Right now, you’re probably ready to get back to normal life and are thinking about how to plan your COVID vaccine. We have some tips to help. Plus, we answer some other common questions about how a COVID vaccine works, why some people get a bill, and overall what to expect.
Understanding how a COVID vaccine works and how it’s different from traditional vaccines
There’s a lot of questions about the COVID vaccines from Moderna and Pfizer because they utilize a different type of vaccine technology. We’re used to getting vaccines that contain an inactivated form of a virus or pathogen. (Occasionally, vaccines use a live form.) But the COVID vaccines approved and on the market right now don’t contain any virus particles.
“The COVID-19 vaccine on the market right now is an mRNA vaccine,” Nicole Lewis, ND, says. “The RNA tells the cell to produce an antigen to the spike protein [of coronavirus]. This antigen then moves to the surface of the cell, where the immune system can detect the protein and produce antibodies,” she adds. It’s impossible to get a COVID infection from a COVID vaccine. However, you could experience side effects that range from site redness and soreness to fevers and fatigue.
Is the vaccine mandatory in the United States?
Globally, of 193 countries evaluated, researchers found about 54% have national mandatory vaccine policies. As of right now, the United States government has not made the COVID vaccine mandatory.
That said, you may run into requests for vaccine by your employer. Under state and local law, there are some instances where employees can require workers to be vaccinated. These types of policies are more likely with essential workers, but you should stay up-to-date on your company’s COVID announcements either way.
Will I need proof of a vaccine to travel?
If you’re missing travel big time, you’re not alone. A survey by AMEX showed 48% of people miss it so much that it’s causing feelings of added stress and anxiety. One thing to keep in mind as you consider and plan for your COVID vaccine: even though vaccines aren’t mandatory in the U.S., some countries may issue certain requirements to limit the number of coronavirus cases that come into their nation via travelers. It’s also possible that certain methods of transportation may set the criteria of either a negative COVID test result or proof of vaccination.
According to Sharona Hoffman of Case Western Reserve University’s School of Law, the countries who enact strict requirements for entry can probably be linked to those who have had the toughest restrictions in place during the pandemic. For example, New Zealand may require vaccination records for entry. Many Asian countries are also likely to set specific criteria around travelers.
Because we are still early in the vaccination rollout process, it’s unclear what types of requirements federal governments will recommend for airlines and cruise ships. When you receive a COVID vaccine, you’ll get a vaccination record card. We recommend making a copy. Keep it with your passport and other travel documents.
Does it cost money to get a COVID vaccine?
In the United States, the federal government announced COVID vaccines will be no-cost. At a minimum, this policy should be in place for all of 2021, regardless of insurance. That said, just because you won’t pay for the shot doesn’t mean some people won’t get a bill. If you receive a vaccine from your healthcare provider rather than a government-run vaccination site, it’s possible that (depending on your insurance plan) you could see a charge for administration of the vaccine–for the cost of having someone actually give you the shot.
I had COVID. Do I really need to get the vaccine?
Researchers still have a lot to learn about COVID. What we’ve seen, though, tells us it’s possible to get COVID more than once. The way your body handles it each time may be different. So, even if you didn’t have many symptoms, speak with your physician about the risks of re-infection versus vaccination, along with your medical history.
One thing that’s important to know: if you had COVID and were given convalescent plasma or monoclonal antibodies as support, you need to wait a bit before getting a COVID vaccine. Check with your provider about what’s best for you, but the general recommendation is to wait 90 days after these types of treatments.
When will it be my turn for a COVID vaccine?
If you know you want a COVID vaccine, the rollout may feel like it’s dragging. As of the publish date of this post, more than 52.9 million doses have been given in the U.S. (Here’s where you can track the CDC’s latest information.) But the slow start to rollout and the limited supply of vaccines and other issues have led the CDC to recommend first priority go to identified groups of the population. In most cases, the group given top priority are those aged 65 and older and healthcare workers. Some areas only allow healthcare workers’ with direct contact to patients to receive the vaccine at this point. Other areas have not set this criteria.
But even if you’re eligible right now, knowing exactly how to plan for your COVID vaccine can be overwhelming. We understand that frustration. One of the best places to start a plan for your COVID vaccine is with your state health department.
From there, we also recommend visiting your county health department’s website. Many offer more specific and helpful information. For example, if you’re part of the current priority group, you’ll be able to view residency or other requirements, required documentation, and download consent forms. You’ll also be able to view when and where vaccinations are scheduled and try to register for an appointment. Not part of the priority group for a COVID vaccine? Many county health department sites are allowing residents to sign up to receive email or text alerts when eligibility status changes. Though not all hospitals and physician offices are doing so, you may also want to call your local facilities. Some have started waitlists for when COVID vaccine eligibility shifts to other groups.
Other important ways you can plan for your COVID vaccine
One of the most important ways to plan for your COVID vaccine was mentioned above: getting on waitlists and added to auto-alerts that notify you when you’re expected to be eligible. But there are also some other things that are helpful to do and think about as well.
Make an in-person or telehealth appointment to talk with your provider.
Don’t wait until you’re eligible for the vaccine to do this. Go over your medical history with your provider and discuss any questions or concerns you have about side effects, whether or not the vaccine is right for you, and more.
Schedule other vaccines at least 2 weeks before or 2 weeks after your COVID vaccine doses.
Current recommendations state that your COVID vaccine shouldn’t be given with other vaccinations, including influenza, shingles, or any others.
Plan to take it easy a day or two after, especially when receiving your second dose.
Site soreness and redness are very common after any vaccine. Mild side effects can also happen. Most people who have received both COVID vaccine doses have said that they didn’t experience many side effects after the first dose. However, many people don’t feel well after the second dose. Allow yourself room to rest and call your physician if needed. With severe side effects that are life-threatening, call 911.
Don’t assume you’re immediately safe from COVID-19. Keep wearing your mask and taking precautions.
Vaccines take time to work. (You can read more about your immune system’s response in this post.) Most peoples’ bodies need between three and four weeks to build up the level of immune response required to provide significant protection against COVID. If you become infected with COVID before your body builds an adequate response, you could potentially deal with a severe infection.
Take steps to de-stress in the weeks leading up to (and after) your vaccines.
We’re big proponents of stress reduction for better hormone balance and overall well-being. But it’s also important for your immune response. Too much of the stress hormone cortisol at certain points after receiving a vaccine can affect your body’s immune response.
Avoid over-the-counter pain medications before your vaccine appointment.
Anyone who is prescribed over-the-counter medications should call their physician. Ask if you should continue to take these meds before a COVID vaccine or if you should wait. But if you’re not prescribed ibuprofen, aspirin, or acetaminophen (Tylenol) for a condition, don’t take it before your vaccine appointment (after is generally okay for most people). These medications can dampen your immune response when taken prior to a vaccine.
Make decisions and plans based off of guidelines and your history
COVID is so new, it presents new challenges in how to plan for your COVID vaccine. With any vaccine, guidelines are important. However, so is your personal medical history. Whenever considering a vaccine or any other health decision, research, form questions, and then partner with a qualified provider to decide what’s right for you.