COVID-19 vaccine eligibility is rapidly expanding - here's why it's time to get yours
The best way to curb the pandemic is to get vaccinated as soon as you can and to continue to practice safety measures, experts say.
Update: On April 27, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Americans who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 no longer need to wear face masks outdoors when walking, running or biking alone, with members of their household or while attending small, outdoor gatherings.)
After more than a year of unknowns, just about everyone 16 and older in the U.S. is eligible — or about to be eligible — to receive a COVID-19 vaccine, and children as young as 12 may not be far behind. For now, vaccines authorized by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration include the two-dose Moderna and Pfizer vaccines and the one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine. More options are on the way.
All three vaccines are effective at preventing symptomatic COVID-19 infection just two weeks after the single Johnson & Johnson dose or the second Pfizer or Moderna shot. This is a remarkably positive development in what has been a devastating global pandemic.
Here’s what you need to know to go into your vaccination feeling prepared and informed:
Who is eligible for the vaccine?
As of April 1, 2021, all California residents age 50 or older are eligible to receive a COVID-19 vaccine. The vaccine will be expanded to those 16 and older beginning April 15. President Joe Biden has said 90% of adults in the U.S. will be eligible for a vaccine by April 19.
People age 16-64 who are at a high risk for serious COVID-19 illness due to a medical condition, disability, illness, living space or work environment also are eligible now. If you fall within this group you will not need a doctor’s note for a vaccine appointment, but you will be asked to sign a “self-attestation” confirming your eligibility.
How do I make an appointment?
The State of California and its third-party administrator, Blue Shield, are responsible for allocating vaccine doses. When UCLA Health receives doses from the state, we invite eligible patients, starting with those considered most vulnerable based on age, medical conditions and social/demographic information.
If you received a vaccine invitation from UCLA Health, you may make an appointment through your myUCLAhealth account. If you don’t have an account or need help accessing it, call (855) 364-7052.
If you’re eligible for vaccination and have not received a UCLA Health invite, you can still schedule your appointment through the state’s My Turn website, or Los Angeles County, Ventura County or Orange County public health departments. You can also go to the VaccineFinder website to find clinics, pharmacies and other locations offering the vaccine near you.
How are the vaccines given?
The Pfizer vaccine is administered in two shots, 21 days apart, and as of now is authorized for use in people age 16 and older. The Moderna vaccine also is given in two shots, 28 days apart, and is authorized for use in people 18 and older.
The Johnson & Johnson vaccine is a single-dose shot, authorized for use in people 18 and older.
All of the vaccines are injected into the muscle. If you get a two-dose vaccine, both doses should be from the same manufacturer.
What if I have to delay the second dose of the vaccine?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says, if needed, the second dose may be scheduled up to 42 days (six weeks) after the first dose.
There is limited information on how well vaccines administered beyond this timeframe will work, but the CDC says if a second dose falls beyond the six-week window, there is still no need to restart the series.
How effective are the vaccines?
All three vaccines were reported to be 100% effective at preventing COVID-19-related hospitalizations and deaths in clinical trials.
Researchers say the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are 90% effective at preventing COVID-19 infections two weeks after the second dose is given. Both vaccines also have been shown to effectively protect against variant strains of the virus.
The Pfizer vaccine remains effective for at least six months after the second dose is administered, based on clinical trial results.
Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine is about 85% effective at preventing severe COVID-19 illness 28 days after vaccination.
Can I chose which vaccine I get?
No. For now, patients are not be able to choose which vaccine they receive.
Is the vaccine free?
What can I do safely after being fully vaccinated?
Guidelines issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention state that fully vaccinated people can gather indoors with other fully vaccinated people without wearing a mask or physically distancing. They also can gather unmasked with people in their household who are not fully vaccinated, provided the latter are at low-risk of serious disease.
Also, if you’re fully vaccinated and have been around someone who has COVID-19, you do not need to stay away from others or get tested unless you have symptoms.
The California State Department of Public Health has announced that indoor concerts, theater performances and other events will resume April 15. Guests will need to test COVID-19 negative on site or show proof of full vaccination to enter. Venue capacity will depend on individual counties, which are in different reopening tiers based on COVID-19 transmission rates.
All that said, no vaccine can really be considered 100% effective against transmission. It’s also unknown whether people who are fully vaccinated can still spread the virus to those who aren’t. Therefore, experts advise even those who are fully vaccinated to continue to wear masks, physically distance and avoid large crowds when out in public.
Can I travel if once I’m fully vaccinated?
The CDC updated its travel guidelines April 2, saying people who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 can now travel domestically, providing they continue to wear face coverings, physically distance and wash their hands to protect others. A person is considered fully vaccinated two weeks after the second of the two-dose Pfizer or Moderna vaccine, or after the one dose of the single-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
For international travel, the CDC says those who are fully vaccinated should still get tested three to five days after travel, but do not need to get tested prior to leaving the U.S., unless it's required by the destination. International travelers don't need to self-quarantine after returning to the U.S. Like domestic travelers, international travelers should continue to practice safety measures.
Can the vaccine give you COVID-19?
No. It’s impossible to get the virus from the vaccine.
The Johnson & Johnson vaccine uses a harmless, inactivated cold virus to activate the body’s immune response to COVID-19. And the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines use a very small piece of the virus’ RNA, too small to spread.
Can the messenger RNA (mRNA) in the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines alter my DNA?
No. There is no way for the vaccine to alter your genetic information, or DNA.
Is it better to become immune through the vaccine or by contracting the virus naturally?
Getting COVID-19 is much worse than getting the vaccine. Though there may be some relatively mild side effects to the vaccine, contracting the virus naturally can cause direct damage to cells as well as inflammation, which can be harmful throughout the body.
What are the potential side effects of the vaccine?
All of the authorized vaccines help your body produce antibodies, a process that can present mild symptoms, which should go away within a day or two. Some of the more common include: pain at the injection site, fatigue, headache, muscle pain, chills, joint pain and mild fever. With the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines, side effects may be slightly greater after the second dose, but that’s not always the case.
Allergic reactions are very rare, but possible. If you have a history of severe allergic reaction to other vaccines, talk to your doctor before getting vaccinated for COVID-19.
Can I take over-the-counter pain medicine before my vaccination to prevent side effects?
If you take aspirin, acetaminophen (e.g. Tylenol) or ibuprofen (e.g., Motrin, Advil) for a medical reason, you can continue to take it as directed. However, it’s advised not to take these medicines before getting the vaccine because they could dull your body’s immune response.
However, if you have a fever or body aches after being vaccinated, you can take these medicines as needed.
Should I still get vaccinated even if I’ve already had COVID-19?
Yes. Scientists generally believe immunity against COVID-19 eventually will wane and people could potentially get re-infected. So even if you’ve had COVID-19, it makes sense to get a vaccine as a booster for the antibodies that may be fading from your system.
Could the COVID-19 vaccine lead to sterilization?
No. There’s no evidence the vaccine interferes with fertility or pregnancy.
Can the vaccine affect mammography results?
Yes. Any type of vaccination can impact screening mammography results.
A normal immune response may cause swollen lymph nodes under the arm in which the vaccine was injected. Swollen lymph nodes can be seen on a mammogram and can be interpreted as a rare sign of breast cancer.
The Society of Breast Imaging advises anyone due for a screening mammogram to schedule it before their COVID-19 vaccination or at least four weeks after vaccination, if possible. Otherwise, advise your doctor that you’ve had the vaccine.
Can I get the vaccine if I’m pregnant or plan to become pregnant?
Yes. Pregnant women have two options – to get a vaccine when it’s available to them or to wait for more information about how the vaccine affects pregnant women, being they were not included in clinical trials.
This is a decision best made in collaboration with a health care professional who knows your personal medical history.
Where can I find out more about the COVID-19 vaccine?
Learn more about the vaccine on the COVID-19 Vaccine Information Hub.