A tray of purple-topped medical vials

You don’t like needles. Plus you’re anxious about the safety of COVID-19 vaccines—or the exposure of waiting in line to get one. We hear you. Here are answers to common COVID-19 vaccine questions from infectious disease experts.

Q. What’s the point of getting vaccinated?

A. Both Moderna and Pfizer/BioNTech SE vaccines give you up to 95 percent of protection—and lower your risk of infecting others. The latest data shows that Pfizer’s vaccine gives you 90 percent protection within two weeks of your first shot.

The risk of dying is almost eliminated entirely once the vaccine kicks in. The vast majority of people exposed to the virus or one of the variants, will have mild cold-like symptoms. That’s far better than the risk of death or serious heart, lung and other illnesses that could accompany the virus.

Q. Can you get COVID-19 from the vaccines themselves?

A. No,COVID-19 vaccines don’t contain the actual virus.

Instead, they rely on a new approach, in which molecular couriers ship COVID-19’s genetic coding directly to cells, so they’ll recognize and destroy the virus should it try to invade.

Still, it bears repeating: Neither of the approved Pfizer or Moderna vaccines kick in instantly. You get the full effect after a second shot 3 to 4 weeks after the first. Your body then needs 2 weeks after that to create its full army of antibodies to protect you. You could get sick just before or after being inoculated. But once you’re armed with a full defense, you’ll be protected.

Q. How do vaccines help protect us, and if they’re so great why do we have to keep wearing masks?

A. Post-vaccine, we have to use every tool in our medical bag. Wearing masks, washing hands thoroughly and keeping our distance from others all make a difference in protecting us—and others.

But vaccines are the best way to prevent COVID-19. They partner with your body’s natural defenses to fight the virus should you be exposed to it.

Q. Did the rush to create the vaccines make them unsafe?

A. No. No safety protocols or tests were skipped when creating and reviewing the vaccines.

Even before the pandemic, drug companies were studying ways to improve immunity-boosting vaccines against viruses, including coronaviruses. The formal name of the coronavirus that led to the pandemic is SARS-CoV-2. So, the COVID-19 vaccines were created using thoroughly vetted methods of inoculating people against viruses, including SARS, a virus that existed prior to the pandemic.

Those who participated in studies were followed for 2 months or longer. In fact, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, drug companies and the National Institutes of Health continue to study the vaccines.

And an independent, nonbiased committee of infectious disease experts closely reviewed the clinical trials to ensure vaccines worked and are safe.

Q. What types of COVID-19 vaccines are available?

A. Most vaccines are given in two shots, spaced 3 to 4 weeks apart. The second should give you the full protection. If you are told to get two shots, be sure to do so.

Currently two vaccines are approved in the U.S., from Moderna and Pfizer. Both are highly effective. Whichever you receive will be invaluable in protecting you, in partnership with masks, social distancing and handwashing.

Q. Should I get vaccinated if I already had COVID-19?

A. Yes. You can get infected more than once. You may have read that having had the coronavirus strengthens your immune system against the disease. But we don’t know yet just how long that protection lasts. And vaccination is not only safe, but the best weapon against COVID-19.

Do let your doctor, nurse and clinic know you’ve had the virus and when.

Q. Could I catch the coronavirus while in line waiting to be vaccinated?

A. Minimize your risk by wearing a mask and watching your distance.

Q. Once I’m vaccinated, why do I still have to wear a mask?

A. We don’t know yet how long vaccines protect you. As you know from childhood and flu vaccinations, some must be repeated. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Protection and your county’s health department offer guidelines.

Also, even if you catch COVID-19 and have mild cold-like to no symptoms, you could spread it to those not yet able to get vaccinated and they could get more seriously ill. Wearing masks, keeping distant and washing your hands are a way to help protect your loved ones and neighbors.

The benefits are vast compared to the inconvenience.

Q. Do I have to be a legal resident to get vaccinated?

A. No. Your immigration status does not matter. You are eligible to receive the vaccines—and any information you give will not be used against you. Vaccinations are given at no expense to you, financial or otherwise.

Q. Where can I learn more about the COVID-19 vaccines?


Q. I have a fever or feel ill. What can I do?

A. Call the free 24/7 Nurse Health Line. You can talk to our trained nurses about your health concerns. Bilingual interpreters are available. Call (713) 338-7979 or visit nursehealthline.org.

The information in this article was accurate as of February 26, 2021.

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