What you Need to Know About the COVID-19 Vaccine Plan

Vaccine Basics

How many COVID-19 vaccines are currently available?

Currently, three vaccines are authorized for the prevention of COVID-19 in the United States:

Multiple COVID-19 vaccines are also still under development. As of December 28, 2020, the following large-scale (Phase 3) clinical trials are in progress for additional COVID-19 vaccines in the United States:

  • AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine (authorized outside of the US)
  • Novavax’s COVID-19 vaccine​

Allergen information

The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines authorized to prevent COVID-19 in the United States do not contain:

  • Eggs
  • Preservatives
  • Latex
  • Thimerosal

The Johnson & Johnson/Janssen vaccine authorized to prevent COVID-19 in the United States does not contain:

  • Eggs
  • Preservatives
  • Latex

Understanding how COVID-19 vaccines work

COVID-19 vaccines help our bodies develop immunity to the virus that causes COVID-19 without having to be infected with the illness. Different types of vaccines work in different ways to offer protection, but with all types of vaccines, the body is left with a supply of “memory” T-lymphocytes and B-lymphocytes that will remember how to fight that virus if you are infected in the future.

The COVID-19 vaccines will not give you COVID-19                

None of the COVID-19 vaccines currently in development or in use in the United States contain the live virus that causes COVID-19. There are several different types of vaccines in development however, the goal for each of them is to teach our immune systems how to recognize and fight the virus that causes COVID-19.

Receiving a viral vector vaccine cannot cause you to become infected with COVID-19 or with the adenovirus that is being used as the vector.

As your body begins to build immunity against the COVID-19 virus, you may have some side effects, such as fever, chills, or tiredness. These symptoms are normal and should go away in a few days.

COVID-19 vaccines will not cause you to test positive on a COVID-19 viral test

None of the vaccines authorized for the prevention of COVID-19 in the United States, nor the vaccines currently in clinical trials in the United States cause you to test positive on viral tests. Viral tests are used to evaluate individuals for current COVID-19 infection.​

If your body develops an immune response, which is the goal of vaccination, there is a possibility you may test positive on some antibody tests. Antibody tests indicate you had a previous infection and that you may have some level of protection against the virus.

Help stop the pandemic by getting vaccinated

Studies have shown that all of the COVID-19 vaccines effectively keep you from becoming infected with COVID-19. Being protected by the vaccine is important because even though many people with COVID-19 only develop mild illness, others may become severely ill, have long-term health effects, or could die. There is no way of knowing how COVID-19 will affect you, even if you don’t have an increased risk of developing severe complications. Receiving the COVID-19 vaccine will also help keep you from becoming seriously ill, even if you do happen to get COVID-19.

COVID-19 vaccination is an important tool to help get us back to normal. Although each of the vaccines work differently, they all teach our immune system how to recognize and fight the virus that causes COVID-19.

People are considered fully protected two weeks after their second dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna COVID-19 vaccine or two weeks after the single-dose Johnson & Johnson/Janssen COVID-19 vaccine.

For more information, we encourage everyone to visit the County of Ventura’s COVID-19 website or the CDC COVID-19 website.

About mRNA Vaccines

New approach to vaccines

mRNA vaccines are a new type of vaccine to protect against infectious diseases. To trigger an immune response, many vaccines put a weakened or inactivated germ into our bodies. This is not the case with mRNA vaccines. Instead, mRNA vaccines teach our cells how to make a protein that triggers an immune response inside our bodies. That immune response, which produces antibodies, is what protects us from getting infected if the real virus enters our bodies.

Video provided by USA Today

mRNA vaccines are new, but not unknown

Researchers have been studying and working with mRNA vaccines for decades. Interest has grown in these vaccines because they can be developed in a laboratory using readily available materials, making vaccine development faster than traditional methods.

mRNA vaccines have been studied before for flu, Zika, rabies, and cytomegalovirus (CMV). As soon as the necessary information about the virus that causes COVID-19 was available, scientists began designing the mRNA instructions for cells to build the unique spike protein into an mRNA vaccine.

Receiving an mRNA vaccine will not alter your DNA

mRNA stands for messenger ribonucleic acid and can most easily be described as instructions for how to make a protein or even just a piece of a protein. mRNA is not able to alter or modify a person’s genetic makeup (DNA). The mRNA from a COVID-19 vaccine never enter the nucleus of the cell, which is where our DNA are kept. This means the mRNA does not affect or interact with our DNA in any way.

How many shots of the vaccine will be needed?

Both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines require two doses in order to be effective. Depending on the specific vaccine you receive, a second shot 3-4 weeks after your first shot is needed in order to attain a maximum immune response.

About Viral Vector Vaccines

Understanding viral vector vaccines

Viral vector vaccines use a harmless version of a different virus (vector) to deliver essential instructions to our cells. The instructions within the viral vector will teach our cells how to make a protein that triggers an immune response inside of our bodies. That immune response, which produces antibodies, is what protects us if the actual virus enters our bodies.

Viral vectors have been used in the past

Scientists have been using viral vectors since the 1970s. Besides being used in vaccines, viral vectors have also been studied for gene therapy, to treat cancer, and for molecular biology research.

Over the decades, hundreds of scientific studies on viral vector vaccines have been published around the world. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, viral vector technology was utilized during Ebola outbreaks. There have also been several studies that have focused on using viral vector vaccines against other infectious diseases such as Zika, flu, and HIV.

How many shots does the Johnson & Johnson/Janssen COVID-19 vaccine require?

The Johnson & Johnson/Janssen COVID-19 vaccine only requires one shot. If you receive a COVID-19 vaccine that requires one shot, you are considered fully vaccinated two weeks after your shot. It is important to continue mask-wearing and social distancing after you are vaccinated to protect the wider community.

If it has been less than two weeks since your shot, you are NOT fully protected. Keep taking all preventative steps until you are fully vaccinated.

Planning for the Vaccine

Vaccine distribution

There is currently a limited supply of COVID-19 vaccine available in the United States, but supply will increase in the weeks and months to come. The vaccine supply will be distributed according to the states three-phase plan from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention which will initially focus on healthcare workers and first responders.

Healthcare workers will be followed by those living in congregate settings, such as nursing homes, along with other essential workers and people who are at higher risk, severely ill and people 65 and over. More information regarding the vaccine distribution plan can be found in the link below:

https://www.venturacountyrecovers.org/vaccine-information/

What can I do now to protect myself and my family from getting COVID-19 until the vaccine is available?

You should cover your mouth and nose with a mask when around others, avoid close contact with people who are sick, stay 6 feet away from others, avoid crowds, and wash your hands often.

Getting Vaccinated

What should I expect when I receive the vaccine for COVID-19?

Upon receiving the COVID-19 vaccine, you may have some side effects, which are normal signs that your body is building protection. These side effects may feel like the flu and might affect your ability to do daily activities, but they should go away in just a few days. Common side effects include:

On the arm where you received the shot:

  • Pain
  • Swelling

Throughout the rest of your body:

  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Tiredness
  • Headache

Helpful tips:

To reduce pain and discomfort at the injection site, use or exercise your arm regularly. To reduce discomfort from fever, drink plenty of fluids. If you have pain or discomfort, talk to your doctor about taking an over-the-counter medicine, such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen.

When to call the doctor:

In most cases, discomfort from fever or pain is normal. Contact your doctor:

  • If the redness or tenderness where you got the shot increases after 24 hours
  • If your side effects are worrying you or do not seem to be going away after a few days

All people receiving a COVID-19 vaccine should be monitored on site. People who have had severe allergic reactions or who have had any type of immediate allergic reaction to a vaccine or injectable therapy should be monitored for at least 30 minutes after getting the vaccine. All other people should be monitored for at least 15 minutes after getting the vaccine.

Once I have been vaccinated, can I stop wearing a mask and avoiding close contact with others?

We’re still learning how vaccines will affect the spread of COVID-19. After you’ve been fully vaccinated, you should keep taking precautions in public places like wearing a mask, staying 6 feet apart from others, and avoiding crowds and poorly ventilated spaces until we know more.

After you are fully vaccinated, you may be able to start doing some of the things that you had to stop because of the pandemic. To learn more about what you can do once you have been fully vaccinated, visit:

https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/vaccines/fully-vaccinated.html

If I have already had COVID-19 and recovered, do I still need to get vaccinated with the COVID-19 vaccine when it is available?

COVID-19 vaccination should be offered to you regardless of whether you already had COVID-19 infection. You should not be required to have an antibody test before you are vaccinated.

However, anyone currently infected with COVID-19 should wait to get vaccinated until after their illness has resolved and after they have met the criteria to discontinue isolation.

Additionally, current evidence suggests that reinfection with the virus that causes COVID-19 is uncommon in the 90 days after initial infection. Therefore, people with a recent infection may delay vaccination until the end of that 90-day period if desired.

Vaccine Safety

How safe are the COVID-19 vaccines?

Millions of people have safely received a COVID-19 vaccine. As of March 8, 2021, over 92 million doses have been administered in the United States. Per the CDC, the COVID-19 vaccines have undergone the most intensive safety monitoring in U.S. history.

COVID-19 vaccines were evaluated in tens of thousands of participants in clinical trials. The vaccines met FDA’s rigorous scientific standards for safety, effectiveness, and manufacturing quality needed to support emergency use authorization (EUA).

The CDC, FDA, and other federal partners have established several safety monitoring systems to quickly and safely identify safety issues with COVID-19 vaccines. Results from monitoring efforts are reassuring. Some people have had no side effects. Many people have reported mild side effects such as pain at the injection site, headache, chills, or fever after COVID-19 vaccinations. These reactions are common.

A small number of people have had a severe allergic reaction called anaphylaxis after vaccination, but this is extremely rare. Anaphylaxis is treatable, and if this occurs, providers have medications available to effectively and immediately treat the reaction.

After receiving a COVID-19 vaccine, you will be asked to stay for 15-30 minutes to be observed for any signs or symptoms of a severe allergic reaction.

California has a ‘second set of eyes’ on vaccines’ safety

Although there were no skipped steps in the vaccine manufacturing/approval process, California has formed an independent panel of experts that will independently review the efficacy and safety of any vaccine that receives FDA approval for distribution.

This process is in addition to the FDA’s review. The work group is made up of nationally acclaimed California physician scientists with expertise in immunization and public health. More information regarding the Scientific Safety Review Workshop can be found in the link below:

https://www.gov.ca.gov/2020/10/19/governor-newsom-names-scientific-safety-review-workgroup-to-advise-state-on-covid-19-vaccines/

Be aware of misinformation

Obtaining reliable information from credible sources is essential to your decision-making process. Before considering vaccine information on the internet, check that the information comes from a credible source and that it is updated on a regular basis.

The CDC offers advice for finding credible online information regarding COVID-19 vaccine safety in the link below.

https://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/vac-gen/evalwebs.htm

To learn more about vaccine safety

https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/vaccines/safety.html
https://www.venturacountyrecovers.org/

Vaccine Efficacy

After the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approves a vaccine or authorizes a vaccine for emergency use, experts continue to assess the effectiveness of the vaccine. The goal is to understand how a vaccine protects people outside of strict clinical trial settings.

How effective is each vaccine?

All COVID-19 vaccines currently available in the United States have been shown to be highly effective at preventing COVID-19.

Based on evidence from clinical trials, the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine was 95% effective at preventing laboratory-confirmed COVID-19 illness in people without evidence of previous infection. More information regarding the Pfizer-BioNTech clinical trials can be found in the link below:

https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/69/wr/mm6950e2.htm?s_cid=mm6950e2_w

Based on evidence from clinical trials, the Moderna vaccine was 94.1% effective at preventing laboratory-confirmed COVID-19 illness in people who received two doses who had no evidence of being previously infected. More information regarding the Moderna clinical trials can be found in the link below:

https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/69/wr/mm695152e1.htm?s_cid=mm695152e1_w

Based on evidence from clinical trials, the Johnson & Johnson/Janssen vaccine was 63% effective in clinical trials at preventing laboratory-confirmed COVID-19 illness in people without evidence of the previous infection.

The vaccine had high efficacy at preventing hospitalization and death in people who did get sick. No one who got COVID-19 at least four weeks after receiving the Johnson & Johnson/Janssen vaccine had to be hospitalized.

Early evidence suggests that the Johnson & Johnson/Janssen vaccine might protect against asymptomatic infection, which is when a person is infected by the virus that causes COVID-19 but does not get sick. 

How is vaccine effectiveness measured?

Experts are working on many different types of assessments to evaluate how COVID-19 vaccines work in real-world conditions. Each assessment uses a different method, which are outlined below.

  • Case-control studies: These assessments include two groups of participants. One group of participants has the virus that causes COVID-19, and the other group does not. Experts evaluate to see if the group with the virus were less likely to have received the vaccine than the uninfected group, which would show that the vaccine is working.
  • Cohort studies: These assessments follow individuals who have and haven’t had a COVID-19 vaccine for several months to see if getting vaccinated protects them from getting the disease. This particular assessment can be done in real time or by back in time using data that was previously collected.
  • Screening method: These assessments look at vaccination coverage among a group of individuals with COVID-19 and compares it with vaccination coverage among the overall population. By comparing coverage among these two groups, researchers can get an early understanding of whether a vaccine is working.
  • Ecologic analysis: These assessments look at groups of people, such as different geographical locations, and determine how many people were vaccinated and how many people were diagnosed with COVID-19.

What groups of people are included in vaccine assessments?

Experts ensure that assessments include diverse groups of people such as healthcare personnel, essential workers, older adults, those living in nursing homes, people with underlying conditions, racial and ethnic minorities, and tribal nations. It is essential to measure how COVID-19 vaccines work in groups of people who are at increased risk of getting COVID-19 and populations who are at increased risk of becoming seriously ill from COVID-19.

What agencies are evaluating COVID-19 vaccine effectiveness?

The CDC coordinates with several other federal agencies to assess how COVID-19 vaccines work under real-world conditions after FDA approval or authorization for emergency use. These agencies include (but not limited to):

  • Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services
  • Department of Defense (DoD)
  • Food and Drug Administration (FDA)
  • Indian Health Services (HIS)
  • Veterans Health Administration (VHA)

Vaccine Costs

Out-of-pocket costs for a CVOID-19 vaccine are likely to be low, if anything at all. The federal government is providing the vaccine free of charge to people living in the United States. However, your vaccination provider may bill your insurance company, Medicaid or Medicare for an administration fee. For uninsured patients, this fee may be covered by the Health Resources and Services Administration’s Provider Relief Fund.

COVID-19 vaccination providers cannot:

  • Charge you for the vaccine
  • Charge you any copays or coinsurance
  • Deny vaccination to anyone who does not have health insurance coverage, is underinsured, or is out of network.
  • Charge an office visit or other fee to the recipient if the only service provided is a COVID-19 vaccination.
  • Require additional services for a person to receive a COVID-19 vaccine; however, additional healthcare services can be provided at the same time and billed as appropriate.

COVID-19 vaccination providers can:

  • Seek appropriate reimbursement from the recipient’s plan or program (e.g., private health insurance, Medicare, Medicaid) for a vaccine administration fee
    • However, vaccine providers cannot charge the vaccine recipient the balance of the bill.
  • Providers may also seek reimbursement for uninsured vaccine recipients from the Health Resource and Services Administration’s COVID-19 Uninsured Program.

COVID-19 Variants

Viruses consistently change through mutation, and new variations of a virus are expected to occur over time. This mutation process is not unexpected or abnormal. Multiple variants of the virus that causes COVID-19 have been documented in the United States and globally during this pandemic. Some of the most prevalent variants including:

  • The United Kingdom (U.K.) variant; B.1.1.7
  • The South African variant; B.1.351
  • The Brazilian variant; P.1

Scientists are monitoring changes in the coronavirus. These studies, including genetic analyses of the virus, are helping scientists understand how changes to the virus might affect how it spreads and what happens to people who become infected.

While some variants seem to spread more easily and quickly than other variants, early data suggest that antibodies generated through vaccination with currently authorized vaccines recognize these variants. We are still learning how effective the vaccines are against new variants but, studies indicate that the vaccines may work against some variants but could be slightly less effective against others.

The CDC, in collaboration with other public health agencies, are monitoring and studying these variants closely to learn more about how to control their spread.