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Vaccine Frequently Asked Questions

Pediatric Vaccination

Can my child be vaccinated?

Children ages 5 and older are eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine by Pfizer-BioNTech. This can be scheduled by calling your child’s primary care providers office or through MyChart.

Is the children’s vaccine different?

As with adults and adolescents, children ages 5-11 receive two shots of the Pfizer vaccine. However, the doses are for the younger group are smaller, about one-third of the adult and adolescent dose, and they are given 21 days apart.

What kind of protection does the vaccine provide for children?

Pfizer presented data to regulators indicating its vaccine was 91% effective in preventing COVID-19 in children ages 5-11. An independent panel of FDA advisers stated that the protection of the vaccine “would clearly outweigh” any risk of possible side effects.

Aren’t children at very low risk of contracting COVID-19?

Children make up a growing portion of COVID-19 cases. According to a report by the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Children’s Hospital Association, nearly 5.9 million children have tested positive for COVID-19.

In addition to protecting the child, vaccination can help reduce the chance that an infected child will spread the virus to others.

How did Pfizer test the vaccine?

Pfizer submitted data on clinical trials involving 2,250 children ages 5 to 11.

Among the 1,500 who received the vaccine, there were three cases of symptomatic COVID-19. Meanwhile, there were 16 cases among the remaining 750 who received a placebo. This equates to a 90.7% efficacy rate.

There were no serious reactions reported, with mild to moderate side effects similar to those seen by adult recipients, such as fatigue, pain at the injection site, headaches and fevers.

What about serious side effects?

Regulators analyzed the risk of a potential side effect, myocarditis, a swelling of the heart muscle. They found no cases of this condition among children in the clinical trials.

Although myocarditis has been reported as a side effect among adolescent and young adult vaccine recipients, this condition most often is caused by a viral infection – it is 16 times more likely among COVID patients compared to uninfected patients.

Are other COVID-19 vaccines being considered for children?

Studies continue for other vaccine makers. Moderna has reported promising results in a study of its vaccine among more than 4,500 children ages 6-11.

Booster Shot

Who is eligible for a booster shot?

Booster shots (or third doses) have now been authorized for many groups, regardless of which vaccine was received first. Previously, boosters (or third shots) were only approved for at-risk groups who had received the Pfizer vaccine.

The CDC recommends a second shot for any adult 18 years and older who received the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine, if at least two months have passed since getting the shot.

For those who received the two-shot Pfizer vaccines, the following groups are eligible for a third dose at 6 months or more after their second dose:

  • Teens 16-17 years old
  • Adults 18 years and older

For those who received the two-shot Moderna vaccine, the following groups are eligible for a third dose at 6 months or more after their second dose:

  • Adults 18 years and older

We were told the vaccines were highly effective. Why do we need a booster?

The authorized vaccines continue to provide very strong protection, particularly against severe illness, hospitalization and death.

However, health officials cite two reasons for the need for a booster: Evidence shows vaccine-induced protection against COVID-19 infection begins to decrease over time, which also occurs with a natural infection. And the vaccine effectiveness is generally not as strong against the Delta variant. Boosting the previous vaccine series should provide more protection against the Delta variant and probably other variants, too.

In fact, many vaccines require multiple doses – the polio vaccine and the diphtheria-tetanus vaccine are just a couple of common examples.

I’m not vaccinated. Is it too late to bother getting my first shot?

It’s not too late! Vaccination is recommended for everyone, with rare exceptions for allergies, 12 years and older.

Although UM Health-West already distributed nearly 50,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccines by mid-August, we have supplies to continue immunizations.

The vaccines authorized for use in the United States (the vaccine by Pfizer-BioNTech now is fully licensed for ages 16 and older) are highly effective, even against the Delta variant, particularly in preventing severe illness, hospitalization and death.

Why does it seem as if guidelines change so often?

This disease was essentially unknown before 2020, and the vaccines have been in wide use in the United States for even less time. Every day brings more studies on what is safe and what is not.

This emphasizes why it is important to apply as many precautions as possible to prevent COVID-19 and to keep reducing the risk to the community.

By combining individual precautions (wearing a mask in public, keeping our distance) with shared precautions (testing and vaccination efforts) we can be confident that we will bring the pandemic to an end.

The Delta Variant and Others

What is a coronavirus variant, and why should I be concerned?

Variants are common with every virus – think of the season flu as an example. Every time a virus reproduces, there is a chance for a genetic copying “error” or mutation.

Mutation and evolution often result in a virus that spreads more easily, which is what appears to have happened with the highly contagious Delta variant and newly discovered Omicron variant. Studies also suggest that this variant, which has become dominant in many parts of the country, including Michigan, causes more severe illness.

This is why it is so important to reduce infections through vaccination and other precautions. Every time the virus is passed on is another opportunity to mutate.

I’m fully vaccinated. Do I need to worry about the Delta variant?

The primary concern is for unvaccinated people. However, no vaccine is 100% effective.

The COVID-19 vaccines authorized for use in the United States (the vaccine by Pfizer-BioNTech now is fully licensed for ages 16 and older) continue to show strong protection in preventing severe disease, hospitalization and death. This includes illness caused by the Delta variant.

However, the Delta variant is not only more contagious, but may cause more severe illness than earlier strains.

Studies also show that it is possible for fully vaccinated people to experience rare “breakthrough” infections and spread the virus to others.

For these reasons, the CDC is recommending layered prevention strategies, such as wearing masks in public settings.

Choosing A Vaccine

Which vaccine should I get?

The widely accepted medical recommendation is that the best vaccine to receive is the vaccine that is first available for you.

Each of the three currently authorized vaccines offers outstanding protection against COVID-19. Each has been scientifically tested with constant monitoring for safety with diverse populations.

Shouldn’t I take my chances with COVID, rather than a blood clot?

The risk of COVID-19 is far more significant than the very small risk of adverse effects from any of the vaccines.

With nearly 360 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines administered in the United States between December 2020 and mid-August 2021, serious adverse effects were reported in an tiny fraction of a percent of those who received the vaccine.  For example, anaphylaxis, a severe allergic reaction, has occurred in about 2 to 5 people per million vaccinated.

By comparison, thousands of unvaccinated Americans are hospitalized every single day with COVID-19.

About COVID-19 Vaccines

Is one vaccine more effective than the other?

It is impossible to compare efficacy rates of the vaccines, and it is important to remember that they all offer outstanding protection. Each has been scientifically proven to be safe and effective in preventing severe cases and hospitalization.

What is the difference between the vaccines?

While each takes a slightly different approach, all are safe and effective.

The first two vaccines to be authorized for use, by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna, (the vaccine by Pfizer-BioNTech now is fully licensed for ages 16 and older) use mRNA technology to teach the body’s immune system to build defenses against the coronavirus. These vaccines start iwth a regiment of two shots delivered several weeks apart. The vaccines also have special ultra-cold storage requirements.

The vaccine by Janssen (a division of Johnson and Johnson) uses a harmless adenovirus (such as the virus we refer to as the “common cold”) to deliver genetic instructions to teach the body to protect against the coronavirus. This is a single-shot vaccine with conventional storage requirements, making it easier to distribute.

Will taking the vaccine give me COVID-19?

None of the vaccines authorized for use can give you COVID-19. They do not contain the coronavirus that causes COVID-19.

How much will the vaccine cost?

The vaccine itself is funded with federal tax dollars. A small fee is charged to administer the shot, but this fee should be covered by public or private insurance, or by a government relief fund for the uninsured. Cost will not be a barrier to vaccination.

I heard that these vaccines use some new technology. Isn’t that dangerous?

The Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines were developed using “messenger RNA,” or mRNA, to teach the body to fight off the coronavirus. Although this is a breakthrough for vaccine development, the technology has been around for decades, and it has been clinically tested in the treatment of a wide range of infections. Doctors and researchers believe mRNA has the potential to fight other diseases, like cancer.

The third vaccine authorized, by Janssen (a division of Johnson & Johnson), uses a safe and proven approach that has been studied since the 1970s. It uses a harmless virus to deliver instructions to teach the body to protect against the coronavirus.

Won’t these mRNA vaccines change my DNA?

No, because, as the federal Centers for Disease Control notes, mRNA never enters the nucleus of the cell, which is where our DNA is kept. And in the case of the Janssen/Johnson & Johnson vaccine, this type of “viral vector vaccine” does not interact with DNA in any way.

Find out more about how mRNA vaccines work.

Find out more about how viral vector vaccines work.

Vaccine Distribution

Who should get the vaccine?

The vaccines are recommended, with very few exceptions, for all people 5 and older, including women who are pregnant, breastfeeding, or trying to get pregnant.  They have been found to be safe and effective regardless of age, race, gender or weight.

All vaccines are being reviewed in expanded clinical trials to include younger patients.

You should not get the vaccine if you had a severe allergic reaction after a previous dose, or if you are severely allergic to any ingredient of the vaccine. See the ingredients for the Pfizer vaccine, the Moderna vaccine and the Janssen/Johnson & Johnson vaccine. General information about vaccines and allergies can be reviewed here.

Where will the vaccine be administered?

University of Michigan Health-West is offering the COVID-19 vaccine at several locations around West Michigan.

Schedule your vaccine appointment here or by calling 616.252.6161.

How is it administered?

The COVID-19 vaccine is delivered with an injection in the arm. Similar to a flu shot, the process takes just a few minutes. Depending on which vaccine you receive, you may need a booster shot several weeks later. You will receive information about scheduling the second dose, if necessary, when you schedule your vaccination.

Will I know which vaccine I am receiving?

Yes, every patient will be informed which vaccine they are receiving.

Safety, Side Effects & Other Concerns

What are the side effects?

The most commonly reported side effects, which typically lasted several days, are pain at the injection site, tiredness, headache, muscle pain, chills, joint pain, and fever.  These symptoms, which may be more likely and noticeable after the second dose, are typically mild and temporary. They are indications that the vaccine is working.

Serious side effects are extremely rare. They include a type of blood clot called thrombotic thrombocytopenia, and an allergic reaction called anaphylaxis.

These vaccines are the most closely monitored for safety in U.S. history. Find out more.

Is it true that younger patients have more serious side effects?

Clinical trials found that the younger age group was slightly more likely to experience fever, aches and pains. This is possibly due to the robust immune system in younger patients.

Warnings about rare allergic reactions, including anaphylaxis, are the same as for adults. Although the risk is extremely rare, the FDA says the vaccine should not be given to anyone with a history of a severe allergic reaction to any ingredients of the vaccine.

What is the risk of an allergic reaction?

The CDC, which is closely tracking the rate of allergic reactions to vaccines, reports that they are rare. Anaphylaxis, for example, has been reported in about 2 to 5 people million per vaccinated.

Although the vaccines do not contain eggs, latex or preservatives, those who have allergies to eggs or other substances should remain after vaccination for 30 minutes for observation.

You should not get the vaccine if you had a severe allergic reaction after a previous dose, or if you are severely allergic to any ingredient of the vaccine. See the ingredients for the Pfizer vaccine, the Moderna vaccine and the Janssen/Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

General information about vaccines and allergies can be reviewed here.

Can I get the vaccine if I’ve had COVID-19 or think I may have had COVID-19 in the past?

Yes, you should get vaccinated if you’ve had COVID-19 previously. There is not enough information currently available to say if or for how long after infection someone is protected from getting COVID-19 again; this is called natural immunity. Early evidence suggests natural immunity from COVID-19 may not last very long, but more studies are needed to better understand this.

The CDC advises that previously infected people should delay vaccination until they are fully recovered. Talk with your doctor if you have questions about receiving the vaccine.

Should I get the COVID-19 vaccine at the same time as another vaccine?

You can get the COVID vaccines and other vaccines at the same visit The CDC no longer recommends a timing gap.

Can the vaccines cause infertility or miscarriage?

No cases of infertility or miscarriage have been linked to the vaccines. A disinformation campaign has been circulating online, claiming that antibodies interfere with placental proteins and prevent pregnancy. This is not plausible, because no viral infections (which trigger antibody production) have been linked to infertility. The CDC has stated that pregnant or lactating patients can receive the vaccine if they are eligible, following a discussion about the relative risks.

Do the authorized vaccines contain fetal tissue?

The Janssen (a division of Johnson & Johnson) vaccine has drawn attention because the manufacturing process used cells derived from fetal tissue. These cloned cells were used to grow the harmless adenovirus that the vaccine uses to deliver genetic instructions to teach the body to protect against the coronavirus. The vaccine itself contains none of the cells.

The other two vaccines currently authorized, by Pfizer and Moderna, were tested on fetal cell lines. However, cells were not used in development or production of those vaccines.

In all cases, these cells are clones or “immortalized” copies of decades-old fetal cells. Immortalized cell lines are established by culturing fetal cells in such a way that they continue growing and multiplying indefinitely. While immortalized cell lines began with fetal cells, they no longer contain fetal body parts, and no fetal tissue remains. No cells remain from the original fetal tissue.

After Vaccination

I lost my vaccine card, what do I do?

The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services launched a new website, the Michigan Immunization Portal, that allows any individual 18 and older who has been immunized in the state of Michigan to check and obtain a copy of their vaccination record online.

Do vaccinated people still need to observe restrictions, like avoiding crowds, wearing a mask, etc.?

The federal Centers for Disease Control guidelines state that people can resume their regular activities after their final dose. However, to reduce the risk of being infected with the Delta variant and possibly spreading it to others, the CDC recommends wearing a mask indoors in public in areas of substantial or high transmission.

You can look up the risk level for your county here.

Additionally, masks may still be universally required in certain settings, such as buses, planes, prisons and homeless shelters. Hospitals and healthcare settings, including UM Health-West, will continue to require mask-wearing.

The CDC guidance defers to local and state requirements including those established by local businesses.

Can I still be a carrier if I’m vaccinated?

The risk of you developing COVID-19 remains very low if you are fully vaccinated. However, it is still possible that you could spread the virus to others. Vaccination does not completely protect you from being infected. It primarily makes your body better at fighting off the infection. That might take some time, meaning you could be carrying the virus as your immune system goes to work.

As we continue to learn more about how the virus is transmitted, it’s important to keep in mind the transmission risk for vulnerable groups. The CDC continually updates its guidance on safe activities here.

Will scientists continue tracking the safety and effectiveness of the vaccine?

Federal oversight does not end once the vaccines are approved. Local healthcare workers, who were among the first to get the vaccine, are using an after-vaccine health checker to provide additional data to a national database. Anyone who gets the vaccine may also use the vaccine reporting system – VAERS – to report side effects.

The CDC also recently released its V-safe smartphone tool, which allows users to tell the CDC about any side effects after getting the COVID-19 vaccine.

For additional information, visit Michigan Medicine’s COVID-19 Vaccine FAQs.