COVID-19 Vaccine Frequently Asked Questions

Vaccine Requirements

Is the COVID-19 vaccine required?

It will be your choice whether to get the vaccine for COVID-19, but some employers, colleges, and universities may require it.

How can I get an exemption from the vaccine requirement?

If your employer or college/university requires the COVID-19 vaccine, or you are required to have the vaccine per Gov. Jay Inslee's proclamation, you should contact your employer or college/university to find out how they collect proof of vaccination, if they have an opt-out policy, and what you would need to do to opt out. The Department of Health is not involved in the employer's or college's/university's policy.

You do not need to get an exemption form from the Department of Health (DOH) for the COVID-19 vaccine. DOH does not have exemption forms for the COVID-19 vaccine. The Washington state Certificate of Exemption (COE) is only for parents/guardians who want to exempt their child from the immunizations required for children in K-12 schools, preschools, or child care. Currently, Washington does not require the COVID-19 vaccine for children to attend school or child care, so it is not included on the COE.

What is the COVID-19 vaccine requirement for K-12 employees?

On August 18, 2021, Governor Inslee announced a directive requiring all public and private K–12 school employees to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19, or obtain a religious or medical exemption by October 18, 2021.

The order applies to all employees in educational settings. For more information, see COVID-19 vaccination requirement for K-12 school employees: frequently asked questions (PDF) (Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction).

Administration and Supplies

Who should get an additional dose of COVID-19 vaccine?

Please review the CDC guidelines for immunocompromised people or visit our booster dose webpage.

Who should get a booster dose?

Please review the CDC guidelines for immunocompromised people or visit our booster dose webpage.

I am immune compromised. How many COVID-19 vaccines should I get?

Please review the CDC guidelines for immunocompromised people or visit our booster dose webpage.

What's the difference between an additional vaccine dose and a booster vaccine dose?
  • An additional dose is for patients who received the complete 2-dose vaccine series (Pfizer or Moderna) but did not have a strong enough immune response.
  • A booster dose is for patients when it's likely that their immunity after the initial vaccine series waned over time.

Please see additional guidance on our Vaccine Booster page.

How do I get the vaccine?

Find a vaccine at Vaccine Locator or call 1-833-VAX-HELP (833-829-4357), then press # (language assistance is available). Search or ask for the same type (brand) of the vaccine as your received for the first dose.

You can also text your ZIP code to 438-829 (GET VAX) or 822-862 (VACUNA) for vaccine locations near you.

If you or someone you know is homebound, fill out a secure online form. Your answers will allow us to connect individuals to available County and/or State Mobile Vaccine Teams.

What do I need to know before I get my vaccine?

Please see the CDC guidelines.

Do I have to be a U.S. citizen to get the vaccine?

No, you do not need to be a U.S. citizen to get the vaccine. That means you do not need a social security number, or other documents with your immigration status, to get the vaccine. Some vaccine providers might ask for a social security number, but you do not have to give one.

Your child does not need to be a U.S. citizen to get the vaccine. Health care providers will not ask for anyone's immigration status. In most cases, parents and guardians will need to give consent to vaccinate youth under age 18. The Department of Health recommends that all people ages 5 and older get vaccinated.

Will I be charged for the vaccine?

No. You should not be charged anything when you get the vaccine, or receive a bill from your provider or from the vaccination facility. This applies to people who have private insurance, have Apple Health (Medicaid), have Medicare, or are uninsured.

If you get other services while you are at your provider to get vaccinated, you may get a bill for an office visit. To prevent this, you can ask your provider beforehand about cost.

If you do not have health insurance, providers cannot charge you for the vaccine and may be violating the requirements of the COVID-19 vaccine program. Please email covid.vaccine@doh.wa.gov if you get charged.

Why am I being asked to show my insurance card?

When you get the vaccine, your vaccine provider may ask if you have an insurance card. This is so they can get reimbursed for giving you the vaccine (vaccine administration fee). Let your provider know if you do not have insurance. You will still be able to get the vaccine at no-cost.

What if I don't have an insurance card?

If you do not have insurance coverage, tell your provider. You will still get the vaccine at no-cost.

What about office visit fees?

You should not be charged for an office visit if you only receive the vaccine. If other services are performed along with the administration of the vaccine, it may be billed as an office visit. Seek clarification from your provider beforehand and from your insurance company if you are charged an office visit fee.

I received a bill from my provider for the COVID-19 vaccine or the vaccine administration fee. What do I do?

If you have health insurance, contact your insurance plan first. If this doesn't address the issue, you can also file a complaint with the Office of the Insurance Commissioner. If you do not have health insurance, remember that providers are not allowed to charge you for the vaccine and therefore may be violating the requirements of the COVID-19 vaccine program. Please email covid.vaccine@doh.wa.gov.

If I don't get a booster dose, am I still fully vaccinated?

A person is fully vaccinated two weeks after receiving all recommended doses in the primary series of their COVID-19 vaccination.

A person is up to date with their COVID-19 vaccination if they have received all recommended doses in the primary series and one booster when eligible. Getting a second booster is not necessary to be considered up to date at this time.

If I'm late for my second dose of mRNA vaccine, do I need to restart the vaccine series?

No. If you are late for your second dose you do not need to restart the vaccine series. Get the second dose as soon as possible after the recommended number of days have passed since your first dose (21 days for Comirnaty/Pfizer, 28 days for Spikevax/Moderna). It's important to get both doses no matter how far apart you end up getting the second dose.

What is a vaccination record card?

You should receive a paper vaccination record card when you get your first dose of COVID-19 vaccine. This card will tell you which type of vaccine you got (Comirnaty/Pfizer-BioNTech, SpikeVax/Moderna, or Johnson & Johnson) and the date you received it.

COVID-19 vaccination is required by many businesses, events and employers. Go to the COVID-19 Vaccination Verification page to learn more about the types of proof accepted in Washington.

Do vaccine doses go to waste if people don't show up for their appointments?

It's common for some vaccine appointments to open up again after a clinic is fully booked. Sometimes people reschedule their vaccine appointments or they find an option at a different clinic that works better for them. These unfilled appointments do not mean that vaccine is going to waste. Unused doses can be given at a later date if properly stored. Vaccine wastage has been very minimal in Washington state.

I got vaccinated as part of a US-based clinical trial. Am I considered fully vaccinated?

Some people who participated in US-based COVID-19 vaccine clinical trials are considered fully vaccinated, while others will need to get fully vaccinated with an FDA-authorized or FDA-approved vaccine. See the table below and the CDC's page for more information. If you have questions about whether you are considered fully vaccinated, please contact your health care provider.

  Active vaccine Placebo vaccine

AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine

If you received COVID-19 vaccine as part of a U.S.-based clinical trial of AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine.

If you got the “active” vaccine, you are considered fully vaccinated 2 weeks after you complete the vaccine series.

You do not need any additional doses of an FDA-authorized or FDA-approved COVID-19 vaccine.

If you got the placebo vaccine, you are not considered fully vaccinated.

You should get the full vaccine series of an FDA-authorized or FDA-approved COVID-19 vaccine.

Novavax COVID-19 vaccine

If you received COVID-19 vaccine as part of a U.S.-based clinical trial of Novavax COVID-19 vaccine.

If you got the “active” vaccine, you are considered fully vaccinated 2 weeks after you complete the vaccine series.

You do not need any additional doses of COVID-19 vaccine

If you got the placebo vaccine you should follow current prevention measures to protect yourself against COVID-19 and be offered the full series of an FDA-authorized or FDA-approved COVID-19 vaccine.

Safety and Effectiveness

What does it mean when a vaccine is fully licensed?

For full approval, the FDA evaluates data over a longer period of time than for an emergency use authorization. For the vaccine to be given full approval, the data must show a high level of safety, effectiveness, and quality control in vaccine production. The purpose of emergency use authorization is to ensure that people can get lifesaving vaccines prior to a longer-term analysis of data. However, EUA still requires a very thorough review of clinical data—just over a shorter period of time.

How do we know the vaccines are safe?

To make sure that COVID-19 vaccines are safe, CDC expanded and strengthened the country’s ability to monitor vaccine safety. As a result, vaccine safety experts can monitor and detect issues that may not have been seen during the COVID-19 vaccine clinical trials.

How will a COVID-19 vaccine work in my body?

The COVID-19 vaccine teaches your immune system to recognize the coronavirus. When you get the vaccine, your immune system makes antibodies (“fighter cells”) that stay in your blood and protect you in case you are infected with the virus. You get protection against the disease without having to get sick.

When enough people in the community can fight off the coronavirus, it has nowhere to go. This means we can stop the spread quicker and get a little closer to ending this pandemic.

Watch this video on how vaccines work in your body.

How are COVID-19 vaccines made?

This short video explains how COVID vaccines are made.

What is an mRNA vaccine?

A messenger RNA, or mRNA vaccine is a new type of vaccine. mRNA vaccines teach your cells how to make a harmless piece of the “spike protein.” The spike protein is what you see on the surface of the coronavirus. Your immune system sees that the protein doesn't belong there and your body will start to build an immune response and make antibodies. This is similar to what happens when we “naturally” get a COVID-19 infection. Once it does its job, the mRNA quickly breaks down and the body clears it away in a few days.

Although we have used mRNA for other types of medical and veterinary care in the past, creating vaccines using this method is a huge leap forward in science and may mean future vaccines can be created more easily.

You may read more about how mRNA vaccines work on CDC's website, or watch this video from Dr. Paul Offit at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia.

What is a viral vector vaccine?

This type of vaccine uses a weakened version of a different virus (the “vector”) that gives your cells instructions. The vector enters a cell and uses the cell's machinery to create a harmless piece of the COVID-19 spike protein. The cell displays the spike protein on its surface, and your immune system sees that it doesn't belong there. Your immune system will start to make antibodies and activate other immune cells to fight off what it thinks is an infection. Your body learns how to protect you against future infection with COVID-19, without you having to get sick.

What types of symptoms are normal after receiving the vaccine?

Like other routine vaccines, the most common side effects are a sore arm, fatigue, headache, and muscle pain.

These symptoms are a sign that the vaccine is working. In the Pfizer and Moderna trials, these side effects occurred most often within two days of getting the vaccine, and lasted about a day. Side effects were more common after the second dose (of the initial two-dose series) than the first dose. In the Johnson & Johnson clinical trials, side effects lasted an average of one to two days. For all three vaccines, people over age 55 were less likely to report side effects than younger people.

What ingredients are in the vaccines?

You may see some rumors and untrue ingredients listed online or in social media. These are generally myths. The ingredients in the COVID-19 vaccines are pretty typical for vaccines. They contain the active ingredient of mRNA or modified adenovirus along with other ingredients like fats, salts, and sugars that protect the active ingredient, help it work better in the body, and protect the vaccine during storage and transport.

Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson and Johnson vaccines do not contain human cells (including fetal cells), the COVID-19 virus, latex, preservatives, or any animal by-products including pork products or gelatin. The vaccines are not grown in eggs and do not contain any egg products.

See this Q&A; webpage from the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia for more information about ingredients. You can also find the full ingredients lists in the Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson fact sheets.

Does the Johnson & Johnson vaccine contain fetal tissue?

The Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine was created using the same technology as many other vaccines. It does not contain parts of fetuses or fetal cells.

In this video, Dr. Paul Offit addresses fetal cells and COVID-19 vaccines:

Can I get the COVID-19 vaccine if I'm pregnant, lactating or planning to become pregnant?

Yes, data show that COVID-19 vaccines are safe during pregnancy. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), and Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine (SMFM) recommend the COVID-19 vaccine for people who are pregnant, lactating, or planning to get pregnant.

Some studies show that if you are vaccinated, your baby may even get antibodies against COVID-19 through pregnancy and lactation. Unvaccinated pregnant people who get COVID-19 are at increased risk of severe complications like preterm birth or stillbirth. In addition, people who get COVID-19 while pregnant are two to three times more likely to need advanced life support and a breathing tube.

For more resources about getting the COVID-19 vaccine while pregnant and breastfeeding, please see up to date information on the One Vax, Two Lives website.

What is an Emergency Use Authorization (EUA)?

An EUA allows the FDA to make a product available during a declared state of emergency before it has a full license. Any EUA granted by the FDA is further vetted by the Scientific Safety Review Workgroup, as part of the Western States Pact.

What is the Western States Pact?

On October 27, Gov. Jay Inslee announced Washington joined other western states to review the safety and efficacy of COVID-19 vaccines once authorized by the FDA. This workgroup will provide another layer of scrutiny and expert review to this process.

The Scientific Safety Review Workgroup includes Washington, Oregon, Nevada, Colorado and California. Inslee announced Washington's representatives to the workgroup on Nov. 9.

The panel includes experts appointed by all member states, and nationally recognized scientists with expertise in immunization and public health. When the FDA authorizes a vaccine for emergency use, the panel reviews all publicly available data concurrently with federal reviews, and presents a report as soon as possible. This process took place for the three vaccines we currently have available in Washington state, and will happen for all COVID-19 vaccines that are granted an Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) in the future. Review usually takes about 1 to 2 days and is completed before the first vaccine shipment arrives in Washington, so it does not delay the process.

Read the findings of the Western States Scientific Safety Review Workgroup:

Is it COVID-19 or a vaccine reaction?

After getting a COVID-19 vaccine, you may have some side effects. These are normal signs that your body is building protection against COVID-19. Your arm may hurt where you got your shot or you may have redness or swelling. You may be tired or have a headache, muscle pain, chills, fever, or nausea. They may affect your ability to do daily activities but should go away in a few days. Some people have no side effects. Learn more about possible side effects after getting a COVID-19 vaccine.

If the symptoms do not go away after a few days, you should seek medical advice. If there’s a possibility you have COVID-19 or were exposed, please stay away from others as a precaution. If you experience a medical emergency after getting the COVID-19 vaccine, call 9-1-1 immediately.

Can I get the COVID-19 vaccine if I've had an allergic reaction to a vaccine in the past?

The vaccine should not be given to people with a known history of severe allergic reaction, such as anaphylaxis, to a previous dose of an mRNA or viral vector vaccine, or to any ingredient of the Pfizer-BioNTech/Comirnaty, Moderna/Spikevax, or Johnson & Johnson–Janssen COVID-19 vaccines.

People who have had a severe allergic reaction to other vaccines or injectable therapies may still be able to receive the vaccine. However, providers should do a risk assessment and counsel them about potential risks. If the patient decides to get the vaccine, the provider should observe them for 30 minutes to monitor for any immediate reactions.

The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) recommends that providers observe all other patients for at least 15 minutes after receiving the vaccine to monitor for an allergic reaction. See ACIP's interim clinical considerations for vaccines for more information.

What happens if I get sick after getting the COVID-19 vaccine?

It's normal to have some side effects after getting the vaccine. This can be a sign that the vaccine is working. If you experience a medical emergency after getting the COVID-19 vaccine, call 9-1-1 immediately.

If you get sick after getting the vaccine, you should report the adverse event to the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS). An “adverse event” is any health problem or side effect that happens after a vaccination.

For more information about VAERS, see "What is VAERS?" below.

What is VAERS?

VAERS is an early warning system led by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). VAERS can help detect problems that may be related to a vaccine. Anyone (health care provider, patient, caregiver) can report possible adverse reactions to VAERS.

There are limits to the system. A VAERS report does not mean the vaccine caused the reaction or outcome. It only means that the vaccination happened first. VAERS is set up to help scientists notice trends or reasons they should investigate a possible problem. It is not a list of verified outcomes of vaccination. When you make a report to VAERS, you help the CDC and the FDA identify possible health concerns and make sure vaccines are safe. If any issues arise, they will take action and notify health care providers about potential issues.

What is a COVID-19 variant?

Viruses mutate (change) as they spread from person to person. A ‘variant' is a mutated strain of virus. Some variants disappear over time and some continue to spread in communities.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) identifies the virus variants that are concerning. Currently, several variants are concerning because they spread quickly and more easily, causing more COVID-19 infections.

Does the COVID-19 vaccine work against variant strains?

Getting vaccinated helps slow the spread of the virus, and keeps variant strains in check. It also gives you strong protection against hospitalization and death for all known virus variants. Some vaccinated people may still get infected with a variant strain, but research shows they tend to experience mild symptoms. It's important to get all recommended doses so you have maximum protection against variants.

Vaccination is the best way to protect you, your loved ones, and your community. High vaccination coverage will reduce the spread of the virus and help prevent new virus variants from emerging. Visit our pages on the COVID-19 variants and vaccine breakthrough for more information.

Why should I get the COVID-19 vaccine if most people survive having the disease?

Death is not the only risk from having COVID-19. Many people who get COVID-19 only have mild symptoms. However, the virus is extremely unpredictable, and we know some COVID-19 variants are more likely to make you really sick. Some people can get very sick or die from COVID-19, even young people with no chronic health conditions. Others, known as “COVID long-haulers” may get symptoms that last for months and affect their quality of life. We also don't know yet all the long-term effects of COVID-19 since it's a new virus. Getting vaccinated is our best protection against the virus. Even if you're young and healthy, you should get a COVID-19 vaccine.

If I get a COVID-19 vaccine, do I still need to take other precautions?

Yes, even if you get vaccinated, you're required to wear a mask in some public indoor settings. Find more information on our Masks and Face Coverings FAQ page. We also recommend you wash your hands often, stay six feet apart, and limit gatherings.

The COVID-19 vaccines work well, but they are not 100% effective. Some people may get COVID-19 even if they've been vaccinated. With the rise of more transmissible variants, it's important that all people take precautions such as wearing masks to reduce transmission of the virus.

What is the difference between vaccination and immunity?

Natural immunity from infection does offer some level of immunity against reinfection but it is important to stress that initial infection among unvaccinated persons increases risk for serious illness, hospitalization, and death. While some people may develop antibodies after COVID-19 infection, others may not. For those that develop some immunity after infection, there is no way to tell how strong that protection is, how long it will last or even which variant the immunity is for.

Because we cannot rely on natural immunity to prevent reinfection or severe illness from COVID-19, being up to date on vaccination remains the best protection and primary strategy to prevent SARS-COV-2 infections, associated complications, and onward transmission.

For more information on immunity and COVID-19, please review these helpful resources.

Timeline and Availability

I’m up to date with the COVID-19 vaccines. If I'm exposed to COVID-19, do I need to quarantine?

Please refer to our Isolation and Quarantine for COVID-19 page for isolation and quarantine guidelines.

Can people under age 18 get the vaccine?

Yes. People ages 5 and over can get the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. Youth who are 5 to 17 years of age may need consent from a parent or guardian to get the vaccine, unless they are legally emancipated.

Check with the vaccine clinic about their requirements for showing proof of parental consent or legal emancipation.

I've had COVID-19. Can I get the vaccine?

Yes, the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) recommends anyone who previously had COVID-19 to get the vaccine. Data shows it is uncommon to be re-infected with COVID-19 in the 90 days after you were infected, so you might have some protection (called natural immunity). However, we don't know how long natural immunity might last.

People who currently have COVID-19 or who have been recently exposed to COVID-19 should wait to get vaccinated until they feel better and their isolation/quarantine period is finished, if possible. If there is a high risk they could infect others, they may be vaccinated during their quarantine period to prevent spreading the disease.

For isolation and quarantine-specific guidance documents, please visit the Quarantine and Isolation tab of our Isolation and Quarantine for COVID-19 webpage.

Can I get the COVID-19 vaccine when I get routine vaccinations?

Yes. The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) changed their recommendations on May 12, 2021. You can now get a COVID-19 vaccine at the same time that you get other vaccines.

You do not need to schedule your child's required school vaccinations or other recommended vaccines separately from COVID-19 vaccination. A COVID-19 vaccine appointment is another opportunity to get your child caught up on all of their recommended vaccines.

School and Child Care

Will the state require COVID-19 vaccination for K-12 school entry?

The Washington State Board of Health, not the Department of Health, has the authority to create immunization requirements for children in K-12 schools RCW 28A.210.140. There is no school or childcare requirement for COVID-19 vaccine at this time.

Will there be any flexibility in school immunization requirements for the 2021-2022 school year given the COVID-19 pandemic?

The Washington State Board of Health determines if there should be any changes to school immunization requirements. At this point, school immunization requirements will remain the same. Children will need to meet vaccination requirements before they can attend the first day of school. Find out what vaccines are required for school at www.doh.wa.gov/scci.

Distribution

How will vaccine distribution work?

The CDC primarily will manage the distribution of COVID-19 vaccine. The current plan is to distribute the vaccine through two mechanisms:

  • Use of a centralized distributor. This mechanism is similar to how we distribute vaccine through our Childhood Vaccine Program.
  • Direct shipments to Indian Health Services clinics; pharmacy chains; and large multi-state healthcare systems.

As part of this planning effort, the federal government and the state are considering many factors such as prioritization of high-risk groups, vaccine supply and distribution, logistics, safety, and clinical guidance. Because the current top three vaccine candidates all require different temperatures, properly transporting and storing the vaccine at the right temperature is a large concern and big part of the planning. Vaccine distribution will adjust over time as the number of available doses increases, moving from limited to broader populations in a phased approach.

Who are your partners in Washington state?

Since there are numerous decisions to make, we are engaging and coordinating with tribal nations, local government, community leaders, and others partners to develop and implement vaccination efforts. We are doing this because:

  • We need input on prioritization of the initial doses of vaccine, and how to best distribute it.
  • We want to support vaccinators in being ready to vaccinate the initial priority groups.

Planning

How have you planned for the COVID-19 vaccine?

We've been working with the federal government and local partners within Washington to plan for the distribution of a COVID-19 vaccine. We turned in our interim vaccine distribution plan to the CDC on October 16, 2020.

On October 29, 2020, the CDC released version 2 of the COVID-19 Vaccination Program Interim Playbook for Jurisdiction Operations. The second update of our plan included changes guided by the CDC's new playbook along with other sources of feedback.

Please find the latest version of the plan on our vaccine distribution page.

Has DOH received federal funding for COVID-19 vaccine distribution?

Yes. We received $5 million in federal funding for COVID-19 vaccine response preparation. This funding has been used to support partnerships with local health jurisdictions and tribal entities, mass vaccination clinics, vendor contracts, and staffing. The department has redirected some current staff to this program and is hiring additional positions to support this work.

What other kinds of information are you gathering?

We've conducted focus groups and key interviews with disproportionately impacted communities, workers, and business sectors throughout October. Key groups include African American/Black communities, Latinx community, Pacific Islander communities, immigrant and refugee communities, older adults, people experiencing homelessness, farmworkers, people with underlying health conditions, and individuals with disabilities.

We have also engaged with communities and sectors who are at higher risk for getting or spreading COVID-19. This includes essential workers and businesses, health care workers and providers, college students, youth, early learning providers, and parents.

We've gathered feedback using interviews, focus groups, community conversations, and surveys. Learn more about engagement efforts.

What are other states doing?

Learn what other states and territories are doing here.

Vaccine Tracking and Records

How will the state track COVID-19 vaccine?

The department is using various tools to track and administer vaccine. The federal government is developed a tool called the Vaccine Administration Management System (VAMS) to support COVID-19 vaccine work. DOH has decided not to use VAMS and is instead using a program called PrepMod, along with our state's Immunization Information System (IIS).

The IIS is a lifetime registry that keeps track of immunization records for people of all ages. The system is a secure, web-based tool for health care providers and schools. The IIS connects people who receive, administer, record, and order vaccines in Washington. One of our planning areas is to ensure that the system can meet the demands of a COVID-19 vaccine program, and ensure the registry connects with any federal systems.

Questions

My question wasn't answered here. How can I find out more?

Media inquiries can be sent to doh-pio@doh.wa.gov. General questions can be sent to covid.vaccine@doh.wa.gov.