s why you don’t develop long-term immunity from those viruses. 

The COVID-19 vaccine doses developed by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna use a new type of vaccine, an mRNA vaccine. This type of vaccine has been in development for about three decades, but is only now being used for COVID-19. According to the CDC, mRNA vaccines teach your cells how to make a protein – or even just a piece of a protein – that triggers an immune response inside our bodies. That immune response, which produces antibodies, is what protects you from getting infected if the real virus enters our bodies.

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That being said, the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines require two doses to be effective – more similar to many childhood vaccinations than getting a flu shot. So, once you do receive a vaccination, you may have to receive a follow-up.

Do I still have to wear a mask once I have the vaccine?

Yes. 

According to NPR’s Shots, studies of the new vaccines only measured whether vaccinated people developed symptoms, not whether they got infected. It’s possible that they got mild infections — not enough to make them ill, but enough to pass the virus on to others. 

The CDC is calling for those who are immunized to continue wearing masks and practicing safe physical distancing until more is learned.

What are the side effects of the vaccine?

WITF, a station in Pennsylvania, asked that question of Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health’s Dr. William Moss.

He said at this point, we only know the short-term side effects – which appear in about 5-15 percent of participants.

Those include inflammation, soreness at the injection site, a low-grade fever, headaches, muscle aches and fatigue. These can last from 12 to 36 hours after vaccination. 

How effective are the vaccines?

Only the Pfizer-BioNTech has been given emergency use authorization by the Food and Drug Administration. According to the FDA’s authorization letter, it is 95 percent effective seven days after the second dose. According to Moderna’s data, it is 94.1 percent effective. 

Contact Lauren at lchapman@wfyi.org or follow her on Twitter at @laurenechapman_.

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Side Effects Public Media

Side Effects is a health news service exploring the impacts of place, policy and economics on Americans' health.

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