After a year of battling COVID-19 there is hope on the horizon. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has given emergency use authorization for two vaccines—Pfizer and Moderna—and vaccinations have started across the country.
Although this news may bring a sigh of relief it also comes with a whole new list of questions and concerns. To help answer some of these questions here is information—and a few tips—on what to expect when getting your COVID-19 vaccination.
When can I get the vaccine?
Initial supplies are limited while the country is ramping up manufacturing of the vaccine. For this reason, the vaccine is being distributed in a phased approach based on recommendations by the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)—starting with health care workers and long-term care facilities, followed by frontline essential workers and people over 65 years of age.
Prioritization and timing for distribution to the general public will vary by state and, in some cases, by county. So, it may be a bit confusing when friends and family in other geographic locations are hearing different things than you are about the vaccine. For the best advice on how to proceed, visit your state or county health department website for the latest information about your area.
When it’s my turn to get vaccinated, what then?
When the long-awaited day arrives and you receive notification that you are now eligible to get the vaccine, you may wonder what to do next? Although the process will vary from state to state or even county to county, there are a few basic things that will happen.
- Request an appointment: Initially all COVID-19 vaccinations will require an appointment, and in most cases, your appointment can be requested online. This initial request will include basic information like birth date, home address and health insurance information, as well as a few additional questions to confirm your eligibility.
- Appointment confirmation: Once your request is reviewed and approved, you will receive an email, text or phone call confirming the day, time and location of your appointment.
- Pre-screening: In most instances, prior to your appointment you will be asked to fill out some simple pre-screening questions. These questions will include information regarding allergies, chronic conditions and other risk factors, as well as other recent vaccinations. It is important to note that these questions are only precautionary and, in most cases, will not disqualify you from receiving the vaccine.
Should I take Tylenol or Motrin before my 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 physician or as needed. Otherwise, do not pre-medicate. Taking over-the-counter medications such as acetaminophen and ibuprofen before receiving a vaccine may reduce its ability to work and blunt your immune response to the vaccine. After the vaccination, you can take acetaminophen or ibuprofen if it is otherwise safe to do so and if you have symptoms that make you uncomfortable.
What can I expect on the day of my vaccination?
Like many other vaccines including the flu shot, the COVID-19 vaccine is given by injection and the process itself is very similar to other vaccines you have received. However, there are a few noteworthy differences:
- You will receive a vaccination card or printout that tells you what COVID-19 vaccine you received, the date you received it and where you received it.
- You should also receive a paper or electronic version of a fact sheet giving you more specifics about the vaccine you are receiving. All authorized COVID-19 vaccines have their own fact sheet with information to help you better understand the risks and benefits of receiving that specific vaccine.
- For those receiving the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, a second follow-up shot, or booster, will need to be scheduled—21 days later for Pfizer or 28 days later for Moderna. In some instances that booster dose will be scheduled when the initial shot is received. If not, it is important to watch your email for additional information on scheduling your follow-up in a timely manner.
- Once you’ve received your vaccine there will be a brief period of time where you will be monitored for any allergic reactions. Most people will be monitored for 15 minutes after getting the vaccine, but those with a history of severe allergic reactions could be monitored for up to 30 minutes or longer, if additional care is needed.
On the day of your appointment remember to bring your appointment confirmation, driver’s license or other government-issued identification, your insurance information and your mask.
Potential—but common—side effects
Initial research has shown that most people who receive the Pfizer or Moderna COVID-19 vaccines experience little to no side effects. However, if you do, these side effects should not be a cause for alarm. In fact, they are normal signs that the vaccine is working, and that your body is building protection against the virus. Side effects may last one to two days and can include:
- Pain or swelling on your arm at the injection site
- Fevers or chills
- Tiredness or fatigue
To help alleviate pain or discomfort where you got the shot, make sure to use or exercise your arm regularly and/or apply a clean, cool, wet washcloth to the area. If you have persistent pain or discomfort, taking an over-the-counter medicine, such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen, may also help.
Contact your doctor or health care provider if the redness or tenderness around the injection site increases after 24 hours, or if your side effects don’t go away after a few days.
For those who received the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine, it is important that you receive both shots in order to achieve the highest possible immunity. Also, keep in mind that it takes time for your body to build up immunity after any vaccine. So, it may not protect you until a week or two after your second shot.
In addition to the brief on-site monitoring period following your vaccination, you will also have the opportunity to participate in a national vaccine-monitoring program called V-safe. V-safe is a smartphone-based tool that uses text messaging and web surveys to provide personalized health check-ins after you receive your COVID-19 vaccination. In addition to daily check-ins for the first couple weeks, it can also provide second vaccine dose reminders and telephone follow-up for anyone experiencing significant adverse side effects. For more information on the V-safe program, visit the CDC website.
Once vaccinated, can I ease up on wearing masks and social distancing?
Getting vaccinated is only an additional tool to help slow the spread of the virus, but there are still a lot of unknowns about long-term immunity. The effectiveness of the vaccine will also be affected by how many people have been vaccinated and how the virus is spreading in the community. So, even after receiving your COVID-19 vaccination it is important to continue practicing the usual precautions—covering your mouth and nose with a mask, washing your hands often, staying at least 6 feet away from others and limiting group gatherings.
Learn more about COVID-19 and vaccines with these additional resources:
- Frequently Asked Questions: COVID-19 Vaccine
- How is Flu Season Different During the COVID-19 Pandemic?
- Vaccinations and Friends Who Doubt Them
Updated: The content of this article has been updated as of Thursday, January 14, 2021.