As COVID-19 vaccines begin to roll out, you may wonder what this means for you and the people you love most. Let’s go through some common questions together.

About the Vaccine

How does a COVID-19 vaccine work?

There are several types of COVID-19 vaccines in development. They’re all designed to help our bodies develop immunity to the virus that causes COVID-19. (Immunity is protection from disease.)

The Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine is the first to be available. Moderna is expected to follow. Both do not use the live virus. But work by sending a message to the body to make proteins that safely trigger the immune system to help protect against the virus. For full protection, people need two doses spaced 3 to 4 weeks apart.

How do we know COVID-19 vaccines are safe?

There are strict standards to ensure the vaccines are safe. Like any vaccine, COVID-19 vaccines must go through a series of testing and approvals from several high-ranking health committees.

These experts make sure the benefits of getting the COVID-19 vaccine significantly outweigh any risks. Once approved, there are systems in place to closely monitor the vaccines and make changes as needed.

What are the side effects?

Side effects from COVID-19 vaccines can occur. This is a normal sign that your body is building protection. Your arm may feel sore or swell where the shot was given. Fever, chills, tiredness, and headaches may also happen within the first day or two of getting vaccinated. If symptoms last longer or become worrisome, contact your doctor or healthcare provider.

Rolling Out the Vaccine

Who will get it first?

Federal and state agencies, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), are working together to plan who gets the vaccine first.

Due to an initial limited supply, the CDC recommends a phased approach. Frontline healthcare workers will receive the vaccine first, followed by residents at long-term care facilities. As the vaccine supply increases, we’ll receive more information about other groups.

To find out what may be happening in your state, check out these articles from The Washington Post and The New York Times.

When can the general public expect to get vaccinated?

The goal is to have enough COVID-19 vaccines for anyone who chooses to be vaccinated. But it will take time before everyone can easily get one. Agencies are working hard to increase their supply in the weeks and months to follow.

Doctor’s offices, clinics, and pharmacies will offer vaccines when they become available. An exact timeline is still being developed. But if everything goes as planned, it may be widely available next spring.

When will the vaccine be available to children?

So far, COVID-19 vaccines haven’t been approved yet for children. More testing needs to be done. It may take several months or even a year before a vaccine is available to anyone under the age of 16.

Can pregnant people get a COVID-19 vaccine?

The first round of testing for COVID-19 vaccines didn’t include people who are pregnant, breastfeeding, or trying to conceive. So at this time, there’s not enough information to make a specific recommendation for this group. Talk to your doctor or pediatrician to get the latest updates and help you decide whether or not to get vaccinated.

Can you get the vaccine if you’ve already had or think you’ve had COVID-19?

Experts are saying it still makes sense to get the vaccine. That’s because it’s not yet clear if people who have recovered from COVID-19 have immunity. More studies are needed to better understand this. The CDC will give more guidance for this group once more information is available.

After Getting the Vaccine

Will a COVID-19 vaccine provide long-term protection?

It typically takes a few weeks for the body to build immunity. And since COVID-19 is a new virus, we’re still learning how long protection will last after a vaccine. As more people get vaccinated, researchers will be able to better study and understand how long immunity lasts.

Do you still need to wear a mask if you receive a COVID-19 vaccine?

Until we learn more about exactly how COVID-19 vaccines work, it’s important to continue basic safety precautions. To be clear, vaccines CAN help protect you from getting sick. But we don’t know yet if vaccinated people can spread the virus to others.

In the meantime, everyone—even those who are vaccinated—is encouraged to wear a mask, practice social distancing, and wash hands often.

CDC. COVID-19: Vaccines.