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.

Is there a vaccination requirement for K-12 employees?

The Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) provides COVID-19 guidance and resources for school districts, as well as resources for students and families as appropriate. Past and current vaccination guidance, along with other COVID-19 resources, can be found on the OSPI website.

Administration and Supplies

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

CDC recommends everyone 6 months and older get at least one dose of updated 2023-2024 COVID-19 vaccine. Children 6 months-4 years may need multiple doses depending on previous number of doses received. People 65 years old and older should receive an additional dose of 2023-2024 COVID-19 vaccine at least four months since their previous dose.

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

Please review the CDC guidelines for immunocompromised people.

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 you 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.

Is there a cost for COVID-19 vaccines?

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the US Federal government purchased all of the COVID-19 vaccines and made them free to every person who wanted them. Now that the COVID-19 public health emergency has ended, COVID-19 vaccines are expected to follow a similar path as other vaccines, which means they will be purchased by clinics and hospitals directly for adults. COVID-19 vaccines will still be available, but they may cost money for some adults to receive. 

Like other vaccines, COVID-19 vaccines will likely be covered by most insurance plans. COVID-19 vaccines will continue to be available at no cost to all children in Washington state until their 19th birthday through the Vaccines for Children program. There are also programs for adults that can help cover costs of getting vaccinated if they don’t have health insurance or their plan doesn’t cover the vaccine. Visit for more information on these programs.

When am I considered up to date with COVID-19 vaccination?

You are up to date with your COVID-19 vaccination if you have received the most recent dose recommended for you by the CDC.

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 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 is a protein subunit vaccine?

One of the COVID-19 vaccines authorized by the FDA is a protein subunit vaccine. Protein subunit vaccines contain pieces of the virus (proteins) that causes COVID-19 (made without using any live virus) with an additive intended to help the vaccine work better in the body. Once your immune system knows how to respond to the spike protein, it will then be able to respond quickly to the actual virus and protect you against COVID-19. Subunit vaccines cannot cause infection with the virus that causes COVID-19 and do not interact with our DNA.

What is an adjuvant?

The adjuvant in the Novavax is the additive intended to help strengthen the body’s immune response.

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, Moderna and Novavax trials, these side effects occurred most often within two days of getting the vaccine, and lasted about a day. For all 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.

The Novavax COVID-19 vaccine is a protein subunit-based vaccine that contains an additive, along with fats and sugars to help the vaccine work better in the body. This vaccine does not use mRNA.

Pfizer, Moderna, Johnson and Johnson, and Novavax 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.

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.

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 vaccine 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, Novavax 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.

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.

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

Can people under age 18 get the vaccine?

Yes, the Pfizer-BioNTech (Pfizer) vaccine and Moderna COVID-19 vaccine brands are authorized for children ages 6 months and older. The Novavax vaccine is available for ages 12+ under an EUA. Youth who are under 18 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.

Are there any special guidelines for people 65 years old or older?

Yes. Adults who are 65 years old or older should receive an additional dose of 2023-2024 COVID-19 vaccine at least 4 months after a previous 2023-2024 COVID-19 vaccine dose. Please visit Stay Up to Date with COVID-19 Vaccines for more information.

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.

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.


What is the Bridge access program? Can I still receive a COVID-19 vaccine if I don’t have insurance?

The Bridge Access Program temporarily provides updated 2023-2024 COVID-19 vaccines at no cost to an estimate 25-30 million adults aged 19 and older without health insurance, or whose insurance does not cover all COVID-19 costs, through December 2024.
To find a participating pharmacy location in this program, visit

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.


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