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COVID-19: Frequently Asked Questions

About the COVID-19 Vaccines Scheduling an Appointment & Getting the Vaccine
Additional and Booster Dose Availability Safety, Side Effects and Other Concerns
Immunocompromised Patients Other Vaccine Restrictions and Special Cases
Fertility, Pregnancy & Breastfeeding Proof of COVID-19 Vaccination 

ABOUT THE COVID-19 VACCINES

WHAT VACCINES ARE AVAILABLE FOR COVID-19?

Pfizer Inc./BioNTech (trade name Comirnaty) received full approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on August 23, 2021, as a two-dose series of its COVID-19 vaccine in individuals 16 years of age and older. It is also authorized under Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) to be administered to:

  • Individuals 12 through 15 years (as a two-dose series), and
  • Provide a third dose to certain immunocompromised individuals 12 and older

Moderna received Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) in December 2020 as a two-dose series for individuals 18 years and older. It is also authorized to be administered to provide a third dose to certain immunocompromised individuals 18 years and older.

Johnson & Johnson's Janssen vaccine received EUA approval in late February 2021. This COVID-19 vaccine is a one-dose series for individuals 18 years and older.

DOES THE VACCINE PROTECT AGAINST THE NEW COVID-19 VARIANTS?

Researchers are looking at this now. Initial research shows that the approved vaccines provide very good  protection against severe infection and hospitalization, even against the Delta variant. Protection against infection from the Delta variant is somewhat decreased, but the “breakthrough” infections are generally mild among vaccinated people compared to unvaccinated people. The good news is that in the same way that the flu vaccine is adjusted each year to work against the dominant strain of flu, COVID-19 vaccine boosters or annual vaccines could be modified to work against the dominant strains.

SHOULD I GET THE SAME VACCINE IF IT REQUIRES TWO DOSES?

Yes. You should get the same brand vaccine for both doses.

WHEN WILL I HAVE THE FULL IMMUNITY FROM THE VACCINE?

People are considered fully vaccinated 2 weeks after their second dose in a 2-dose series, such as the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines, or 2 weeks after a single-dose vaccine, such as Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen vaccine. It is possible that you could become infected with COVID-19 in the few days before or after being vaccinated.

Given the circulation of the highly contagious Delta variant, even after you receive the required doses of vaccine, continue to avoid crowded indoor spaces, maintain physical separation, wear cloth face coverings in public places and practice good hand hygiene.

CAN THE VACCINE GIVE ME COVID-19?

No. None of the vaccines contain a live virus, so the vaccine cannot give you COVID-19.

WHAT ARE THE INGREDIENTS IN THE VACCINES?

The Pfizer, Moderna and Janssen vaccines have fact sheets that list the ingredients of each vaccine. Those fact sheets can be found at:

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ADDITIONAL AND BOOSTER DOSE AVAILABILITY

WHO IS ELIGIBLE NOW TO GET AN ADDITIONAL COVID-19 VACCINE DOSE?

On Thursday, August 12, 2021, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration amended the emergency use authorizations (EUAs) for both the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines to allow for the use of an additional dose in certain immunocompromised individuals. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) met Friday, August 13, to discuss further clinical recommendations regarding immunocompromised individuals and also supported the recommendation for a third COVID-19 vaccine dose for those who are moderately or severely immunocompromised. Please note that the FDA’s announcement only applies to people who are moderately or severely immunocompromised.

Following approval from the CDC, on September 24, 2021 the Commonwealth of Massachusetts announced that the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine booster is available to the following groups of people who received their second dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine at least 6 months ago and meet the following criteria:
  • Individuals 65 years of age and older
  • Individuals ages 18-64 at risk for severe COVID-19 infection due to underlying medical conditions
  • Individuals 18-64 years of age who are at increased of COVID-19 exposure due to occupational or institutional settings
The Commonwealth of Massachusetts has provided an online tool for you to check whether you are eligible to receive a Pfizer booster at this time. You can also go to vaxfinder.mass.gov to schedule a Pfizer booster shot at a location near you. Currently, 450 locations in Massachusetts, primarily retail pharmacies, are offering Pfizer booster shots. Many of these locations will be booking appointments out weeks in advance. The Governor has announced that additional locations will be added over the next few weeks. Please note: Atrius Health is not currently scheduling patient appointments for this specific booster category.

DOES YOUR ADDITIONAL COVID-19 VACCINE DOSE NEED TO BE THE SAME VACCINE BRAND YOU ORIGINALLY RECEIVED?

If possible, yes, the CDC recommends that additional booster vaccine match the original mRNA vaccines people received earlier this year. If you cannot find a dose of the COVID-19 vaccine brand you originally received, it would be okay to get the other mRNA brand (Pfizer or Moderna).

WHAT's THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN A BOOSTER DOSE AND AN ADDITIONAL DOSE?

People who are moderately to severely immunocompromised sometimes do not build enough (or any) protection when they first get a vaccination. When this happens, getting another dose of the vaccine can help them build more protection against the disease. This appears to be the case for some immunocompromised people and COVID-19 vaccines. CDC recommends moderately to severely immunocompromised people consider receiving an additional (third) dose of an mRNA COVID-19 vaccine (Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna) at least 28 days after the completion of the initial 2-dose mRNA COVID-19 vaccine series.

In contrast, a “booster dose” refers to another dose of a vaccine that is given to someone who built enough protection after vaccination, but then that protection decreased over time (this is called waning immunity). 

IS IT EXPECTED THAT THE GENERAL POPULATION WILL NEED BOOSTER SHOTS? IF SO, WHEN?

The expectation is that people may start to receive a COVID-19 booster shot beginning in the fall. However, this is subject to authorization by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and recommendation by CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP). More guidance will be forthcoming from the CDC with specific guidance on when certain groups are recommended to be vaccinated with a booster shot.

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IMMUNOCOMPROMISED PATIENTS

SHOULD I GET THE VACCINE IF I HAVE A WEAKENED IMMUNE SYSTEM?

If you have a medical condition or take certain medications that weaken your ability to fight infections, you may have more severe disease than other people if you get COVID-19. If you have a weakened immune system, you are recommended to get the vaccine and should ensure that family and friends around you are vaccinated. Please note that you should continue taking precautions, including social distancing, hand hygiene, and wearing a mask after vaccination in certain settings due to the potential for decreased immune response to the vaccine.

Due to the potential for decreased immune response to the vaccine, on August 12th the FDA amended the emergency use authorizations (EUAs) for both mRNA vaccines, the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines, to allow for the use of an additional dose in certain immunocompromised individuals.

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FERTILITY, PREGNANCY & BREASTFEEDING

SHOULD I GET THE VACCINE IF I AM HOPING TO BECOME PREGNANT SOON?

The vaccine does not affect fertility. It may be helpful to get the vaccine before you are pregnant to minimize getting COVID-19 while pregnant.

CAN I GET THE VACCINE IF I AM PREGNANT OR BREASTFEEDING?

The CDC, along with the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology (ACOG) and the Society of Maternal Fetal Monitoring (SMFM), strongly recommend the vaccine for people who are pregnant, breastfeeding, trying to get pregnant now, or might become pregnant.

Given the risk of serious complications to pregnant people from COVID-19 infections and the rise of the highly contagious Delta variant, the CDC urges all pregnant people to get the COVID-19 vaccine, as the benefits of receiving a vaccine outweigh any potential risks.

COVID-19 vaccination is recommended for all people 12 years and older, including people who are breastfeeding. Clinical trials for the COVID-19 vaccines currently used in the United States, however, did not include people who are breastfeeding. Although we have not studied the effects vaccines may have on breastfed infants or on milk production, scientists do not think vaccines are a risk to breastfeeding infants.

Data has shown that COVID-19 vaccines cannot cause infection in anyone, including the mother or the baby, and the vaccines are effective at preventing COVID-19 in people who are breastfeeding. Recent reports have shown that breastfeeding people who have received mRNA COVID-19 vaccines have antibodies in their breastmilk, which could help protect their babies.

WHEN WILL MY SECOND DOSE BE SCHEDULED?

Your second dose will be scheduled when you come for your first dose appointment.

Pfizer/BioNTech doses are recommended to be approximately 21 days apart and Moderna doses are recommended to be approximately 28 days apart.

WHEN WILL I HAVE THE FULL IMMUNITY FROM THE VACCINE?

People are considered fully vaccinated 2 weeks after their second dose in a 2-dose series, such as the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines, or 2 weeks after a single-dose vaccine, such as Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen vaccine. It is possible that you could become infected with COVID-19 in the few days before or after being vaccinated.

Even after you receive the required doses of vaccine, continue to avoid crowded indoor spaces, maintain physical separation, wear cloth face coverings in public places and practice good hygiene.

I HAD COVID-19 AND GOT BETTER. SHOULD I STILL GET THE VACCINE?

Yes. Since it is possible to get sick again from COVID-19, you should get the vaccine.

If you were treated for your COVID-19 with monoclonal antibodies or convalescent plasma, you should wait 90 days before getting the vaccine.

Talk to your doctor if you are unsure what treatments you received or if you have more questions about getting a COVID-19 vaccine.

SHOULD I GET THE VACCINE IF I AM HOPING TO BECOME PREGNANT SOON?

The vaccine does not affect fertility. It may be helpful to get the vaccine before you are pregnant to minimize getting COVID-19 while pregnant.

CAN I GET THE VACCINE IF I AM PREGNANT OR BREASTFEEDING?

People who are pregnant and eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine can receive the vaccine if they decide they want to. People who are pregnant and have questions about the vaccine can talk with their healthcare provider. Getting information and answers about the specific risks and benefits can help to make a decision.

There is not a lot of information available about safety of COVID-19 vaccines in lactating women. So we don’t know the effects mRNA vaccines may have on breastfed infants or on milk production. Scientists do not think mRNA vaccines are a risk to breastfeeding infants. People who are breastfeeding and eligible to receive a COVID-19 vaccine can receive the vaccine if they decide they want to.

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SCHEDULING AN APPOINTMENT & GETTING THE VACCINE

WHERE CAN I GET VACCINATED?

Atrius Health is providing third doses of the COVID-19 vaccine for those who are moderately or severely immunocompromised per CDC guidelines. If you qualify for and are interested in scheduling this additional, third dose, please log into your MyHealth Online account or call 617-541-6677. At this time, we are not scheduling dose 1 or dose 2 COVID-19 vaccines, nor are we scheduling booster doses of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine which was recently approved for certain individuals.

There are many community-based options to get vaccinated, both by appointment and on a walk-in basis without an appointment. Use the websites below to find a convenient location near you.

Vaxfinder.Mass.Gov

https://www.vaccines.gov/search

CAN CHILDREN GET THE VACCINE?

Yes. Children ages 12 and older can get the Pfizer vaccine. However, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccine are for people 18 and older.

WHAT IF I AM HOMEBOUND AND CANNOT GET TO YOUR OFFICE FOR VACCINATION?

The state has launched an in-home vaccination program for homebound people who are not able to leave their homes to get to a vaccination site, even with assistance. If you or your loved one is eligible for an in-home vaccination, you can call the Homebound Vaccination Central Intake Line at (833) 983-0485. You will be able to speak with a representative who will ask questions to determine if an in-home vaccination is appropriate. If in-home vaccination is appropriate, you will be registered with the State Homebound Vaccine Provider or referred to your local Board of Health to schedule an appointment.

IS THERE A COST TO RECEIVE THE VACCINE?

There is no cost to you to receive the vaccine.

WHAT SHOULD I EXPECT AT MY APPOINTMENT?

The person giving you the vaccine will ask you some questions and then give you the shot.

You will be observed for at least 15 minutes after vaccination.

If you have had allergic reactions to other injectable medications or vaccines in the past, or if you have had a severe allergic reaction (anaphylaxis) from any cause, you will be observed for 30 minutes.

You will receive a vaccination card that tells you which COVID-19 vaccine you received, the date you received it, and where you received it.

If you have received Pfizer or Moderna, your second dose will be scheduled. If you have received Janssen (Johnson & Johnson), it is a one dose vaccine, so you will be fully vaccinated.

WHEN WILL MY SECOND DOSE BE SCHEDULED

Your second dose will be scheduled when you come for your first dose appointment.

Pfizer/BioNTech doses are recommended to be approximately 21 days apart, and Moderna doses are recommended to be approximately 28 days apart.

ARE THERE ANY RESTRICTIONS AS TO WHEN I CAN SCHEDULE MY COVID-19 VACCINE AROUND ANOTHER VACCINATION I NEED?

There is no restriction on a waiting time or spacing period for when you can get the COVID-19 vaccine relative to other types of vaccination such as a flu shot or a shingles vaccine. At one time, the CDC was recommending not to have another type of vaccine within 14 days of having a COVID-19 vaccine, but additional research shows it is safe to get other vaccines at the same time and it will not affect the efficacy of the vaccine or any side effects.

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SAFETY, SIDE EFFECTS AND OTHER CONCERNS

IS THE COVID-19 VACCINE SAFE AND EFFECTIVE?

Atrius Health strongly recommends you get the COVID-19 vaccine at any location when it is available to you. The COVID-19 vaccine is safe, effective, and one of the best ways to protect yourself and those around you from getting sick from COVID-19. Vaccination helps end the pandemic and enables each of us to start doing some things we enjoy.

HOW WERE THE VACCINES TESTED TO SHOW THEY ARE SAFE AND EFFECTIVE?

All three approved COVID-19 vaccines are safe and highly effective against serious illness, hospitalization, and death.

Before being given to the public, the makers of the vaccines did studies to be sure they are safe. We have known about the technology used to make the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines for decades. Scientists were able to use the latest scientific knowledge to learn a lot about the virus rapidly and use the mRNA technology.

Healthcare officials, public health experts and other scientists who were not directly involved in developing the vaccines then reviewed all of the science and studies before each of the vaccines were authorized.

DOES THE VACCINE HAVE SIDE EFFECTS?

Just like the flu shot or any other vaccine, there is a chance that you will experience side effects. These are a sign that the vaccine is working, and the body is building immunity. Most side effects should not cause concern and will go away in a day or two. Some people report feeling more side effects after the second dose with the two-dose vaccines. You should stay home if you have a fever.

Common side effects include:

  • Pain at the injection site
  • Tiredness
  • Headache
  • Muscle pain
  • Chills
  • Joint pain
  • Fever

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OTHER VACCINE RESTRICTIONS AND SPECIAL CASES

SHOULD I DELAY OR NOT RECEIVE THE VACCINE FOR ANY REASON?

You are advised to delay getting the vaccine if:

  • You are feeling sick at the time of vaccination (fever, shortness of breath, vomiting, diarrhea or acute illness).
  • You have been diagnosed with COVID-19 in the previous 14 days and have not yet met the criteria to stop isolation.

You are advised not to receive the vaccine if:

  • You have a history of immediate allergic reaction after a previous dose of an mRNA COVID-19 vaccine or any of its components (including polyethylene glycol [PEG]) OR have had an immediate allergic reaction of any severity to polysorbate.

I HAD COVID-19 AND GOT BETTER. SHOULD I STILL GET THE VACCINE?

Yes. Since it is possible to get sick again from COVID-19, you should get the vaccine.

If you were treated for your COVID-19 with monoclonal antibodies or convalescent plasma, you should wait 90 days before getting the vaccine.

Talk to your doctor if you are unsure what treatments you received or if you have more questions about getting a COVID-19 vaccine.

SHOULD I GET VACCINATED IF I HAVE ALLERGIES?

If you were treated for an allergic reaction within four hours of receiving your first dose of an mRNA COVID-19 vaccine, you should not receive that particular type of vaccine again, but if additional doses are required to complete the series, you may be able to receive a different brand of vaccine. You also should not receive an mRNA vaccine if you’ve ever had an allergic reaction within 4 hours of receiving any of the ingredients of an mRNA COVID-19 vaccine. You may consider a different type of non-mRNA vaccine if that is the case for you.

People who have allergies to pets, food, medications taken by mouth or allergies to other things such as pollen, etc., can get vaccinated. People with allergies to other injectable medications or vaccines can get vaccinated but should check with their healthcare providers to discuss risks and benefits before receiving the vaccine. People who have a history of very severe allergic reactions may be asked to remain for a 30 minute observation period after getting the vaccine.

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PROOF OF COVID-19 VACCINATION

HOW DO I GET A COPY/PROOF OF MY COVID-19 VACCINATION WHICH I HAD DONE AT ATRIUS HEALTH?

If you are an Atrius Health patient who was vaccinated at one of our practices and you have a MyHealth account, you can log into your account and download a PDF of your COVID-19 vaccination documentation for your records. If you do not have a MyHealth account, you can call 617-541-6677 for proof of vaccination assistance.

HOW DO I GET A COPY/PROOF OF MY COVID-19 VACCINATION IF I AM AN ATRIUS HEALTH PATIENT, BUT I GOT VACCINATED AT A MASS VACCINATION SITE, RETAIL PHARMACY OR OTHER COMMUNITY LOCATION IN MASSACHUSETTS?

You should first contact the location/provider where you were vaccinated for proof of vaccination documentation.

If you were vaccinated at a Massachusetts mass vaccination site, view these instructions on the Mass.gov website for mass vaccination site record requests by each location.

If you have a MyHealth account and were vaccinated in Massachusetts, you can also log into your account and see if we have details of your COVID vaccination, even if you did not get vaccinated at Atrius Health. Massachusetts has what’s called the Massachusetts Immunization Information System (MIIS) which is operated by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health (MDPH). According to Massachusetts law, all immunizations given in the state must be reported to the MDPH through the MIIS. We regularly update our medical record system with newly reported MIIS vaccination data for our patients. If you can see your COVID vaccination in your MyHealth account, you can download a PDF of the COVID-19 vaccination documentation for your records. Please note if you were vaccinated outside the state of Massachusetts, this will not be reported to the MIIS. Please contact the out-of-state provider/location you were vaccinated at to get your proof of vaccination.

Finally, you can also fill out an Immunization Record Request Form that goes directly to MDPH. If you use this form, you will get a complete history of all vaccines you’ve gotten, not just the COVID-19 vaccine, and it can take up to 6 weeks to get your records.

HOW DO I GET ACCESS TO MY COVID-19 TEST RESULTS DONE AT ATRIUS HEALTH IF I NEED THEM FOR PROOF OF A NEGATIVE TEST?

If you are an Atrius Health patient who has been tested for COVID-19 at one of our practices and you have a MyHealth account, you can log in to your MyHealth account to access and print out your test results.

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