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Vaccine Frequently Asked Questions

Booster Shot

What is a bivalent booster?

The updated boosters provide broader protection against newer variants. They are called “bivalent” because they protect against both the original form of the virus and the most recent Omicron subvariants, BA.4 and BA.5, which are more contagious and more resistant than earlier strains of Omicron.

Who is eligible for a booster?

Booster shots are recommended in most cases for anyone 5 and older, at least five months after receiving their second dose, depending on which vaccine was received.

To help determine your eligibility, the CDC provides a booster calculator here.

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

The vaccines continue to provide very strong protection, particularly against severe illness, hospitalization and death. However, vaccine-induced protection against COVID-19 infection decreases over time, which also occurs with a natural infection.

Additionally, the updated, or bivalent boosters, target the most recent Omicron subvariants, BA.4 and BA.5, which are more contagious and more resistant than earlier strains of Omicron.

Boosters are common with vaccines. Many 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, 6 months and older.

Will I need another booster someday?

It’s possible we will need updated vaccinations, just as we do with the seasonal flu. Scientists are reviewing options to make sure immunity stays strong, as well as the best strategies to protect against new variants of the coronavirus.

Pediatric Vaccination

Can my child be vaccinated?

The CDC recommends children 6 months and older receive a COVID-19 vaccine by Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna. These can be scheduled through MyChart or by calling your child’s primary care provider’s office.

Are the children’s vaccines different? What about boosters?

Children receive multiple doses in a series. These are specially sized for children, and each schedule – including for boosters – is different based on age and vaccine manufacturer.

Talk to your pediatrician about keeping your child up to date on COVID-19 vaccinations. The CDC also provides guidelines for initial vaccination here, and a booster calculator here.

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

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Children’s Hospital Association, over 13.6 million children had tested positive for COVID-19 as of late June 2022, representing 18.8% of all cases in the United States.

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

How were the vaccines tested for children?

Scientists conducted clinical trials with thousands of children and teens to establish their safety and effectiveness. The COVID-19 vaccines continue to be monitored under what the CDC describes as the most comprehensive and intense vaccine safety monitoring program in the U.S. history. Read more about the development, testing and monitoring of vaccines.

What about side effects?

The CDC notes that clinical trials, and ongoing safety monitoring, confirm that the risks from COVID-19 are much greater than the potential for a rare adverse reaction to the vaccine.

One example is the rare instance of, myocarditis, a swelling of the heart muscle. In children ages 5-11, researchers found 20 confirmed reports of myocarditis out of 18.1 million doses between November 2021 and April 2022. Reporting rates were around 70 cases per million doses in males ages 12 to 15, and 105 cases per million doses in males 16-17.

In fact, myocarditis is most often caused by a viral infection and is more likely among COVID patients compared to uninfected patients.

Omicron And Other Variants

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

Variants are common with every virus – think of the seasonal 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.

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 variants?

The greatest risk, especially for severe illness, is for unvaccinated people. However, no vaccine is 100% effective.

It is possible for fully vaccinated people to experience “breakthrough” infections and spread the virus to others.

For these reasons, the CDC is recommending layered prevention strategies, such as wearing masks in high-risk areas, in addition to being fully vaccinated and boosted.

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 available for you. Your primary care provider can provide you with guidance. Additionally, the CDC provides an overview here of the four COVID-19 vaccines available in the United States.

Each of the 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 side effects?

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

With hundreds of millions of doses of COVID-19 vaccines administered in the United States, serious adverse effects have been reported in a tiny fraction of a percent of those who received the vaccine. For example, anaphylaxis, a severe allergic reaction, has occurred in about 5 people per million vaccinated.

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

About COVID-19 Vaccines

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, use mRNA technology to teach the body’s immune system to build defenses against the coronavirus. These vaccines start with a regimen of two shots delivered several weeks apart.

The Novavax vaccine is a “protein subunit vaccine” that contains spike-protein pieces of the virus, plus another ingredient called an adjuvant, which helps the immune system respond to that spike protein. This also is a two-shot series. It is not recommended as a booster dose at this time.

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 authorized for only certain circumstances.

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 Novavax vaccine’s protein subunit technology has been used for decades, including for immunizations for hepatitis B and whooping cough.

The Janssen (a division of Johnson & Johnson) vaccine 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.

Learn more about how the three types of vaccines work.

Won’t these mRNA vaccines change my DNA?

No, because, as the federal Centers for Disease Control notes, vaccine material never enters the nucleus of the cell, which is where our DNA is kept.

Vaccine Distribution

Who should get the vaccine?

The vaccines are recommended, with very few exceptions, for all people as young as 6 months, 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.

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 vaccines 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. Depending on which vaccine you receive, you will likely need a second dose several weeks later to complete the series. You will receive information about scheduling the second dose, when you schedule your vaccination. Booster shots also are authorized for ages 5 and older, after at least five months have passed since completing the vaccination series.

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 or booster, 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.

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 5 people per million 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 vaccines here.

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 vaccination significantly reduces the risk of reinfection.

The CDC advises that previously infected people should delay vaccination until they are fully recovered and able to end their isolation. 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 recommended that pregnant and lactating patients receive the vaccine if they are eligible.

Do the authorized vaccines contain fetal tissue?

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 vaccines 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.

Novavax has stated its vaccine was not tested on fetal cell lines and contains no fetal tissue.

After Vaccination

I lost my vaccine card, what do I do?

The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services launched a 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 call for 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 hospitals and healthcare settings, including UM Health-West.

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 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.

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