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COVID-19 Vaccines in SoCal: Answers to Commonly Asked Questions

Dr. Jerry P. Abraham administers a COVID-19 vaccination to a senior citizen in a vaccination tent at the Kedren Community Health Center on January 25, 2021 in Los Angeles, California.
Dr. Jerry P. Abraham administers a COVID-19 vaccination to a senior citizen in a vaccination tent at the Kedren Community Health Center on January 25, 2021 in Los Angeles, California. | PATRICK T. FALLON/AFP via Getty Images
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This article was updated May 11 at 9:00 a.m.


Distribution of three COVID-19 vaccines is slowly underway, but when and where can you get them, and how long will it take? Here are the answers to some frequently asked questions about the coronavirus vaccines.

What Vaccines Are Available Now?

Three vaccines are currently approved for emergency use in the United States. The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, which requires two doses three weeks apart, has shown a rate of 95% efficacy. The Moderna vaccine requires two doses four weeks apart and was determined to be 94.1% effective. On Jan. 29, Johnson & Johnson announced that its one-dose vaccine was 66% effective overall in clinical trials at preventing moderate to severe illness from COVID-19 28 days after vaccination. In testing throughout the world, the result was higher in the U.S. at 72% efficacy. Globally, it was found to be 66.1% effective at preventing moderate to severe cases of COVID-19. In the U.S. it was found to be 72% effective at preventing all COVID-19 and 86% effective at preventing severe cases. It only requires one dose. Distribution of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is easier compared to the other two vaccines since only one dose is required and vaccine doses can be stored in conventional refrigerators. Dozens of other vaccines around the world are being developed and tested.

On May 10, 2021, the FDA approved the use of Pfizer's vaccine for 12-15-year-olds. The CDC is expected to issue a formal recommendation for its use later this week.

Does It Matter Which Vaccine I Get?

Experts say no. The Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines are similar in ingredients and efficacy rates. While the Johnson & Johnson vaccine has a lower efficacy rate, people just need one dose. You likely will receive whichever vaccine is being offered at the location you visit for your shots and will not get to choose. President Joe Biden received the Pfizer vaccine, while Vice President Kamala Harris received the Moderna vaccine.

How Do the Vaccines Work?

The vaccines help the body develop immunity to the virus over a few weeks. If you develop a fever, it represents the body's normal immune response. Both the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines are "mRNA vaccines," which do not contain material from the virus that causes COVID-19. According to the CDC, mRNA vaccines "teach our cells how to make a protein — or even just a piece of a protein — that triggers an immune response inside our bodies. That immune response, which produces antibodies, is what protects us from getting infected if the real virus enters our bodies." The Johnson & Johnson vaccine is a viral vector vaccine, which means that it contains genetic code from the virus' spike protein and insert it into a harmless virus that acts as a transport vehicle to teach the body's cells how to make the spike proteins, which familiarize your immune system with the virus so it can create antibodies. You cannot get COVID-19 from the vaccines.

Who Can Get the Vaccine Right Now, and What Is the Schedule?

As of April 15, all Californians ages 16 and over are eligible to get the vaccine. Those aged 12-15 are expected to be eligible soon.

Will There Be a Vaccine for Children?

The FDA approved the use of Pfizer's vaccine on children ages 12 to 15, but you must be at least 18 years old to receive the Moderna or the Johnson & Johnson vaccines.

Where Can I Go to Get the Vaccine?

There are dozens of vaccinations sites in L.A. County including the Pomona Fairplex, The Forum in Inglewood, Cal State University Northridge, the Los Angeles County Office of Education in Downey and Six Flags Magic Mountain in Valencia. Seventy-five smaller locations are also offering the vaccine, including Dodger Stadium. Go to vaccinatelacounty.com for more information. Orange County has two large-scale vaccination sites at Disneyland in Anaheim and Soka University in Aliso Viejo. Vaccines are also available from medical providers such as Kaiser Permanente and pharmacies like CVS Pharmacy and Walgreens.

Do I Need an Appointment to Get a Vaccine, or Can I Just Go to One of the Major Sites?

In most cases, you need an appointment. In Los Angeles County, go to vaccinatelacounty.com to make an appointment. The City of Los Angeles is offering appointment-free vaccinations. In Orange County, the Orange County Health Care Agency is providing vaccine appointments through an app called Othena. Go to the Othena website for details.

Who Pays for the Vaccine?

Vaccines are purchased with taxpayer funds and are free, even if you do not have medical insurance. Some providers can charge an administration fee that can be reimbursed with medical insurance or public funding. No one can be denied a vaccine if they cannot pay.

Should I Get a COVID-19 Vaccine If I Am Pregnant?

Experts don’t offer a distinct "yes" or "no" answer and say it is a personal choice made between women and their doctors. Pregnant women who are frontline and healthcare workers being offered the vaccine can choose to be vaccinated. The CDC says limited data is available on the safety of vaccines received during pregnancy. Pfizer and Moderna are monitoring people who become pregnant during clinical trials. No data is available on the effects of the vaccines on breast milk from nursing mothers, but these types of vaccines – mRNA vaccines – are not believed to be a risk to infants, the CDC said.

What Are the Side Effects After Receiving a Vaccine?

Scientists say side effects are signs that the COVID-19 vaccination is working inside your body to build protection. You might feel pain or swelling on your arm where you received the jab. Other side effects, including fever, chills, fatigue and headache, should disappear in a few days. Because of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine's structure is different, people who receive that vaccine shouldn’t expect to see significant side effects after receiving it. Workers at vaccine sites ask patients to remain for a brief period after their shots to make sure they do not have allergic reactions. Allergic reactions, such as difficulty breathing, face and throat swelling, rapid heartbeat, dizziness and rashes, are exceedingly rare and usually treatable.

Do I Still Need to Wear a Mask After I Receive Both of My Shots?

Yes. Experts don’t know enough about how COVID-19 vaccines tested in clinical trials will work in real-world conditions and whether the vaccine will stop you from spreading the virus to others even if you don’t get sick. As levels of the virus drop, experts will determine how to ease restrictions on masks and social distancing.

What Activities Can I Do After I'm Vaccinated?

The CDC recently stated that fully vaccinated people can attend "crowded" events like live performances, as long as they wear masks. For smaller gatherings, if everyone attending is fully vaccinated, you do not have to keep your distance or wear masks. You can also take off your mask to run, hike or bike alone or with members of your household, dine at outdoor restaurants with people from multiple households and attend small outdoor gatherings.

While being fully vaccinated does make travel safer, the CDC still advises adhering to COVID-19 guidelines like wearing a mask and social distancing. It also recommends that you limit the number of places you visit as reinfection, while rare, and virus spread are still possible. Whether you’ve had the vaccine or not, if you are entering or leaving the U.S. by plane, you need to have taken a coronavirus test and received a negative result within three days of your flight.

What Does 'Fully Vaccinated' Mean?

Once two weeks or more have passed after receiving the second dose of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine, or the single dose of Johnson & Johnson, you are considered fully vaccinated.

If I Already Had COVID-19 and Recovered, Do I Need the Vaccine?

The CDC recommends getting a vaccine even if you have recovered from COVID-19 because of a possible reinfection risk. Although it is rare to get infected again, scientists are still studying "natural immunity" and vaccine-induced immunity.

Are the Vaccines Effective for New Variants of the Virus?

Dr. Rochelle Walensky, President Biden’s pick to serve as director of the CDC, said the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines should still work against the new variants, but the more contagious strains might reduce their effectiveness from the 95% shown in clinical trials to 70%. Walensky still encouraged everyone to get vaccinated. The Johnson & Johnson vaccine was tested on the new strains from South Africa, the U.K. and Brazil, and proved to be 66.1% effective at preventing moderate to severe cases of COVID-19 globally.

When Will the Majority of U.S. Residents Be Vaccinated?

Soon. President Biden said Jan. 26 that most American adults would have access to a vaccine by the end of the summer and over 100 Americans have been fully vaccinated. The vaccine is also available to all Americans 16 and over.

Compiled with information from the CDC, Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, Orange County Health Care Agency, CNN, The New York Times, CNBC; Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, FDA, Johnson & Johnson, Politico, News-Medical.Net and the Official California State Government Website.

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