Coronavirus Vaccines: Your Questions Answered

Coronavirus Vaccines: Your Questions Answered

First COVID-19 Vaccination at OMC

Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, there’s been one question on most people’s minds: When will we get a vaccine? 

Note: For the most up-to-date COVID-19 vaccine information from Olympic Medical Center, please click here.

Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic nearly one year ago, there’s been one question on most people’s minds: When will we get a vaccine? 

Now that an Emergency Authorization Approved COVID-19 vaccine has made it’s way to most states (with more to come by year’s end), that top-tier question has been answered–and with it comes many more. 

Let’s look at some of your most frequently asked questions about the COVID-19 vaccines and what you need to know.


Q: What are the different COVID-19 vaccine options?

A: The COVID-19 vaccine from Pfizer was given emergency approval by the FDA on Dec. 11, while the Moderna vaccine was approved on Dec. 18. 

In early 2021, Janssen and AstraZeneca will likely also be available, followed by Novavax which is about to start its research trial.

The Food and Drug Administration is expediting clinical trials for COVID-19 vaccines by working closely with vaccine makers. Moderna, Pfizer, AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson (Janssen) all have a vaccine in Phase 3 clinical trials.

Q:  How effective are the COVID-19 vaccines?

A: Both the Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines (the only two with early data available in the U.S.) have shown to be 94 to 95 percent effective. Study participants are being followed and data updates will be released over time.

Olympic Medical Center will offer COVID-19 vaccines that have been reviewed by the FDA and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as they are released and distributed. We will acquire as many of the COVID-19 vaccine brands as possible.

Q: Are the COVID-19 vaccines being developed all made the same way?

A: No. Pfizer and Moderna are mRNA vaccines and Janssen and AstraZeneca are vector vaccines.

mRNA vaccines contain material from the virus that causes COVID-19. This helps our cells make a harmless protein that is unique to the virus. After our cells make copies of the protein, they destroy the genetic material from the vaccine. Our bodies recognize that the protein should not be there and build specialized white blood cells. These will remember how to fight the virus that causes COVID-19 if we are exposed or infected in the future.

Vector vaccines contain a weakened version of a live virus. This is a different virus than the one that causes COVID-19 but with a small amount of genetic material from the virus that causes COVID-19. This is called a viral vector. Once the viral vector is inside our cells, the genetic material helps make a protein that is unique to the virus that causes COVID-19. Our cells can then make copies of the protein. This prompts our bodies to build specialized cells that will remember how to fight that virus if we are exposed or infected in the future.

Q: How was a vaccine for COVID-19 developed so quickly?

A: Scientists didn’t start from scratch. They built on many years of research that was already done with previous respiratory viruses such as the viruses that caused SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) and MERS (Middle East respiratory syndrome). These are other coronaviruses in the same family as COVID-19. There was also cooperation in ensuring immediate funding was available to researchers. It can take longer to test a vaccine if a virus is not common in the population. Researchers often have to wait for a certain number of people in studies to get sick. They can then compare vaccinated groups to the placebo groups. Because COVID-19 has been widespread in communities and spreading easily, the trials were able to be completed in shorter than usual timeframes. No steps in the normal vaccine development process have been skipped. Safety and efficacy were tested the same way as all other vaccines.

Q: What is an Emergency Use Authorization (EUA)?

A: An Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) allows the FDA to make a product available during a declared state of emergency before it has a full license. Any EUA approved by the FDA is further vetted by the Scientific Safety Review Workgroup, as part of the Western States Pact

Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine was given a EUA on December 11 and is the first COVID-19 vaccine to be distributed to the public. Moderna’s vaccine was given an EUA on Dec. 18. 

Q: How many doses will we need of a COVID-19 vaccine?

A: The Moderna and Pfizer vaccines require two doses. These are given at minimum 21 (Pfizer) and 28 (Moderna) days apart. At OMC, our goal is to schedule the first and second dose appointments for any COVID-19 vaccines that need two doses.

Q: What is being done to ensure proper transport and storage of the COVID-19 vaccines?

A: For the COVID-19 vaccines that need it, ultra-low freezer storage has been secured. The shipping process will ensure the vaccines remain at the correct temperature until they arrive at their destination.


Q: When will COVID-19 vaccines start being distributed in Washington?

Washington state started administering the EUA Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine the week of December 14. The federal government gave the state roughly 62,400 doses of the Pfizer vaccine for initial allocation. Washington expects a total of about 222,000 additional doses of the Pfizer vaccine by the end of December, and regular weekly shipments should begin in January.

In addition, Washington state officials believe it will receive about 183,000 doses of the Moderna vaccine by the end of December, assuming the FDA approves the emergency use authorization. Regular weekly shipments should begin in January. These dates are still uncertain, and vaccine availability will depend on the results of the EUA application and the vaccine clinical trials.

Q: How long will it take to vaccinate everyone in Washington with a COVID-19 vaccine?

A: The Washington Department of Health expects most people in Washington state to be vaccinated by mid-summer 2021. 

Q: What are the plans for COVID-19 vaccine distribution and administration?

A: Initial supplies of any COVID-19 vaccines will be limited. The Washington State Department of Health and its COVID-19 vaccine distribution planning team have created phases for distribution.

OMC is required to follow the state guidelines for who will get the vaccine in which phase. Critical workforce members, including health care workers, will get the vaccine in the first phase. Timing for community vaccination will depend on the amount of COVID-19 vaccine the state of Washington receives. It will be made available first to the highest-risk individuals and then to the general public.

Washington’s phases are based on federal guidelines to give the limited supply of vaccines in a fair, ethical and transparent way. Washington’s COVID-19 vaccination plan will evolve as more information about vaccines becomes available. We will update this page as new information becomes available. 

For more information on the WSDH vaccination plan, click here.

Q: What are the plans for giving a COVID-19 vaccine to pregnant women and children?

A: Currently, pregnant women are not part of any distribution phase because no COVID-19 vaccines are being tested in pregnant women. Further clinical trials and data analysis will be required before the FDA and CDC can evaluate vaccines for pregnant and lactating mothers.

If you are pregnant or lactating and part of a group who is recommended to receive a COVID-19 vaccine (for example, health care personnel), you may choose to be vaccinated. You should discuss this with your health care provider to make an informed decision.

Only one COVID-19 vaccine is being tested in children 12 years and older. Further clinical trials and data analysis is still being done, and children are not recommended to get the vaccine at this time. 


Q: How do we know COVID-19 vaccines are safe?

A: The U.S. vaccine safety system ensures that all vaccines are as safe as possible. Safety and effectiveness are the main goals while federal partners work to make COVID-19 vaccines available.

Right now, clinical trials are evaluating COVID-19 vaccines in tens of thousands of study participants. Information from these trials will allow the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to decide how safe and effective they are, based on standards set forth by the FDA. If the FDA decides that a COVID-19 vaccine meets its standards for being safe and effective, it can make these vaccines available for use in the U.S. by approval or emergency use authorization.

After the FDA makes its decision, the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) reviews available data. They will then make vaccine recommendations to the CDC.

Q: Will the findings of the COVID-19 vaccine trials be made public and reviewed by independent experts?

A: All phase 3 clinical trials of COVID-19 vaccine candidates are overseen by an independent Data and Safety Monitoring Board (DSMB). This board acts across all of the trials for all of the sponsors. The FDA and vaccine manufacturers are releasing data from their trials publicly.

Q: Is it safe to get a COVID-19 vaccine when it first comes out, or should I wait to get it until the long term effects are better understood?

A: It is recommended that everyone get a COVID-19 vaccine when it is available to you. Vaccines go through careful review by many groups to make sure they are safe and effective.

Q: What are the side effects of the new COVID-19 vaccines?

A: The most common side effects of the vaccine are similar to some routine vaccines, including a sore arm, tiredness, headache, and muscle pain.

Q: I am allergic to other vaccines. Is it safe for me to get the COVID-19 vaccine?

A: No. The vaccine should not be given to people with a history of a severe allergic reaction (such as anaphylaxis) to any component of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine. 

People who have had a severe allergic reaction to any vaccine or injectable therapy (intramuscular, intravenous, or subcutaneous) should not receive the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine at this time.

As more vaccines move through trials, these allergy restrictions may change as more data is available.


Q: How does a COVID-19 vaccine work in my body?

A: The COVID-19 vaccine teaches your immune system to recognize the coronavirus. When you get the vaccine, your immune system makes antibodies (“fighter cells”) that stay in your blood and protect you in case you are infected with the virus. You get protection against the disease without having to get sick.

When enough people in the community can fight off the coronavirus, it has nowhere to go. This means we can stop the spread quicker and get a little closer to ending this pandemic. 

Watch this video on how vaccines work in your body from the Washington State Department of Health.

Q: Once a person gets a COVID-19 vaccine, how long are they protected? Will yearly vaccinations be needed like the flu?

A: The answer to this is unknown. But it may end up becoming a seasonal vaccine similar to the flu shot.

Q: How much will a COVID-19 vaccine reduce the risks or complications of COVID-19?

A: Early results from clinical trials have shown that some vaccines may be 94 to 95 % effective in preventing the spread of COVID-19. Based on what we know about vaccines for other diseases, experts believe that getting a COVID-19 vaccine may help keep you from getting very sick, even if you do get COVID-19. Getting vaccinated may also protect the people around you, especially those at increased risk for severe illness from COVID-19.

Q: If I already had COVID-19 and have recovered from it, do I need to get a COVID-19 vaccine?

A: There is not enough information yet to say if or for how long after infection someone is protected from getting COVID-19 again; this is called natural immunity. Early data suggests natural immunity from COVID-19 may not last very long. More studies are needed to better understand this.

Per ACIP recommendations, you should get the vaccine if you have not had an active COVID-19 infection in the last 90 days before vaccination.

Q: Can I get COVID-19 even after getting the vaccine?

A: Many of the COVID-19 vaccines require two doses. It often takes a few weeks for the body to build immunity after getting the vaccine. That means a person could be infected with the virus that causes COVID-19 just before or just after getting the vaccine and get sick. This is because the vaccine has not had enough time to provide protection.

Q: Do I need to still wear a mask after getting the vaccine?

A: Wearing masks and social distancing are still your best tools to help reduce your chance of being exposed to the virus or spreading it to others. Until the entire state has been vaccinated, getting the vaccine and following CDC recommendations to protect yourself and others, will offer the best protection from COVID-19.


Q: Is a COVID-19 vaccine safe for me? Could it interfere with any of my medications or medical conditions?

A: Any approved COVID-19 vaccine will have gone through clinical trials with tens of thousands of people. Trial volunteers include people with lots of different medical conditions, and that data is collected to ensure safety and effectiveness across many people. If you have any concerns about getting the COVID-19 vaccine, please contact your doctor or provider.

Q: How will I know that I am eligible to get a COVID-19 vaccine?

A: Initial supplies of any COVID-19 vaccines will be limited, so the Washington State Department of Health and their COVID-19 vaccine distribution planning team have identified specific phases for the distribution. Certain health care workers will receive the COVID-19 vaccine first, followed by higher-risk individuals and then the general public.

At this time, we don’t know how each phase of people will be notified that they can get the vaccine. As the first vaccines receive authorization and the distribution plans become more clear, updated information will be posted to

Q: How much will it cost to get a COVID-19 vaccine?

A: The federal government will cover the cost of the COVID-19 vaccine. Health care providers may charge you an office visit fee, or a fee to give the vaccine. Health insurance most likely will cover these fees.

For more information on COVID-19 vaccines, including details on Washington vaccination phases, visit the OMC COVID-19 Vaccine Information page.

Sources: Washington State Department of Health, Pfizer, UCHealth