What is the COVID-19 vaccine? How effective is the vaccine? Is it safe? When will I be able to get a COVID-19 vaccination? Recently, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) granted Emergency Use Authorization of the BioNTech COVID-19 vaccination in the interest of public health. The Moderna vaccine may be approved soon, too. As different versions of the COVID-19 vaccine become available, you may find yourself asking questions. These COVID-19 vaccine FAQs will answer some of the most common ones.

When will a COVID-19 vaccine be available?

The first doses will be given to people who work in hospitals, who provide home health care or school health care services, who work at mass COVID-19 testing sites, first responders with direct public exposure, and staff and residents of long-term care facilities (nursing homes).

View the Current Vaccine Allocation Phases

How do vaccines work?

Vaccines stimulate your body’s protective immune response by exposing you to a specific pathogen. A pathogen is a virus or bacteria that can cause disease, like the flu or the COVID-19 virus. Vaccines mimic natural infections and cause your body to develop antibodies. Antibodies are proteins your body makes to fight off illness. In this way, vaccines help you fight an illness without actually causing the disease. Then, if you do get the actual disease, your body already knows how to fight it off.

What is the COVID-19 vaccine?

Both the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines are messenger RNA (mRNA) vaccines, and the first of their kind. Normally, a vaccine works to train your body to recognize and respond to proteins that are produced by a bacteria or virus. However, mRNA vaccines cause your body to produce the protein itself with a code, “messenger RNA.” Your body sees the proteins it has produced as foreign and your immune system starts to detect these proteins and defend itself, without ever having to risk the serious consequences of getting sick with COVID-19.

Basically, when you get the vaccine, the muscle cells receive the message (mRNA) to make a piece of protein (the spike protein). Your body (immune system) sees the spike protein and figures out how to combat it, and you develop antibodies to the spike protein. Later, if you are exposed to COVID-19, your immune system already knows how to respond and clear the virus before illness can develop.

How effective is the vaccine?

We know that the vaccines for COVID-19 are highly effective (95 percent) at preventing symptomatic disease. But it will take further studies in vaccinated populations to ensure that asymptomatic, but potentially contagious infections, are prevented as well. This is one reason why vaccinated individuals still need to wear masks when COVID-19 activity in their community is elevated. This requirement may eventually be unnecessary once we know more.

Is the COVID-19 vaccine free if I am eligible to receive it?

Yes, the COVID-19 vaccine will be free to anyone who wishes to get one.

Until I have access to the COVID-19 vaccine, what can I do to protect myself from COVID-19?

Watch your distance (keep at least six feet minimum between you and anyone who doesn’t live with you), wear a mask when in public, wash your hands for at least 20 seconds with soap and warm water, or or use hand sanitizer with a alcohol content of at least 60%, and avoid being around others who are sick. For more information about protecting yourself visit the CDC website.

If I receive the COVID-19 vaccine, but my family has not, should I wear a mask and practice social distancing to prevent bringing the virus home to my family?

Yes. Even after you receive the vaccine, you should be careful to wear a mask, watch your distance and wash your hands frequently.

Is there a chance I could get COVID-19 even after I receive the vaccine?

Protection from COVID-19 may start shortly after the first dose of vaccine. 7 days after you complete the vaccination series most people (95%) will have immunity.

If you’ve had a recent exposure to someone with COVID-19, you should defer vaccination until your quarantine period has ended. This will help you avoid exposing other people during your vaccination visit. Additionally, you still need to watch your distance, wear a mask, and wash your hands frequently.

Are there any side effects associated with receiving the COVID-19 vaccine?

No serious side effects have been seen. However, some people have had headache, fever, body aches, felt tired, or had some redness and soreness where they got the shot. These symptoms usually go away within a couple of days.

Will the COVID-19 vaccine infect me with the virus?

No, it is not possible to get COVID-19 from the vaccine. The vaccine does not contain the virus.

If the vaccine is a two dose vaccine, how will I know when to get the second dose?

When you get your first dose, you will receive a card with the date of your first dose, the product name/manufacturer of the vaccine you just received, and the date on which you should receive your second dose. Note that your second dose of COVID-19 vaccine must be from the same product name/manufacturer as your first dose. We recommend when you receive your card, take a picture as a back-up, and add the date to your calendar.

If I get COVID-19 after taking the first vaccine, but before the second vaccine, do I wait to receive the second dose?

You can get your second dose once you have recovered from the illness and have been released from quarantine. We recommend that you discuss this with your health care provider.

How long do I have to wait between receiving the Flu vaccine and COVID-19 vaccine?

You should get the COVID-19 vaccine at least 14 days apart from other vaccines.

There have been reports of some people who are enrolled in the trials becoming ill. What does this mean for the safety of the vaccines?

Study volunteers are closely monitored for any signs or symptoms that would indicate a problem with the vaccines. Tens of thousands of volunteers have received vaccines without any serious side effects being reported. Some people may have soreness or redness at where they got the shot, some fever, or have a headache or feel tired for a day or two after the vaccine.

Will the COVID-19 vaccine be safe?

All COVID-19 vaccines go through the same careful research process as every other vaccine. Once the COVID-19 vaccine is approved, there are several systems in place to make sure any rare side effects are found. No serious side effects have been reported, but the COVID-19 vaccines will still be monitored to ensure that they are safe.

Information for the COVID-19 Vaccine FAQs was sourced from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Tennessee Hospital Administration.