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COVID-19 Vaccines

Updated 3/17/22

What vaccines are available? Who is eligible to be vaccinated?

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has authorized several COVID-19 vaccines through an Emergency Use Authorization (EUA).

  • The Pfizer-BioNTech EUA two-dose vaccine is available for adults and children 5 years of age and older. Another version, Pfizer-BioNTech (COMIRNATY) two-dose vaccine has been granted full approval for adults and children 16 years of age and older.
  • The Moderna EUA two-dose and Janssen/Johnson & Johnson EUA one-dose vaccines are available for adults 18 years of age and older. Another version of Moderna (Spikevax) has been granted full approval for adults 18 years of age and older.
  • In addition, boosters have been authorized for adults and children 5 years and older but recommended only for certain people. See more information below in the booster question.

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), as of March 16, 2022 over 216 million Americans, or about 65% of the total U.S. population are fully vaccinated. More than 96 million, or about 44% have received a booster dose. About 88% of adults over the age 65, who are at greatest risk of getting COVID-19, are fully vaccinated and about 66% have received a booster.

For more information about the number of cases and risks visit our COVID-19 facts page.

Are there COVID-19 vaccine and mask requirements in Los Angeles?

Although the CDC recommends certain people get them, COVID-19 vaccines are not required. It is your choice whether to receive one and it should not change your standard medical care. In the state of California, certain employees, such as those in hospitals, adult care facilities and public schools, may be required to have a vaccine in order to work. Workers required by their employer may be exempt from vaccination due to closely held religious beliefs or qualifying medical reasons. Check with your employer for additional information.

Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) has delayed enforcing a vaccination mandate until fall of 2022 for children aged 12 and older to attend in-person classes in LASUD and charter schools. Booster shots are not required. After the mandate next fall, any unvaccinated children will be provided with the option to learn from home. As of March 12, 2022 the state and Los Angeles County has lifted requirements for students and staff to wear masks indoors at schools, however, Los Angeles Unified School District still requires them. Visit the LAUSD website for more information.

As of March 9, 2022 the City of Los Angeles is in the process of ending its requirement to show proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test mandates for public spaces and mega-events, although businesses will still have the option to require them. They are still required for health care settings. Check the City's Safe Pass LA website for more information and the latest updates. As of March 4, 2022, the County of Los Angeles lifted its indoor mask requirement in most businesses, making it optional for individuals. Masks are still required in healthcare settings (e.g. hospitals, long term and senior care facilities), public transportation, homeless shelters, emergency shelters and correctional/detention facilities, with some exemptions. Click here for more information.

Do children need to be vaccinated?

The CDC is recommending that children 5 years of age and older get vaccinated. Evidence suggests that children with underlying medical conditions are more at risk than other children of having a severe illness when infected with COVID-19. Similar to adults, these conditions include obesity, asthma, chronic lung disease, sickle cell disease, or immunosuppression.

When healthy children without these and other underlying conditions are infected with the virus that causes COVID-19, most have been less severely affected by it. Most are also not as severely affected as adults. According to the CDC, cumulatively, as of January 27, 2022, over 9 million children of the approximately 28 million children the United States under the age of 18 have tested positive for COVID-19 since the onset of the pandemic in March 2020. Of those, about 1% have resulted in hospitalization and to date, only 1,210 children have died as a result of a confirmed or "presumed" COVID-19 case, which is less than 1% (0.013%). This very low percentage of deaths has not statistically changed throughout the entire pandemic, indicating that death in children with COVID-19 has been rare. See our Facts & Statistics page for more information including the CDC's definition of confirmed and "presumed" cases.

What are the vaccines made of?

Currently the vaccines are either messenger RNA (mRNA) or viral vector/adenovirus vaccines, both of which use newer technology. Another more traditional protein subunit vaccine may be available soon.

Messenger RNA (mRNA) - Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna

Messenger RNA (mRNA) vaccines are available in the United States from Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna. These vaccines use new technology for the development of mRNA that has been engineered in a lab. Tiny pieces of genetic code are delivered to body cells by a small enclosure made of fat. After the vaccination, when the mRNA delivery enters a cell, it provides the body with instructions for making the spike (S) protein found in the COVID-19 virus. The S protein stimulates the body to react with an immune response, fighting the actual virus if the body becomes infected. Although they had generally high rates of effectiveness in initial studies, its efficacy has been reduced during continuing research over time. The CDC recently recommended that some people who received mRNA vaccines get a booster shot against virus variants, such as Delta, that have emerged. See more information about boosters below. Visit the CDC website for more information about mRNA vaccines.

Viral vector / adenovirus vaccines - Janssen/Johnson & Johnson

Another vaccine, available from Janssen/Johnson & Johnson, is based on new viral vector or adenovirus technology. This vaccine extracts genetic DNA material from the COVID-19 virus and uses a viral vector (an unrelated common virus that doesn’t replicate) as a shell to deliver it into body cells. After the vaccination, when the viral vector enters a cell, it provides instructions for making the spike (S) protein found in the COVID-19 virus. The S protein stimulates the body to react, creating defensive white blood cells and antibodies, which will fight the virus if the body becomes infected. While studies showed it had generally high rates of effectiveness in initial studies, its efficacy has been reduced during continuing research over time. The CDC recently recommended that some people who received the viral vector vaccine get a booster shot against virus variants, such as Delta, that have emerged. See more information about boosters below. Visit the CDC website for more information about viral vector vaccines.

Protein subunit vaccines - other

A third type of vaccine, called a protein subunit vaccine is based on traditional science similar to the how protein-based flu vaccines are made. It uses a tiny piece of the coronavirus, the spike (S) protein, which has undergone a purification process. The vaccine includes a nanoparticle dose of the protein, along with a natural soapbark tree extraction that encourages immune cells to activate. Unlike mRNA or viral vector vaccines, the body isn’t required to make a protein since the protein is already in the dose. After the vaccination, when the body’s immune system recognizes an invading S protein, it creates a potent immune response, which will fight the virus if infected. The pharmaceutical company Novavax has developed this type of vaccine and in clinical trials, it had an over 90% rate of efficacy against the original virus and several variants. On October 1, 2021, Novavax announced that it was applying for an Emergency Use Authorization with the FDA in the United States for NVX-CoV2373 but the vaccine has not yet been authorized. Visit the NIH website for more information about protein subunit vaccines. Click here for Novavax clinical trial information, updated on December 15, 2021.

How effective is the vaccine? What is a breakthrough infection after vaccination?

According to the CDC, the Pfizer, Moderna, and Janssen/Johnson & Johnson vaccines are not entirely effective and the duration of protection wanes. On December 9, 2021, a spokesperson for the FDA said, “Since we first authorized the vaccine, new evidence indicates that vaccine effectiveness is waning after the second dose of the vaccine for all adults and for those in the 16 and 17 year old age group.” In addition, in their fact sheets, Pfizer, Moderna and Janssen/Johnson & Johnson state that their COVID-19 vaccines may not protect all vaccine recipients.

Fully vaccinated people can become infected with variants, be infectious, and spread the virus to others. As of February 25, 2022, the CDC has updated their recommendations regardless of vaccination status to include:

  • Everyone aged 2 years and older wear a well-fitting mask in public indoor settings in areas of substantial or high transmission. Note: As of March 9, 2022 most areas of the United States, including Los Angeles County and the City of Los Angeles, have eliminated or are in the process of eliminating mask requirements. See more information in the "Are there Covid-19 vaccine and mask requirements in Los Angeles?" section above.
  • Get tested if experiencing COVID-19 symptoms.
  • Isolate for 5 days if tested positive for COVID-19 in the prior 10 days or if experiencing symptoms.
  • Follow other local and state regulations.

Visit our Symptoms & Treatments page for information about treatments that are now available for vaccinated and unvaccinated people who are infected with COVID-19.

How safe are the vaccines? What are the side effects?

According to the CDC, the vaccines are safe. Some people have no side effects, while others have reported common side effects such as swelling and pain at the injection site, fever, headache, tiredness, muscle pain, chills and nausea. See additional side effects for each vaccine included in their fact sheets, below. In addition see the next question about conditions, hospitalizations and deaths that have been tracked in the VAERS reporting system after receiving a COVID-19 vaccine.

If you have any side effects that bother you or do not go away call your vaccination administrator or healthcare provider. If you have severe reaction, call 911.

Visit the CDC website for vaccine Fact Sheets. Summaries are listed below.

Pfizer-BioNTech

According to Pfizer’s fact sheet data (updated January 31, 2022) for recipients 5-11 years of age and 12 years of age and older - in addition to the side effects noted above by the CDC, as discovered after the clinical trials, there is an increased risk of myocarditis and pericarditis from the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine. This is higher among males under 40 years of age than females, and highest in males 12-29 years of age. In addition, swollen lymph nodes, decreased appetite, diarrhea, and severe allergic reactions such as anaphylaxis, rash pruritus, urticarial and angioedema have been reported. Information is not yet available about long-term effects. Data is also not available on the effects on the breastfed infant or on milk production/excretion. Additional adverse reactions, some of which may be serious, may become apparent with more widespread use. This may not be all of the adverse reactions or side effects. See VAERS reporting information below for adverse reactions and side effects that have been reported thus far.

Moderna

According to Moderna’s fact sheet data (updated January 31, 2022), in addition to the side effects noted above by the CDC, adverse reactions that have been discovered after the clinical trials from the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine include cardiac disorders (myocarditis, pericarditis), higher among males under 40 years of age, and highest in males 18-24 years of age, immune system disorders (anaphylaxis, severe allergic reactions), and nervous system disorders (syncope). In addition, difficulty breathing, swelling of face and throat, fast heartbeat, dizziness, weakness, rashes, chest pain, lymphadenopathy (swollen lymph nodes) and Bell’s palsy have been reported. Data is insufficient to inform vaccine-associated risks in pregnancy, and data is not available to assess its effects on the breastfed infant or on milk production/excretion. Additional adverse reactions, some of which may be serious, may become apparent with more widespread use. This may not be all of the adverse reactions or side effects. See VAERS reporting information below for adverse reactions and side effects that have been reported thus far.

Janssen/Johnson & Johnson

According to Janssen’s fact sheet data (updated January 31, 2022), in addition to the side effects noted above by the CDC, adverse reactions to the vaccine include acute anaphylaxis and other severe allergic reactions (difficulty breathing, fast heartbeat, bad rash over the body, swelling of face and throat, dizziness, and weakness). There is also an increased risk of Thrombosis with Thrombocytopenia Syndrome (TTS) (blood clots with low levels of platelets) in males and females 18 years of older, with the highest reporting rate in females 30–49 years of age. 1 in 7 of these cases have resulted in death. In addition, there may be an increased risk of other vascular disorders (capillary leak syndrome, venous thromboembolism, immune thrombocytopenia), lymphatic system disorders, cardiac disorders (myocarditis, pericarditis), ear and labyrinth disorders (tinnitus), and nervous system disorders (Guillain-Barre syndrome, syncope, paresthesia, hypoesthesia). This may not be all of the adverse reactions or side effects. See VAERS reporting information below for adverse reactions and side effects that have been reported thus far.

The Janssen fact sheet includes notices that it should not be administered to anyone with a history of thrombosis with thrombocytopenia following the Janssen or any other adenovirus-vectored COVID-19 vaccine. In addition, anyone who had a blood clot along with a low level of platelets following the Janssen vaccine should not get another one (e.g. booster).

Note: As of December 28, 2021, the CDC prefers the Pfizer-BioNtech or Moderna COVID-19 vaccines over the Janssen/Johnson & Johnson vaccine for primary and booster vaccinations due to the risk of serious adverse events. The Janssen vaccine may be considered in some situations. More information is on the CDC website.

How is the safety of the vaccines tracked? How are problems reported?

A Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS) is a volunteer reporting system when someone has a problem or adverse event after being vaccinated. VAERS has been used for decades for all types of vaccines and is jointly operated by the CDC/HHH and FDA. It is mandatory for vaccination providers enrolled in the federal COVID-19 Vaccination Program to report adverse events to the VAERS system that are listed in the vaccine makers’ fact sheets.

The data that the VAERS system captures is under-reported and accounts for only 1% of all adverse events according to the Lazarus report. It may also not reflect actual numbers due to backlogs of adverse events that healthcare providers have not yet entered into the system. HHS personnel may not have reviewed all of the adverse events in the system and may not find a causal relationship to the vaccines.

The OpenVaers report is a helpful tool that provides charts to the public based on the VAERS data. As of March 4, 2022 VAERS data shows 1,168,892 adverse reactions and side effects after receiving the COVID-19 vaccines have been reported thus far, including:

  • 25,158 deaths (including 86 children aged 0-17 years old)
  • 138,247 hospitalizations (including 1,400 children aged 0-17 years old)
  • 122,734 urgent care visits
  • 179,952 doctor office visits
  • 46,515 permanently disabled
  • 40,716 severe allergic reaction
  • 35,913 myocarditis/pericarditis
  • 28,698 life threatening conditions
  • 14,544 Bell's palsey
  • 12,953 heart attacks
  • 9,400 anaphylaxis
  • 5,890 thrombocytopenia/low platelet
  • 4,279 miscarriages

Visit the OpenVaers website for more information and additional data about other conditions that have been reported after receiving the COVID-19 vaccines. This data includes reports from the United states and other countries that are using COVID-19 vaccinations manufactured in the United States.

Do I need to get a booster shot if I've been vaccinated?

Due to waning effectiveness of the primary vaccine (see more information above), the CDC now recommends boosters for adults 12 years and older, or 18 years and older, depending on the vaccine maker. A summary for each is below. Visit the CDC website for more information.

Pfizer-BioNTech

The Pfizer-BioNTech EUA booster has been authorized for adults and children 12 years and older if they completed their primary vaccine two-dose series at least 5 months before. This shot is the same formulation as the primary vaccine. According to information released by the CDC on February 22, 2022, the CDC has not systematically evaluated the safety, immunogenicity, and efficacy of an additional dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine (as either an additional primary dose for immunocompromised or as a booster dose).

Moderna

The Moderna EUA booster has been authorized for adults and children 18 years and older if they completed their primary vaccine two-dose series at least 5 months before. This shot is the same formulation as the primary vaccine but at half the amount. According to information released by the CDC on February 22, 2022, the CDC has not systematically evaluated the safety, immunogenicity, and efficacy of an additional dose of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine (as either an additional primary dose for immunocompromised or as a booster dose).

Janssen/Johnson & Johnson

This vaccine may be considered in some situations but the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccines are preferred by the CDC in most situations. The Janssen booster has been authorized for adults and children 18 years and older if they completed their primary one-dose vaccine at least 2 months before. This shot is the same formulation as the primary vaccine. On December 14, 2021, the Janssen fact sheet was revised advising that certain people not receive a Janssen vaccine or booster. See "How safe are the vaccines" question above for more information.

Where do I get a vaccination or booster?

Residents may receive communication from their health care provider with information on how to receive the vaccine. To find locations which are administering free vaccines and for additional information, visit the Los Angeles County Vaccination page.

Where can I get up-to-date information?

The information on this page has been obtained from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the National Institutes of Health (NIAID), and the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health. You may check back here as we periodically update this information.

Our Resources page also has links to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, City of Los Angeles, and World Health Organization for up-to-date information locally, nationally and worldwide.

The information on this page is provided for general, informational purposes and not personalized medical advice. Please contact your health care provider for medical advice specific to your situation and/or regarding getting the vaccine or booster. If you are having a medical emergency please call 911.

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