COVID-19 (Coronavirus)

The coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic disrupted our lives and our healthcare systems and accounted for millions of illnesses across the globe ranging from mild to severe to deadly. COVID-19 vaccination is a critical tool in stopping this pandemic.

There are several COVID-19 vaccines that are in the late stages of development. Currently, two vaccines have been authorized for use by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. These vaccines are designed to teach your body’s immune system to recognize and fight off the virus that causes COVID-19.

Both of these vaccines require two doses. The first shot starts building protection. A second shot a few weeks later is needed to get the most protection the vaccine has to offer. Neither of these vaccines will give you COVID-19.

Information about COVID-19 vaccines will be updated frequently as new information becomes available.

Why are COVID-19 vaccines important?

COVID-19 has sickened and killed millions of people worldwide. COVID-19 vaccines have been tested in clinical trials to determine that they are highly effective in stimulating our bodies to develop immunity and protect us from the disease.  Therefore, COVID-19 vaccines are a critical tool in stopping the pandemic, resuming normal life, and protecting ourselves and others from this disease.

What is COVID-19?

COVID-19 is caused by a virus called Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2). It is caused by a strain of coronavirus not previously seen in humans. Coronaviruses, named for the crown-like spikes on their surfaces, are a large family of viruses, which circulate in humans and other animals such as pigs, bats, and cats.

SARS-CoV-2 is the third novel coronavirus to emerge in this century and infect humans (the original SARS outbreak emerged in China in 2003 and the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus emerged in Saudi Arabia in 2012). It was first reported in Wuhan, China, in December 2019. COVID-19 was declared a global pandemic by the World Health Organization in March 2020. The United States declared a public health emergency for the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020 as well.

SARS-CoV-2 spreads easily from person-to-person when people are in close contact, mainly through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs, sneezes, or talks. To a less extent, the virus can also spread by people who touch contaminated surfaces or objects such as handrails and doorknobs, then touching their eyes, noses, or mouths without washing their hands first.

People with COVID-19 may not know that they are spreading it. People who are infected with the virus that causes COVID-19 can spread it before they become ill. Some people who are infected might not exhibit symptoms, but can spread the virus to other people. COVID-19 can be serious, especially for older adults and people who have underlying medical conditions like heart or lung disease or diabetes. Symptoms can start in as little as 2 days or as long as 14 days after exposure with the average time taking about 5 days.

Symptoms of COVID-19 include:

  • Fever or chills
  • Cough
  • Fatigue
  • Loss of taste or smell
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Muscle or body aches
  • Headache
  • Pain or pressure in the chest
  • Sore throat
  • Congestion or runny nose
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Not able to wake up or stay awake

People with COVID-19 symptoms often recover on their own. They can also slowly get worse with difficulty breathing, or abruptly become very ill about a week after their symptoms start.

Learn more about COVID-19.

Who should get COVID-19 vaccines?

Not everyone will be able to get a COVID-19 vaccine right away. Currently, the vaccines are only recommended to certain groups of people:

  • Healthcare personnel who could come into contact with the virus that causes COVID-19, including non-medical staff
  • Residents of long-term care facilities, like nursing homes
  • People 75 years of age or older,
  • Frontline essential workers, like grocery store employees, firefighters, and educators

Learn more about how this recommendation was made.

One vaccine can be given to those aged 16 years and older and the other to those aged 18 and older.

When more COVID-19 vaccines are available, more people will be able to get them.

Other priority groups include people aged 65-74, or people aged 16-74 with underlying medical conditions such as heart, lung, and kidney disease and diabetes, and other workers, such as those working in food service and transportation. Each state will decide how to distribute their allotment of COVID-19 vaccines.

Who should not get COVID-19 vaccines?

You should not get a coronavirus vaccine if you:

  • Had a severe allergy to any ingredient in the vaccine (you can find vaccine ingredients on the Moderna and Pfizer fact sheets)
  • Had a severe reaction after a previous dose of the vaccine

You should talk with your healthcare provider before getting vaccinated if you:

  • Are sick, not feeling well, or have a fever
  • Think you may have had a serious reaction to a vaccine in the past
  • Have Allergies
  • Have a bleeding disorder or are on a blood thinner
  • Are immunocompromised or are taking medicine that affects your immune system
  • Are planning to become pregnant, are pregnant, or are breastfeeding
  • Have received another COVID-19 vaccine
What are the side effects of COVID-19 vaccines?

These COVID-19 vaccines were tested for safety and will continue to be studied to ensure their safety. Most people who have taken COVID-19 vaccines report that side effects are usually mild and go away after several days. However, it is possible for severe and unexpected side effects to occur.

The common side effects may include:

  • Pain, swelling, or redness where the shot was given
  • Feeling tired
  • Headache
  • Muscle pain
  • Chills
  • Joint pain
  • Fever
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Feeling unwell
  • Tender or swollen lymph nodes

Experiencing these side effects actually means that the vaccine is working to stimulate your body to generate an immune response. Remember, vaccines mimic a natural infection without causing us to become sick. Some people feel their immune response more than others and some people may feel the immune response more after the second dose of the vaccine. Learn more about vaccine side effects.

How is COVID-19 vaccine safety being monitored for safety?

A robust vaccine safety monitoring system is in place in the United States for COVID-19 and other vaccines. Learn how our federal partners are working together to ensure the safety of COVID-19 vaccines.

After vaccination, you can sign up for a new health check service on your smartphone, called V-safe from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. V-safe uses text messaging and web surveys to check in with vaccine recipients after COVID-19 vaccination. V-safe also provides a reminder to get your second dose of vaccine, if needed, and will follow up with you if you report a medically important event.

Please report any potential side effects experienced from COVID-19 vaccination to the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System, a program co-managed by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration to ensure that all recommended vaccines remain safe.

Where can I get more information about COVID-19 vaccines?
LAST REVIEWED: DECEMBER 2020