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Q&A: Are COVID-19 Vaccines Safe and Effective?

Military health personnel wearing a face mask and a face shield administering the COVID-19 vaccine Army Pfc. Tanner Tate, a medic assigned to the 528th Field Hospital, vaccinates a community member at the state-run, federally-supported Elizabeth High School COVID-19 Community Vaccination Center in Elizabeth, New Jersey, March 5, 2021 (Photo by: Army Pfc. Jailene Bautista/5th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment).

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As the fight against COVID-19 continues, vaccination is one way to slow the spread and protect yourself. Chances are you know someone who's already been vaccinated. Still, you may be concerned about safety - and wondering when to schedule the vaccine for yourself.

"It's important for people to know that these vaccines, though produced in record time, have gone through the same safety processes as other vaccines," said Dr. John Kugler, chief of the Clinical Support Division at the Defense Health Agency. "I got the vaccine when I became eligible and encourage you to get it to help keep you and your family safe."

As the COVID-19 vaccine becomes available to you, you may have questions. Here are some answers about the vaccine.

Question: Will I experience side effects after getting a COVID-19 vaccine?
Answer: You may. most common side effects are pain and swelling in the arm where you received the shot. You may also have fever, chills, tiredness, and headache. These symptoms are a sign that your body is building protection against the coronavirus. They should go away in a few days. Contact your doctor if the side effects are worrying you or don't seem to be going away after a few days. Since vaccines, including the COVID-19 vaccines, carry a risk of allergic reactions, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that your vaccine provider monitors you for 15 to 30 minutes after vaccination. In the rare case that you think you're experiencing a severe allergic reaction after leaving the vaccination site, call 911 or go to the nearest emergency room.

Question: Can a COVID-19 vaccine make me sick with COVID-19?
Answer: No. It can't make you sick with COVID-19. According to the CDC, none of the authorized and recommended vaccines contain the live virus that causes COVID-19. When you do get the vaccine, though, your body will begin to build antibodies to protect you from the coronavirus.

Question: I'm pregnant. Is it safe for me to get the COVID-19 vaccine?
Answer: If you're pregnant, you may be at higher risk for severe illness from COVID-19. Vaccination may reduce that risk and is available to pregnant women. Individuals should discuss with their provider when deciding whether to be vaccinated.

Question: How many shots of COVID-19 vaccine do I need?
Answer: It depends. Currently, the Janssen vaccine (also known as the Johnson & Johnson vaccine) requires only a single shot. The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines require two shots given at least 21 days (for Pfizer) and 28 days (for Moderna) apart. If the pandemic continues, people may need additional shots (boosters) in the future, similar to how booster shots are needed to protect against other diseases.

Question: Does it matter which COVID-19 vaccine I get?
Answer: There are currently three COVID-19 vaccines authorized and recommended for people in the U.S.:

  • Janssen vaccine (1 shot)
  • Moderna vaccine (2 shots, at least 28 days apart)
  • Pfizer vaccine (2 shots, at least 21 days apart)

"All three of these vaccines can reduce your risk of serious illness or death due to COVID-19," Kugler added. "Vaccines differ by age authorized, and in how they are produced and work. The CDC has information for patients about each vaccine."

Keep in mind, it typically takes a few weeks after your last shot for your body to build immunity to COVID-19. Once fully vaccinated, new guidelines from the CDC provide recommendations for private settings.

When in public settings, even if fully vaccinated, all individuals should continue to practice healthy habits , like wearing a mask, physical distancing, avoiding crowds, and washing your hands. If you've already had COVID-19 and recovered, you likely have some immunity. However, vaccination is still recommended to help build additional immunity against re-infection.

So, explore options for where you can go to get the COVID-19 vaccine, and be sure to check out the TRICARE COVID Vaccine page for updates. If you get the COVID-19 vaccine at a local or state health department vaccination site or a retail pharmacy, let your primary care manager know so a record of your vaccination gets included in your medical records.

Do you have more questions about vaccine safety and effectiveness? Read these COVID-19 Vaccination FAQs. Take command of your health, and do your part to slow the spread of COVID-19 by getting vaccinated.

Sign up for email alerts, and keep up with TRICARE and COVID-19 updates.

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