COVID-19 vaccines

Definition

COVID-19 vaccines are used to prepare the body's immune system to protect against COVID-19.

Everyone ages 6 months and older should get an updated (2023-2024 formula) COVID-19 vaccine. This includes people who are pregnant and those planning to become pregnant. You should get an updated COVID-19 vaccine even if you have already had COVID-19.

Alternative Names

Vaccines for COVID-19; COVID-19 vaccinations; COVID-19 shots; Vaccinations for COVID-19; COVID-19 immunizations; COVID-19 prevention - vaccines; mRNA vaccine - COVID-19; COVID-19 vaccine booster shots; Booster shots for COVID-19

Information

HOW COVID-19 VACCINES WORK

COVID-19 vaccines protect people from getting COVID-19 and from getting more severe symptoms if they get COVID-19. These vaccines "teach" your body how to defend against the SARS-CoV-2 virus, which causes COVID-19.

COVID-19 vaccines have been shown to do a very good job of:

mRNA VACCINES

The mRNA vaccines approved in the United States work differently from many other vaccines.

The COVID-19 mRNA vaccine is given as an injection (shot) in the arm. The original mRNA vaccines (monovalent and bivalent mRNA vaccines) are no longer available. The updated (2023-2024 formula) mRNA vaccines, also called homologous vaccines, are currently in use. These updated (2023-2024 formula) vaccines protect against the original COVID-19 virus and certain variants of the COVID-19 virus.

SUBUNIT VACCINE

The Novavax vaccine is a protein subunit vaccine. The vaccine includes harmless pieces of the "spike" protein that causes COVID-19. The vaccine triggers the body to develop antibodies to protect you from the virus. This updated (2023-2024 formula) vaccine protects against the original COVID-19 virus and certain variants of the COVID-19 virus. The original Novavax (monovalent) is no longer available. The updated (2023-2024 formula) is currently in use.

VACCINATION SCHEDULE

The vaccination schedule is based on your age, vaccination history, and whether you are moderately or severely immunocompromised.

People ages 12 years and older also have the option to get the updated (2023-2024 formula) Novavax vaccine.

VACCINE MYTHS

COVID-19 vaccines:

To get up-to-date accurate information about COVID-19 vaccines, go to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website:

VACCINE SIDE EFFECTS

While COVID-19 vaccines will not make you sick, they may cause certain side effects and flu-like symptoms. This is normal. These symptoms are a sign that your body is making antibodies against the virus.

Side effects can vary from person to person. Common side effects include:

Some side effects from the shot may affect your ability to do daily activities, but they will go away in a few days.  Any side effects from the vaccine are far less dangerous than the potential for serious illness or death from COVID-19.

HOW TO GET THE VACCINE

There are several ways you can look for vaccination providers near you.

Learn what to expect when you get your COVID-19 vaccine.

VACCINE SAFETY

The safety of vaccines is the top priority, and COVID-19 vaccines have passed rigorous safety standards before approval. Millions of people have received the vaccine, and no long-term side effects have been reported. They continue to be closely monitored to ensure they are safe and effective.

There have been reports of some people who have had an allergic reaction to the current vaccines. So it is important to follow certain precautions:

If you have had an allergic reaction, even if not severe, to other vaccines or injectable therapies, you should ask your provider if you should get a COVID-19 vaccine. Your provider will help you decide if it is safe to get vaccinated.

Serious health events from COVID-19 vaccines, such as an allergic reaction, are rare. Adverse events after COVID-19 vaccination are very rare.

Rare cases of myocarditis (inflammation of the heart muscle) and pericarditis (inflammation of the outer lining of the heart) have been reported in children and teens ages 5 years and older after getting the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccine.

This reaction has tended to occur more often in male adolescents and young adults ages 12 to 39 years.

Symptoms of myocarditis and pericarditis include:

If your child or teenager has any of these symptoms, get medical help right away.

All these associations are so rare that they should not cause hesitation in receiving any of these vaccines.

CDC recommends that people may still get vaccinated if they have a history of:

References

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Allergic reactions after COVID-19 vaccination. www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/vaccines/safety/allergic-reaction.html. Updated July 20, 2022. Accessed October 10, 2023.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Benefits of getting a COVID-19 vaccine. www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/vaccines/vaccine-benefits.html. Updated September 22, 2023. Accessed October 10, 2023.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. CDC's Bridge Access Program. www.cdc.gov/vaccines/programs/bridge/. Updated September 14, 2023. Accessed October 10, 2023.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. COVID-19 vaccines for people who are moderately or severely immunocompromised. www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/vaccines/recommendations/immuno.html. Updated October 4, 2023. Accessed October 10, 2023.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. COVID-19 vaccines for people who would like to have a baby. www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/vaccines/planning-for-pregnancy.html. Updated September 22, 2023. Accessed October 10, 2023.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. COVID-19: Selected adverse events reported after COVID-19 vaccination. www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/vaccines/safety/adverse-events.html. Updated September 12, 2023. Accessed October 10, 2023.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Interim clinical considerations for the use of COVID-19 vaccines in the United States. www.cdc.gov/vaccines/covid-19/clinical-considerations/interim-considerations-us.html. Updated October 6, 2023. Accessed October 10, 2023.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Myocarditis and pericarditis after mRNA COVID-19 vaccination. www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/vaccines/safety/myocarditis.html. Updated September 12, 2023. Accessed October 10, 2023.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Bust myths and learn the facts about COVID-19 vaccines. www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/vaccines/facts.html. Updated September 27, 2023. Accessed October 10, 2023.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Stay up to date with COVID-19 vaccines. www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/vaccines/stay-up-to-date.html. Updated October 4, 2023. Accessed October 10, 2023.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Use of COVID-19 vaccines in the United States. Interim clinical considerations. www.cdc.gov/vaccines/covid-19/clinical-considerations/covid-19-vaccines-us.html. Updated October 6, 2023. Accessed October 10, 2023.

US Food & Drug Administration website. Novavax COVID-19 vaccine, adjuvanted. Novavax COVID-19 vaccine, adjuvanted (2023-2024 formula) authorized for individuals 12 years of age and older. www.fda.gov/vaccines-blood-biologics/coronavirus-covid-19-cber-regulated-biologics/novavax-covid-19-vaccine-adjuvanted. Updated October 4, 2023. Accessed October 10, 2023.


Review Date: 2/22/2023
Reviewed By: Frank D. Brodkey, MD, FCCM, Associate Professor, Section of Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine, University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health, Madison, WI. Also reviewed by David C. Dugdale, MD, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team. Editorial update 10/10/2023.
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