Things to Know
We understand that people have questions and concerns about the COVID-19 vaccines. The COVID-19 vaccines have been through rigorous testing to make sure they are as safe and effective as possible. Get the facts, find answers to some frequently asked questions, and find out how people in the Finger Lakes Region have helped make these vaccines possible.
You cannot get COVID-19 from the vaccine.
Unlike other kinds of vaccines, the COVID-19 vaccines do not contain the actual virus (living or dead), so it is impossible for them to infect you with COVID. Learn more about how the COVID-19 vaccines work.
Even if you have already been sick with COVID, you should still get the vaccine.
It is possible to get COVID-19 more than once, and we still do not know how long a person is protected by natural immunity after they have recovered from COVID-19.
The vaccine will not make you test positive on COVID-19 tests.
Tests to diagnose COVID-19, such as PCR or antigen tests done by nasal swabs or saliva samples, are checking for the presence of the virus, not immunity. Because the COVID-19 vaccines do not contain the virus, they will not affect those tests.
Tests to see if you have had COVID-19 at some point in the past, such as antibody tests, are done through blood samples. Because vaccines are designed to stimulate your body’s immune system, there is a possibility you may test positive on an antibody test. Experts are currently looking at how COVID-19 vaccination may affect antibody testing results.
The vaccine is free.
The COVID-19 vaccines are free. No one has to pay for a vaccination, and no one can be denied a vaccination, regardless of ability to pay. Vaccination providers may charge an administration fee for giving someone the shot, but the fee will be reimbursed by the patient’s public or private insurance company. Uninsured patients do not have to pay any fee. No one can be denied a vaccine if they are unable to pay the vaccine administration fee. If an individual believes they are the victim of an unlawful activity, such incurring financial costs when assessing a COVID vaccine, they can report it to the NYS Attorney General.
Also, beware of vaccine scams and fraud. If anyone is promising you the vaccine in exchange for money, you should NOT pay them. If you suspect fraud, you can contact New York state authorities by calling 1-833-VAX-SCAM (1-833-829-7226) or emailing STOPVAXFRAUD@health.ny.gov.
Temporary side effects are normal after you get your vaccine.
They are a sign that the vaccine is doing its job: training your body to build immunity against the COVID-19 virus. These side effects can include fever, fatigue, headaches, muscle and joint pain, or chills, lasting about 12 to 24 hours. Having these side effects does not mean you are sick with COVID-19. The vaccines do not contain any part of the COVID-19 virus and cannot cause that infection. Learn more about what side effects to expect and get helpful tips on how to reduce pain and discomfort after your shots.
You need to keep wearing a mask and social distancing after you have had your vaccine.
It takes time for your body to build protection after any vaccination, so continue masking and distancing. COVID-19 vaccines that require two shots may not protect you until a week or two after your second shot. Beyond that, masking and social distancing will continue to be important until everyone who wants a vaccination is able to get it, and the spread of the virus has been stopped. It is also important because researchers don’t know yet whether a vaccinated person can spread coronavirus.
The vaccines have been thoroughly tested.
Tens of thousands of volunteers -- including many in the Finger Lakes Region -- were injected with the vaccines in clinical trials to make sure they are safe and effective. Learn more about diversity in these studies. More than 63 million Americans received the vaccine so far. There have been no deaths or lasting serious side effects.
Years of research have gone into these vaccines.
Scientists began researching possible coronavirus vaccines with the SARS outbreak in 2003. That work on SARS, which is similar to COVID-19, formed the foundation for today’s vaccines. Work on the breakthrough technology in the COVID-19 vaccines also began many years ago. Full clinical trials ran while the vaccines were being manufactured to save more time. No steps were skipped.
Frequently Asked Questions
The COVID-19 vaccines have been through rigorous studies to ensure they are as safe as possible. They have been authorized for use by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Tens of thousands of volunteers have participated in the clinical trials. The vaccines were found to be safe for people with underlying health conditions. The safety of the vaccines continues to be monitored. Learn more about how the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is ensuring the safety of the COVID-19 vaccines.
Yes. In clinical trials, the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine was 95% effective and the Moderna vaccine was 94.1% effective at preventing COVID-19. The Johnson & Johnson vaccine was 66% effective at preventing COVID-19, but importantly, it as found to be 85% effective at preventing serious COVID-19 illness and 100% effective at preventing hospitalization and death from COVID-19. The effectiveness of the COVID-19 vaccines is comparable to other common vaccines, such as polio, measles and the flu.
No serious side effects of the vaccine have been observed in clinical trials. However, some people may experience muscle aches, fever, fatigue and other mild flu-like symptoms. These are signs that the immune system is doing exactly what it is supposed to do: it is building up protection to the disease. Side effects generally go away in a day or two. Rarely, individuals may have an allergic reaction to the vaccines. That’s why all vaccinations are administered by health professionals who are prepared for such reactions.
Researchers say the current vaccines still provide protection against the new strains of COVID-19, and public health officials still recommend getting the current vaccines.
These new strains, also called variants, are slightly different from the virus that has been making people sick in the United States since spring 2020. They are a concern because they can pass more easily from one person to another, making more people sick at a faster pace than before.
When viruses make new copies of themselves, a process called replication, the new copies sometimes have mistakes in their genetic code. Those mistakes — changes that are called as mutations — can sometimes help the virus survive better. In the new strains, for example, the mutations help the virus spread faster.
A recent study found that the Pfizer vaccine works against two of the new strains. Moderna recently announced that its vaccine is still effective against the UK strain and is developing a booster to protect against the South Africa strain. In clinical trials, the Johnson & Johnson vaccine has been found to prevent serious illness, including from the new variants of the virus. Researchers continue to study how these and other new versions of the COVID-19 virus are affected by vaccination.
In fact, researchers at the University of Rochester Medical Center and Rochester Regional Health are working together on a clinical trial to see if a third dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine can help boost immunity even more to help protect against the circulating and emerging variants of the COVID-19 virus.
During a recent press briefing, White House advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci said that these new strains of the COVID-19 virus make it all the more important to be vaccinated. Not only can the vaccine help protect you from infection, but it can also help slow the virus’s ability to mutate, or change. The virus can only mutate when it can make copies of itself, and it can only do that when it has infected cells. The vaccines help prevent that infection.
No. The vaccines are not able to alter a person’s genetic makeup (DNA). The mRNA in the COVID-19 vaccines never enters the nucleus of the cell, which is where our DNA is kept. Learn more about how mRNA works in the COVID-19 vaccines. The adenovector vaccines, like the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, also do not change a person’s genetic makeup, and the adenovirus cannot make copies of itself or make you sick.
Yes. Clinical trials for both the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines included people of color. Participants in the phase 2 and 3 clinical trials of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine were 26.2% Hispanic/Latino, 9.8% African American, 4.4% Asian, and <3% other races /ethnicities. Participants in the Moderna clinical trials were 20% Hispanic /Latino, 9.7% African American, 4.7% Asian, and <3% other races/ethnicities. According to the independent Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, the vaccines showed consistent high efficacy (≥92%) across age, sex, race, and ethnicity categories, as well as among individuals who had underlying medical conditions and those with evidence of previous COVID-19 infection.
The National Medical Association, one of the largest national organizations representing Black physicians and their patients, and the National Hispanic Medical Association support the FDA recommendations to approve the COVID-19 vaccines.
Limited data on the safety of COVID vaccines for people who are pregnant is available, and studies in people who are pregnant are planned. People who are pregnant or breastfeeding may choose to be vaccinated. Talk to your doctor about what is right for you. Here is a resource to help you as you are making your decision.
According to the CDC, people who have autoimmune disorders may receive the vaccines, but no data are available yet on the safety of the mRNA vaccines for them. The CDC has compiled some considerations for people with autoimmune disease and other underlying conditions who are deciding whether to receive the vaccine. Discuss your questions and concerns with your doctor.
New Kinds of Vaccines
Vaccines train the body’s immune system to protect us from infections and disease. Until now, many vaccines used a weakened or inactivated germ to stimulate an immune response. The COVID-19 vaccines work by getting your immune system to recognize a key feature of the coronavirus called the spike protein. The current vaccines take different approaches to this:
- mRNA Vaccines: The Prizer/BioNTech and Moderna vaccines use a molecule called messenger RNA (mRNA) — not the COVID-19 virus — to deliver genetic instructions to build the virus’s characteristic spike protein and trigger an immune response that protects us from being infected. Learn How the COVID-19 mRNA Vaccines Work.
- Adenovector Vaccines: The Johnson & Johnson vaccine uses DNA to deliver the genetic instructions to build the virus’s characteristic spike protein. The DNA is added to another virus, called an adenovirus, that is pulled into your body’s cells where the gene for the spike protein is read and copied into mRNA. The mRNA then helps to trigger an immune response that protects us from being infected by the COVID-19 virus. Adenoviruses commonly cause cold-like symptoms, but in this vaccine, the adenovirus has been changed so that it cannot make you sick. Learn how the Johnson & Johnson vaccine works.
Because these vaccines do not use the virus that causes COVID-19, they cannot make you sick with COVID-19. These vaccines also do not affect or interact with our DNA in any way.
Our Region’s Role
Researchers, doctors and volunteers in the Finger Lakes region have played an important part in testing potential COVID-19 vaccines. Since mid-2020, health systems including the University of Rochester Medical Center and Rochester Regional Health, as well as independent research centers such as Rochester Clinical Research and Finger Lakes Clinical Research, have been offering COVID vaccine trials. These trials included the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine that was approved by the FDA in December.
Locally, researchers have emphasized the importance of diversity among the clinical trial participants. Read about some of their efforts:
- Pandemic spurs quest to enroll more Black Americans in vaccine trials, Reuters, Jan. 28, 2021
- Diversity Crucial to Success of COVID-19 Vaccine Trials, Minority Reporter, Oct. 22, 2020
- Wade Norwood on the COVID-19 Vaccine: My Journey Has Moved Me to Say Yes, Minority Reporter, Jan. 15, 2021
- Connections: Discussing coronavirus vaccine trials, WXXI News, Aug. 19, 2020
Hundreds of Finger Lakes area residents have participated in these clinical trials and continue to volunteer for ongoing studies of other vaccine candidates. We are grateful for their participation and commitment to finding vaccines to fight COVID-19 infection.