Vaccination Guide

News 3 is taking action to answer frequently asked questions about the COVID-19 vaccine. All information below is coming from the Virginia Department of Health.

Where can I get a COVID-19 vaccine?
To find an appointment, visit vaccinate.virginia.gov, call 877-VAX-IN-VA (877-829-4682), or text your zip code to GETVAX (438829) for English or VACUNA (822862) for Spanish.

At vaccinate.virginia.gov, you can access the “Search by Location” feature which allows you to enter the street address where you usually live. You will then be provided options for making an appointment. Many clinics offer walk-in service in addition to scheduled appointments.

Information on how to stay safe while you are waiting for your COVID-19 vaccine can be found here.

What does it mean now that the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine has FDA approval?

On Monday, August 23, 2021, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) granted full approval to Comirnaty (previously known as the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine) for people aged 16 and older. This is the first of three federal review steps. The next step is the CDC Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) meeting on Monday, August 30, 2021 to discuss its updated recommendation for this vaccine. The final step is that the CDC Director will review the ACIP recommendations and, if adopted, the recommendations are published as official CDC/HHS recommendations in the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR). The vaccine also continues to be available under emergency use authorization (EUA) for individuals 12 through 15 years of age and for the administration of a third (additional) dose in certain immunocompromised individuals.

Approval means the vaccine can also be used in non-emergency settings.

What types of immunocompromising conditions qualify for receiving a third dose of COVID-19 vaccine?

An additional dose of an mRNA COVID-19 vaccine after an initial 2-dose primary mRNA COVID-19 vaccine series should be considered for people with moderate to severe immune compromise due to a medical condition or receipt of immunosuppressive medications or treatments. These conditions and treatments include but are not limited to:

  • Active treatment for solid tumor and hematologic malignancies
  • Receipt of solid-organ transplant and taking immunosuppressive therapy • Receipt of CAR-T-cell or hematopoietic stem cell transplant (within 2 years of transplantation or taking immunosuppression therapy)
  • Moderate or severe primary immunodeficiency (e.g., DiGeorge syndrome, Wiskott-Aldrich syndrome)
  • Advanced or untreated HIV infection
  • Active treatment with high-dose corticosteroids (i.e., ≥20mg prednisone or equivalent per day), alkylating agents, antimetabolites, transplant-related immunosuppressive drugs, cancer chemotherapeutic agents classified as severely immunosuppressive, tumor-necrosis (TNF) blockers, and other biologic agents that are immunosuppressive or immunomodulatory.

Additional information about the level of immune suppression associated with a range of medical conditions and treatments can be found in general best practices for vaccination of people with altered immunocompetence, the CDC Yellow Book, and the Infectious Diseases Society of America policy statement, 2013 IDSA Clinical Practice Guideline for Vaccination of the Immunocompromised Host.

What is the dose size for the third dose for significantly immunocompromised people?

The dosage size for the third dose is the same as previous doses. The third dose should be the same mRNA vaccine as the primary series. However, an alternative mRNA vaccine can be used if the primary series product is not available.

Why should people not try to get a COVID-19 vaccine booster before it is formally recommended?

Care for any adverse effects in individuals who receive a COVID-19 booster dose outside of FDA, ACIP, and CDC recommendations are not covered by the Countermeasures Injury Compensation Program (CICP). These public health agencies take a number of factors into consideration (including timing of vaccine booster doses to maximize benefits) before providing formal recommendations.

Getting the vaccine booster dose too soon (before you need it) might not provide additional protection. Getting a vaccine booster dose too late may put you at risk for severe COVID-19.

If someone already had a COVID-19 illness, do they still need to be fully vaccinated?

Yes.

Studies have shown that compared to the “natural immunity” in people who had COVID-19 illness before but have not been vaccinated yet, the immunity provided by COVID-19 vaccination in people who also had COVID-19 illness before is both stronger (that is, provides higher antibody levels) and broader (that is, it can better protect against some of the variant strains.)

Therefore, as variants of COVID-19 continue to spread more widely, COVID-19 vaccination becomes even more important for those previously infected with COVID-19. The recently identified variant viruses are both more infectious and less likely to be prevented by antibodies against earlier forms of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. Fortunately, the available vaccines continue to work well against all variants that have been identified so far.

While there is no recommended minimum interval between infection and vaccination, current evidence suggests that the risk of reinfection is low in the 2-3 months after initial infection but may increase with time due to waning immunity.

COVID-19 vaccination should be offered to all those who previously had a COVID-19 infection. As long as the individual has no vaccine contra-indication, is not symptomatic, and also out of the isolation period, they can get the vaccine.

I've now been fully vaccinated with a COVID-19 vaccine. Will that vaccination protect me against the new variant types?

Probably yes, at least for the moment.

Vaccine experts are continually studying these new variants of the SARS-CoV-2 virus to determine whether the current COVID-19 vaccines are likely to remain effective against them. Current data are reassuring in terms of the current vaccines’ ability to protect against the most common new variants, including the Delta variant. Available vaccines showed either unchanged effectiveness or only slightly lower effectiveness against some of the variants but in all cases so far, the vaccines were still effective in preventing serious illness or deaths from the new variants.

In addition to their impact on vaccine effectiveness, several new variants have been reported as being spread more easily than the type of that virus we have been dealing with in the United States since March 2020. If true, this will result in higher numbers of new COVID-19 cases in some places in Virginia than we would have otherwise. In addition, whether the new variants cause milder or more severe illness or whether the new variants might be less detectable by the currently available viral diagnostic tests such as PCR or antigen tests is still unknown. Each of these issues is currently being studied.

Additional information on the new virus variants, including the most recently described Delta variant (also called B.1.617.2) is available from CDC here and in a more technical version here. Information on protection by vaccines from the Delta variant is also available from Moderna here and from Janssen (Johnson & Johnson) here. VDH information on virus variants can be found here.

But regardless of the amount of protection that any of these vaccines can provide against the new viral variants, even fully vaccinated people might consider continuing with their own personal prevention steps when outside their own personal spaces: wearing masks, staying at least six feet apart, avoiding crowds and poorly ventilated spaces, and frequently washing your hands.

I'm not fully vaccinated. When should I wear a mask?

CDC recommends that people 2 years old and older who are not fully vaccinated wear a mask when they are in indoor public settings or when they are around people who don’t live in their household. Masks are federally required for those 2 and older when they are using public transportation or in terminals (airports, train or bus stations, etc) for public transportation.

A mask is NOT a substitute for physical distancing. Masks should still be worn in addition to staying at least 6 feet apart, especially when indoors in poorly ventilated places and around people who don’t live in your household.

Who is eligible in Virginia to receive a COVID-19 vaccine?
Everyone in Virginia 12 years or older is eligible.

What are the current COVID-19 vaccine side effects? What should I do if I get these side effects?

Because COVID-19 vaccines are so new, information on long term side-effects is still being collected and studied.

However, while we do not yet know all of the side effects of COVID19 vaccination, some people in the trials have had arm pain at the injection site, tiredness, headache or other body aches and some had a fever for a few days. These expected side effects are more common in younger people than older people and more common after the 2nd vaccine dose than after the first dose.

These short term discomforts are the effects of your body developing immunity, and are normal. These discomforts do not mean that the vaccine has given you COVID-19.

Contact your doctor or healthcare provider:

  • If the redness or tenderness where you got the shot increases after 24 hours
  • If your side effects are worrying you or do not seem to be going away after a few days

Do I have to have proof of Virginia residency to get a vaccination?
Proof of Virginia residency is not required.

VDH encourages vaccine providers to vaccinate individuals regardless of in-state or local residency.

What happens if I or my child miss a COVID-19 vaccine appointment?

Those that book appointments are strongly encouraged to make every effort to keep the appointment due to vaccine supply and in consideration of others that need to be vaccinated. If you miss your appointment, reach out to the Agency that contacted you to reschedule your appointment.

Can I schedule my appointment with my spouse/family?

Because each person may have a different level of eligibility and each clinic has a limited number of appointments, it is unlikely that spouses, partners, or family members will be scheduled at the same time. If two people are invited to make appointments for the same clinic, they can choose times near each other if available.​

Will I be able to donate blood, blood plasma, or platelets to the Red Cross or other groups after getting the COVID-19 vaccine?

Yes. Current FDA guidance is that people who received any of the three current COVID-19 vaccines from Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, or Janssen (Johnson and Johnson) are still eligible to donate blood, blood plasma, or platelets as long as the vaccinated people are free of post-vaccine symptoms and are otherwise feeling well.

The only requirement is that the name of the vaccine’s manufacturer will be needed at the blood donation site. Blood donors are encouraged to bring the vaccine card that they received at the time of their vaccination.

Will you be able to choose which COVID-19 vaccine you get?

Yes. You have the option to choose which vaccine brand you would like to receive if you are scheduling through Vaccines.gov, as the website allows you to filter by vaccine brand. Call center agents can also help you find a location that has your preferred brand of COVID-19 vaccine.

Will I need more than one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine? When should I get the second dose?

Yes. The current COVID-19 vaccines from Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna both require two doses. When you get your first dose, your vaccine provider will let you know about the second dose and will help provide a way to remind you when it’s time to return for that second dose.

The two doses of Pfizer-BioNTac vaccine are recommended to be given three weeks (21 days) apart and the two doses of Moderna vaccine four weeks (28 days) apart. However, if that kind of appointment scheduling is not possible, the second dose for each vaccine may be scheduled up to 6 weeks (42 days) after the first dose.

Will the COVID-19 vaccine keep me from infecting others?

Probably yes.

The CDC has regularly updated its guidance as more information became available regarding the effectiveness of the vaccines, along with the current status of the pandemic in the United States. New cases, hospitalizations, and deaths have decreased significantly over the past few weeks as more individuals have become fully vaccinated.

A study released on May 14 by the CDC showed that real-world use of the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines is highly effective at preventing Covid-19 disease in healthcare personnel. Another study released in March by the CDC, and another conducted in Israel also showed that the vaccines were highly effective against SARS-CoV-2 infections, regardless of symptom status. Another study released in Nature Medicine showed that vaccination can reduce viral load in vaccine breakthrough COVID-19 cases, thereby reducing the risk of further transmission.

There is a small chance that fully vaccinated people can still catch and spread Covid-19, however the science shows us that these “breakthrough cases” are not only rare, but when they do occur, illness is most likely less severe and less contagious to others. Some individuals, depending on their medical risk factors, may choose to continue all behavioral prevention measures.

Is it safe to get the COVID-19 vaccine if you are pregnant or breast feeding?

Yes.

Available data suggest that some pregnant women who get infected with COVID-19 are at greater risk of having a severe form of COVID-19 than non-pregnant women. Pregnant women with some underlying health conditions, such as diabetes or obesity, are at even greater risk, as is true in the non-pregnant population. In addition, having COVID-19 while pregnant has been associated with preterm birth and other adverse outcomes of pregnancy. Preventing these extra COVID-19 risks in pregnant women is an important public health goal.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Virginia Department of Health (VDH), and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recommend that COVID-19 vaccines should NOT be withheld from pregnant or breast-feeding women or from other women who intend to get pregnant and who otherwise are in any of the priority categories for COVID-19 vaccination based on recommendations from the CDC and its Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP). The most recently updated ACOG recommendations can be found here.

Two studies, here and here, show that COVID-19 mRNA vaccines are safe and effective in pregnancy, with the potential to benefit both mother and baby.

CDC and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have several safety monitoring systems in place to collect and study information about vaccination during pregnancy and will closely monitor that information.

Results from CDC’s v-safe voluntary after-vaccination health check system, with public data that is updated weekly, show that a large number of women who received COVID-19 vaccines have reported pregnancies, with no specific safety issues identified.

CDC established a specific v-safe COVID-19 Vaccine Pregnancy Registry to learn more about these issues and initial data from this registry. Data from this registry show similar vaccine side effects for pregnant and non-pregnant individuals. The most up to date numbers are available here. Based on birth outcomes of the first 275 completed pregnancies, rates of complications are not significantly different from those of unvaccinated pregnant women.

Pregnant women who are considering a COVID-19 vaccination can discuss the potential risk and benefits of COVID-19 vaccines with their doctor or nurse-midwife.

A more detailed and more technical description and analysis of all pregnancy-related COVID-19 data reported to CDC up to February 28, 2021 can be found here.