The coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic disrupted our lives and our healthcare systems and accounted for millions of illnesses across the globe ranging from mild to severe to deadly. COVID-19 vaccination is a critical tool in stopping this pandemic.
Currently, three vaccines are approved or authorized for use by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). These vaccines are designed to teach your body’s immune system to recognize and fight off the virus that causes COVID-19. There are several COVID-19 vaccines that are in the late stages of development and may be authorized for use in the future.
Millions of people in the United States have received COVID-19 vaccines. These vaccines have undergone the most intensive safety monitoring in U.S. history and were found to be both safe and effective. You may need more than one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. The first shot starts building protection. A second shot a few weeks later is needed to get the most protection the vaccine has to offer. If you are severely or moderately immunocompromised, you may also need a third dose.
None of these vaccines can give you COVID-19.
Information about COVID-19 vaccines will be updated frequently as new information becomes available.
COVID-19 has sickened and killed millions of people worldwide. COVID-19 vaccines have been tested in clinical trials to determine that they are highly effective in stimulating our bodies to develop immunity and protect us from the disease. Therefore, COVID-19 vaccines are a critical tool in stopping the pandemic, resuming normal life, and protecting ourselves and others from this disease.
COVID-19 is caused by a virus called Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2). It is caused by a strain of coronavirus not previously seen in humans. Coronaviruses, named for the crown-like spikes on their surfaces, are a large family of viruses, which circulate in humans and other animals such as pigs, bats, and cats.
SARS-CoV-2 is the third novel coronavirus to emerge in this century and infect humans (the original SARS outbreak emerged in China in 2003 and the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus emerged in Saudi Arabia in 2012). It was first reported in Wuhan, China, in December 2019. COVID-19 was declared a global pandemic by the World Health Organization in March 2020. The United States declared a public health emergency for the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020 as well.
SARS-CoV-2 spreads easily from person-to-person when people are in close contact, mainly through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs, sneezes, or talks. To a less extent, the virus can also spread by people who touch contaminated surfaces or objects such as handrails and doorknobs, then touching their eyes, noses, or mouths without washing their hands first.
People with COVID-19 may not know that they are spreading it. People who are infected with the virus that causes COVID-19 can spread it before they become ill. Some people who are infected might not exhibit symptoms, but can spread the virus to other people. COVID-19 can be serious, especially for older adults and people who have underlying medical conditions like heart or lung disease or diabetes. Symptoms can start in as little as 2 days or as long as 14 days after exposure with the average time taking about 5 days.
Symptoms of COVID-19 include:
- Fever or chills
- Loss of taste or smell
- Difficulty breathing
- Muscle or body aches
- Pain or pressure in the chest
- Sore throat
- Congestion or runny nose
- Nausea or vomiting
- Not able to wake up or stay awake
People with COVID-19 symptoms often recover on their own. They can also slowly get worse with difficulty breathing, or abruptly become very ill about a week after their symptoms start.
Everyone 12 years of age and older is now eligible to get a COVID-19 vaccination.
You should not get a coronavirus vaccine if you:
- Had a severe allergic reaction to any ingredient in the vaccine (you can find vaccine ingredients on the Janssen, Moderna and Pfizer fact sheets)
- Had a severe reaction after a previous dose of the Moderna or Pfizer vaccine
You should talk with your healthcare provider before getting vaccinated if you:
- Are sick, not feeling well, or have a fever
- Think you may have had a serious reaction to a vaccine in the past
- Have allergies
- Have a bleeding disorder or are on a blood thinner
- Are immunocompromised or are taking medicine that affects your immune system
- Are planning to become pregnant, are pregnant, or are breastfeeding
- Have received another COVID-19 vaccine
These COVID-19 vaccines were tested for safety and will continue to be studied to ensure their safety. Most people who have taken COVID-19 vaccines report that side effects are usually mild and go away after several days. However, it is possible for severe and unexpected side effects to occur.
The common side effects may include:
- Pain, swelling, or redness where the shot was given
- Feeling tired
- Muscle pain
- Joint pain
- Nausea or vomiting
- Feeling unwell
- Tender or swollen lymph nodes
Experiencing these side effects actually means that the vaccine is working to stimulate your body to generate an immune response. Remember, vaccines mimic a natural infection without causing us to become sick. Some people feel their immune response more than others and some people may feel the immune response more after the second dose of the vaccine. Learn more about vaccine side effects.
There is a remote chance that a COVID-19 vaccine could cause a severe allergic reaction. A severe allergic reaction would usually occur within a few minutes to one hour after getting a dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. For this reason, your vaccination provider may ask you to stay at the place where you received your vaccine for monitoring after vaccination.
Signs of a severe allergic reaction can include:
- Difficulty breathing
- Swelling of your face and throat
- A fast heartbeat
- A bad rash all over your body
- Dizziness and weakness
If you experience a severe allergic reaction, call 9-1-1, or go to the nearest hospital. Call your vaccination provider or your healthcare provider if you have any side effects that bother you or do not go away.
Please report any potential side effects experienced from COVID-19 vaccination to the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System, a program co-managed by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration to ensure that all recommended vaccines remain safe. The Countermeasure Injury Compensation Program (CICP) may help pay for the costs of medical care and other expenses for people seriously injured from a COVID-19 vaccine. Learn more about the CICP.
These may not be all the possible side effects of a COVID-19 vaccine. Serious and unexpected side effects may occur, as these vaccines are still being studied in clinical trials.
A robust vaccine safety monitoring system is in place in the United States for COVID-19 and other vaccines. Learn how our federal partners are working together to ensure the safety of COVID-19 vaccines, which includes developing new safety monitoring systems and additional information sources. All COVID-19 vaccines authorized for use underwent clinical trials in many thousands of study participants, and will continue to be monitored and studied to ensure their safety. Data from these activities are monitored by CDC, FDA and other federal agencies.
After vaccination, you can sign up for a new health check service on your smartphone, called V-safe from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. V-safe uses text messaging and web surveys to check in with vaccine recipients after COVID-19 vaccination. V-safe also provides a reminder to get your second dose of vaccine, if needed, and will follow up with you if you report a medically important event.
Please report any potential side effects experienced from COVID-19 vaccination to the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System, a program co-managed by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration to ensure that all recommended vaccines remain safe.
- Read the Janssen COVID-19 Vaccine Fact Sheet for Patients and Caregivers.
- Read the Moderna COVID-19 Vaccine Fact Sheet for Patients and Caregivers.
- Read the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine Fact Sheet for Patients and Caregivers.
- Learn more from the National Institutes of Health about COVID-19 vaccine clinical trials and COVID-19 testing and treatment developments.
- Learn more from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration about the rigorous scientific and regulatory processes in place to ensure the safety, effectiveness and quality of COVID-19 vaccines.
- Learn more about the benefits of COVID-19 vaccines, how they work, and other facts and safety information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.