Vaccine

Vaccine

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Vaccines are the best tool to help slow the spread of COVID-19. Vaccines help your body fight off the virus. When you are vaccinated you are much less likely to get sick and less likely to transmit the virus to others. Anyone who is not vaccinated is still vulnerable to experiencing the worst of COVID-19 and continues the potential to expose others to the virus. The more people who get vaccinated, the fewer chances for transmission and mutations, and the faster we can end the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Vermont's Commissioner of Health, Mark Levine, MD, addresses common questions about the COVID-19 vaccine.

About the Vaccines

The Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines are available in Vermont. All three COVID-19 vaccines are safe, effective and free.

These vaccines have received Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). An EUA is a way for vaccines and other medicines to be approved in a public health emergency. After proving the vaccines are safe and effective, they can be used while long-term studies continue. Learn more about Emergency Use Authorization and watch a video on what an EUA is.

Learn more about the vaccines below, including how many doses to be fully vaccinated, how they work, how well they work, side effects, ingredients, and who they are and are not recommended for.

About the Pfizer-BioNTech Vaccine

The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine received an EUA on December 11, 2020 and a second for people aged 12 to 15 years on May 10, 2021.

Doses to be Fully Vaccinated
The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine requires two doses about 21 days apart. It takes 14 days after your second dose to be protected from COVID-19.

How It Works
mRNA vaccines are introduced into the body to tell the body to make a harmless piece of “spike protein.” Your immune system sees the spike protein doesn’t belong in your body and starts building an immune response. This means that the next time you come in contact with the virus that causes COVID-19, your body knows how to fight it off. Scientists have been researching this type of vaccine for decades.

How Well It Works
In clinical trials, the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine was 95% effective at preventing COVID-19 after two doses. It was equally effective among people of different races, ethnicities, genders and health conditions. The level of protection against the current variants of the virus is being tested.

Side Effects
Some participants in clinical trials showed a strong immune response, which often leads lead to some side effects. The second dose may result in a stronger immune response than the first dose. Side effects are normal and show that your body is building immunity to COVID-19.

Common side effects reported by some trial participants were:

  • Pain at the injection site (84.1%)
  • Fatigue (62.9%)
  • Headache (55.1%)
  • Chills (31.9%)
  • Joint Pain (23.6%)
  • Fever (14.2%)

Recommended for:

  • People of all races, ethnicities, and ages, 12 and older, including older adults
  • People with medical conditions
  • People who are pregnant and breastfeeding
  • People with weakened immune systems
  • People who had COVID-19 infection and have recovered

Not recommended for:
Children aged 11 years and younger. Pfizer-BioNTech started clinical trials with children under 12 years old in March 2021.

Talk to your health care provider if you:

  • Have had a serious allergic reaction to a vaccine or ingredients, including polyethylene glycol or polysorbate.
  • Have questions.

Ingredients
Similar to other vaccine ingredients: mRNA protein, fats, salts, and sugars. It contains polyethylene glycol and polysorbate. The vaccine does not have any fetal tissue, animal products, eggs, gelatin, latex, microchips, or preservatives

Pfizer-BioNTech Vaccine Information

About the Moderna Vaccine

The Moderna vaccine received an EUA on December 18, 2020. 

Doses to be Fully Vaccinated
The Moderna vaccine requires two doses about 28 days apart. It takes 14 days after your second dose to be protected from COVID-19.

How it Works
mRNA vaccines are introduced into the body to tell the body to make a harmless piece of “spike protein.” Your immune system sees the spike protein doesn’t belong in your body and starts building an immune response. This means that the next time you come in contact with the virus that causes COVID-19, your body knows how to fight it off. Scientists have been researching this type of vaccine for decades.

How Well It Works
In clinical trials, the Moderna vaccine was 94% effective at preventing COVID-19 after two doses. It was highly effective among people of different races, ethnicities, ages, genders and medical conditions. The level of protection against the current variants of the virus is being tested.

Side Effects
Some participants in clinical trials showed a strong immune response, which often leads lead to some side effects. The second dose may result in a stronger immune response than the first shot. Side effects are normal and show that your body is building immunity to COVID-19.

Common side effects reported by some trial participants were:

  • Pain at the injection site (92%)
  • Fatigue (70%)
  • Headache (64.7%)
  • Muscle pain (61.5%)
  • Joint pain (46.4%)
  • Chills (45.4%)
  • Nausea/Vomiting (23%)
  • Fever (15.5%)

Recommended for:

  • People aged 18 and older, including older adults
  • People of all races and ethnicities
  • People with medical conditions
  • People who are pregnant and breastfeeding
  • People with weakened immune systems
  • People who had COVID-19 infection and have recovered

Not recommended for:
Children aged 17 years and younger. Moderna is currently running clinical vaccine trials with adolescents aged 12 to 17. They also started a separate trial with children under 12 years old in March 2021.

Talk to your health care provider if you:

  • Had a serious allergic reaction to a vaccine or ingredients, including polyethylene glycol or polysorbate.
  • Have questions

Ingredients
Similar to other vaccine ingredients: mRNA protein, fats, salts, and sugars. It contains polyethylene glycol and polysorbate. The vaccine does not have any fetal tissue, animal products, eggs, gelatin, latex, microchips, or preservatives.

Moderna Vaccine Information

About the Johnson & Johnson (Janssen) Vaccine

The Johnson & Johnson (Janssen Biotech, Inc.) vaccine received an EUA on February 27, 2021.

Doses to be Fully Vaccinated
The Johnson & Johnson vaccine requires one dose. It takes about 14 days after you get your vaccine to be protected.

How It Works
Vector vaccines use a modified virus like a cold virus that can’t make copies of itself or infect you. The vector virus tells your body to make harmless pieces of “spike proteins.” Your immune system sees the spike protein doesn’t belong in your body and starts building an immune response. This means that the next time you come in contact with the COVID-19 virus your body knows how to fight it off. Scientists have been researching this type of vaccine for decades. This type of vaccine was recently approved to prevent Ebola.

How Well It Works
In U.S. clinical trials, the Johnson & Johnson vaccine was 72% effective against moderate illness, was 85% effective against severe COVID-19 and 100% effective against hospitalization and death. These tests were done while the variants were circulating, so these efficacy rates take variants into account.

Side Effects
The FDA reports milder side effects than those found in the two-dose mRNA vaccines. Common side effects reported in clinical trials were:

  • Pain at the injection site (48.6%)
  • Tiredness (38.2%)
  • Headache (38.9)
  • Muscle pain (33.2%)
  • Nausea (14.2%)

As vaccinations are being administered across the country, a small number of people had a rare and severe type of blood clot up to two weeks after vaccination. This side effect is extremely rare. People who get a severe headache, abdominal pain, leg pain or shortness of breath within three weeks of receiving the Johnson & Johnson vaccine should immediately contact their health care provider.

Recommended for:

  • People aged 18 and older, including older adults
  • People of all races, and ethnicities
  • People with medical conditions.
  • People who are pregnant and breastfeeding
  • People with weakened immune systems
  • People who had COVID-19 infection and have recovered

Not recommended for:
Children aged 17 years and younger. Johnson & Johnson is running clinical vaccine trials with adolescents aged 12 to 17.

Talk to your health care provider if you:

  • Had a serious allergic reaction to a vaccine or ingredients, including polysorbate.
  • Have questions

Ingredients
Similar to other vaccine ingredients: modified cold virus, proteins, fats, and salts. It contains polysorbate. The vaccine does not have any fetal tissue, pork products, eggs, gelatin, latex, microchips or preservatives.

Johnson & Johnson Vaccine Information

Frequently Asked Questions about the Vaccines

Are the vaccines safe? Do they work?

Yes. The vaccines are safe and they work. 

You are less likely to get the virus if you’re fully vaccinated. A growing body of evidence suggests that fully vaccinated people are less likely to spread COVID-19 to others.

Millions of people have been vaccinated safely. The vaccines are working in the real world. Studies show them to be more than 90% effective in real-world settings in preventing mild and severe disease, hospitalization and death. The vaccines have also proven to be effective against the COVID-19 variants that are currently circulating in the country.

Learn about how mRNA vaccines (Pfizer and Moderna) work and how vector vaccines (Johnson & Johnson) work.

More about Vaccine Safety and Effectiveness

All three vaccines are safe and similarly effective at preventing severe illness and death. This standard is what is most commonly used to assess other vaccines like the flu shot. We cannot directly compare the efficacy of the three vaccines because they were not studied against each other at the same time. Each clinical trial had different study protocols, timing and location. For example, variants weren’t widely circulating when the earlier vaccines were being tested.

The CDC and FDA continue to assess the vaccines’ effectiveness as they are distributed. There are several things that can affect how well vaccines work in real-world settings (as opposed to clinical trial settings). The vaccines being administered now are going to millions of people, while trials enrolled tens of thousands each. The sheer number of people being vaccinated now may mean individual reactions that were different from those who participated in the trials. A vaccine’s effectiveness also depends on things like variants, the amount of virus in your community or differences in administering vaccines like dosing schedules and vaccine handling in different settings.

Years of research into vaccines have brought us to where we are today. Scientists began researching coronavirus vaccines starting with Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) in 2003 and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) in 2012. When these viruses disappeared, the pressure to find a coronavirus vaccine decreased. When COVID-19 was identified, the global focus on eliminating this new coronavirus and ending the pandemic, combined with large amounts of funding, helped speed up the research process to create a safe and effective vaccine.

Here are the steps to make sure vaccines are safe and effective:

Step 1: Vaccine Safety

With a brand new vaccine, researchers give it to a small number of volunteers — usually 20 to 100 — to test for any serious side effects. This step also helps determine the right dose or amount of vaccine to use.

Step 2: Vaccine Effectiveness

Once they know a vaccine isn’t likely to cause any serious side effects, researchers then give it to hundreds of people to determine how well the vaccine works (or its effectiveness). Researchers continue to monitor for any short-term side effects.

Step 3: Double Check Safety & Effectiveness

This is the last step before researchers can apply for approval from the FDA and begin to use it. To make sure the vaccine is safe and effective for people across ages, ethnicities, genders, and other factors, they give it to tens of thousands of people. This uncovers less common side effects and confirms once again that it’s safe and works well for everyone.

Step 4: Continue to Check Safety & Effectiveness

Even after researchers have answered the big questions, they keep studying the vaccine. They gather longer-term data to make sure the vaccine continues to work well.

Sometimes, when a vaccine is urgently needed, researchers combine steps to speed up the approval process. This doesn’t mean that they’re skipping any important steps. It does mean researchers and public health organizations are working together at an extraordinary level to get a safe, e­ffective vaccine to the people who need it the most.

Are the vaccines effective against the variants of the COVID-19 virus?

Yes. Current data suggest that COVID-19 vaccines authorized for use in the United States offer protection against the variants currently spreading in the United States. This is being closely investigated and more studies are happening now. Getting vaccinated is the best way to protect yourself against the virus and its variants.

Viruses constantly change through mutation. New variants and strains are expected. Many emerge and disappear, but others can persist and even become the most common strain. Right now there are a few different variants of concern. Some variants spread more easily from one person to another. The less a virus spreads, the fewer chances for it to mutate into different variants. This is why prevention steps, including getting vaccinated, are so important. 

The Health Department detects any potential variants of concern through genetic sequencing of certain viral specimens. You can find a table that shows the cumulative number of variants identified in Vermont by county of residence.

Learn more from the CDC about COVID-19 variants

What do I need to know about vaccines for children?

Children’s immune systems are different at different ages. They are also different from adults. This means that the vaccine studies need to be repeated with children.

Children aged 12 and older can get the Pfizer vaccine. On May 10, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration authorized the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine for emergency use in people 12 to 15 years old. On May 12, the CDC's Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, a panel of public health and medical experts who make recommendations to CDC, recommended the vaccine. The CDC adopted the recommendation.

Clinical trials of the Pfizer vaccine among kids ages 12 to 15 showed that the vaccine is safe and effective for that age group. None of the children who got the Pfizer vaccine during the clinical trial got sick with COVID-19. Getting vaccinated means more freedom so Vermont kids can be kids, including staying in school if they're a close contact.

Moderna and Johnson & Johnson are each running clinical vaccine trials with adolescents aged 12 to 17. Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna have clinical trials of their vaccines for younger children going on now.

What You Need to Know About COVID-19 Vaccines for Kids
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The Science Behind the COVID-19 Vaccine: Parent FAQs (American Academy of Pediatrics)

Learn more about the benefits of getting your teen vaccinated from Dr. Andrea Green and the Vermont Multilingual Coronavirus Task Force:
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Why do I need two doses of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine?

Both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines require two doses, spaced about 3 to 4 weeks apart. We strongly recommend Vermonters get both doses for the highest level of protection from COVID-19.

Two doses of these vaccines are scientifically proven to be highly effective in preventing COVID-19. Since the beginning, we have followed the science. Participants in the clinical trials who did not receive both doses were not followed for a long period of time, so we do not know for sure how well or how long one dose will protect you.

A two-dose vaccine is not new. For some vaccines, like hepatitis B, shingles and HPV, two doses produce a longer-lasting protection. While the first dose gets your immune system ready and offers some protection, the second dose boosts that protection by using your body’s new immune cells it created after the first dose. This “booster” increases the strength of your new antibody protection and makes it last longer.

Taking the full course of vaccine offers better protection against variants of the virus. In fact, being only partially vaccinated, for example getting only one dose of a two-dose vaccine, could increase the risk of vaccine-resistant variants of the virus that causes COVID-19. This is because the virus could be weakened with some antibody protection, but not stopped completely, creating the potential for the virus to mutate.

Some people experience stronger side effects after the second shot. Both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines have equal doses in their first and second shots, but for some, stronger side effects are part of their body’s normal immune reaction to that “boost” in protection. Common side effects reported were pain at the injection site, fever, chills, tiredness and headache. These side effects typically go away within a few days.

Whether you experience side effects or not, rest assured the vaccine is working to protect you, your family and your community.

How long does protection from the vaccine last?

According to some studies published in May 2021, immunity to the COVID-19 virus lasts at least a year, and maybe longer — whether you got that immunity from being infected or from getting vaccinated.

If you did have COVID-19, the studies suggest your level of protection will be much higher by getting vaccinated and you shouldn’t even need a booster shot. People who are vaccinated and never got infected will most likely need a booster shot, but most likely after a longer period of time than was previously thought.

These studies show good evidence that we are protected now, and our bodies can recognize and stop this virus in the longer term. Even if antibody levels decrease in your bloodstream, there are potent immune cells with memory in your bone marrow that get activated if you encounter the virus again or a variant strain.

Learn more about the studies:

Do I need a booster shot to increase my protection against COVID-19?

The vaccines in use in the U.S. are highly effective. If you are fully vaccinated, you are well protected, including from the variants currently circulating in the country such as Delta. Since we have such high vaccination rates in Vermont, our level of protection is even higher.

Scientists are still investigating how long that protection lasts, but for now, there is no evidence that you need a booster. This includes getting an mRNA vaccine after a Johnson & Johnson vaccine. We will continue to monitor the CDC’s recommendations and share any new guidance as soon as it is available.

If you have a condition that weakens your immune system or are concerned because you are traveling to a state with higher COVID activity, you may consider taking additional precautions such as wearing a mask.

Is it possible to get COVID-19 even if I’m fully vaccinated?

Yes. COVID-19 vaccines are very effective at preventing serious disease, including hospitalization and death. But no vaccine is 100% effective. That means some people who are vaccinated may become infected with COVID-19. This is called a “vaccine breakthrough.” This happens with any vaccine including measles, mumps, flu and others. Fortunately, the percentage of people who get COVID-19 after being vaccinated should stay low. Among those who get COVID-19 after being vaccinated, few will get very sick.

The COVID-19 Data Summaries include a section on fully-vaccinated Vermonters who got infected with COVID-19.

Community Immunity

Vaccine protection is more than one person being vaccinated. The more virus going around in the community, the higher your chances of coming into close contact with someone who is sick with COVID-19. When enough people in a community are protected against a contagious disease, it's very hard for it to spread. It is this community immunity that helps protect us all from getting sick.

Variants

Current data suggest that COVID-19 vaccines authorized for use in the United States offer protection against variants currently circulating in the United States. Vermont’s number of specimens connected to a COVID-19 infection after vaccination is too small to make any conclusions about the role variants play in causing infections among fully vaccinated people.

The Health Department sequences specimens and prioritizes any that are connected with an infection after vaccination. Learn more about the variants circulating in Vermont.

Learn more from the CDC about:

In This Section

Find information about getting your COVID-19 vaccine.

View the number of people in Vermont who have received the vaccine. See vaccination rates by sex, age, race, ethnicity, and county.

This map shows the overall percent of Vermonters aged 12 and older who have been vaccinated with at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.

Safe and effective vaccines are critical to ending the COVID-19 pandemic. We are building on a strong existing infrastructure, experience, and valuable partnerships to make sure all Vermonters have access to the vaccine.