Tip Sheet: Key Facts About the COVID-19 Vaccine

The best protection against COVID-19 is to be up to date with your vaccines. There are two steps to being up to date. The first is to get fully vaccinated. You are fully vaccinated when you have received the initial (first) series of shots. The second step is to get any additional shots that are recommended. Table 1 below gives a summary of recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) about the COVID-19 vaccines (as of March 1, 2022).

The vaccine is available at no cost to you. This is true whether you have insurance or not. Any vaccine that is authorized by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is covered under Medicare. So if you have Medicare, you will not have to pay to get vaccinated. Medicaid and private health insurance plans also cover all vaccine costs. Even if you are uninsured, you can get free vaccines.

The COVID-19 vaccines are now available to everyone age five and older. Anyone who is eligible for a vaccine can get vaccinated. Vaccines are available at many locations. You can get a vaccine at most pharmacies, federally qualified or community health centers, or state or local health departments. See vaccines.gov for more information. You can also text your zip code to 438829 or call 1-800-232-0233 to find COVID-19 vaccine locations.

Table 1: Approved COVID-19 Vaccines (as of 3/1/2022)

Pfizer-BioNTech

FDA Approval

Pfizer-BioNTech is fully authorized by the FDA for use in people ages 5 and older.

Dosing Schedule

Age (years)

Initial Series*

3rd Shot (Booster)

4th Shot

Which Vaccines Can Be Used for the 3rd & 4th Shots

People who are NOT Immunocompromised

5-11

2 doses, 21 days apart

None None None
12-17 2 doses, 21 days apart

5 months after the second shot

None

Pfizer-BioNTech only

18+ 2 doses, 21 days apart

5 months after the second shot

None

Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna

People who ARE Moderately or Severely Immunocompromised**

5–11

3 doses,  Doses 1 & 2: 21 days apart

Considered part of initial series.

At least 28 days after the 2nd shot

None

Pfizer-BioNTech only

12+

At least 28 days after the second shot

At least 28 days after the second shot

At least 3 months after the third shot

Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna

Possible Side Effects

Pain, swelling or redness at injection site, fatigue, headache, muscle or joint pain, chills, fever, nausea, swollen lymph nodes.

More Information

Visit the FDA website: https://www.fda.gov/media/153716/download

Notes

* It may be best for some people over 12 years old to receive the first two doses 8 weeks apart, especially males ages 12 to 39 years.

** People who are immunocompromised or take medicine that affects the immune system are at higher risk of serious illness or death from COVID-19. The CDC has developed specific guidelines for immunocompromised people.

Moderna

FDA Approval

Moderna is fully authorized by the FDA for use in people ages 18 and older.

Dosing Schedule
 

Age (years)

Initial Series*

3rd Shot (Booster)

4th Shot

Which Vaccines Can Be Used for the 3rd & 4th Shots

People who are NOT Immunocompromised

18+

2 doses, 28 days apart

5 months after the second shot

None

Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna

People who ARE Moderately or Severely Immunocompromised**

18+

2 doses, 28 days apart

At least 28 days after the 2nd shot

At least 3 months after the third shot

Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna

Possible Side Effects

Pain, swelling or redness at injection site, fatigue, headache, muscle or joint pain, chills, fever, nausea, swollen lymph nodes.

More Information

Visit the FDA website: https://www.fda.gov/media/144638/download

Notes

* It may be best for some people over 12 years old to receive the first two doses 8 weeks apart, especially males ages 12 to 39 years.

** People who are immunocompromised or take medicine that affects the immune system are at higher risk of serious illness or death from COVID-19. The CDC has developed specific guidelines for immunocompromised people.

Johnson & Johnson/Janssen*

FDA Approval

The J&J/Janssen vaccine has an emergency use authorization by the FDA for use in people ages 18 and older.

Dosing Schedule
 

Age (years)

Initial Series*

2nd Shot

3rd Shot

Which Vaccines Can Be Used for the 2nd & 3rd Shots

People who are NOT Immunocompromised

18+

1 dose

At least 2 months after the first shot

 

Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna

People who ARE Moderately or Severely Immunocompromised**

18+

2 doses

Considered part of initial series. At least 28 days after the first shot

At least 2 months after the 2nd shot

Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna

Possible Side Effects

  • Pain, swelling at injection site, fatigue, headache, muscle or joint pain, chills, fever.
  • The J&J shot can increase the possibility of a blood clot due to a low platelet count. You should be on the lookout for symptoms for three weeks after getting the shot. If you have any of these symptoms after getting the shot, seek medical attention immediately. 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.

More Information

Visit the FDA website: https://www.fda.gov/media/146305/download

Notes

* In April 2021, the Johnson & Johnson vaccine was “paused.” This was because of a rare side effect, called thrombosis with thrombocytopenia syndrome (TTS). During the pause, the FDA and CDC evaluated how safe the vaccine is. They found that its benefits outweigh its risks. There were additional cases of TTS due to the Johnson & Johnson vaccine after the pause. They included 8 deaths. There were only 2 cases of TTS and no deaths in person 65 years and older. The FDA added a warning that the Johnson & Johnson vaccine should not be given to individuals who got TTS after getting the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine. In most situations, the CDC recommends people get the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccines instead of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. This is for both the primary vaccine shots and any additional recommended shots.

** If you are immunocompromised or take medicine that affects your immune system, you are at higher risk of serious illness or death from COVID-19. The CDC has developed specific guidelines for immunocompromised people.

Background

COVID-19 is the disease caused by a highly infectious virus called SARS-CoV-2. Sometimes cases of COVID-19 can be mild, but others can be more severe and even deadly. This is especially true for older adults or people with chronic health conditions. One in 100 older Americans have died from COVID-19 disease.

75% of all COVID-19 deaths in the United States have been among adults 65 years or older.

As of February 2022, the FDA has fully authorized the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines. The FDA has provided emergency use authorization for the Johnson & Johnson/Janssen (J&J) vaccine.

The CDC currently prefers that people get an mRNA vaccine (Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna) over the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. This is because of safety issues with the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. The mRNA vaccines also show higher vaccine effectiveness compared to the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

 

Safety has been key in developing and approving COVID-19 vaccines.

There were many steps taken to make sure the COVID-19 vaccines were safe before they were made available to the public.

  • First, clinical trials were carefully designed and controlled to find out how safe and effective the vaccines are. Tens of thousands of people participated in the clinical trials.
  • After the clinical trials proved the vaccines were safe and effective, then the FDA and independent expert advisory boards reviewed the data to make sure they were correct.
  • Then, the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) at the CDC reviewed all safety data before recommending any COVID-19 vaccine for use.
  • Finally, after all these steps were completed, the FDA provided full authorization for the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines. The FDA provided an emergency use authorization for the Johnson & Johnson/Janssen (J&J) vaccine.

Staying up to date with the COVID-19 vaccination will help prevent you from getting the virus and will protect others.

Being up to date with the COVID-19 vaccine means that you have been both fully vaccinated and received all recommended additional doses as recommended by the CDC (see Table 1). Staying up to date with the COVID-19 vaccine has many benefits. It will lower your risk of getting sick if you are exposed to the coronavirus. It also helps protect the people you are around, especially people with a higher risk of getting seriously ill from COVID-19. This includes older people and people with chronic, underlying conditions.

Even if you are up to date with the vaccine, it is still possible to get COVID-19. However, data from real-world use of COVID-19 vaccines shows that vaccination substantially lowers the risk of becoming seriously ill if you do get infected.

People who are immunocompromised or take medicine that affects the immune systemare at higher risk of serious illness or death from COVID-19. It is especially important for immunocompromised people to stay up to date on their vaccines.

Talk to your Primary Healthcare Provider

We recommend that you discuss the risks and benefits of getting vaccinated with your primary healthcare provider before getting the shots. The FDA fact sheets for the Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson vaccines have more information.

Before getting any vaccine, tell your vaccination provider about all your medical conditions, including if you:

  • Have any allergies
  • Have a fever
  • Have a bleeding disorder or take blood-thinning drugs
  • Are immunocompromised or take medicine that affects your immune system
  • Are pregnant or plan to become pregnant
  • Are breastfeeding
  • Have received another COVID-19 vaccine

They will discuss any other factors you need to know before receiving a COVID-19 vaccine based on your unique circumstances.