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Coronavirus Information: Vaccinations | Testing | Safety Policies & Visitor Guidelines | Appointments & Scheduling | FAQs

Covid Calls

Vaccine Scheduling Update: We’re experiencing very high call volumes from people interested in getting the COVID-19 vaccine. Currently, our vaccine supply is very small, and we are unable to accept phone calls to schedule vaccine appointments. Please check back here for updates.

Get the answers to common questions about the COVID-19 vaccines, including vaccine safety, who should get the vaccine and when the vaccine will be available. 

COVID-19 Vaccine Prevention and Safety

Will a vaccine prevent COVID-19?

Based on research, it is likely that COVID-19 vaccines will prevent people from getting and spreading the virus. The research studies for the Moderna vaccine showed the vaccine prevented COVID-19 in about 95 out of 100 people and severe COVID-19 in 100 out of 100 people.  

How will we know if the COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effective?

The research so far shows that the vaccine is safe and effective.

Is it possible to achieve immunity without a vaccine?

We think that having COVID-19 may protect you from getting it again, but we are unsure how long. Some patients have had COVID-19 more than once.  It is recommended that people who have had COVID-19 still get the vaccine. 

How long will a vaccine protect people?

It is too soon to know how long a vaccine will last. It is currently being researched.  Of the people who have received the vaccine, we know that they have been protected from COVID-19 for at least 4 months.

Can someone get COVID-19 from the vaccines?

It is impossible for the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines to give you COVID-19. Neither vaccine contains any live virus.

COVID-19 Vaccine Development

What is the difference between the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna Vaccine?

Both vaccines use tiny parts called messenger RNA (mRNA) carried in very tiny lipid parts.  The two vaccines differ in the way the mRNA is built or the way the lipids are used. The two vaccines are also stored in different ways.

How do mRNA vaccines work?

The COVID-19 vaccines prevent or lessen illness from the coronavirus. Both the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines have mRNA, which make the virus’ spike protein. This protein lets the virus attach to cells in our body. When we get the vaccine, we develop antibodies to the spike protein. This stops the virus from attaching to cells when exposed to the virus. Other parts of the body that prevent infection are made active by the vaccines to protect against future COVID-19 infection.

Are these vaccines fully approved by the FDA for use?

Vaccines for COVID-19 will start out being used under an Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) by the FDA. An EUA makes the vaccine available for public health emergencies. It means that the vaccine is available outside of a research study but is not yet approved. This is the usual first step for a new vaccine. The vaccine can continue to be used as long as people benefit from it. The research continues as it moves toward full approval.

Getting Vaccinated

Who does the COVID-19 vaccine protect?

The studies of vaccines included people ages 18 through 85 years old. It worked well for all ages. Studies are needed for people younger than 18 and pregnant women. More studies are going on or being planned. 

Should older adults get the vaccine?

Yes, it is especially important for older adults to get the vaccine because they have the highest risk of being very sick or dying from COVID-19. 

Who is the vaccine good for?

Studies show that both vaccines are likely safe and will work for almost everyone. However, they cannot yet be used for children because those studies are not done.

What if I am pregnant or breastfeeding, or plan to become pregnant?

If you are planning to become pregnant, you can receive the vaccine. The FDA also allows pregnant women to receive the vaccine. However, pregnant women were not studied in the vaccine trials, so there is not much information about the use of the vaccine among this group. If you are pregnant, we and the Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine (SMFM) recommend that you discuss getting the vaccines with your provider. If you are breastfeeding, you can still get the vaccine and do not need to stop breastfeeding.

If I already had COVID-19, should I still get the COVID vaccine?

Yes, some people can get COVID-19 again. It is also not known how long someone is protected from getting the virus again.

If I complete the vaccine series, will I still need to wear a mask and social distance?

Yes, you should continue wearing masks, handwashing, and social distancing after getting the vaccine. This will help bring the pandemic under control. 

COVID-19 Vaccine and Allergies

Is the vaccine safe for me if I have allergies?

We know that the great majority of people, even those with severe allergies, have tolerated the COVID-19 vaccine. People with allergies to environmental allergens (such as pollen), foods, latex, oral medications and stinging insects can receive the COVID-19 vaccine. The vaccine does not contain egg, gelatin or latex.

CDC recommends not to receive mRNA vaccine if you had a severe or immediate allergic reaction to any of the ingredients in the vaccine or anaphylaxis (a severe allergic reaction) to the first dose of the vaccine. If you have a history of an immediate allergic reaction to polyethylene glycol (also known as PEG), or to polysorbate, you should not receive the vaccine.

If you have questions about if you should receive the vaccine, please talk to your health care provider.

What is polyethylene glycol?

Polyethylene glycol (PEG) is a common ingredient in a wide variety of vaccines and FDA-approved medications. It is found in the colonoscopy preparation, Golytely, in the constipation treatment, MiraLax, as well as in IV medications such as PEGylated medications. It is also in a steroid injection, Depo Medrol (methylprednisolone acetate). Reactions to PEG are rare, but anaphylaxis has been reported. Polysorbate is not an ingredient in either mRNA COVID-19 vaccines, but it is closely related to PEG.

Who may not be eligible or may need further evaluation for the mRNA COVID-19 vaccine?

According to CDC guidelines, you may not be eligible to get the mRNA vaccine (or a second dose of the vaccine) if you have experienced any of the following allergic reactions.

  • Severe allergic reaction (e.g., anaphylaxis) after a previous dose of an mRNA COVID-19 vaccine or any of its components
  • Immediate allergic reaction of any severity to a previous dose of an mRNA COVID-19 vaccine or any of its components
  • Immediate allergic reaction of any severity to polysorbate
  • A history of an allergic reaction to an injectable medication

If you have experienced any of these reactions, please talk to your health care provider before getting a first or second dose of the vaccine.

If I have allergies, what happens when I receive the COVID-19 vaccine?

If you decide to get the vaccine at a Penn Medicine vaccination site, you will be asked some questions about your allergy history before the vaccination. If you have had anaphylaxis (a severe allergic reaction) due to any cause, the vaccination team will decide if you need longer monitoring, or if you need to see your primary provider or allergy doctor before vaccination particularly if you report a history of an allergy to an injectable medication.

There are safeguards in place at Penn Medicine in case anyone experiences an allergic reaction to the vaccine. Everyone is monitored immediately after they receive the shot:

  • At least 30 minutes for people who have a history of severe allergic reactions
  • At least 15 minutes for all other individuals

What should I do if I had an allergic reaction to the first vaccine shot?

We have a virtual urgent care service, called Penn Medicine OnDemand, which you can use as a resource at any time if you develop a reaction that concerns you.

If you received the COVID-19 vaccine and developed a reaction within 4 hours of being vaccinated, you should call Penn Medicine OnDemand at 215-615-2222. Not all reactions are truly allergic reactions; a provider will first get information about your reaction and decide how to best manage it.

If you have severe symptoms with wheezing, throat tightness, nausea and hives, seek emergency care.

It is common to experience a reaction (or, side effect that is not considered allergic) to the vaccine. Side effects include fever, chills, muscle aches, headache and soreness at the injection site. These symptoms commonly begin happening at any time point after receiving the shot and typically last 2 to 3 days. If symptoms persist longer or you develop a high fever, please call Penn Medicine OnDemand.

COVID-19 Vaccine Availability and Distribution

When will the COVID-19 vaccine be available?

Penn Medicine and other hospitals across the country have started receiving a small supply of the vaccine. We have started vaccinating our frontline health care workers who are most at risk, as well as patients who meet the criteria for Phase 1B in Philadelphia and New Jersey (Phase 1A in Pennsylvania). This phase includes patients who have one of the following highest risk conditions: 75 years of age or older, cancer, chronic kidney disease, organ transplant, diabetes mellitus, and HIV.

How will the vaccine be rolled out?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the National Academy of Medicine have developed a plan to give the vaccine based on the risk of getting the virus. At first, the vaccine will be given to health care workers and nursing home residents and staff. Next, it will be given to essential workers and then to the general population. The general population will receive the vaccine based on age and medical conditions. People who have a higher chance of getting very sick or dying will receive the vaccine first.

Will the COVID-19 vaccine be mandatory?

The COVID-19 vaccine will not be mandatory at this time. Once we know more about the vaccine, it’s possible that it will become mandatory. We need to know much more about how long the vaccine protects people and what may happen over time.

Will local pharmacies deliver the COVID vaccine?

Two national pharmacy chains have signed contracts with the federal government to give the vaccine. They have not yet received the supply of the vaccines. Most likely, the first supply to pharmacies will be given to nursing homes and essential workers. The rest of the public will receive it at a later date.

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