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, all residents over 16 are eligible to be vaccinated according to the state’s vaccine rollout plan.

Can I be vaccinated at home?

In some circumstances, yes. In-home COVID-19 vaccinations are for homebound individuals who are not able to leave their homes to get to a vaccination site, even with assistance. You may be eligible to be vaccinated at home if you:

  1. Need an ambulance or two-person assistance to leave the home
  2. Are not able to leave your home for medical appointments under normal circumstances
  3. Have considerable difficulty and/or require significant support to leave the home for medical appointments

Call the Homebound Vaccination Central Intake Line at 833-983-0485 to see if you are able to be vaccinated at home. Learn more.

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. We are reaching out to patients who are 18 and older by text, email and pre-recorded phone message to invite them to schedule appointments.

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.

Can I give my invitation/appointment to someone else?

At this time, we are scheduling appointments by invitation only. The invited or scheduled patient cannot give their appointment to anyone else.

Why haven’t I received an invitation to schedule my appointment yet?

Due to the limited vaccine supply, we are unable to invite all of our eligible patients at the same time. We send out new invitations based on the amount of new vaccines we receive from the state on a weekly basis.

What vaccines are you offering at your vaccination clinics?

Beth Israel Lahey Health is currently administering the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines. We receive our supply of vaccines from the state, and we provide patients whichever vaccine we have available on the day of their first-dose appointment.

I don’t believe I am a patient of Beth Israel Lahey Health. Why did I receive an email, text message or phone call from you?

If you received a phone call, text, or email addressed to you from BILH, you have recently received care from one of our hospitals, outpatient centers or physician practices, or a doctor who is affiliated with our system.

Can I choose which vaccine I receive?

No, you will not be able to choose which vaccine you receive. All of the vaccines authorized for emergency use are safe and effective at 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 vaccine and the Moderna vaccine require two doses, separated by 21 days (Pfizer) or 28 days (Moderna). The Johnson & Johnson vaccine requires one dose.

I got the Moderna or Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine. 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. The latest recommended date to receive the 2nd dose is within 42 days of the first dose. 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?

If you get the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines, which require two doses, you should get both doses of the same vaccine.

I have a preference on the type of vaccine I want. What happens if the site I select doesn’t offer that type?

The vaccines we administer at each of our sites is based on the shipments we receive from the state. As a result, patients do not have a choice of vaccine.  We encourage you to take the vaccine that is offered to you at our clinic. If you are returning for a second dose at the same BILH clinic as your first, we will have the same brand that you received for your first dose. All of the vaccines available are effective at preventing severe illness and hospitalization. If you prefer to have a choice of vaccines, please check the state’s searchable directory of vaccine locations.

I received my first dose of a vaccine somewhere else. Can I schedule a second-dose only?

The vaccine supply we receive from the state is based on providing our patients with both the first and second doses of vaccine.  We are not provided with additional vaccine supply to administer second doses only.  If you received your first dose from another provider, we strongly encourage you to return to that provider for your second dose. If you are unable to receive your second dose from the same provider as your first dose, you can schedule your second dose at state-run vaccination clinics.

If I receive my first vaccine dose with Beth Israel Lahey Health, how do I schedule my second dose? Do I need to return to the same location?

If you receive your first dose of vaccine at one of our clinics, our staff will book your second-dose appointment at the time you receive your first dose. You should return to the same location for your second dose to ensure the availability of the right type of vaccine.

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 for Moderna and Pfizer 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. Volunteers who received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine experienced only mild reactions after the shot including a sore arm and a fever in less than 10 percent of participants.

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
What is lymph node swelling and how does it impact me?

COVID-19 vaccinations can cause harmless enlarged lymph nodes, usually under the arm and on the side the vaccine was given. This swelling of lymph nodes is a normal and expected part of the immune response as your body learns to fight the coronavirus. This type of swelling can also occur after other common vaccines, like the HPV and Flu vaccines, however the swelling related to the COVID-19 vaccine may be more robust and occur more often. Lymph node swelling typically happens 2-4 days after vaccination and lasts about 10 days.

Does the risk of lymph node swelling impact which arm I should receive my vaccine in?

For most patients, the risk of lymph node swelling will not change which arm the vaccinator will use to give you the vaccine. Your vaccinator will ask you which side you prefer at the time of vaccination and most people will choose their non-dominant arm (for example, your left side if you are right-handed) so that if you have any pain or swelling, it won’t be as bothersome to your activities.

If you have had surgery on your lymph nodes, such as for breast cancer, you should avoid vaccination on the side of your surgery, when possible. You should tell your vaccinator if you’ve had lymph node surgery and ask them to give you the vaccine on the other side. If you have had lymph node surgery on both arms, the vaccinator may choose to give you the vaccine in your thigh.

Does the risk of lymph node swelling from the COVID-19 vaccine change when I should have my breast cancer screening done?

There are times when the lymph node swelling related to vaccination may cause challenges interpreting normal screening tests, such as regularly scheduled mammograms or breast MRIs used to screen for breast cancer. Receiving the COVID-19 vaccine and completing your breast cancer screening are both important for your health.

It is safe to get your mammogram or breast MRI if you are overdue, as screening for breast cancer is important for one’s health. You should also not delay receiving your COVID-19 vaccine because a mammogram or breast MRI is scheduled. You should notify your mammogram or breast MRI technologist if you have received the COVID-19 vaccine.

If you are concerned about the potential risk of your mammogram or breast MRI results being impacted and you are not overdue for screening, you may wish to wait 4-6 weeks after you complete your full COVID-19 vaccine series to have this testing done. However, it is important to note that you should not delay mammography if you have already needed to do so due to the pandemic or are having any concerning symptoms such as a change in your breast or underarm such as pain or a lump.

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 a two-dose vaccine, 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 Pfizer or Moderna vaccine, you should receive the second dose after the acute symptoms, such as fever, have gone away, and after you complete your isolation period, usually 10-20 days from the start of your symptoms or your positive test result.

Are the COVID-19 vaccines safe for people with allergies?

In general, all of the available COVID-19 vaccines are safe for use. People with many types of allergies may still get vaccinated safely. Talk to your doctor if you have a history of anaphylaxis or use of an EpiPen for any reason. If you have a severe allergic reaction (anaphylaxis) or have had allergic reactions to any of the vaccine components (such as polyethylene glycol or polysorbate), you should speak to your health care provider. If you have had a severe reaction to the first dose of an mRNA vaccine, you should speak with your health care provider before receiving the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

If I had a severe reaction to my first mRNA 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.

If you are unable to receive your second mRNA vaccine due to a severe allergy, you may be a candidate to complete your vaccination with the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. Speak with your healthcare provider to see if receiving the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is safe for you based on your allergy history.

Your primary care provider may refer you to a specialist in allergies and immunology to provide more care or advice. Read more about 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 vaccinated against COVID-19?

All of the vaccines that are currently available are safe for people with compromised immune systems.

None of the currently available COVID-19 vaccines 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 you consider getting vaccinated because of the risk of COVID-19 infection for people with a weakened immune system. Your doctor can help answer questions about your personal situation.

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

There is no evidence the vaccine is harmful during pregnancy or breastfeeding. The decision to receive a COVID-19 vaccine is best made by the pregnant or breastfeeding person together with their health care provider.

The benefits of the vaccine greatly outweigh any risk. The CDC has reviewed the data from more than 35,000 pregnant people who have been vaccinated and found they had the same experience as those who weren’t pregnant. The data also showed that there were no safety concerns for their babies.

Meanwhile, pregnant people, 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 families and friends.

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).

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 so vaccination before you become pregnant is a good prevention measure. 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?

Three vaccines are currently authorized with more on the way. The Johnson & Johnson vaccine was the latest to receive Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), joining the previously authorized Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna vaccines.

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 are 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.

Which vaccine is the most effective?

It’s difficult to directly compare one vaccine to another because the clinical trials use different measures to evaluate effectiveness. The good news is that all the vaccines that are currently available are safe and effective. In fact, the level of protection is among the highest in efficacy results for a vaccine.

Can I get COVID-19 from the vaccine?

No. You cannot get COVID-19 from the vaccine in the same way you cannot get the flu from the flu vaccine. 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.

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

Both. In clinical trials, all of the vaccines released in the U.S. so far proved to be highly effective at preventing COVID-19 infection in a large percentage of people. We also know that the vaccines reduce the severity of COVID-19 sickness if you do catch it once vaccinated. Of the 32,000 people who received a Pfizer or Moderna vaccine during clinical trials, only one person developed severe COVID-19, and none have died. The Johnson & Johnson vaccination has similar results that show no COVID-19 hospitalizations or deaths amongst participants starting 28 days after vaccination.

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 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 the currently available vaccines?

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 may be less effective against certain new strains. It is likely that for some time, vaccination against variants may be necessary to curb the spread of the virus. 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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