Frequently Asked Questions

General Vaccine Information

How do the COVID-19 vaccines work?

The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines use messenger RNA or mRNA, to trigger the immune system to produce protective antibodies and memory cells against the coronavirus. These are the first vaccines to use mRNA. It is important to note that neither of these vaccines uses the coronavirus, itself, and neither can cause COVID-19.

The Johnson & Johnson vaccine is a vector vaccine. That means it contains a weakened version of a virus that causes the common cold that is different than the coronavirus. The cold virus is modified to carry information about the coronavirus to the body. This vaccine causes the body to make a protein that is unique to the coronavirus. This prompts the immune system to produce protective antibodies against the coronavirus. Like the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, this vaccine does not use the coronavirus, itself, and cannot cause COVID-19.

None of the vaccines affect a person’s DNA. They also do not cause coronavirus.

What ingredients are in the Pfizer vaccine?
The Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine contains:

  • messenger ribonucleic acid (mRNA) – the main, active ingredient that elicits an immune response and the production of antibodies
  • Lipids (including ((4-hydroxybutyl)azanediyl)bis(hexane-6,1-diyl)bis(2-hexyldecanoate), 2 [(polyethylene glycol)-2000]-N,N-ditetradecylacetamide, 1,2-Distearoyl-sn-glycero-3- phosphocholine, and cholesterol) – an outside coating or shell of fat that protects the mRNA from destruction as it is being stored, administered and delivered to cells
  • Potassium chloride; monobasic potassium phosphate; sodium chloride (salt); dibasic sodium phosphate dehydrate – salts that are used to maintain proper levels of acidity (pH)
  • Sucrose – a sugar that stabilizes the suspension
What ingredients are in the Moderna vaccine?
The Moderna COVID-19 vaccine contains:

  • messenger ribonucleic acid (mRNA)- the main, active ingredient that elicits an immune response and the production of antibodies
  • lipids (SM-102, polyethylene glycol [PEG] 2000 dimyristoyl glycerol [DMG],cholesterol, and 1,2-distearoyl-sn-glycero-3-phosphocholine [DSPC])- an outside coating or shell of fat that protects the mRNA from destruction as it is being stored, administered and delivered to cells
  • tromethamine, tromethamine hydrochloride, acetic acid, sodium acetate- used to maintain proper pH
  • Sucrose – a sugar that stabilizes the suspension
What ingredients are in the Johnson & Johnson vaccine?
The Johnson & Johnson vaccine contains:

  • Recombinant, replication-incompetent adenovirus type 26 expressing the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein
  • citric acid monohydrate
  • trisodium citrate dihydrate
  • ethanol
  • 2-hydroxypropyl-β-cyclodextrin (HBCD)
  • polysorbate-80
  • sodium chloride
How do vaccines protect our community?
The vaccines not only protect people who get the vaccine, they’ll protect people who have not been vaccinated by reducing the rate of person-to-person transmission (community protection). By reducing spread of the virus, they also reduce the chance that additional COVID-19 variants will develop. Vaccination has led to community protection from other illnesses, including whooping cough (pertussis).
How are the three vaccines different?

Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna are mRNA vaccines and Johnson & Johnson’s is a viral vector vaccine.

The Moderna and Pfizer vaccines use the same technology but contain slightly different mRNAs and different ingredients used to protect the mRNA, maintain the pH and stabilize the solution. Essentially, these two vaccines make a protein unique to COVID-19 that triggers your body into producing antibodies and T-lymphocytes (T-cells) to fight it. If you get infected in the future, those cells will remember and fight the virus.

The Johnson & Johnson vaccine is a viral vector which is a virus that has been altered so it does not cause illness but still makes your immune system build up specific defenses. This vaccine triggers the same result, but from a different angle. Examples of viral vector vaccines are the flu and measles vaccines.

Does it matter which vaccine I receive?

All the approved vaccines are safe and highly effective. The best vaccine is the vaccine you can get as soon as possible.  However, only the Pfizer vaccine has been approved for use in individuals age 12 – 17. Vaccine clinics now publish which vaccine they are offering, so make sure to schedule at a clinic offering the Pfizer vaccine if you are scheduling for someone under 18.

We cannot compare the vaccines to each other directly because each of the clinical trials used different measurements and data collection methods. With V-safe, the CDC’s vaccination health checker program, researchers will be able to look at all the data and compare the results accurately in the coming months.

You should feel confident getting any of the vaccines because that is the key to ending this pandemic, getting all our lives back to normal and getting our local economy back on track.

How much will the vaccine cost?
The short answer is, it’s free. The federal government purchased hundreds of millions of vaccine doses with taxpayer money, so the vaccine, itself, will be given to Americans at no cost. Vaccine providers will be able to charge a fee to administer the shot, but this fee should be covered by public or private insurance, or by a government relief fund for the uninsured.
Do the COVID-19 vaccines protect against the COVID-19 variants?

Early research suggests that all three vaccines can provide protection against the COVID-19 variants identified in the U.K. and South Africa. Vaccine manufacturers are also looking into creating booster shots to improve protection against these and other variants.

How do I get my vaccine counted as part of Michigan’s data if I was vaccinated in another state?
Show your vaccination record card to your primary healthcare provider (your regular doctor), and they can report it to the Michigan Care Improvement Registry (MCIR), Michigan’s system for recording vaccine information. If you do not regularly see a doctor, you can visit the Kent County Health Department located at 700 Fuller Ave NE in Grand Rapids and present your vaccination record card. The health department will report your vaccine to MCIR. That’s all it takes for your vaccination to be added to the doses administered on Michigan’s COVID-19 vaccine dashboard.

Receiving the Vaccine

What should I know about booster shots? Am I eligible?
Click here to learn more about booster doses of the COVID-19 vaccine.
How many shots am I going to need?
The Pfizer vaccine requires 2 doses, 21 days apart at a minimum. The Moderna vaccine requires 2 doses, 28 days apart at a minimum. Since it takes time for your body to build protection after any vaccination, the two COVID-19 vaccines may not protect you until 1-2 weeks after your second shot.

The Johnson & Johnson vaccine is a single dose.

Since it takes time for your body to build protection after any vaccination, the COVID-19 vaccines may not fully protect you until two weeks after your final shot.

What is the longest amount of time you can wait for your second shot?
First, you should not receive the second dose earlier than recommended (21 days for Pfizer and 28 days for Moderna). The second dose should be given as close to the recommended timeframe as possible, but if that is not possible, then the second dose of Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines may be scheduled up to 6 weeks (42 days) after the first dose. However, there is no clear data on the effectiveness if it is delayed beyond this timeframe. For more information, review the CDC’s guidance on vaccine administration.
What should I know about booster shots? Am I eligible?
COVID-19 booster vaccines are now available for eligible individuals at vaccination sites throughout West Michigan.

A vaccine booster is an additional shot that is given to previously vaccinated people as the immunity provided by the original vaccine has started to decrease over time. A booster is given to help maintain a high level of immunity in the future.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) now recommends a booster shot of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine in certain populations and for those in high risk occupational and institutional or residential settings. This recommendation only applies to people who originally received both doses of the Pfizer vaccine at least 6 months ago.

The CDC recommends the following groups SHOULD receive a booster:

  • People 65 years and older.
  • Residents in long-term care settings aged 18 years or older.
  • People 50-64 years old with underlying medical conditions.

Additionally, the CDC recommends that the following groups MAY receive a booster based on their individual benefits and risks:

  • People aged 18-49 years with underlying medical conditions.
  • People aged 18-64 years who are at increased risk for COVID-19 exposure and transmission because of their occupational or institutional/residential setting. This groups includes adults aged 18-64 years who work or reside in settings such as health care, schools, congregant care facilities, correctional facilities, or homeless shelters. This group also includes front line essential workers such as first responders (firefighters, police and EMS), food and agriculture workers, manufacturing workers, U.S. Postal Service workers, public transit workers, and grocery store workers.

After reviewing data in the coming weeks, the CDC is expected to make recommendations about the Moderna and Johnson and Johnson vaccines.

Is a booster the same as a “third dose” of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine?
The third dose is different than a booster and has been approved by the FDA and recommended by the CDC specifically and exclusively for people who are moderately or severely immunocompromised.

Immunocompromised individuals have a medical condition or are on a medication that limits the strength of their immune systems, therefore, they may not receive the same level of protection from a regular course of vaccination.

People who are immunocompromised may receive a third dose of either the Moderna or the Pfizer vaccine as soon as 28 days after the second dose. There is no additional dose of the Johnson and Johnson vaccine currently recommended. More information on who is eligible for a third dose can be found here.

Again, the third dose should not be confused with a booster. A vaccine booster is an additional shot that is given to previously vaccinated people as the immunity provided by the original vaccine has started to decrease over time. A booster is given to help maintain a high level of immunity in the future.

If a vaccine needs two doses, can you switch to another vaccine/manufacturer for the second one?
No. Experts advise staying with the same vaccine for both. That’s true even for the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines, which use the same general approach yet are different.
Can the COVID-19 vaccine be administered with other vaccines?
Yes, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says the COVID-19 vaccine can be administered at the same time as other vaccines.
Should I take Tylenol or Motrin before my vaccination?
If you regularly take aspirin, acetaminophen (e.g., Tylenol) and ibuprofen (e.g., Motrin, Advil) for other medical conditions, continue to do so as directed by your physician or as needed. Otherwise, do not take medication prior to your vaccination.

Taking over-the-counter medications such as acetaminophen and ibuprofen before receiving a vaccine may reduce its ability to work and decrease the immune response to the vaccine. After the vaccination, do not hesitate to take an over-the-counter medication if you have symptoms that make you uncomfortable.

Can I get the vaccine if I've had COVID-19?
Getting COVID-19 might offer some natural protection or immunity from reinfection with the COVID-19 virus but it’s unclear how long this protection lasts. Therefore, it’s recommended you go ahead and get the vaccine, even if you’ve already had COVID-19.
Can I get the vaccine if I’ve had convalescent plasma or monoclonal antibody treatment for COVID-19?
If you have had COVID-19 and received either convalescent plasma or monoclonal antibodies, you should not receive the vaccine for 90 days as these drugs may interfere with the vaccine’s effectiveness.
Can the COVID-19 vaccines be used in accordance with Catholic values?

Yes. On Dec. 21, 2020, the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) released a statement, approved by Pope Francis, that states all approved COVID-19 vaccines — including those that used tainted cells in their development — are morally acceptable for use during the pandemic due to the “grave danger” of the “uncontainable spread of a serious pathological agent.”

The Vatican confirmed that getting vaccinated and keeping the public safe is more important than the distant concerns about the use of tainted cell lines. The Catholic Health Association supported this position.

It is important to know that many of the COVID-19 vaccines approved for emergency use authorization in the United States did not directly use tainted cell lines in development. For more information on the use of cell lines, read this fact sheet from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.

Due to the limited supply of vaccine we receive from the State of Michigan, we are not able to offer a choice of vaccine at our clinics. We encourage you to take whichever vaccine your clinic is offering as vaccination will protect you and others from severe illness or death.

Can I get the COVID-19 vaccine during Ramadan?
Yes, you can get vaccinated during Ramadan. The vaccines will not invalidate your fast because they have no nutritional value and they do not contain food-related substances. Though a fasting person is not allowed to take food, water, or medicine through open passages such as the mouth or nose, the vaccines are given in the muscle, so they do not affect an open passage. Similar guidelines have covered flu shots and other vaccinations during Ramadan.

Effectiveness and Safety

Are the COVID-19 vaccines safe?
The vaccines currently approved for use in the U.S. are highly safe and effective. All three vaccines were developed in the U.S. and have undergone U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) scrutiny, the most rigorous vaccine approval process on the planet.

Like other medications, the COVID-19 vaccines can have some side effects, but symptoms experienced by trial participants were mild or moderate and were attributable to a normal, healthy immune response. The most commonly reported side effects of the vaccine were chills, fatigue, muscle or joint pain, nausea, pain, redness or swelling at the injection site, and headache.

Are the COVID-19 vaccines effective?
The vaccines (Johnson & Johnson, Moderna, and Pfizer) demonstrated 66 to 95 percent efficacy against COVID-19 symptoms, a calculation based on observed infection rates among unvaccinated (placebo) adult participants compared to vaccinated participants in each clinical trial. And all three vaccines demonstrated a more than 89 percent efficiency against COVID-19 symptoms severe enough to require hospitalization.

Efficacy was consistent across age (12+), gender, race, and ethnicity demographics. Only the Pfizer vaccine has been widely tested in children and adolescents ages 12 – 16.

Can children be vaccinated?
Anyone age 5 and older is eligible to receive the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine.
Visit the CDC’s website to learn more about the emergency use authorization recently granted to the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine for children ages 5 to 11.
Can pregnant women be vaccinated?

Yes, pregnant women can receive the COVID-19 vaccine. Some vaccinations, like the COVID-19 vaccine and Tdap vaccines provide protection for both the pregnant woman and the newborn baby through antibodies from the mom to the baby.

The New England Journal of Medicine recently published preliminary findings from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) scientists that determined the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines do not appear to pose any serious risk during pregnancy. In fact, the study found no increase in risks of complications, premature delivery, miscarriage, or other issues among women who got the shot even among those who received the vaccine during their third trimester. The study did not look at Johnson & Johnson’s one-shot vaccine, which became available after the start of the study.

Pregnant women face a higher risk of severe illness and death from COVID-19 than non-pregnant women, making vaccination especially important to this demographic. If you have questions about the risks and benefits of the vaccine, please talk with your physician.

Why was I told to wait a month after getting the vaccine before getting a mammogram?
Some people experience temporary swelling of lymph nodes under their arm after getting the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines. This is part of the immune system’s expected response (lymph nodes are an important part of our immune system). Sometimes this has been mistaken for a sign of possible spread of breast cancer to the lymph nodes; therefore, delaying the mammogram can reduce the chance of being confused by this finding. If you are concerned about delaying one, contact your health care provider.

After Vaccination

Will I need to get a COVID-19 vaccine every year?
At this time, we do not know. Studies on the long-term effectiveness of the vaccines will continue and more information will be released as it becomes available.
Will I need to continue to wear a mask and distance after I receive 2 doses of the vaccine?
To reduce the risk of being infected with the Delta variant and possibly spreading it to others, wear a mask indoors in public if you are in an area of substantial or high transmission.

You might choose to wear a mask regardless of the level of transmission if you have a weakened immune system or if, because of your age or an underlying medical condition, you are at increased risk for severe disease, or if a member of your household has a weakened immune system, is at increased risk for severe disease, or is unvaccinated.

If I’ve been vaccinated and was exposed to someone who has COVID-19, do I need to quarantine?
If you’ve had close contact with someone who has COVID-19, you should get tested 3-5 days after your exposure, even if you don’t have symptoms. You should also wear a mask indoors in public for 14 days following exposure or until your test result is negative. You should isolate for 10 days if your test result is positive.
How long does it take to be fully protected after receiving the vaccine?
With all three vaccines, immunity builds over time, and recipients are considered to be fully protected two weeks after their final dose.