A Black man in a mask smiles as he prepares to receive a vaccine.

COVID-19 Vaccines: Get the Facts

Editor’s note: This post was first published Jan. 22, 2021 and was last updated Oct. 25, 2021, with COVID vaccine updates from state and federal health officials. This post will be updated weekly.

Get the Facts with Dr. Jim Grant

Click here to view an archive of the “Get the Facts with Dr. Jim Grant” series

Doses of the first COVID-19 vaccines were administered Dec. 14, 2020, kicking off a massive effort during 2021 to stop the spread of the virus. All Michiganders age 12 and up are eligible to receive a COVID vaccine.

Michigan health officials aim to vaccinate 70% of Michigan residents 16 years of age or older — at least 7.2 million people — by the end of 2021. Until the number of positive tests reaches an appropriate level, health experts are urging everyone to continue following COVID-19 precautions: get a vaccine, wear a mask indoors if you are not vaccinated and wash your hands.

There are currently three COVID-19 vaccines – Moderna, Pfizer-BioNTech and Johnson and Johnson’s Janssen – that are available across the country. The Pfizer vaccine has received the full approval of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for people age 16 years old and up, and the Moderna and Johnson and Johnson vaccines have received emergency use authorization from the FDA. The Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines both require two doses to be effective. Johnson and Johnson’s Janssen COVID-19 vaccine requires only one dose. The vaccines distribution varies by state and depends on the level of supply from manufacturers and the federal government.

Here’s the latest news on COVID vaccines:

  • Millions of Americans are now eligible for a COVID booster shot.
  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advise individuals who are 18 and up and received the initial two-dose series of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines at least six months ago are eligible for a booster dose if they meet the following criteria:
  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advise individuals who are age 18 and up can receive a booster dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine at least two months after they were initially immunized.
  • As of Aug. 23, the Pfizer vaccine has received full approval from the FDA for use in individuals age 16 years old and up. The vaccine continues to have emergency use authorization for individuals age 12 to 15 years old and for booster doses for the immunocompromised.
  • As of Aug. 11, federal health officials are advising that women who are pregnant or hoping to become pregnant get vaccinated against COVID. The new advice comes after an analysis by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention of data from a vaccine monitoring program.
  • As of July 13, the FDA advises there is a risk of a rare side effect — Guillain-Barre syndrome — associated with the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

Individuals who are fully vaccinated can resume activities as they did prior to the pandemic and do not have to wear masks or physical distance, except for where required by law, rules or regulations, including local business and workplace guidance, as a result of updated guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. However, due to the emerging prevalence of the more contagious Delta variant and the need for more individuals to become vaccinated, the CDC is advising fully vaccinated individuals should wear a mask indoors in public if you’re in an area of substantial or high transmission. 

To view the latest available vaccine pipeline dashboard, click here (last updated May 13).

Here’s what you need to know about vaccination efforts in the state of Michigan.

Click on a link below to jump to the section in this blog for COVID vaccine updates:

Availability Locations
Two Shots Side Effects
Vaccination Tracker Effectiveness
Prior COVID-19 Infections Myths
Development At-Risk Groups
Cost Get the Facts with Dr. Jim Grant Video Series

 

When will COVID vaccines be available to me?

Vaccines are widely available. All Michiganders age 12 and up are eligible to receive a vaccine.

Initially, health officials in Michigan distributed vaccines in a phased approach per the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendations. Healthcare workers and people in long-term care facilities – including staff – were the first to be vaccinated in Michigan.

The Better Business Bureau is advising individuals to avoid sharing photos of their COVID-19 vaccination cards on social media due to scams.

Where will COVID vaccines be available?

Vaccines are widely available across the U.S. Appointments may be necessary, but some locations may offer walk-in vaccinations. Retail pharmacies across the country are offering the COVID-19 vaccine. The CDC also has an online tool to help people find vaccination opportunities near where they live.

You may need to check more than one website to find vaccination sites:

  • Find a vaccination location in Michigan by visiting Michigan.gov/COVIDvaccine
  • If you live outside of Michigan and are seeking a COVID-19 vaccine, click here to see how to get a vaccine in your state

 Primary care providers may also be providing vaccines as the supply allows. Federally qualified health centers across Michigan also offer vaccines.

Do I need two doses of Pfizer and Moderna vaccines?

Both the Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines require two doses to be fully effective. The second dose of each vaccine is identical to the first dose of the same brand. COVID-19 vaccines that require two shots may not protect you until a week or two after your second shot, according to the CDC.  The timing between your first and second shot depends on which vaccine you receive:

  • Pfizer: 21 days after your first shot
  • Moderna: 28 days after your first shot

In most situations, the vaccination site will schedule you for your second dose when you receive your first dose. Your second shot must be of the same vaccine brand as the first shot.

Johnson and Johnson’s Janssen vaccine is administered in one dose.

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What are the potential side effects?

Side effects to the COVID-19 vaccines may include:

  • Pain and swelling at the injection site
  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Tiredness
  • Headache

These side effects mean your immune system is responding by producing an immune response and is completely normal. If you do not have any side effects, that is also nothing to worry about. If your side effects do not go away after a few days, call your doctor. Call 911 and seek immediate medical care if you think you’re having a severe allergic reaction.

At this time, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention do not recommend taking acetaminophen or other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs like Tylenol or Advil prior to receiving the COVID-19 vaccines to prevent any vaccination symptoms. Patients who take these medications as a part of their current treatment plans should consult their primary care providers first before making any changes.

The CDC has developed a smartphone-based tool called “v-safe” to check in with people after they have received a COVID-19 vaccine to track side effects. Learn more about v-safe here. As of July 13, the FDA advises there is a risk of a rare side effect — Guillain-Barre syndrome — associated with the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

How many COVID vaccines have been administered?

As of Sept. 10, 2021, here’s how many vaccines have been administered:

Are the COVID vaccines effective?

Before these vaccines were authorized for emergency use, Moderna, Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson were subjected to clinical trials with tens thousands of study participants to evaluate safety and effectiveness. A rigorous review by the FDA determined each vaccine would be safe and effective, offering reliable protection against even the worst COVID symptoms.

As of Aug. 23, the FDA has granted full approval to the Pfizer vaccine for use in individuals age 16 years old and up.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued guidelines for people who have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19 on how they can safely visit with others. Read more here.

The CDC advises fully vaccinated individuals can travel at low risk to themselves.

Do the vaccines cause COVID-19?

No. The vaccines do not use the live virus that causes COVID-19. The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines use messenger RNA – called mRNA – to teach your cells how to make a protein that triggers the immune response. The Johnson & Johnson vaccine uses the genetic pattern of a portion of the coronavirus to teach your body how to respond to a possible infection. As your body learns how to protect against a future infection of COVID-19, your body may have expected side effects.

Should I still get vaccinated if I’ve already had COVID-19?

Experts say yes. It’s unclear how long immunity from COVID-19 lasts if you’ve had an infection, so health experts are advising that those who have been infected with COVID-19 should still plan to get the vaccine. It is always a good idea to discuss such decisions with your doctor.

How were the vaccines developed so quickly?

Although the COVID-19 vaccines developed by Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson were developed more quickly than other vaccines, the FDA announced they followed all established protocols for vaccine development and testing and met the FDA’s standards for emergency use authorization. According to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, scientists had a head start thanks to vaccine research already started during previous outbreaks caused by related coronaviruses such as SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) and MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome).

“The process for approval of a COVID-19 vaccine is scientifically sound, and no steps have been skipped,” said Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, MDHHS chief medical executive and chief deputy for health.

 

Are there populations who can’t get the vaccine or who should proceed with caution?

There are some groups that might not be able to get vaccinated just yet:

  • Those under age 11. As of May 10, 2021, the Pfizer vaccine is authorized for persons age 12 and older, but the Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines’ age requirement is 18. Some additional studies for this age group should be underway.

Some individuals might want to talk to their doctor about the best course of action:

  • People with past severe allergic reactions to vaccines are advised to balance the risks of allergic reaction with the benefits of vaccination, and to be monitored after vaccination for any adverse side effects.

 

What will the vaccine cost?

You should not have to pay anything to receive a COVID-19 vaccine. There are two primary costs – the cost of the vaccine, and the cost of administering it to patients like you. The federal government will be paying for the initial cost of the vaccine, and Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan is paying for the administration for its members. No member should receive any bill. Most employer health plans are picking up the cost of administering the shots, thereby relieving members of any out-of-pocket cost.

Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan and Blue Care Network will waive all copays, deductibles and coinsurance for COVID-19 vaccines for commercial members.

For Medicare beneficiaries, the government is paying for the vaccine and administration of the vaccine.

Get the Facts with Dr. Jim Grant Video Series

Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan’s Chief Medical Officer Dr. Jim Grant is addressing common questions regarding the COVID-19 vaccines. Find all videos in the “Get the Facts with Dr. Jim Grant” series here:

 

Week of 2/22/2021 Are all the vaccines effective against COVID-19?  Is one vaccine better than the other? Will I be able to choose what vaccine I receive? 
Week of 3/1/2021 What are the steps a vaccine needs to through for approval? How could the COVID-19 vaccines be created so quickly? Should I talk to my doctor before receiving a vaccine?
Week of 3/8/2021 What is the impact of Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine? How is the Johnson & Johnson vaccine different? Why is there only one dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine?
Week of 3/15/2021 How do variants impact the effectiveness of vaccines? How do variants of COVID-19 develop? How do the variants impact life moving forward from the pandemic?
Week of 3/22/2021 How many people in the U.S. need to be vaccinated? What is herd immunity explained through an example? Will COVID-19 always be around like flu strains?
Week of 3/29/2021 What happens if I only get one shot of the two-shot vaccine? Will they give me the vaccine if I have had COVID-19? What are some myths about COVID-19 that need to be busted?
Week of 4/5/2021 When will the vaccines be available to the general public? How long does COVID-19 vaccine protection last?  After receiving a vaccine, can I test positive for COVID?
Week of 4/12/2021 Are there more vaccines that will be authorized by the FDA? What precautions should I continue after being vaccinated?

Will a COVID-19 vaccine alter my DNA?

Why has the distribution of Johnson & Johnson vaccines been paused?

Week of 4/19/2021 Does the Johnson & Johnson vaccine contain a live virus? When am I considered fully vaccinated? What can I do once I’ve been vaccinated?
Week of 4/26/2021 What are we still learning about COVID-19 vaccines? Can a COVID-19 vaccine make me sick with COVID-19? What are vaccine breakthrough cases? 
Week of 5/3/2021 How is COVID-19 vaccine efficacy monitored? Is vaccine safety actively being monitored? Is there a difference between natural vs. vaccine immunity?
Week of 5/10/2021 Will there be a COVID-19 vaccine for children? When will children be able to receive the COVID-19 vaccine? Is it safe to see family members who are too young to be vaccinated?
Week of 5/17/2021 What data did the FDA use to make the decision to authorize the Pfizer vaccine for emergency use in 12-15 year olds? Should I still get my second dose if I miss my appointment? Is the second dose of an mRNA vaccine different from the first?
Week of 5/24/2021 What happens if I skip the second dose of the COVID vaccine? Should I wait to get the vaccine if I’ve had COVID? What are the benefits of getting vaccinated?

This content has been reviewed and approved by Dr. S. George Kipa, deputy chief medical officer at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan.

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