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Sharp Health News

Answers to common COVID-19 vaccine questions

May 4, 2021

Woman asks question between vaccine and virus sick risk.

Vaccination clinics across San Diego are abuzz with locals getting their first or second dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. You can hear the hum of excitement - and you may even witness a few tears of relief and joy - as shots in arms offer a glimmer of hope for a better tomorrow.

While the number of people vaccinated in the county increases each day - Sharp HealthCare alone has provided almost 500,000 vaccines in San Diego - we are not yet close to reaching what is known as herd immunity. This occurs when a large portion of the population becomes immune to an infectious disease, usually through vaccination, thus limiting the risk of infection passing from person to person.

Experts estimate up to 75% of the population needs to be fully vaccinated to reach herd immunity in the U.S. Currently, San Diego County reports approximately 52% of San Diegans age 16 and older have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.

However, children under age 16, who account for more than 680,000, or 20%, of total residents, are not yet eligible for vaccination. And there are many local teens and adults - approximately 1.3 million - who have not yet received a COVID-19 vaccine.

Whether they simply have not yet had the opportunity to schedule an appointment, have a wait-and-see attitude or have concerns about vaccination, the hope is that they will soon join their neighbors in receiving a COVID-19 vaccine to help San Diego achieve a safe and full reopening of the economy and schools, and a return to the activities we all enjoy. Here are answers to some of the common COVID-19 vaccine questions people might have.

Top COVID-19 vaccine questions answered

Why should I get vaccinated?
COVID-19 can have serious, life-threatening complications. The vaccine will help keep you from getting seriously ill, even if you do get COVID-19, and may also protect people around you, particularly people at increased risk for severe illness from COVID-19.

Are the vaccines safe?
Yes, the vaccines are safe. Hundreds of millions of people have received COVID-19 vaccines, and serious side effects are extremely rare. While use of the Johnson & Johnson single-dose vaccine was temporarily paused due to reports of very rare, but severe blood clots in a handful of women who received it, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have reviewed the available data and found that the Johnson & Johnson vaccine's proven benefits outweigh the known risks. However, women younger than 50 years old should be aware of the risk and understand that this risk has not been seen in the vaccines made by Pfizer and Moderna.

How were the vaccines developed so quickly?
No steps were skipped in the development of the vaccines. Government funding allowed for multiple steps to happen at once, rather than one step needing to be completed before another step begins. So the process was quicker, but just as thorough.

Do the vaccines work?
Yes, the vaccines are effective. During trials, the vaccines currently available in the U.S. were 100% effective in preventing serious disease, hospitalizations and death from COVID-19.

Could I have an allergic reaction to the vaccines?
Allergic reactions are rare. Serious allergic reactions have occurred in approximately 2 to 5 people per 1 million vaccinated in the U.S. These reactions almost always occur within 30 minutes after vaccination, and vaccine providers have medicines available to effectively and immediately treat any serious reactions.

Are there vaccine side effects?
People may experience sore muscles and mild fever, especially after the second dose of the Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines. These are not allergic reactions. Instead, these symptoms mean the body's immune system is working as it is supposed to after a vaccine. Some people plan for a day off to rest after their second dose, but many experience mild symptoms or no side effects at all.

What is in the vaccines?
The Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccine ingredients are listed online. While the ingredient names may be unfamiliar to nonscientists, it is important to know they represent some fairly basic things: salts, sugars and buffers to stabilize the vaccine and balance its pH levels, plus ingredients to protect the vaccines from contamination. The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are mRNA vaccines, so they also include fatty lipids to surround and protect the delicate mRNA molecules.

Can the vaccines give me COVID-19?
No, there is no live virus in the vaccines, so you can't get COVID-19 from vaccination.

Can the vaccines change my DNA?
No, the vaccines do not mix with or alter your DNA. Both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines contain messenger ribonucleic acid, or mRNA. The mRNA does not mix with or alter DNA because it never enters the cell nucleus where the DNA is located. Instead, it works within the fluid of the cells, called cytoplasm.

Do the vaccines affect fertility?
There is currently no evidence that any vaccines, including COVID-19 vaccines, cause fertility problems. If you are trying to become pregnant now or want to get pregnant in the future, you may receive a COVID-19 vaccine.

I already had COVID-19. Do I still need to get a vaccine?
Yes. Because repeat infection is possible, people who have tested positive for COVID-19 should get vaccinated once they've recovered and are no longer contagious to others.

Do I have to pay for a vaccine?
No, the vaccines are free. The federal government has paid for COVID-19 vaccines for all Americans. While your insurance plan may be billed for costs to give the vaccine to you, you will not have to pay anything.

How do I get vaccinated?
There are many ways to get a COVID-19 vaccine. San Diegans 16 and older are eligible to get the vaccine. Schedule your appointment on the county's website, or at one of the many pharmacies offering COVID-19 vaccines, including Albertsons/Vons, Costco, CVS, Rite Aid, Walgreens and Walmart. You can also walk in to a no-appointment San Diego County vaccine location.

Learn more about COVID-19 vaccines.

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