COVID-19 Vaccine Frequently Asked Questions

We know our patients have questions about the availability, safety and effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines. Here is the latest information available.

COVID-19 Vaccine FAQs

When can I get vaccinated?

In Massachusetts, vaccines will be distributed in phases based on the state’s vaccine rollout plan. The rollout plan has three phases, as shown in the graphic below.

Illustration of COVID-19 Vaccine Rollout Phases in Massachusetts

How will I know when it’s my turn to get the vaccine?

The state will announce when a new group of people becomes eligible to be vaccinated.

Where will I receive my vaccine?

There are a number of places to get vaccinated, including state-run vaccination clinics, retail pharmacies and other locations. Check the state’s searchable directory for more information. Beth Israel Lahey Health has opened a number of vaccine clinics across Eastern Massachusetts, and we are reaching out to eligible patients individually to invite them to schedule appointments, based on our available supply of vaccines.

Can I schedule my shot with Beth Israel Lahey Health now?

Recent patients of Beth Israel Lahey Health hospitals, physician practices and affiliated providers will have the opportunity to get vaccinated with us once they become eligible under the state’s rollout plan. We are reaching out to eligible patients individually to invite them to schedule appointments, based on our available supply of vaccines.

How do I schedule an appointment with the state?

Visit the state’s website to view available locations and appointment times.

Can I sign up to be on a waitlist?

Beth Israel Lahey Health does not currently have a waitlist.

If I already scheduled an appointment for myself with Beth Israel Lahey Health, can I make an appointment for the person who is accompanying me to my appointment?

If you have a COVID-19 vaccination appointment at one of Beth Israel Lahey Health’s community-based vaccination centers, and bring a companion with you, we will not be able to vaccinate your companion due to severe shortages in the state’s vaccine supply. However, people 75 and older can schedule COVID-19 vaccinations for themselves and one person who accompanies them to their appointment at one of the state’s large vaccination sites.

Can I choose which vaccine I receive?

No, you will not be able to choose which vaccine you receive. Both vaccines that are currently available are very similar, and have at least 94 percent effectiveness in protecting you from COVID-19. We strongly encourage you to take whichever vaccine you are offered.

I’m scheduled to receive another vaccine soon. Do I need to wait before receiving my COVID-19 vaccine?

The CDC recommends waiting 14 days after any other non-urgent vaccines (for example, a flu vaccine) to receive your COVID-19 vaccination. If you have questions about when to schedule your vaccination, please contact your healthcare provider.

Is it safe to take pain relievers before vaccination?

If you regularly take aspirin, acetaminophen (e.g. Tylenol) or ibuprofen (e.g. Motrin, Advil) for other medical conditions, continue to do so as directed by your doctor. Otherwise, do not take them before vaccination. Taking these over-the-counter pain relievers before receiving a vaccine may reduce its ability to work and slow your immune system’s response to it.

How many doses of the vaccine will I need?

Both the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine and the Moderna vaccine require two doses, separated by 21 days (Pfizer/BioNTech) or 28 days (Moderna).

When do I need to get my second dose?

After the first dose of your vaccine, you will receive a second dose 21-28 days later, depending on the type of vaccine you received. The CDC recommends that you get your second shot as close to the recommended 3-week or 1-month interval as possible. However, there is no maximum interval between the first and second doses for either vaccine. You should not get the second dose earlier than the recommended interval. ​

There are multiple vaccines. Should I get both doses of the same vaccine?

Vaccine recipients should get both doses of the same vaccine.

Do I need proof of my medical conditions?

If you are eligible for vaccination because you have two or more of the medical conditions identified by the state, you do not need copies of medical records or a doctor’s note to confirm you have these conditions. Individuals aged 16 and over with two designated medical conditions are eligible as of Feb. 18, 2021. Those aged 16 to 17 can only receive Pfizer at this time. Visit the state’s website for more information on what to expect.

What reactions can I expect after the COVID-19 vaccine?

Reactions following COVID vaccination are similar to those after other vaccinations like a flu shot or a shingles vaccine, including fever, chills, headache, fatigue, joint and muscle aches, as well as pain at the injection site. After COVID vaccination 80-92% of persons will develop at least one symptom at their injection site such as pain, redness or swelling and 55-83% will develop at least one additional symptom such as mild fever, fatigue or muscle aches. These are typically more common after the 2nd dose than the first. What’s important to remember is that these reactions to the vaccine are associated with the body’s immune response—so they are a good sign that the vaccine is doing its job to build protections for you in the future.

Can I take pain relievers if I experience side effects from the vaccine?

If you have pain or discomfort after receiving the vaccine, it’s OK to take pain relievers. Remember, side effects after the COVID-19 vaccine can be a good sign that your body is building protection, and they should go away in a few days. If you have concerns about taking medications, check with your doctor.

What should I do if I think I am experiencing severe side effects from the vaccine?

When you get your vaccine, you will be monitored for a period of time in case of a severe reaction, which are extremely rare. If you think you might be having a severe allergic reaction after leaving the vaccine clinic, seek immediate medical care by calling 911. Learn more about COVID-19 vaccines and rare severe allergic reactions.

Discomfort from fever or pain at the injection site is quite normal. However, there are some instances where you should contact your doctor or healthcare provider:

  • If the redness or tenderness where you got the shot increases after 48-72 hours
  • If your side effects are worrying you or do not seem to be going away after a few days
If I’ve been diagnosed with COVID-19, should I wait to get the vaccine?

There are two reasons to wait to get vaccinated if you have recently had COVID-19, or if you have been exposed to someone who has COVID-19:

  1. If you are still in your isolation period as instructed by the Department of Public Health, usually 10-20 days from symptom onset or positive test result.
  2. If you have had COVID-19 and received treatment with monoclonal antibodies or convalescent plasma, the CDC recommends that you wait 90 days after treatment before being vaccinated to ensure maximum effectiveness of the vaccine.

Otherwise, you should get vaccinated as soon as possible. Due to the severe health risks associated with COVID-19 and the fact that re-infection is possible, people who previously tested positive can and should receive the COVID-19 vaccine when it is available to them.

I was exposed to someone with COVID-19 recently, can I still attend my vaccination appointment?

If you have been exposed to someone with COVID-19, you cannot be vaccinated until after you have completed the quarantine period, which is generally 14 days after your date of exposure.

If you already have an appointment, reschedule it to at least 14 days after your exposure. If you develop COVID-19, you should not get vaccinated until you have completed the home isolation period as instructed by the Department of Public Health, usually 10-20 days after your symptom onset or positive test result.

If I get the first dose of the vaccine and then get infected with COVID-19, can I get the second dose of the vaccine?

If you get COVID-19 after your first dose of the vaccine, you should receive the second dose after the acute symptoms, such as fever, have completely resolved, and after you have completed your isolation period, usually 10-20 days from symptom onset or positive test result.

Is the vaccine safe for people with allergies?

If you have a history of severe allergy (anaphylaxis) or immediate reaction of any kind (e.g., anaphylaxis, difficulty breathing, hives, swelling around the mouth, throat or eyes) to a prior dose of a Moderna or Pfizer COVID-19 mRNA vaccine or any of its components (such as polyethylene glycol or polysorbate), you should not receive this vaccine.

People with other types of allergies may still get vaccinated. Talk to your doctor if you have a history of anaphylaxis or use of an EpiPen for any reason.

If I had a severe reaction to my first vaccine, should I get the second?

If you have a history of severe allergy (anaphylaxis) or immediate reaction of any kind (e.g., anaphylaxis, difficulty breathing, hives, swelling around the mouth, throat or eyes) to a prior dose of a Moderna or Pfizer COVID-19 mRNA vaccine or any of its components (such as polyethylene glycol or polysorbate), you should not receive this vaccine.

Your primary care provider may refer you to a specialist in allergies and immunology to provide more care or advice. Read more about COVID-19 vaccines and severe allergic reactions here​.

I am immunocompromised (meaning that I have a weakened immune system that affects my ability to fight off infections and diseases). Should I get the COVID-19 vaccine?

The Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna vaccines do not contain a live virus and are considered safe for people who are immunocompromised. Since immunocompromised patients were not included in the clinical trials that evaluated the COVID-19 vaccines, the vaccine’s effectiveness for these patients is unknown. However, we recommend consideration of vaccination due to the risk of COVID-19 infection in people with a weakened immune system. Your doctor can help answer questions you may have about your personal risks and vaccination.

I am pregnant and/or breastfeeding. Should I get the COVID-19 vaccine?

The benefits of the vaccine seem to greatly outweigh the risks. While the decision to receive the COVID-19 vaccine is an individual one, best made by the pregnant person together with their health care provider, there is no evidence that the vaccine is harmful during pregnancy or breastfeeding.

Keep in mind that pregnant persons, if infected with COVID-19, are at higher risk of becoming very ill from COVID-19 and like everyone, may transmit COVID-19 to their family and friends. All of these factors must be carefully balanced, and people who are pregnant should not be denied a safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine during the pandemic.

Pregnant and breastfeeding people have been excluded from the studies of the COVID-19 vaccine so far, but there is no reason to suspect that the vaccine is harmful during pregnancy or breastfeeding.

The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology (ACOG) recommends that COVID-19 vaccines should not be withheld from pregnant individuals who meet criteria for vaccination based on the priority groups recommended by the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP).

Please contact your obstetrician or primary care provider about your personal risks and vaccination.

I am planning to become pregnant. Should I get the COVID-19 vaccine?

New research shows that the vaccine does not negatively impact people who are trying to become pregnant, so your fertility should not be affected by the vaccine. Once pregnant, you are at a higher risk of becoming very ill from COVID-19. If you are planning on getting pregnant, discuss your vaccination options with your doctor or healthcare provider.

What is the COVID-19 vaccine(s)?

There are currently multiple COVID-19 vaccines and more in development. Each vaccine helps the human body build immunity to the virus that causes COVID-19 without having to get the illness. The COVID-19 vaccine teaches the immune system to recognize the coronavirus and make antibodies to protect you in case you are exposed to the virus.

Which COVID-19 vaccine(s) have been authorized for use?

Two vaccines are currently authorized for use with more on the way. The Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna vaccines have both received Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). These two vaccines are currently being administered across the country. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) has authorized the Pfizer vaccine for use in persons age 16 and over and the Moderna vaccine for use in persons age 18 and over.

What is Emergency Use Authorization (EUA)? How is it different than the usual vaccination approval process?

The EUA was created for public health emergencies (like the current COVID-19 pandemic). In times like this, the FDA can issue an Emergency Use Authorization to allow a medical product to be used when there are no alternatives available.

The EUA process is different from the standard FDA vaccine approval processes because the EUA standard may allow authorization based on less data than required for approval, clearance, or licensing by the FDA. This enables the FDA to authorize the emergency use of medical products that meet the criteria much more quickly. Rather than taking years, the FDA can get drugs and vaccines that can save lives to the public now. Learn more about EUAs in this video.

How did COVID-19 vaccines get developed so quickly?

The federal government, through Operation Warp Speed, has been working since the pandemic started to make one or more safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines available as soon as possible. Operation Warp Speed provided money for many of the trials, and standardized paperwork between the bio-tech companies and hospitals involved. This sped up the initial administration that usually takes 1-2 years and allowed scientists to being clinical trials much more quickly than usual. Learn more about Operation Warp Speed here.

Can we be sure the COVID-19 vaccines will be safe?

We are confident in the quality, safety and reliability of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA’s) emergency use authorization. Beth Israel Lahey Health’s team has closely examined the FDA’s process for the COVID-19 vaccine trials and are satisfied that they make decisions that are guided by strong scientific data. Like most vaccines, the COVID-19 vaccine has some reactions, but the chance of having a bad reaction is far lower than the chance of catching COVID-19.

Watch this video to learn about the safety of COVID-19 vaccines.

Can I get COVID-19 from the vaccine?

No. None of the vaccines contain a live COVID-19 virus. The goal of vaccination is to teach the body’s immune system how to recognize and fight the virus that causes COVID-19. Sometimes this process can cause symptoms, such as fever, but these symptoms are normal and are actually a good sign that the body is building immunity. Learn more about how COVID-19 vaccines work.

It typically takes a few weeks for the body to build immunity after vaccination. That means it’s possible a person could be infected with the virus that causes COVID-19 or another virus just before or just after vaccination and get sick.

How long will the vaccine protection last?

We don’t know exactly, because the longer-term results of vaccine clinical trials are not complete. It takes time for your body to build protection after any vaccination. COVID-19 vaccines that require two shots take time to build protection, so you will not be protected until a week or two after your second shot.

At this time, experts don’t know how long someone remains protected from COVID-19 after being vaccinated, but the level of protection (around 94%) is among the highest in efficacy results for a vaccine.

Will the vaccine protect me from getting COVID-19 or just make me less likely to become very sick?

Both. In clinical trials, the vaccines proved to be highly effective at completely preventing COVID-19 infection in the majority of people. We also know that the vaccine also reduces the severity of COVID-19 sickness if you do catch it once vaccinated. Of the 32,000 people who received a Pfizer/BioNTech or Moderna vaccine during clinical trials, only one person developed severe COVID-19, and none have died. The vaccines, aside from being 94% effective at preventing COVID-19 infection, are also capable of reducing the severity of infection for those in the 5-6% who do contract COVID-19.

Scientists are currently working to get a firm answer on whether the vaccine can reduce the risk of getting COVID-19 with no symptoms (asymptomatic) infection.

What lasts longer: Immunity after getting COVID-19 or vaccination?

The protection someone gains from having an infection (called “natural immunity”) varies depending on the disease, and it varies from person to person. Because this virus is new, we don’t know how long natural immunity might last. Current evidence suggests that getting the virus again (reinfection) is uncommon in the 90 days after the first infection with the virus that causes COVID-19.

We won’t know how long immunity lasts after vaccination until we have more data on how well COVID-19 vaccines work in real-world conditions. However, the level of protection provided by the vaccines (94%) is one of the highest levels of protection obtainable in a vaccine.

Experts are working to learn more about both natural immunity and vaccine-induced immunity.

Who is endorsing this vaccine?

Before a vaccine can end up in the hospital or at your local pharmacy, it has to be approved or authorized for emergency use by the FDA, which regulates drugs based on their safety and efficacy. Two other important endorsements come from The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC’s) Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP), and the National Institutes of Health and the Infectious Diseases Society of America. No single person gets to decide if a vaccine is safe. These organizations bring together panels of doctors and experts in infectious disease, virology, and immunization. In addition, infectious diseases experts from Beth Israel Lahey Health are partnering with those from academic centers across Massachusetts to independently review vaccine safety and efficacy.

Are the vaccines effective against the new strains of COVID-19?

Studies are underway and so far there is evidence that the current vaccines are less effective against the new strains. The appearance of new strains underscores the importance of vaccination as one important measure to get the pandemic under control as soon as possible, and reduce the risk of more new COVID-19 strains from emerging.

If I get a COVID-19 vaccine, do I still need to take other safety precautions?

Yes. The vaccine takes time to begin working. It can take around two weeks after each shot for the vaccine to be fully effective. Also, after you’ve been vaccinated you may still catch COVID-19 and have mild symptoms. Because you can still carry the virus, (even if it doesn’t make you visibly sick) it’s important to wear a mask and maintain social distancing to make sure you do not pass the virus to others who are not yet vaccinated. The combination of getting vaccinated and following CDC’s recommendations to protect yourself and others will offer the best protection from COVID-19.

With more than one COVID-19 variant strain now present in the United States, should I wear two masks when I am in the community (i.e., grocery shopping)?

The CDC recommends wearing a mask that has two or more layers of breathable yet tightly woven cotton fabric that fits snugly over the nose and mouth. This recommendation does not mean wearing two masks but rather one well-fitting mask with multiple layers. Non-medical disposable masks have been shown to be more effective at filtering particles than a cloth face covering. If you have a cloth face covering that is thin and only one layer, it may be helpful to wear another on top of it as long as you can still breathe easily and they both fit properly, but it is best to replace thin face coverings with a non-medical disposable mask or double-layer cloth face covering. Disposable masks and multilayer cloth face coverings are more effective at preventing the transmission of the respiratory droplets that spread COVID-19. Even with a multilayer face covering, it is still important to practice physical distancing and hand hygiene. Learn more at the CDC Considerations for Wearing Masks webpage.

Why should I get the COVID-19 vaccine?

Getting vaccinated not only helps you, but helps your community, and the country as we try to reach herd immunity (the threshold of immunity at which the virus can no longer freely spread).

The chance of catching COVID-19 and possibly suffering a severe illness  is far higher than a severe reaction to the vaccine. The COVID-19 vaccination helps protect you by creating an antibody response without having to experience illness. Learn more about how COVID-19 vaccines work.

Watch this video to hear more about why getting vaccinated against COVID-19 is important.

What is herd immunity?

Herd immunity describes a situation when enough of the population is immune to an infection (either through vaccines or previous illness) to make the virus’s spread in a community unlikely. Sometimes, scientists give an estimate of how many people in a community need to be immune for herd immunity to occur, such as 80% of people. This means that if 80% of people are vaccinated or have been infected, the virus will struggle to spread because four out of five people who encounter the disease won’t get sick. This keeps the virus under control. Typically, depending in part on the efficacy of the vaccine, 50%-90% of the population needs to be vaccinated or otherwise immune to achieve herd immunity.

What percentage of a population needs to be vaccinated to meet herd immunity for COVID-19?

COVID-19 is a new viral illness, so scientists must estimate how many people must be vaccinated before herd immunity is reached. Early in 2020, estimates suggested that two thirds of people need to be vaccinated, but now scientists recognize that the estimate may have been too low.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, a leading U.S. expert in immunology and infectious diseases, recently stated that a far higher number of people need to be vaccinated, likely “closer to 85%,” which is around 280 million people in the United States. Without widespread vaccination of the majority of the U.S. population, the country could see persistent infection, death and more viral mutations that may require changes to the vaccines, as happens yearly with influenza vaccines.

Should I wear two masks when I am in the community (e.g., grocery shopping)?

The CDC recommends wearing a mask that has two or more layers of breathable yet tightly woven cotton fabric that fits snugly over the nose and mouth. This recommendation does not necessarily mean wearing two masks but rather one well-fitting mask with multiple layers. Non-medical disposable masks have been shown to be more effective at filtering particles than a single cloth face covering. If you have a cloth face covering that is thin and only one layer, it may be helpful to wear another on top of it as long as you can still breathe easily and they both fit properly, but it is best to replace thin face coverings with a non-medical disposable mask or double-layer cloth face covering. Disposable masks and multilayer cloth face coverings are more effective at preventing the transmission of the respiratory droplets that spread COVID-19. Even with a multilayer face covering, it is still important to practice physical distancing and hand hygiene. Learn more at the CDC Considerations for Wearing Masks webpage.

I have questions about the COVID-19 shot. Can I speak with my doctor?

Before you call your doctor, try visiting our Coronavirus Resource Center or the website of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. If you are not able to find answers to your questions, try contacting your health care provider online through your electronic medical record or by email before calling.

Where can I get more information?

For more information about COVID-19 vaccines, visit the website of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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