Now that all U.S. adults are eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine, it's time to make sure you have your first appointment set up.
While you wait, it helps to have a game plan for what to do in the minutes, days and months after receiving the vaccine to continue to keep yourself and others safe.
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Here are the steps to follow:
1. Make an Appointment for Your Second Dose
Of the three vaccines currently available — Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson — only the latter is a one-and-done affair. The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines require two doses.
"Once you receive the first dose, you should leave with a second appointment for the second dose. You can't just say you're going to call later to schedule," Patricia Couto, MD, an infectious disease physician with Orlando Health, tells LIVESTRONG.com.
Based on clinical trials, there are specific recommendations for when you need to get your second shot. If you get the Pfizer vaccine, you'll need to get your second dose in 21 days. For the Moderna vaccine, you'll wait 28 days, per the Food & Drug Administration (FDA).
And it's incredibly important to get that second dose — you're only considered "fully vaccinated" two weeks after that second shot (or the single shot, in the case of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine), which is the point when the vaccine reaches its full effectiveness, per the CDC.
2. Watch for a Reaction
News reports of people having an allergic reaction to the vaccine can be alarming. But it's important to keep things in perspective.
According to the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System, there were 21 cases of anaphylaxis (a life-threatening allergic reaction) following nearly 1.9 million first doses of the Pfizer vaccine given between December 14 and 23. (That comes out to 11.1 cases per million doses.)
In other words, it's very rare. In fact, your risk of getting sick with COVID-19 (without the vaccine) is much higher than the risk of allergy or anaphylaxis from the vaccine, Rochelle Walensky, MD, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), said during a press briefing on January 27.
Most severe reactions happen within the first 15 minutes of receiving the vaccine. For that reason, you should plan on sticking around to be monitored (the health care professional on site will provide guidance here).
But the majority of reactions are mild and might include pain and swelling where you got your shot, fever, chills, tiredness or headache, per the CDC. These reactions are more common after the second dose, Dr. Walensky noted, but nothing to be concerned about — they're a sign that your immune system is responding to the vaccine, and they should go away in a few days.
On the other hand, if you don't have a reaction to the shot, it's nothing to worry about either — we all respond a bit differently to these things.
3. Continue to Wear a Mask in Some Situations
You might have a collection of masks at your disposal by now, but we know you're ready to get rid of them. Not so fast.
Yes, the CDC says fully vaccinated people can go back to doing their normal activities without wearing a mask or physical distancing, but there are a few caveats.
First, you should keep wearing a mask until you're fully vaccinated, aka two weeks since your final dose.
You should also make sure to cover your mouth and nose in public wherever it's still required by law and you should consider it if you have a weakened immune system.
4. Keep Your Vax Card
When you get your shot, you'll leave with a small paper card that contains a few bits of personal info, as well as what vaccine you got, the date and the lot number of the vaccine. It also will have the date you're supposed to get the next shot (if applicable).
Save this. Many people are laminating these cards or buying special protectors for them, but right now, that's not necessary.
"You want to hold onto the card because it lets people know when you got your first dose and which vaccine you got," John Segreti, MD, medical director of infection control and prevention at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, tells LIVESTRONG.com.
The card also contains the lot number of the vaccine. In the event of a problem, this allows officials to trace who received this batch. While that could sound scary, it's a typical safety measure done with every vaccine. The difference with vaccines you've had in the past is that the info is in your medical records or with your doctor rather than in your hand.
Whether or not the vaccine card will be useful in the future for travel and other activities (as a "vaccine passport") is a societal issue, not a medical one, Dr. Segreti says. Unless something like that happens or you require it to go somewhere, there's no reason to carry it around with you. Keep it at home in a secure place that you'll remember, such as near your passport or birth certificate.
5. Sign Up With V-Safe
V-safe is the CDC's "after vaccination health checker." Register here via your smartphone any time in the six weeks following your shot. After registration, you'll enter your vaccine info and then you'll get text reminders to complete health check-ins where you'll rate how you're feeling that day and side effects.
The smartphone service does not offer personal medical advice and it doesn't exist as proof of vaccine. Rather, V-safe is a voluntary reporting system that tracks the side effects of the vaccine.
"This is something I participated in. I think it's important to get as much information as possible to get the real world efficacy of the vaccines. The more people who participate, the better the quality of the evidence," Dr. Segreti says.
6. Encourage People in Your Life to Get the Vaccine
Only you know how your friends and loved ones will react to your suggestion that they, too, get the vaccine. However, you could start by telling them that you got the vaccine, talking about your experience (did your arm get a bit sore like a flu shot?) and why it was important for you to do so. That alone can help encourage someone to take the same step.
"If someone is eligible for the vaccine, I encourage them to consider it very strongly," Dr. Couto says.
7. Remember to Get Your Booster Shot
The effectiveness of the vaccine decreases over time, according to the CDC. But getting a booster shot can give you renewed protection from the virus and its variants.
Anyone 18 and older may get a booster shot, per the CDC, but timing matters based on which jab you received. If you got the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, you can get a booster two months afterward. If you got Pfizer or Moderna, you should wait six months after your second shot to boost up.
In March 2022, the CDC also approved a second booster shot for people who are immunocompromised and adults over the age of 50 who got their initial booster at least four months earlier.
Note that you're able to mix-and-match your booster shot, according to the CDC. For instance, you can get the Pfizer booster even if you originally got the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
Read more stories to help you navigate the novel coronavirus pandemic:
- Food & Drug Administration (FDA): “FDA Statement on Following the Authorized Dosing Schedules for COVID-19 Vaccines”
- CDC: “Allergic Reactions Including Anaphylaxis After Receipt of the First Dose of Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine – United States, December 14 – 23, 2020”
- CDC: "What to Expect after Getting a COVID-19 Vaccine"
- CDC: "When You’ve Been Fully Vaccinated"
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: "CDC Recommends Additional Boosters for Certain Individuals"
Is this an emergency? If you are experiencing serious medical symptoms, please see the National Library of Medicine’s list of signs you need emergency medical attention or call 911.