Home/ Blog/ Healthy Living/

What To Know About COVID-19 Vaccines

Jul 30, 2021
By Spencer Blackman
man-with-bandaid-on-arm.jpg

Updated August 16, 2021.

At this time, there is an unprecedented effort by federal, state and county agencies to distribute and administer COVID-19 vaccines to as many people as possible, to prevent the spread of COVID-19. At One Medical, we are committed to keeping our members informed every step of the way.

To stay up to date with our vaccination efforts in your area, please check here for the latest information

Here are our answers to some of your most commonly asked questions:

How does the COVID-19 vaccine work?

The Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines, approved in December, use messenger RNA (mRNA) which delivers a small genetic “message” that causes your own cells to make a protein that resembles the spike on the outer shell of the tiny COVID-19 virus. Your immune system then recognizes this protein as foreign, and produces specific antibodies and specialized immune cells (T-lymphocytes and B-lymphocytes) that quickly spring into action if the virus itself shows up in the future.

The Johnson & Johnson vaccine does the same thing, but instead uses a harmless cold virus to deliver the information that the immune system uses to create protection. Unlike the mRNA vaccines, the J&J vaccine does not need special freezers. Instead, it can be stored in a normal fridge, allowing for much easier access to the vaccine across a variety of locations.

What are the benefits of the COVID-19 vaccine?

Both the Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna vaccines have been shown to be over 90% effective in preventing illness from COVID-19. How long this protection lasts is currently unknown. The J&J vaccine is slightly less effective in preventing illness; however, what is more impressive is that it is virtually 100% protective against severe disease leading to hospitalization or death.

Once fully vaccinated (which means 2 weeks have passed after you received your final dose for Pfizer/Moderna and 4 weeks have passed for J&J) you do not need to quarantine if you are exposed to someone with COVID-19, but you should be tested 3-5 days after the exposure and monitor for symptoms.

How are the vaccines administered?

The vaccines are administered the same way as the flu shot, injected into the muscle of the upper arm. Both the Pfizer/BioNtech and Moderna vaccines require two doses for a full immune response. For Pfizer/BioNTech, the second dose is 21 days after the first, with a full immune response 14 days after the second dose. For Moderna, the second dose is 28 days after the first with a full immune response 10 days post second dose. Johnson & Johnson requires only one dose, with a full immune response 28 days after.

What are the common side effects?

Common side effects may include pain around the area of the injection, feeling tired, headache, muscle aches, and less commonly, fever. So far, severe side effects have been reported to be very rare with these current COVID-19 vaccines. As with all vaccines, there have been rare reports of serious allergic reactions to the vaccine. If you have ever had a severe allergic reaction or anaphylaxis to any ingredient in either of the COVID-19 vaccines, it is not considered safe to get that specific vaccine. If you have a history of severe allergic reactions, please speak to your healthcare provider for guidance before being vaccinated.

The FDA in April, paused J&J vaccination in the US because of 6 cases of rare brain blood clots associated with low platelets in females <50 years old. The experiment panel met again a week later and decided the risk was extremely low and it was safe to continue the J&J vaccine campaign.

How much does the vaccine cost?

The federal government has said it will cover the cost of all vaccines, and intends to vaccinate everyone who requests it. According to Operation Warp Speed (OWS), a partnership between the Department of Health and Human Services, the CDC, and the Department of Defense, the objective is to ensure that “no one desiring vaccination will face an economic barrier to receiving one.”

If multiple types of COVID-19 vaccines are available, will I have a choice about which one I receive?

We recommend opting for whatever vaccine is available at the time, as they are considered equally effective. If more than one option is widely available, then you may be offered a choice. Just remember that if you receive either the Pfizer/BioNTech or Moderna vaccine, both doses should be the same type when possible.

For the Pfizer/BioNTech or Moderna vaccine, when can I get my second dose?

After the first dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, a second dose can be given as soon as 21 days. For the Moderna vaccine, 28 days is recommended. For both vaccines, the CDC has said up to 42 days is an acceptable window, so don’t worry if you get your shot longer than the 21 or 28 day period. You are also able to get the 2nd dose up to 3 days early.

Can I receive the Pfizer/BioNTech or Moderna vaccine with other vaccines?

The CDC updated their COVID-19 vaccine recommendations, allowing all authorized COVID vaccines to be given alongside other other immunizations.

If I get the vaccine, can I stop wearing a mask?

All three vaccines are highly effective, so once you've received the full vaccine series (i.e. two shots) and your immune system has had an additional 14 days or more to respond, you're very likely to be protected from getting sick, although you can transmit the virus if you test positive. If you have been fully vaccinated against the COVID-19 virus, the CDC states that you no longer need to wear a mask or socially distance in most indoor and outdoor settings. Those who are fully vaccinated should, however, continue to wear masks in public indoor settings in areas of substantial or high transmission, in healthcare settings, on trains, buses, planes, or other modes of public transportation, in transportation hubs like airports and bus stations, and in prisons, jails, and homeless shelters. Those who are immunocompromised, are at increased risk for severe disease from COVID-19, or live with someone who is immunocompromised, at increased risk of severe disease or not fully vaccinated, may choose to wear masks regardless of local transmission levels. Fully vaccinated people should also continue to abide by state, local, and tribal mask and social distancing regulations, as well as rules for local businesses and workplaces.

Once I’m fully vaccinated, will I still need to get tested for COVID?

Yes, for a few reasons. First, many travel, work and school-related activities require testing, and having been vaccinated does not yet allow someone to opt out. Second, while the current mRNA-based vaccines are extremely effective at preventing you from getting sick, breakthrough cases are expected and you can transmit the virus to others. If you’ve been exposed to someone with suspected or confirmed COVID-19, you should get tested 3-5 days after your exposure and wear a mask in public indoor settings for 14 days or until you receive a negative test result; however, you do not need to quarantine.

I’ve had COVID-19 already. Should I still get a vaccine?

Yes. At this point, there is not enough evidence to know how long immunity from a COVID-19 infection lasts. It’s also unclear whether vaccination or infection produces the strongest immunity. However, if you had COVID-19 and were treated with monoclonal antibodies, you should wait 90 days before getting the vaccine.

How confident can we be that the vaccines used in the United States are safe?

While the specific vaccines are new, the ways in which they create an immune response have either been in testing or in widespread use for many years. The idea of a “never before used” genetic vaccine may seem intimidating, but the underlying technology has been proven safe on thousands of volunteers. Only the specific COVID-19 genetic message is truly new. The safety standards of the FDA remain stringent and the safety of the vaccines will continue to be closely monitored. At One Medical, our own senior clinical advisors regularly review the published safety data carefully, and we only offer vaccines when we strongly believe the benefits unequivocally outweigh any risks. We concur with the FDA that the Moderna,Pfizer COVID-19, and Johnson & Johnson vaccines safely deliver very high immunity against this virus. We support the vaccination of the largest number of people possible as the most effective way to bring the current pandemic under control.

If I get the COVID-19 vaccine will it affect COVID-19 test results?

No. Per the CDC, the COVID-19 vaccine cannot cause you to falsely test positive or negative on PCR or antigen viral tests, which are used to see if you have a current infection.

What if I’m pregnant, breastfeeding, or have a compromised immune system?

COVID-19 vaccination is recommended for people who are pregnant, breastfeeding, trying to get pregnant, or might become pregnant in the future. Pregnant and recently pregnant people are more likely to get severely ill with COVID-19 compared with non-pregnant people. Getting a COVID-19 vaccine can protect you from severe illness from COVID-19. If you have questions, you should talk to your provider to make an informed decision for your unique situation. More information about pregnancy and the vaccine is available on our blog post here.

Can I vaccinate my child?

If your child is 12 years or older, they are eligible to receive the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine, which currently is the only COVID-19 vaccine authorized for children under 18. The CDC now considers receiving the COVID-19 vaccine at the same time as other recommended vaccines to be safe. Research on the effectiveness and safety of the COVID-19 vaccine in children under 12 is currently underway. For more information on the COVID-19 vaccine, see here.

Will I need a booster shot of the COVID-19 vaccine?

The FDA and CDC are now recommending a third dose of mRNA COVID-19 vaccines (Pfizer or Moderna) for moderately to severely immunocompromised individuals, as the highly contagious delta variant continues to spread. People with moderate to severe immune compromise due to a medical condition or receipt of immunosuppressive medications or treatments include but are not limited to who have:

  • Been receiving active cancer treatment for tumors or cancers of the blood
  • Received an organ transplant and are taking medicine to suppress the immune system
  • Received a stem cell transplant within the last 2 years or are taking medicine to suppress the immune system
  • Moderate or severe primary immunodeficiency (such as DiGeorge syndrome, Wiskott-Aldrich syndrome)
  • Advanced or untreated HIV infection
  • Active treatment with high-dose corticosteroids or other drugs that may suppress your immune response

At this time, the FDA and CDC are not recommending additional vaccination for those who are immunocompromised and received the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine or for those who are fully vaccinated and not immunocompromised. While public health officials are continuing to investigate and evaluate the need for additional vaccination among this population, studies show that people who have been fully vaccinated with two doses of an mRNA vaccine or one dose of the J&J vaccine are protected from severe illness and death, including from emerging strains like the delta variant. Read more about additional COVID-19 vaccines here.

Here to keep you healthy. And informed.
Get 24/7 care over video chat from the comfort of home or wherever you go. Join today and experience primary care designed for real life, in-office and in-app.
Join Today
Spencer Blackman, One Medical Provider

Spencer practices relationship-centered primary care, blending a traditional sensibility with up-to-date clinical knowledge and a strong focus on disease prevention. He enjoys getting to know his patients well, educating and empowering them to participate in health care decisions. Spencer completed his residency training at UCSF and practiced primary care, urgent care, sports medicine and adolescent medicine throughout the Bay Area before joining One Medical Group. He is certified with the American Board of Family Medicine. Spencer is a One Medical Group provider.

Read Provider Bio

The One Medical blog is published by One Medical, an innovative primary care practice with offices in Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, Orange County,Phoenix, Portland, San Diego, the San Francisco Bay Area, Seattle, and Washington, DC.

Any general advice posted on our blog, website, or app is for informational purposes only and is not intended to replace or substitute for any medical or other advice. The One Medical Group entities and 1Life Healthcare, Inc. make no representations or warranties and expressly disclaim any and all liability concerning any treatment, action by, or effect on any person following the general information offered or provided within or through the blog, website, or app. If you have specific concerns or a situation arises in which you require medical advice, you should consult with an appropriately trained and qualified medical services provider.