COVID-19 vaccine frequently asked questions

Updated August 15, 2023

We are collecting and answering common COVID-19 questions here. This list will continue to evolve as we learn more. Submit your own anonymous question

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Vaccine necessity

Why do we need a COVID-19 vaccine if social distancing, wearing masks and handwashing prevent the virus from spreading?

Stopping a pandemic requires using all the tools available. If you are unvaccinated, covering your mouth and nose with a mask and staying at least 6 feet away from others, helps reduce your chance of being exposed to the virus or spreading it to others. But vaccines are even better – they work with your immune system to ensure your body will be ready to fight the virus if you are ever exposed.

The best way to stop this virus is by generating COVID-19-specific immunity within our community. We can achieve this immunity in one of two ways: through illness (called natural or disease-acquired immunity) or through vaccination. Since illness leads to severe disease or death for many, a safe and effective vaccine is a much better alternative. 

Preventing the spread of COVID-19 by social distancing, washing your hands and wearing a mask will continue to be important for those who are unvaccinated until more Americans are vaccinated.

Were the vaccines made too quickly?

Driven by an unprecedented health emergency, the world’s leading medical experts worked together. They had access to resources and funds, along with quick community involvement in the clinical trials. Plus, much of the research was already done

  • Scientists studied other coronaviruses for 50 years
  • It took researchers over 10 years to make a modern mRNA vaccine platform
  • All three vaccines went through the normal approval process (Phases 1, 2 and 3 clinical trials)

Who should get a COVID-19 vaccine?

What is the current COVID-19 vaccination schedule for the general population?

View the most recent COVID-19 vaccination guidelines for all ages from the CDC. 

I have a medical condition or have had a previous reaction to a different vaccine. Should I plan to get the vaccine?

You should discuss any personal medical conditions or vaccine concerns with your doctor. Together, you can determine if a COVID-19 vaccine makes sense for you. 

Should pregnant or breastfeeding women get the vaccine? 

Both the American College of Obstetricians & Gynecologists and the Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine recommend all pregnant people get one of the COVID-19 vaccines. 

The American College of Obstetricians & Gynecologists Practice Advisory states: “ACOG recommends that all eligible persons, including pregnant and lactating individuals, receive a COVID-19 vaccine or vaccine series.” 

The Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine: “SMFM recommends that pregnant and lactating people be vaccinated against COVID19.”  

We encourage everyone who is pregnant or breastfeeding to get vaccinated against COVID-19.  

Should immunocompromised people get the vaccine? 

Yes, we recommend immunocompromised people get the vaccine. If you have concerns or a specific question related to your condition, we encourage you to speak with your doctor before getting the vaccine. Immunocompromised people have a slightly different vaccine schedule than the general population.

Should people with allergies get the vaccine? 

If you've had a severe, anaphylactic reaction to components inside the COVID-19 vaccine, you should speak to your doctor before getting a COVID-19 vaccine. This does not include allergic reactions related to things like bee stings or certain foods – it only involves severe reactions exclusively related to vaccine components. If you receive the vaccine at a Nebraska Medicine location, health care professionals will monitor you for 15 minutes after receiving the shot.  

Vaccine side effects and safety

What about side effects? (for example, arm pain, headache or fatigue)

Side effects are normal signs that your body is building protection. Most side effects go away in a few days. You can treat arm pain, fever or fatigue at home with over-the-counter medications like ibuprofen (Advil) or acetaminophen (Tylenol).

  • Virtually all serious side effects are treatable by a health care provider
  • The frequency of all side effects found from the vaccine is continually monitored and reported to the public
  • Hundreds of millions of people have received the vaccines without major complications

Do the mRNA vaccines cause myocarditis (inflammation of the heart muscle)?

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recently updated the fact sheets for both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines to state:

"Myocarditis (inflammation of the heart muscle) and pericarditis (inflammation of the lining outside the heart) have occurred in some people who have received the Moderna and Pfizer COVID-19 vaccines. In most of these people, symptoms began within a few days following receipt of the second dose of the mRNA COVID-19 vaccine. The chance of having this occur is very low. You should seek medical attention right away if you have any of the following symptoms after receiving an mRNA COVID-19 vaccine:

  • Chest pain
  • Shortness of breath
  • Feelings of having a fast-beating, fluttering or pounding heart"

We advise patients to take note of how their heart feels in the days after COVID-19 vaccination. If you experience any of these symptoms, please ask your doctor about it. If you have chest pain, call 911 or go to the emergency room. Learn more about myocarditis

Does the Johnson & Johnson vaccine cause Guillain-Barré syndrome?

An extremely rare reaction may be linked to the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. About two weeks to six weeks after getting the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, some people experienced Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS), a form of paralysis that’s generally reversible. This rare issue has mostly appeared in men over 50.

See your doctor if you have any of the following symptoms after receiving the Johnson & Johnson vaccine:

  • Weakness or tingling in your arms or legs
  • Double vision
  • Difficulty walking, speaking, chewing or swallowing
  • Bladder or bowel control problems

Does the Pfizer vaccine cause Bell's palsy? 

No, there is no reason to believe the COVID-19 vaccines cause Bell's palsy at this time. During the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine clinical trials, four people (out of 22,000) developed a case of Bell's palsy. (Bell's palsy is a type of temporary facial paralysis.) That is a 0.018% occurrence rate. Studies report that Bell's palsy affects 11 to 40 people per 100,000 people each year. That is a normal occurrence rate of 0.011% to 0.040%. Bell's palsy occurrence rate among people participating in the Pfizer clinical trial did not exceed the normal occurrence rate seen among the general population. Because of this, experts determined that the four cases of Bell's palsy were probably unrelated to the COVID-19 vaccine

Does the Johnson & Johnson vaccine cause blood clots?

Blood clots in the brain, abdomen and legs, along with low levels of platelets – the blood cells that help your body stop bleeding – have occurred in a small number of people who have received the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine. 

Symptoms began approximately one to two weeks following vaccination. Most people who developed these problems were female, ages 18 to 49.  

This outcome is very rare. In a joint statement, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) stated, "The FDA has determined that the available data show that the vaccine’s known and potential benefits outweigh its known and potential risks in individuals 18 years of age and older."

If you recently received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, please contact your doctor if you develop any of the following symptoms within three weeks of receiving your vaccine:  

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

COVID-19 vaccines and infertility

Infertility has not been a problem for men or women for any of the COVID-19 vaccines. 

Infertility in women: The CDC has been monitoring COVID-19 vaccination before, during and after pregnancy. There's no evidence of vaccines affecting fertility or increasing the risk of miscarriage. Plus, vaccination of pregnant people builds antibodies that can protect their baby. 

There's a rumor that antibodies against the spike protein will also target the syncytin-1 protein. Syncytin-1 is a protein that's critical to form placentas in pregnant mothers. But antibodies formed against the spike protein won't target syncytin-1, since they don't share enough similarities for antibodies to target them both. 

Infertility in men: The COVID-19 vaccines do not cause swollen testicles, erectile dysfunction (ED) or lower sperm count. However, studies show that COVID-19 infection can cause each of these issues. 

Can any of the COVID-19 vaccines change your DNA? 

No. They cannot change your DNA.  

Some of the vaccines in development use mRNA, or messenger RNA, to instruct your body to build the coronavirus' spike protein. Your body then produces antibodies to combat the coronavirus when it encounters it later. Learn more about mRNA vaccines.  

mRNA is very fragile, and it's very quickly degraded once inside the body. That's one of the reasons why these vaccines have to be so carefully preserved at very low temperatures, and why you need two doses.  

Additionally, DNA is stored in the nucleus of your cells. mRNA vaccines are designed to do their work outside of the nucleus and have not been observed to interact with the nucleus. 

Are there any long-term effects of COVID-19 vaccines?

The vaccine: Data will continue to be collected two years after the vaccine is administered to ensure safety over the long term. Over 233 million Americans have received at least one shot.

The disease: While the long-term impacts of COVID-19 are still unclear, once you get it, your life can be severely disrupted for months. COVID-19 has killed more than 1 in 500 Americans.

I can't take time off work to deal with vaccine side effects

This is totally understandable. But if you get sick with COVID-19, you could miss a lot more work. Vaccine side effects tend to last one to three days. COVID-19 illness can last one to two weeks. In more severe cases, recovery can take six weeks or longer.

Getting the vaccine

How do I get a vaccine?

You can walk in to one of these Nebraska Medicine pharmacies to get a COVID-19 vaccine. 

Can undocumented immigrants receive the vaccine?

Nebraska Medicine does not request or require your immigration status to receive any vaccines. 

Nebraska Medicine no solicita ni requiere su estado migratorio para recibir ninguna vacuna. 

What can I do about needle anxiety?

You're not alone! Tips to reduce needle anxiety include: bringing a support person, relaxing your muscles during the shot and focusing on something else while you get the shot. If you get hospitalized with COVID-19, you're likely to face needles, along with more invasive procedures like intubation.

Vaccine ingredients and storage

What are the vaccine ingredients?

You can learn more about vaccine ingredients here

Do the vaccines contain fetal cells?

The COVID-19 vaccines do not contain any aborted fetal cells or tissue. Like many other modern medicines (acetaminophen, ibuprofen, Tylenol, Pepto Bismol, Motrin), fetal cell lines were used to check the safety of mRNA vaccines before starting clinical trials.

Religious leaders, including Pope Francis, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the Dalai Lama, the Archbishop of Canterbury and others, support COVID-19 vaccinations.

If you've already had COVID-19

Will the vaccine help people with lingering long-term effects?

The lingering effects of COVID-19 are concerning, and we still have much to learn about them. If you were already infected, the vaccine is not likely to ease these effects. However, the vaccine may lessen the number of long-term effects in those who haven't had a COVID-19 infection.

If I have already had COVID-19 and recovered, do I still need to get vaccinated?

Even if you've already had COVID-19, you should get the COVID-19 vaccine. Disease-acquired or "natural" immunity can be spotty. Immunity from COVID-19 vaccines is more standardized and can be longer-lasting. 
In a recent study, researchers showed that unvaccinated people with prior COVID-19 were more than twice as likely to get COVID-19 again, versus people who were fully vaccinated. So vaccinated people (after infection) have half the risk of reinfection than people relying on natural immunity alone.

It's not recommended to get the vaccine during acute infection. You can get a COVID-19 vaccine any time after you've recovered from the COVID-19 infection.

We recommend that people with post-COVID syndrome (long haul) should get the vaccine as well.

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