Ask the Expert: The COVID-19 Vaccine


Dr. Sharon Brangman Sharon Brangman, MD
Chair, Department of Geriatrics at SUNY Upstate Medical University

If you feel like the news you read about COVID-19 vaccines seems to change daily, you’re not alone. We asked Sharon Brangman, MD, to share her expertise with us. 

Q. What causes COVID-19?

A. The SARS-CoV2 virus causes COVID-19, a respiratory disease that can cause serious illness and even death. SARS-CoV2 is easy to get and has spread worldwide.

Q. Why should I get vaccinated?

A. Getting vaccinated lowers your risk of getting COVID-19. If you do become infected, being vaccinated means you are less likely to get very sick, be hospitalized, or die. Getting fully vaccinated and staying up to date on vaccines is the best way to protect yourself and others.

Q. Which vaccines are available?

A. As of April 2022, there are three available vaccines in the United States. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has fully authorized the Pfizer-BioNTech and the Moderna vaccines. The FDA has provided an emergency use authorization for the Johnson & Johnson/Janssen vaccine.

Q. How can I be sure that I am up to date on my COVID 19 vaccine? 

A. There are two steps to getting vaccinated. First, get fully vaccinated. That means you have received your initial (first) series of shots. Second, be sure that you are up to date with your vaccines by getting any additional booster shots that are recommended for you. You should get boosters of either Pfizer or Moderna. This is even if your first shot was the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

Q.  As an older adult, which vaccine should I get?

A.  The CDC recommends that all adults receive either Pfizer or Moderna mRNA vaccines. Research has shown that mRNA vaccines are more effective than the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.    

Q.  Is the Johnson & Johnson vaccine safe?

A. Some people who received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine developed a rare, serious condition that causes blood clots with low platelets. Although the condition is rare, anyone who received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine should look out for symptoms of blood clots with low platelets for 3 weeks after getting their shot. These include:

  • Severe or persistent headaches or blurred vision
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest pain
  • Leg swelling
  • Persistent abdominal pain
  • Easy bruising or tiny blood spots under the skin beyond the injection site

If you experience any of these symptoms, seek medical attention immediately.

Q. How much will the vaccine cost?

A. The vaccine is available for free. All shots are free, whether they are the initial shots or the booster shots. All FDA-authorized vaccines are covered under Medicare at no cost to you. People with Medicaid, private health insurance, or no health insurance also receive the vaccine for free.

Q. Where can I get vaccinated?

A. You can contact your own healthcare provider or search for vaccination locations near you. You can also text your zip code to 438829 or call 1-800-232-0233 to find COVID-19 vaccine locations. Help is available in Spanish and other languages.

If you or someone you care for has difficulty going to a vaccination site, in-home vaccinations may be available. Medicare recipients can call 1-800-MEDICARE/1-800-633-4227 (TTY 1-877-486-2048) for more information. The Disability Information and Access Line (DIAL) hotline is also available at 1-888-677-1199.


Last Updated April 2022