Be ready! Frequently asked questions about COVID vaccines

January 13, 2021
Be Ready! Frequently asked questions about COVID vaccines

JANUARY 13, 2021 -- COVID vaccines are rolling out. We don’t yet know when you can get yours. (Federal and state governments drive the timeline and order of priority groups.)

We want to help you be ready, with clear information and answers to your questions.

Rollout plans keep evolving. Get updates at


Who should get a COVID vaccine?

Everyone over age 16 should use the vaccine. It’s a safe and effective way to build immunity against contracting COVID. This protects you, and others: The more people vaccinated, the less COVID can spread . . . the faster we can return to normal.

You need two doses, 3-4 weeks apart, depending on which vaccine you receive. It’s important to get both doses, on time, for full effectiveness.

Are the vaccines safe?

Yes. Having a safe and effective vaccine is the top priority for us all. The science behind the vaccine (messenger RNA) has been in development for over a decade. And all the steps of research and testing have been followed to establish the effectiveness and safety of the vaccine.

Clinical trials had tens of thousands of volunteers (for Pfizer, about 40,000; for Moderna, 30,000) rather than a few thousand, for more data in a shorter time. Plus, federal funding enabled production of vaccines at the same time as clinical trials, so millions of doses were available quickly after each vaccine was proven safe and effective.

How effective are the vaccines?

A two-shot series gives 95% protection against contracting COVID. (The small percent who do get COVID have a mild case.) Plus, the vaccines are 100% effective in preventing severe COVID disease and death.

How long does it take for the vaccine to take full effect?

It takes about two weeks after the second dose to build maximum immunity. It’s important to get both doses.

What are the side effects of the vaccine?

Possible side effects are typical of what happens with other vaccines: low-grade fever, body aches, headache, fatigue, joint pain, soreness at the injection site. Side effects may be greater with the second dose. Side effects may feel like flu and might even affect your daily activities, but they should go away in a few days.

Side effects are a sign that the vaccine is working: Your body is building immunity without having an actual infection or being infectious to others.

Can I get COVID from the vaccine?

No. The vaccine does not use live virus. You cannot catch COVID from the vaccine.

It’s possible to become infected through community spread shortly after vaccination, before the vaccine has had enough time to build immunity (typically about two weeks). It’s important to keep using precautions after your vaccination: Wear a mask, keep distance, wash your hands.

The vaccine is 95% effective in preventing COVID. (The small percent who do get COVID have a mild case.) Plus, the vaccines are 100% effective in preventing severe COVID disease and death.

It’s all so new. What if I want to wait and see how other people do with the vaccine?

We understand, new things make people wary – it’s a survival instinct. Remember: COVID is a deadly, highly contagious disease. We now have safe, effective vaccines to prevent it. It is safer to get a vaccine than it is to get COVID.

We encourage you to get a vaccine when it is available to you. This is one of the best ways to protect yourself and everyone around you. The more people who get vaccinated, the less disease there is to spread. Stopping the spread of COVID gets us closer to the end of the pandemic.

After I’m vaccinated, can I still spread COVID?

We don’t know yet. That’s why we need to continue other prevention methods along with vaccine: wear masks, keep distance, don’t gather, wash your hands.

COVID is still widespread. These precautions help everyone. Until enough people are vaccinated for widespread immunity, we all need to continue our precautions.

Do I still have to wear a mask?

Yes. Keep wearing your mask to protect others who are not yet vaccinated. Keep using all precautions: wear a mask, keep distance, don’t gather, wash your hands.

I’ve already had COVID. Do I still need to get vaccinated?

Yes. We don’t know how much immunity you get from having had the virus, or how long it lasts. Vaccine gives a clear, predictable level of protection. Plus, a second, new infection is possible without vaccination. You can become sick again, or make others sick.

If you were recently diagnosed with COVID, talk to your primary care provider about when you should get vaccinated.

I wouldn’t get very sick if I got COVID. Do I still need to get vaccinated?

Yes. There’s no way to know how COVID will affect you, even if you are not at increased risk of severe complications. You can also spread the virus to family, friends, and others around you whether or not you have symptoms. Your vaccine protects others, too.

I have allergies. Should I get vaccinated?

If you have allergies so severe that you carry an EpiPen, talk with your provider and allergist about your options.

I’m pregnant. Should I get vaccinated?

Yes. Based on how mRNA vaccines work, experts believe they are unlikely to pose a specific risk for people who are pregnant. Getting COVID poses a bigger risk: Pregnant people who get COVID are at higher risk of severe illness or death, and COVID can affect your baby’s health. (Source: CDC) Talk with your provider if you have concerns.

I’m breastfeeding. Should I get vaccinated?

The CDC says that mRNA vaccines are not thought to be a risk to the breastfeeding infant. (There are no data at this time on the safety of COVID vaccines in lactating women or on the effects of mRNA vaccines on the breastfed infant or on milk production/excretion.)  People who are breastfeeding and in a group that’s recommended to get a COVID vaccine (such as healthcare workers) can choose to be vaccinated.

Does the vaccine affect fertility?

No. No vaccine affects fertility or sterility, in women or men, girls or boys. Getting sick with COVID can affect sperm count and motility in men.

How does the vaccine work?

The vaccine uses “messenger RNA” (mRNA) to teach cells how to make a protein that triggers an immune response inside the body. That immune response produces antibodies that protect you from getting infected if the real virus enters your body.

Can mRNA alter my DNA?

No. mRNA does not affect or interact with your DNA in any way. It never enters the nucleus of the cell, where DNA is kept. Instead, the vaccine uses mRNA to work with the body’s natural defenses to safely develop immunity.

Does my vaccine protect my loved ones?

Yes. This is one of the best ways to protect yourself and everyone around you. The more people who get vaccinated, the less disease there is to spread. Stopping the spread of COVID gets us closer to the end of the pandemic.

Three reasons to get the vaccine:

We share a social responsibility to protect others.
You might not be at high risk for becoming seriously ill or dying from COVID, but we all have a responsibility not to spread it to others who are at high risk. You can spread COVID without even becoming sick yourself. The more people who get vaccinated, the fewer people there are to spread COVID. Vaccines are the best way to develop immunity as safely as possible.COVID will continue to exist, a viral illness in our world like chickenpox, measles, and influenza. We will all need to become immune to this virus at some point in our lives. Science shows the vaccine is the safest way to build immunity. Widespread immunity helps us get back to normal. When 75% to 80% of the population is vaccinated, the country will develop widespread immunity that protects us all. The sooner we each get vaccinated to protect our family, friends, and neighbors from COVID, the sooner we can reopen and gather together once again.

There’s a lot of information being published about COVID vaccines. Please choose reliable sources to learn the facts, so you can make an informed decision about your health – and your loved ones.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention CDC-recommended sources Minnesota Department of Health Johns Hopkins University Coronavirus Resource Center