COVID-19 vaccine: What to know

The COVID-19 pandemic led to a rapid effort to create effective vaccines. Some pharmaceutical companies have invested significant resources, and many were able to develop a vaccine in record time. The U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) has authorized three COVID-19 vaccines for emergency use and they are now available for some Americans. These vaccines are an important step in slowing the spread of the disease, along with wearing masks, social distancing, good hygiene (like hand washing) and staying home, if you feel sick.

older woman with mask on getting a shot


As the FDA authorizes the emergency use of these vaccines, due to supply limitations distribution is being coordinated by state and local health departments working with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. UnitedHealthcare’s Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Anne Docimo, provides answers to seven common questions about the vaccines and what to expect. 

  1. What do we know about COVID-19 vaccine safety and effectiveness? 
    The FDA has a review process for safety and effectiveness that must be completed before a vaccine can be authorized for emergency use. This vaccine safety system ensures that all vaccines, including the recently FDA-authorized COVID-19 vaccines, meet requirements for use by the general public. Per the FDA, each vaccine currently authorized for emergency use had clinical trial data that showed a strong effectiveness rate at preventing the disease. Even after emergency use authorization, the FDA will continue to research and review clinical data about the vaccines. 
  2. How will I know when to get the COVID-19 vaccination?
    Due to limited quantities of the COVID-19 vaccine, distribution is being coordinated in a phased approach. Check with your state and local health departments to learn which groups are currently prioritized. You may also speak with your primary care provider or other health care professionals about vaccine recommendations, given your specific health conditions. 
  3. If a vaccine requires two doses, when should I plan on getting the second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine?
    It’s important to get both doses in the required timeframe – as well as ensuring both doses are from the same manufacturer. You should plan to schedule your second dose with the same provider when you get your first dose. That way you know that you will be getting the right vaccine at the right time. If you need a reminder, try the CDC’s mobile app, v-safe.
  4. Will I have a choice in which vaccine I receive?
    Like the flu vaccine, vaccination providers will administer the COVID-19 vaccine based on availability. Talk to your health care provider if you have questions about the vaccines and your health. 
  5. Are there people who should not get the COVID-19 vaccine?
    There are certain conditions and ages that are not yet recommended to get the COVID-19 vaccine, so talk to your health care provider to see if you are eligible. If you’ve ever had a severe allergic reaction to a vaccine or an injected medicine, the CDC recommends speaking with your doctor before proceeding. People who have other allergies, including seasonal, pet, food or oral medications, may still be vaccinated. You will be observed for 15-20 minutes after receiving the vaccine to be sure there is no evidence of a severe allergic reaction.  
  6. What should I do if I have a side effect from the COVID-19 vaccine? 
    Like other vaccines, the FDA-authorized COVID-19 vaccines may have some common side effects, including flu-like symptoms. However, they usually resolve within a day or two. If your side effects require emergency care, you should call 911 or go to the nearest hospital.

    If you have side effects that do not go away after a few days or that bother you, it’s important to report them to your vaccination provider or primary care provider. You should also consider notifying the CDC at 1-800-822-7967 or use the CDC’s v-safe mobile app, which will help you monitor side effects. 
  7. Once I get a COVID-19 vaccine, when will I be protected from COVID-19? 
    After you get a vaccine, you are not instantly protected. Vaccines may take several weeks after the second dose to provide full protection, and we don’t have final data yet on the duration of vaccines. The vaccines will help protect you from getting COVID-19, but you should continue to follow CDC and state health guidelines to help slow the spread of the disease — including wearing a mask, frequently washing your hands and social distancing. 

COVID-19 vaccines will continue to evolve as more information and research becomes available. For the latest about the vaccine, including coverage for UnitedHealthcare members, click here.