COVID-19 Vaccine: Know What to Expect

On August 11, 2022, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced it's streamlining its COVID-19 guidance to help people better understand their risk, how to protect themselves and others, what actions to take if exposed to COVID-19, and what actions to take if they are sick or test positive for the virus. DHS is currently reviewing CDC updates and will update our guidance accordingly.

You Stop the Spread, adult wearing a red mask holding her sleeve up waiting for a vaccineGetting vaccinated does not need to be a stressful process. Here is an overview of what you can expect during the COVID-19 vaccination process and how you can make it smooth and stress-free. You can also get the facts on common side effects of the vaccine.

Know the vaccine appointment basics

  • The COVID-19 vaccine is safe, effective, and free for all. An ID or insurance is not required to get vaccinated.
  • Vaccination sites may require vaccine recipients under the age of 18 to be accompanied by a parent or legal guardian. They may accept written or verbal consent to administer the COVID-19 vaccine from the minor’s legal parent or guardian who cannot be present at the time of vaccination.
  • In most situations, Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, or Novavax COVID-19 vaccines are recommended over Johnson & Johnson's COVID-19 vaccine.
  • You will get a COVID-19 vaccination card at your first vaccination visit. Keep your card in a safe place and bring it to your next COVID-19 vaccine appointment. You can also access your vaccination record online if you lose your card.
  • Plan for your next COVID-19 vaccine. You will need more than one dose of the vaccine for the best protection.
  • Stay up to date with your COVID-19 vaccines by getting all doses in your primary vaccine series and any recommended booster doses when eligible. For most people, a primary COVID-19 vaccine series includes one dose of Johnson & Johnson or two doses of Pfizer, Moderna, or Novavax.
  • People who are moderately to severely immunocompromised have specific COVID-19 vaccine primary series and booster recommendations.
Have you had COVID-19 disease? You still need to get a vaccine!

Getting vaccinated provides added protection for people who already had COVID-19.

Getting sick with COVID-19 can offer some protection from future illness, but how much protection you get from having COVID-19 may vary depending on how mild or severe your illness was, the time since your infection, and your age.

Vaccination increases your level of protection and gives you a more predictable immune response than COVID-19 infection. So, get vaccinated as soon as you can.

You can get your vaccine as soon as you feel better and are out of isolation or quarantine. You do not need to wait to get a COVID-19 vaccine if you recovered from a COVID-19 infection or received passive antibody treatment, such as monoclonal antibodies or convalescent plasma treatment for COVID-19 illness.

Learn more about why you should get a vaccine after you were sick with COVID-19.

 

Tips for your vaccination appointment

  • Wear a face mask.
  • Wear short sleeves.
  • Arrive on time.
  • Bring your ID if you would like, but you cannot be turned away if you don’t have one.
  • If you have insurance, provide your insurance information. No charges will be transferred to you. If you do not have insurance, do not worry. Insurance is not required.
  • Maintain 6 feet of distance between you, other patients, and staff when possible.
  • If it is your second appointment, bring your vaccination record card.

Know what to expect

Here’s how you can stay safe and comfortable throughout the vaccination process.


Close up of an adult with glasses wearing a mask

Before getting vaccinated

  • Continue to wear a mask in public indoor spaces, physically distance, and wash or sanitize your hands frequently.
  • If you don't feel well, have COVID-19, or were recently exposed to COVID-19, reschedule your appointment until you feel better and are out of isolation or quarantine.
  • Drinking plenty of water, getting a good night's rest, and eating a balanced meal before your appointment may help lessen possible side effects.
  • Taking a child to get their COVID-19 vaccine? Review tips on how to be there for your child during vaccinations, P-03126.
 

Close up of an adult wearing a mask while gloved hands place a band-aid over inoculation site

After vaccination

Immediately after your first dose, you will be observed for at least 15 minutes. If you experience any immediate reactions, make sure to report them to medical staff right away.

You will also get a COVID-19 vaccination card. Save your card. It has information on when and where you received your vaccine as well as other helpful information related to the COVID-19 vaccine. You can also access your COVID-19 vaccination record online if you need to show proof of vaccination but don't have your card.

Shortly after your first dose, you may experience mild side effects such as:

  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Tiredness
  • Headaches
  • Pain or swelling on your arm where you got the vaccine
 

These are common signs that your immune system is strengthening its response to the virus. They usually go away within a day or two. Even if you experience side effects from the first dose, it is very important that you get your second dose (if you received a Pfizer or Moderna vaccine), so you have full protection.

Discomfort from fever or pain is normal. However, contact a health care provider if redness or tenderness of the arm where you got the vaccine increases after 24 hours or your side effects worry you or last longer than a few days. If you are having a medical emergency, call 911.


Adult and child biking on a bike trail

Next steps

Like many vaccines, COVID-19 vaccines need more than one dose to keep you protected against the virus. Stay up to date with your COVID-19 vaccines by getting all doses in your primary vaccine series and any recommended booster doses when eligible. Being up to date on your COVID-19 vaccines ensures you have the best protection possible against severe illness, hospitalization, and death.

 

Follow this checklist after you receive the COVID-19 vaccine.

 Sign up for v-safe

Get v-safe, the new smartphone-based tool for personalized health check-ins, easy reporting of side effects, and a reminder to get your second dose.

 Plan to get your second dose of the vaccine and/or your booster dose

Before you leave the vaccination location, make sure you know when and where to come back for your next dose, and put a reminder in your calendar.

  • If you got a vaccine that requires two doses (like Pfizer, Moderna, or Novavax), you will need to return for your second dose to get protection. People who are moderately to severely immunocompromised have specific COVID-19 vaccine primary series and booster recommendations.
  • Most people 5 years and older should get a booster dose.

 

You will need to get a second dose to get the best protection from mRNA vaccines (like Pfizer and Moderna). The timing between your first and second shots depends on your age and which vaccine you received. See the specific timing in between doses.

While it is important to get your next dose on schedule, it is okay if you can’t get it as soon as possible or need to reschedule your appointment. Let your vaccine provider know you need to reschedule your appointment or will not be able to get it on time and schedule your second dose as soon as you can.

Even if you experience common side effects from the first dose, like a headache, fever, or sore arm, it is important that you get your second dose. Pfizer, Moderna, and Novavax COVID-19 vaccines require two doses to provide full protection against COVID-19. Get text message reminders to get your second dose through v-safe. Sign up on vsafe.cdc.gov.

 Know how to locate your vaccination record

There may be situations where you need to share your COVID-19 vaccination record with others, such as your employer or school. Learn how to locate your vaccination record for personal use or to provide proof of your COVID-19 vaccination.


More resources on your vaccine appointment

Download helpful resources and educational materials on preparing for a COVID-19 vaccination.


Staying up to date with your vaccines

Being up to date on your COVID-19 vaccines ensures you have the best protection possible against severe illness, hospitalization, and death. Learn what it means to be up to date on your vaccines, including what you can and should do afterwards.

Learn how to stay up to date

Medical professional getting read to vaccinate an adult

Last Revised: August 10, 2022

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