COVID-19: Vaccine Program | TestingVisitor Guidelines | Information for Employees

COVID-19 Vaccine Frequently Asked Questions

General Questions

Why should I get the COVID-19 vaccine?

Getting vaccinated protects you and others from COVID-19, which is critically important because for some people it can cause severe illness or death. According to the CDC some of the benefits of the COVID-19 vaccine are:

  • It will help keep you from getting seriously ill if exposed to the virus.
  • Getting vaccinated yourself may also protect people around you, including those at highest risk of severe illness from COVID-19.
  • COVID-19 vaccination will help protect you by creating an immune response without having to experience sickness. Vaccines will work with your immune system so it will be ready to fight the virus if you are exposed.
  • The combination of getting vaccinated and following CDC’s recommendations to protect yourself and others will offer the best protection from COVID-19.

What if I have questions about the vaccine, or issues post-vaccination?

You can reach out to our COVID Vaccine Call Center at 860-679-8888 with any questions or concerns prior to vaccination or post-vaccination.

If you have what you think is a reaction to the vaccine, reach out to your primary care physician for assessment. If it’s an emergency, dial 9-1-1 if you experience severe symptoms, shortness of breath, or severe allergic reaction. You can also report an adverse event to the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS).

What if I need to reschedule my vaccine?

COVID-19 vaccines are scheduled through your primary care provider. Please call their office to reschedule your vaccine.

Once I get the COVID-19 vaccine am I protected from getting COVID-19 infection right away?

No. It takes some time to develop immunity from the vaccination, and the maximum effect is only achieved after you receive both doses of the vaccine.

What are the potential side effects from the vaccines?

The reported post-vaccine side effects have been minimal. Like all vaccines, the new COVID-19 mRNA-based vaccines by Pfizer and Moderna can cause side effects, although not everybody gets them. Most people who received the vaccines and who experienced side effects described them as “mild” or “moderate” in intensity and the side effects usually resolved within 1-2 days after vaccination. According to the CDC, these symptoms are normal and are a sign that the body is building immunity. In the Phase III clinical trials, the most frequent adverse reactions in participants for both vaccines were:

  • pain, redness, warmness, and/or swelling at the injection site
  • fatigue
  • headache
  • muscle pain or joint pain
  • chills
  • fever

The chances of you experiencing these side effects are higher when you receive your 2nd dose of the vaccine.

Is there anyone who should not get the COVID-19 vaccine?

The following people should not get the COVID-19 vaccine without discussion with their health care provider:

  • People with a history of severe (anaphylaxis) or non-severe allergic reaction (hives, swelling, wheezing) to any ingredient of the mRNA vaccines.
  • People who had a severe (anaphylaxis) or non-severe allergic reaction (hives, swelling, wheezing) to the first dose of either COVID-19 mRNA vaccine.

Individuals who fall in these groups should discuss with their healthcare provider to determine whether they may be eligible for any of the COVID-19 vaccines.

Although not considered contraindications to receiving the COVID-19 vaccines, these may be examples of some other people for which the vaccine should only be given after a discussion of risks versus benefits with their health care providers as they may warrant special considerations or precautions:

  • People who have had an immediate allergic reaction to other types of vaccines.
  • People with known or suspected immunodeficiency or those taking immunosuppressive medications.
  • People taking continuous doses of immunosuppressive medications such as cancer chemotherapy or corticosteroids.

The CDC recommends that people with a history of severe allergic reactions unrelated to vaccines or injectable medications—such as food, pet, venom, environmental, or latex allergies—get vaccinated. People with a history of allergies to oral medications or a family history of severe allergic reactions may also get vaccinated.

Once I am fully vaccinated, can I still carry or spread the COVID-19 virus?

There is evidence that those individuals who are fully vaccinated may carry/spread the SARS-CoV-2 virus, however, the risk of infection and transmission may be lower compared to individuals who are not fully vaccinated.

Can I receive the COVID-19 vaccine if I’ve been exposed to someone with COVID?

Yes, but the vaccination should be deferred for at least 10 days after exposure.

Can COVID-negative inpatients be vaccinated at UConn Health?

The COVID-19 vaccines are available to inpatients at UConn Health.

Can I receive the COVID-19 vaccine while I am pregnant?

Per CDC guidance, COVID-19 vaccination is recommended for people who are pregnant, lactating, trying to get pregnant now, or who might become pregnant in the near future. Any of the currently FDA-approved or FDA-authorized COVID-19 vaccines can be administered to people in these groups. A conversation between the patient and their clinical team may assist with decisions about the use of a COVID-19 vaccine. If a person becomes pregnant following the first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine that requires two doses for the primary series (i.e., Pfizer/BioNTech or Moderna), the second dose should be administered as indicated for the person to have maximum protection.

Can I receive the vaccine while I am breastfeeding?

Based on how these vaccines work in the body, COVID-19 vaccines are thought not to be a risk to lactating people or their breastfeeding babies. Therefore, lactating people can receive a COVID-19 vaccine. Recent reports have shown that breastfeeding people who have received COVID-19 mRNA vaccines have antibodies in their breastmilk, which could help protect their babies. More data are needed to determine what protection these antibodies may provide to the baby.

COVID-19 Vaccine for Children

Is there a difference between the vaccine for ages 5-11 and the one for 12 years old and up?

The vaccine for 5-11 years old contains a smaller dose than the one approved for 12 years old and up.

How many doses are necessary for children?

Everyone aged 6 years and older are up to date when they have received 1 bivalent dose of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine.

For children ages 6 months to 4 years, three doses of the Pfizer vaccine are required or two doses of Moderna are required.

How does the vaccine work to protect children from COVID-19?

Just like adults, the vaccine provides excellent protection against infection from COVID-19. The vaccine works similarly to the other childhood vaccines we give every day. The vaccine teaches the immune system to recognize and create antibodies against the SARS-CoV-2 virus so that the virus cannot replicate and infect your child.

What should a parent expect their child to experience post-vaccination?

The testing in children showed that after the vaccine was given, they had very similar side effects as adults. The most common side effect is pain at the injection site. Other side effects are low-grade fevers, body aches, fatigue, and headaches. On average, these last only a day or two.

Is there any child that should not be vaccinated?

There are very few children 5 years or older who should not be vaccinated. Children who currently have COVID-19 should wait until they have recovered and are past their isolation period. Children who had the MIS-C complication of COVID-19 should wait until 90 days after their diagnosis. If you have a question or concern about your child’s health, it is always best to talk to your pediatrician.

About the Pfizer and Moderna Vaccines

How safe are the COVID vaccines?

The data from both research studies and from the initial phase of vaccinations under the Emergency Use Authorization indicate that both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are very safe. Both vaccines have gone through rigorous, and large Phase III clinical trials with strict standards set forth by the FDA. In total, over 70,000 people participated in the two trials, and about half received the active vaccine. The clinical trial research generated scientific data and other important information that helps the FDA determine each vaccine’s safety and effectiveness for Emergency Use Authorization. As of early January 2021, there have been very few serious safety concerns with either vaccine. The CDC recently reported that for the Pfizer vaccine, only 21 cases of anaphylaxis were reported to their Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System out of nearly 1.9 million doses administered. This is an anaphylaxis risk of only 0.0011%. Only 83 cases of non-anaphylaxis allergic reactions (such as itching, rash, or itching/scratching sensations in the throat) were reported, as well.

How are the vaccine supplies being safeguarded and stored?

While the Moderna vaccine is kept in normal freezers at temperatures of 32 degrees or below, the Pfizer product must be kept in specialized -80 subzero storage freezers. Each subzero freezer being used must be registered with the state and monitored closely with temperature monitoring and regular maintenance. Thanks to UConn Health’s large research enterprise we have one of the largest subzero freezer capacities in the state.

Will a cold or subzero freezing vaccine be administered to me?

No. While the Moderna product is stored in regular freezers and the Pfizer product needs to be stored in -80 temperature subzero freezers, both vaccines are thawed to room temperature before administration and retain their activity for many hours after thawing.

How do the Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines work?

The COVID vaccines by Pfizer and Moderna are messenger RNA (mRNA) vaccine types that work differently. COVID-19 mRNA vaccines give instructions for our cells to make a harmless piece of what is called the “spike protein” which is found on the surface of the virus that causes COVID-19. After the protein is made, the mRNA is destroyed. Our bodies’ immune system then recognizes that the protein should not be there and produces antibodies, as well as T-cells and B-cells that will remember how to fight the virus that causes COVID-19 if we are infected in the future. This will protect you from infection by the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19.

Will the vaccine give me COVID-19 or change my DNA?

No. There is no live virus in the vaccine and the vaccine cannot cause COVID-19. The mRNA material in the vaccines do not affect or interact with our DNA in any way. In fact, the mRNA never enters the nucleus of the cell, which is where our DNA or genetic material resides. The cell breaks down and gets rid of the mRNA soon after it is finished using the instructions to produce the spike protein.

What are the biggest differences, both good and bad, between the Pfizer and Moderna mRNA-based COVID-19 vaccines?

There really are very few differences between these two vaccines. Both the Pfizer and the Moderna vaccines had reported effectiveness of approximately 95% in their clinical studies. Both of these vaccines have the same mechanism (mRNA vaccines) and the same reported side effects. The two vaccines were studied in similar numbers of trial participants, and their characteristics (age ranges, sex, ethnicities, chronic illnesses, etc.) are also somewhat similar. The only real difference between the two vaccines are the storage conditions and the stability of the products.

What cells are targeted by the COVID-19 vaccine?

The mRNA should be capable of entering a wide variety of human cells after injection. However, it’s most likely that the majority of it will get taken up into the muscle cells surrounding the injection site. After the cells manufacture the spike protein, they can present them on their surface/outside the cell to the immune system for antibody development, and T-cell responses.

What is the vaccine recommendation for individuals with a history of anaphylaxis?

The following people should NOT get the COVID-19 vaccine:

  • People with a history of severe (anaphylaxis) or non-severe allergic reaction (hives, swelling, wheezing) to any ingredient of the mRNA vaccines.
  • People who had a severe (anaphylaxis) or non-severe allergic reaction (hives, swelling, wheezing) to their 1st dose of either COVID-19 vaccine.

The CDC recommends that if you have had an immediate allergic reaction—even if it was not severe—to a vaccine or injectable therapy for another disease, ask your doctor if you should get a COVID-19 vaccine. Your doctor will help you decide if it is safe for you to get vaccinated.

The CDC recommends that people with a history of severe allergic reactions not related to vaccines or injectable medications—such as food, pet, venom, environmental, or latex allergies—get vaccinated. People with a history of allergies to oral medications or a family history of severe allergic reactions may also get vaccinated.

What is the COVID-19 vaccine recommendation for individuals with immunocompromising and autoimmune conditions?

Persons with immunocompromising conditions and/or autoimmune conditions may be at higher risk for severe COVID-19 infection. Persons with immunocompromising conditions or taking medications that can suppress the immune system should remain up to date on their COVID vaccinations as recommended per the CDC and in conjunction with their provider.

If a person has multiple sclerosis, how will this vaccination affect them?

We are not aware of specific data presented yet about whether any study participants had MS. However, people with MS were not excluded from participating in the trials. At this time, per CDC guidance, individuals with MS can receive the COVID-19 vaccine unless otherwise contraindicated.

Have any serious side effects been reported like transverse myelitis or Guillian-Barre syndrome?

For information about adverse events, please visit the CDC website.

What is the recommendation for individuals who will receive the COVID-19 vaccine and another vaccine, such as the flu shot?

COVID-19 vaccines and other vaccines may now be administered without regard to timing. This includes simultaneous administration of COVID-19 vaccines and other vaccines on the same day, as well as coadministration within 14 days. When deciding whether to coadminister another vaccine(s) with COVID-19 vaccines, providers should consider whether the patient is behind or at risk of becoming behind on recommended vaccines, their risk of vaccine-preventable disease (e.g., during an outbreak or occupational exposures), and the reactogenicity profile of the vaccines. If multiple vaccines are administered at a single visit, administer each injection in a different injection site.

Can I take any fever/pain reducing medications if I develop a fever after the COVID-19 vaccine; or should I take anti-fever medications to prevent developing a fever after receiving the vaccine?

Anti-fever and pain-relieving medications can be taken after receiving the COVID-19 vaccine. Taking these medications prior to your vaccination for the purpose of preventing fever or other symptoms is not recommended.

Are there any non-mRNA COVID-19 vaccines?

Novavax is the only FDA approved option for a non-mRNA vaccine. Novavax is a protein subunit vaccine that contains the spike protein from the COVID-19 virus. It also contains adjuvant, an ingredient that helps the immune system respond to the spike protein. Once the body has learned to respond to the spike protein, it will be able to respond quickly to the actual virus.