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How To Get The COVID-19 Vaccine – What You Need To Know

By: Emily Totura
Mar 22, 2021 • 7 min read

Everything You Need to Know About How To Get The COVID-19 Vaccine. 

As the warm weather approaches, so does hope for the long-waited end to the COVID-19 pandemic. You’ve probably heard in the news that a few vaccines have been approved by the FDA, and many people are already vaccinated. If you’re wondering how to get it, look no further! In this article, we’ll share with you everything you need to know about getting the vaccine.

how to get vaccine

What vaccines are currently available?

Currently, the FDA has approved 3 vaccines: the Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson/Janssen. As of February 27, 2021, AstraZeneca and Novavax’s vaccines are in phase 3 clinical trials—if you want to learn more about this, check out ClinicalTrials.gov.

  • The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is reported to be 95% effective in preventing the virus. It can be administered to those 16 and older. If you decide to get this vaccine, you’ll need to get it in 2 doses, which are given 21 days apart.
  • The Moderna vaccine is reported to 94% effective, and those 18 and older can get it. If you decide to get this vaccine, you will need to get 2 injections 28 days apart.
  • Lastly, the Johnson & Johnson/Janssen vaccine is reported to be 65% effective. This vaccine for those 18 and older and only requires one injection.

Both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines use messenger RNA, known as mRNA. What does that mean? Simply put, coronaviruses have a spikey structure on their outside, which is called an S protein. These vaccines work by giving the cells special instructions on making a part of a protein that the coronavirus already has. After your cells get this mRNA, they start to build spike proteins that are seen in coronavirus. Because your immune system will see this as a foreign invader, it starts to make antibodies in your blood. This trains your cells, so in the future, if this virus enters your body, you’ll already have some antibodies to start fighting off the invaders. This is why you must get the required number of doses if you decide to get the vaccine.

You don’t need to worry about contracting the virus from the vaccine itself. Those that are currently being administered in the U.S. don’t use the actual, live virus. Just remember, it takes some time for your body to fully build up an immunity to the virus, so you should still be cautious after you’re vaccinated.

What are the side effects of the vaccine?

Since the vaccine is relatively new, you might be wondering how it will affect you. Side effects can vary depending on certain factors, like your age, underlying health conditions, and if you’ve contracted the virus in the past. You might experience:

  • Irritation or swelling where you got the injection
  • Fever or chills
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle or joint pain
  • Headache
  • Nausea
  • Inflamed lymph nodes

Most of these effects happen within the first few days—usually 3—after your vaccination. However, they should only last 1-3 days. If your symptoms are worsening or aren’t going away, contact the vaccine provider or your doctor. Because these vaccines have only been in clinical trials since the summer, it’s not confirmed whether or not there are any long-term side effects. Keep in mind, though, vaccines don’t typically have and long-term effects.

What are the benefits of getting the vaccine?

Some of the benefits you might get from your vaccine are that it can help prevent you from getting COVID-19 or getting seriously ill from the virus. It might also prevent you from spreading the virus to people around you. The more people that get the vaccine, the less of a chance there will be for the virus to spread rapidly. It’s predicted that getting the vaccine will prevent the virus from replicating—meaning that it will be harder for the vaccine to mutate and become resistant to vaccines.

Does it cost anything to get the vaccine?

The government has made a commitment to make this vaccine free for each American. The Affordable Care Act (ACA) requires that almost all health insurance companies completely cover all recommended preventative care, including the COVID-19 vaccine. The CARES Act also requires that insurance companies and Medicare cover preventive care 15 days after a CDC recommendation. Additionally, some health insurance providers, like Aetna and some plans under Blue Cross Blue Shields, stated that they will not charge their users for the vaccine. For those using Medicaid, states are requiring no cost for the vaccine. Lastly, those who get vaccinated without insurance can also apply for a reimbursement with the federal provider relief fund. However, some might be required to pay for their vaccine, or their provider might charge an administration fee.

how to get vaccine

Is there anyone that shouldn’t get the vaccine?

The vaccine is not recommended for anyone under the age of 16. However, this can change in the future as some companies are starting to use children, 12-15 years of age, in clinical trials. There is no research on pregnant or breastfeeding women yet. This is because they were not included in clinical trials. However, most vaccines are safe for pregnant and breastfeeding women, so if you are concerned, talk to your doctor.

If you have allergies, you can still get the vaccine. However, if you’ve had allergic reactions to vaccines in the past, you should consult your doctor beforehand. If you get a severe allergic reaction after your first dose, don’t get the second one. If you have any underlying health conditions or are immunocompromised, you can still get the vaccine.

Lastly, if you’ve tested positive for COVID-19 in the past, while some research suggests that there might be some protection against contracting it again, it is not certain as to how long this protection can last. So, you should still get the vaccine.

When can you get the vaccine?

As of now, the vaccine has been limited as to who can get it. For this reason, each state is going through certain phases to prioritize who can get vaccinated. In the first few weeks, the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) decided that health care workers and those living in long-term care centers be vaccinated in the first round of distribution. States don’t necessarily have to follow this, but overall, most states are. Other states include law enforcement, people incarcerated, and people in homeless shelters for the first phase. Currently, the CDC is recommending that the following groups get vaccinated now:

  • Health care professionals
  • Adults in long-term care facilities
  • Frontline essential workers (for example, teachers and first responders)
  • People ages 75 and older
  • Citizens ages 64 to 74
  • People ages 16 to 64 that have underlying medical conditions (check out your state’s health department to see which health conditions are being prioritized)
  • Other essential workers (For example, those who work in food service or construction)

Each state has a set of phases to prioritize who can get the vaccine. While some states differ, listed below are how most states are prioritizing the vaccines. Your state’s website will indicate which phase they are currently in.

  • First – Phase 1a: This includes health care providers and long-term care facility residents
  • Second – Phase 1b: Essential workers that do not work in the health care industry
  • Last – Phase 1c: Adults who have high-risk medical conditions and adults 65 and older

After the first phase, each state will decide who should be vaccinated in the second and third phases.

how to get vaccine

How can you register to get vaccinated?

  1. See if you’re eligible for the vaccine.

Go to USA.gov, and search for your state. Once you are on your state’s health website department, you can toggle the headers to find more specific information about the phase your state is currently in, if you’re eligible, and how to register for the vaccine. Many of these site’s homepages have a link that says something along the lines of, “Am I eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine?”. Once you see this heading, click and follow the instructions.

  1. Find a provider

If you’re eligible, the next step is to find a vaccine provider. Again, this varies from state to state, so look carefully on your state’s health department on where you can get vaccinated. As more vaccines become available, you can get your vaccine at pharmacies, mobile and public clinics, and doctor’s offices. Your state’s health department website will provide you with links to find providers near you.

  1. Schedule an appointment

Once you find a provider, you can contact them directly to set up an appointment. While getting your vaccine, you’ll be required to wear a mask, and afterward, you’ll get a “vaccination card” that indicates which vaccine you got, where you got it, and when you got it. If the vaccine you get requires a second dose, this will also be shown on the card.

After that, you’re done—it’s that simple! Just remember, the vaccine hasn’t been around for a while, and there’s limited research available. With that in mind, you should still take the pandemic seriously and continue to be cautious. Try to stay socially distant, wear a mask, and avoid highly populated areas.

How can you prepare for your vaccination?

If you’re eligible, before you get the vaccine, there are a few things you should do. First, you should have a conversation about which vaccine you should get with your healthcare provider. While the vaccines are fairly similar, certain vaccines might be better than others for you if you have any underlying health conditions. Once you schedule your appointment to get the vaccine, you should stay home and limit the number of people you interact with so that you can avoid any exposure to the virus. Continue to wear a mask, practice social distancing, avoid large crowds, and practice good hygiene, like washing your hands frequently.

Once you arrive at your appointment, you and the person administering the shot need to wear a face mask covering the mouth and nose. You will also get a fact sheet that gives you some information about the specific vaccine that you are getting along with your vaccination card. You will also be monitored for a short period (about 15 to 30 minutes) after your injection to ensure that you don’t get an allergic reaction. As we’ve stated earlier, the most important thing is that you get your second dose—unless you get the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. If not, the vaccine won’t be effective.

Even if you don’t feel well after the first shot unless a medical professional or vaccine provider tells you not to, get the second shot. You’ll also have the option to sign up for v-safe. This is a free app for smartphones that uses text messages and surveys to give health check-in after your vaccination.

woman in blue long sleeve shirt holding white pen

Helpful tips for after your vaccination

Talk to your doctor about taking any over-the-counter medicine, like ibuprofen, for any discomfort you feel after getting your vaccine. Some of these medications might help relieve any side effects that you are experiencing. However, you should refrain from taking any of these medications before your vaccine. This is because there isn’t enough research to be certain about how it could impact the vaccine’s effectiveness. To reduce any pain from the area of injection, use a clean, cool, and wet towel on the affected area. If you experience a fever, drink plenty of water to stay hydrated, and avoid heavy clothing. If you can, take a day to just relax.

When you get a second dose, your side effects might be worse than the first one. However, this is completely normal—it means that the vaccine is working! Why is it more intense during the second round? It’s because your body is building antibodies to protect you. If the redness or pain where you got the shot gets worse after 24 hours, or if your side effects aren’t going away after a few days, call your doctor.

If you have more questions or concerns about the vaccine, make sure to look at reliable sources, like government websites. There, you can find more detailed information about the vaccine and the virus in general.

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