About COVID-19 Vaccines

Public health officials recommend vaccination as the first and best way to ultimately protect our community against COVID-19. Participation in the community-wide vaccination effort is strongly encouraged in order to protect and safeguard the health of our campus and greater Ithaca community. Three COVID-19 vaccines – Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson (Janssen) – are currently being distributed in the U.S.

Frequently Asked Questions

Key things to know about the U.S. COVID-19 vaccination program

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has developed a list of top questions and things to know about the vaccine. Below is an abbreviated version; please visit CDC’s “Key things to know” for full details.

  • COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effective at preventing COVID-19 disease, especially severe illness and death.
  • COVID-19 vaccines reduce the risk of people spreading the virus that causes COVID-19.
  • You may have side effects after vaccination. These are normal and should go away in a few days.
  • It typically takes 2 weeks after vaccination for the body to build protection (immunity) against the virus that causes COVID-19. You are not fully vaccinated until 2 weeks after the second dose of a 2-dose vaccine or 2 weeks after a single-dose vaccine.
  • Learn how to find a COVID-19 vaccine so you can get it as soon as you can.
  • After you are fully vaccinated, you can resume activities that you did before the pandemic. Learn more about what you can do when you have been fully vaccinated.

How do the vaccines work?

The Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines are similar in how they work. Both vaccines consist of genetic material called mRNA encased in tiny particles that deliver the mRNA into our cells. From there, our cells translate the mRNA to a protein, which stimulates the immune system to make antibodies that protect against the virus. These vaccines do not have any impact on our own genetic material, and the mRNA material breaks down in the body shortly after it is taken into our cells. Both vaccines require two doses to be fully effective.

Importantly, while some vaccines against viral infections consist of weakened virus designed to induce immunity, but not disease, the COVID-19 vaccines do not contain virus. Therefore, it is NOT possible to contract COVID-19 from any of the vaccines available to our community.

CDC: Understanding mRNA COVID-19 vaccines

Is the vaccine safe?

All data currently available indicate that the vaccines are safe. Thus far, no serious long-term side effects have occurred. Some individuals do experience minor side effects that reflect the body’s immune response beginning; a tiny number of individuals have experienced allergic reactions and have required immediate and successful treatment.

Before approval, clinical trials were completed across the globe with approximately 44,000 participants for the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine and more than 30,000 for the Moderna vaccine. The FDA used the data from these trials to evaluate the vaccines’ safety and efficacy to make the emergency use determinations. The vaccines will continue to be studied — under CDC surveillance and by other means — to learn about longer-term safety and effectiveness. Since their approval for use, several million individuals have been immunized with one or the other vaccine, further supporting their safety.

CDC: Ensuring the safety of COVID-19 vaccines in the U.S.

How effective is the vaccine?

Pfizer reports that the vaccine is 95% effective. Moderna reports that their vaccine is 94% effective.

Why are two doses needed for Moderna and Pfizer? What happens if someone misses their second dose?

Scientific studies suggest that two doses for the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines are optimal for achieving immunity. For the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, the second dose is administered 21 days after the first dose; for the Moderna vaccine, 28 days after the first dose.

The second dose must be the same type as the first one received. At the time of the first vaccination, most centers schedule individuals for their second dose. The second dose should be administered as close to the recommended interval as possible.

Some of the vaccines being studied for the future may require one dose, but none of these vaccines have been approved and are therefore not ready to be administered.

Can receiving the vaccination give someone COVID-19?

No. The vaccine does not contain live or deactivated/dead virus material, so it cannot give anyone COVID-19. If after receiving the vaccine an individual experiences symptoms that last more than a couple of days, like a fever, particularly if it is accompanied by cough, a regular health care provider should be contacted. Individuals who are diagnosed with the virus after vaccination are thought to have been exposed virus prior to getting the vaccine, or before it induced immunity. In this case, testing will be important to determine current COVID-19 status, and any need for isolation or quarantine. It is possible, of course, symptoms may reflect another infection such as a cold or the flu, something that can be determined by a health care provider.

What are possible side effects of the vaccine?

Soreness, redness and swelling at the injection site are the most common reactions, and are typically seen with many types of vaccines. In addition, fever, muscle aches and headaches can develop in a percentage of patients after the COVID-19 vaccine. Medical professionals have advised that such reactions do not reflect an allergy to the vaccine but are usually signs that the body is creating the immunity needed from the vaccine. Medical professionals advise that symptoms typically go away on their own within a couple of days and can be relieved with non-prescription medications (e.g., ibuprofen or acetaminophen) but individuals who have been vaccinated should contact their own health care provider with any concerns, or if any of these symptoms are very severe or if they persist.

CDC: What to expect after getting a COVID-19 vaccine

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

Yes. Due to the severe health risks associated with COVID-19 and the fact that re-infection with COVID-19 is possible, the CDC has recommended that vaccines be offered regardless of a prior COVID-19 infection. At this time, experts do not know how long someone is protected from getting sick again after recovering from COVID-19. The immunity someone gains from having an infection, called natural immunity, varies from person to person. How long natural immunity typically lasts is still an area under investigation.

CDC: Benefits of getting a COVID-19 vaccine

Are you immune to COVID-19 after recovering from it?

This is still under investigation by vaccine experts and researchers who don’t yet know what antibody levels are needed to protect against reinfection. Therefore, health experts recommend individuals receive the vaccine even if they have already had COVID; however, it is not recommended to take the vaccine during the period of COVID-19 illness itself. A person who has tested positive for COVID-19 and is currently completing isolation, must wait for at least 10 days after the positive test and upon release from isolation to obtain the vaccine.

CDC: Facts about COVID-19 vaccines

How long will the vaccine protect those that receive it?

The duration of protection from the vaccine against COVID-19 is unknown. Additional assessments of the vaccine are needed to learn how often vaccination must be repeated to provide protection.

Will the vaccines protect against the different variants of the virus that have been identified?

Health officials believe that the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines will offer protection against the current variants of the coronavirus. Research is ongoing to further study this issue.

Why should someone get the vaccine even though they are doing other things such as wearing a mask, washing their hands often, and practicing physical distancing?

Stopping a pandemic requires using all the tools available, and it is important for us all to be using as many of these tools as possible as to protect ourselves and our community. Vaccines work with the immune system so the body will be ready to fight the virus and reduce or eliminate illness if a person has been exposed. Other preventative measures, like covering the mouth and nose with a mask and staying at least six feet away from others, help reduce the chance of being exposed to the virus or spreading it. Together, the vaccine and following public health guidance will offer the best protection.

CDC: Benefits of getting a COVID-19 vaccine

Will I need to continue following public health guidance after receiving a second dose of the vaccine?

Fully vaccinated people can resume activities without wearing a mask or physically distancing, except where required by federal, state, local, tribal, or territorial laws, rules, and regulations, including local business and workplace guidance (e.g., masks are still required in health care settings).

CDC: Guidance for fully vaccinated people

CDC: Guidance for unvaccinated people

Is there anyone who should NOT get the vaccine?

Before receiving the vaccine, all individuals will be asked by the healthcare professional administering the vaccine if they have a fever, have an allergy, are immunocompromised or are on a medicine that affects the immune system.

Recommendations from the CDC include:

  • Health experts recommend individuals receive the vaccine even if they have already had COVID; however, it is not recommended to take the vaccine during the period of COVID-19 illness itself. Individuals who tested positive for COVID-19 and are currently completing isolation must wait for at least 10 days after the positive test and upon release from isolation to obtain the vaccine.
  • While people who are immunocompromised will be offered the vaccine, we do not yet know how well it works.
  • Anyone recently vaccinated against another illness, such as the flu, should wait 14 days before taking this vaccine.
  • COVID vaccine cannot yet be given to children under the age of 12. The Pfizer vaccine has recently been authorized for use in individuals ages 12 and up. The Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines are authorized only for ages 18 and over. Clinical trials for ages 2-11 are underway
  • It is not recommended that anyone receive the vaccine who is allergic to any of the vaccine's ingredients. Until we have more information, those with a history of a severe allergic reaction, including anaphylaxis, to any vaccine or injectable medicine are being advised by medical professionals to be cautious about getting the vaccine. Any person to whom this might apply should discuss with their provider to decide how to proceed.
  • For individuals who are pregnant, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends that the vaccine still be given, and that a conversation with their health care provider prior to vaccination is not required but may be helpful in guiding decision making.

Does the flu vaccine also protect you from COVID-19?

No. The coronavirus that causes COVID-19 and the influenza virus are completely different viruses, and their vaccines are also different. The flu vaccine does not protect a person from becoming infected with COVID-19, so it is important to get both vaccines to ensure protection from both viruses, especially going into the winter months. Recent studies have shown that individuals who have received a flu vaccine have a lower risk of being hospitalized if they get COVID-19.

COVID-19 Vaccine Resources