Vaccines 101 – FAQ

Yes. The COVID-19 vaccines were tested in clinical trials before receiving approval. Since December, millions of people, including many of our neighbors, have gotten vaccines with minor side effects. And the vaccines work: they are up to 95 percent effective in stopping mild and severe COVID-19 symptoms.

Yes. The FDA has currently authorized three COVID-19 vaccines for use in the U.S. The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine was authorized on December 11, 2020; the Moderna vaccine was authorized on December 18, 2020; and the Johnson & Johnson vaccine was authorized on February 27, 2021.

No. None of the approved vaccines — and none that are currently in development in the US — contain any live COVID-19 virus.

No, you can’t catch COVID-19 from the vaccine. The approved vaccines imitate COVID-19, so you may have side effects like soreness, discomfort, fever, and chills that typically last a day or so. When side effects do occur, they are mild and expected: they’re a sign that your body is building defenses against the virus. But not all people will experience side effects — either way the vaccine is working for you.

No. The vaccine teaches your body how to fight the COVID-19 virus, but it won’t change your DNA in any way.

In the U.S., there are three vaccines currently authorized for use: the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, the Moderna vaccine, and the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. All three have been tested rigorously, and they are safe and effective. More information about the vaccines, their ingredients, and how they work is available from the CDC.

While the current approved vaccines were designed to fight the initial virus strains, recent studies show that the vaccines still provide protection against new strains, though potentially to a lesser degree. Researchers are working to find answers, and booster shots may be recommended down the road. Mass vaccination is critically important to help slow the spread and prevent future COVID-19 variants. In fact, the public should continue planning to get the currently approved vaccines in accordance with CDC guidelines.

All of the currently approved vaccines, as well as the ones in development, help our bodies build immunity to the virus that causes COVID-19. Regardless of which vaccine you receive, experts agree that vaccines are safe and that getting any of the vaccines will protect you from serious illness or death—the most important thing as we continue down the path to our new normal.

Many headlines have noted that the three vaccines currently approved in the U.S. have different efficacy rates. However, it’s important to remember two key points:

  1. According to experts, comparing efficacy rates is problematic, as clinical trials for the approved vaccines happened in different places, at different times, across different populations. It is not an apples-to-apples comparison. In fact, many experts believe if you removed all of these variables involved in clinical trials (like the timing, number of participants, etc.), the efficacy rates are likely comparable.
  2. Efficacy rates measure each vaccines’ ability to prevent ALL COVID-19 infections, meaning both serious illnesses and mild cases that people recover from quickly. So, while the approved vaccines have different efficacy rates, all of them significantly reduce the risk of severe COVID-19 symptoms that can lead to hospitalization or death. None of the vaccines can completely eliminate COVID-19, but people who get sick after they get vaccinated are much more likely to experience mild symptoms — similar to a mild flu or the common cold — than severe, life-threatening reactions. And that’s what really matters. By getting vaccinated — with any of the approved vaccines — you can help our community take control of COVID-19 and turn it into a disease that we can live with.

So, when it’s your turn to get vaccinated, don’t wait. Get the first vaccine available to you.

For more information on the approved COVID-19 vaccines, visit the CDC’s website.

The vaccines currently available in the U.S. are highly effective in preventing COVID-19. Your chances of getting the virus are low after you get vaccinated, but it’s still possible according to the CDC, which means you could also still spread COVID-19 if infected. For that reason, it is critical you continue to wear a mask or face covering, follow social distancing guidelines, and wash your hands regularly.

According to the Georgia Department of Public Health, the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines require two doses and reach full effectiveness 7 to 14 days after the second dose. The Johnson & Johnson vaccine requires one dose and reaches full effectiveness 28 days after vaccination.

Regardless of whether you regularly get a flu shot, doctors and healthcare organizations are urging people to get COVID-19 vaccines to help protect themselves and others. COVID-19 has proven to be significantly more severe and deadly than the flu. Even if you’re young and at lower risk for severe COVID-19 symptoms, you can still spread the virus to older relatives, neighbors, and community members. Vaccinations are the safest way to introduce immunity to our community. Widespread vaccinations — combined with additional precautions like social distancing, masking, and regular hand washing — give us our best chance of ending COVID-19’s spread and creating a path back to normalcy.

As COVID-19 is still a relatively new phenomenon, scientists are continuing to explore how quickly new strains of the virus appear, how long immunity from the vaccine lasts, and how to continue making vaccines as effective as possible.

It’s possible that booster shots may be recommended down the road, or annual vaccines may be required — similar to getting a flu shot every year. But what matters the most right now is to get the COVID-19 vaccine as soon as possible so that we can slow the spread of COVID-19 in our community.

Yes. Thousands of people have already been vaccinated in Gwinnett County, and more are getting their vaccines every day. The Health Department, private providers, and retail pharmacies are currently offering appointments.

Vaccine demand is high at this time, but quantities are still limited as production and distribution continue to ramp up. We expect larger amounts of vaccines to be available in the months to come, and eventually everyone who wants a vaccine will have access to one. While you are waiting for your turn to be vaccinated, experts recommend that you continue wearing a mask or face covering, following social distancing guidelines and washing your hands regularly. Thank you for your patience and for continuing to do your part to keep our community safe.

No. You don’t have to be a resident of a particular county to be vaccinated in that county. But you do need to be a Georgia resident to get vaccinated in Georgia.

COVID-19 vaccines are safe, effective, and will eventually be available to everyone who wants one. Gwinnett County’s goal is to be able to provide a vaccine to all residents as soon as large enough quantities are available. When large quantities of the vaccines are available, Georgia Department of Public Health plans to have several thousand vaccination providers offering vaccines in doctors’ offices, pharmacies, hospitals, health centers, and county health departments.

According to the CDC, people with underlying medical conditions can get vaccinated if they haven’t had an immediate or severe allergic reaction to a COVID-19 vaccine or to any of the ingredients in the vaccine. Getting vaccinated is an important consideration for adults with certain underlying medical conditions because this means you’re at increased risk for severe illness from COVID-19.

Above all, please consult your medical provider if you have questions or concerns about whether the COVID-19 vaccine is right for you.

As of March 25, 2021, all Georgia residents over the age of 16 are eligible to get the COVID-19 vaccine. Gwinnett County’s supply of COVID-19 vaccines is growing every day, but getting vaccines to everyone who wants one will take time. As you make your plans to get vaccinated, remember what Moms always say: patience is a virtue.

As more vaccine becomes available, more people will be able to get vaccinated. Be sure to check back here and on the Georgia Department of Public Health website for the latest information about the vaccine rollout. Above all else, consult your medical provider if you have questions or concerns about whether the COVID-19 vaccine is right for you.

The COVID-19 vaccine is free, and you will not be billed in any way for it. If you have insurance, your insurance provider may be billed for some of the costs related to administration fees for giving the shot, but none of this will be billed back to you.

The most common side effects include short-term pain and swelling on the arm where you got the shot, fever, chills, tiredness, and headache. These side effects are normal, and they show that your body is building defenses against COVID-19. But don’t worry, even if you don’t have side effects, the vaccine is still working just as well.

Yes. At this time, doctors don’t know how long immunity lasts after recovery. Reinfection is rare, but it’s still possible. Given the serious individual and community health risks associated with COVID-19, you should get vaccinated even if you’ve already been infected.

According to the CDC, COVID-19 vaccines should be offered to women who are pregnant or breastfeeding and eligible for vaccination. However, research is ongoing, and pregnancy-specific data is not available yet. If you are pregnant or breastfeeding and have questions about the vaccine, you should consult with your health care provider.

According to the CDC, people who want to get pregnant in the future and are eligible for vaccination may receive the COVID-19 vaccine. However, research is ongoing, and pregnancy-specific data is not available yet. If you are considering getting pregnant and have questions about the vaccine, you should consult with your health care provider.

The currently approved Moderna and Pfizer vaccines require individuals to return for a second dose, which increases the vaccines’ effectiveness, a few weeks after receiving the first dose.

According to the CDC, you do not need to have the second dose at the exact interval recommended by the vaccine manufacturer. The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines may be administered up to 6 weeks (42 days) after the first vaccine dose. Data on the efficacy of second-dose vaccines administered more than 6 weeks after the first dose are limited. If a person receives their second dose more than 6 weeks after the first dose, there is no need to restart the series.

If you schedule your vaccination appointment through the Gwinnett, Newton, and Rockdale County Health Departments, you will be able to make your second vaccine appointment at the vaccination site when you check in for your first dose.

The Johnson & Johnson vaccine requires only one dose. According to the Georgia Department of Public Health, the Johnson & Johnson vaccine reaches full effectiveness 28 days after vaccination. More vaccines are nearing emergency approval by the FDA, some of which may only require one dose.

The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines require two doses spaced 3 to 4 weeks apart. According to the Georgia Department of Public Health, the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines reach full effectiveness 7 to 14 days after the second dose.

The Johnson & Johnson vaccine requires only one dose. According to the Georgia Department of Public Health, the Johnson & Johnson vaccine reaches full effectiveness 28 days after vaccination. More vaccines are nearing emergency approval by the FDA, some of which may only require one dose.

All of the currently authorized vaccines are safe and effective. However, the COVID-19 vaccines are not interchangeable — meaning you need to use the same vaccine maker for both doses.

According to the CDC, in exceptional situations in which the first-dose vaccine product is unknown or is no longer available, you may receive any available COVID-19 vaccine at a minimum of 28 days after your first dose. If two doses of different COVID-19 vaccine products are administered in these situations (or inadvertently), no additional doses of either product are recommended at this time.

Contact your health care provider for more information.

Research on the vaccines’ safety and efficacy for kids is ongoing, with additional trials expected to start in the coming months. However, the Pfizer vaccine has been approved for use in individuals 16 and older. The Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines have been approved for use in individuals 18 and older. Outside of these exceptions, kids are not currently eligible for vaccination. Until vaccines are available for children, adults must do their part in getting vaccinated so we can protect those who can’t get vaccinated yet.

While you wait for your turn to get vaccinated, you should continue wearing a mask or face covering, following social distancing guidelines, and washing your hands regularly. And even after receiving the vaccine, these efforts are still needed as we continue to vaccinate our community.

COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effective. They’re backed by decades of research, which helped scientists develop the vaccines in record time. The vaccines work by acting like COVID-19, but they don’t contain the COVID-19 virus. They teach our bodies how to defend against the virus, so we’re ready if we do get infected.

The vaccines have been tested again and again. More than 100,000 people participated in clinical trials for the three currently approved vaccines, including many of our Gwinnett neighbors. And millions more have gotten vaccinated since December.

While you may experience short periods of soreness, discomfort, fever, and chills after getting the vaccine, side effects are normal and show that your body is building protection against COVID-19.

A small number of people have experienced anaphylaxis, a severe allergic reaction, to the vaccine. This reaction is very rare, and it is readily treated with medicines available to vaccination providers. For this reason, you’ll be asked to stay 15 to 30 minutes after your vaccination so that you can be observed by medical professionals and receive treatment in the unlikely case that it is needed.

If you have had an anaphylactic reaction to a previous vaccine or other medications in the past, you should seek the vaccine through your medical provider rather than the Health Department.

If you have food allergies or are allergic to insect stings (i.e., you normally carry an EpiPen for these potential issues), you can still be vaccinated by the Health Department.

Learn more about COVID-19 vaccine safety and efficacy.