Common questions and concerns about getting the COVID-19 vaccine
COVID-19 continues to be a part of our lives and with the COVID-19 vaccine widely available in the U.S., you might be wondering if you and your loved ones should get one. To help clear the air and make the choice a little easier, we’ve compiled the most current information about the COVID vaccine.
As with many other decisions during the pandemic, you’ll have to weigh the benefits against any potential risks (as well as the risks of not getting it) to make the best choice for you, your family, and your community.
To help make the decision a little easier, we’ve compiled the most current information about the COVID vaccines.
What are the benefits?
The most obvious benefit of getting vaccinated is that it can help you not get COVID and if you do get COVID, you are protected against serious disease.
In the U.S., COVID cases initially peaked in January 2021. However, recent rates of infections have now surpassed the peak due to low rates of vaccination and the presence of the highly contagious Omicron variants.
The Omicron variants have caused more breakthrough infections in those who are fully vaccinated, but these infections have also reinforced something we already knew: all Covid vaccines reduce your risk for getting seriously sick if you do contract the virus.
Beyond your personal health, getting the vaccine can help protect people around you, including those at higher risk of becoming severely ill and those who cannot be vaccinated, like newborns. And outside your closest circle, it may also curb the overall spread of the virus. More vaccinated people means fewer people who are asymptomatic and spreading the virus.
The good news is that the vaccines are protecting people from getting sick and those who do get COVID despite being vaccinated, are much less likely to become seriously ill or die from it particularly if they are boosted. Widespread vaccination is the key to decreasing the number and severity of cases.
Is it safe?
So, how safe is the COVID-19 vaccine? Before any medication, treatment, or vaccine is approved for use in the United States, the FDA (Food & Drug Administration) requires it to go through clinical trials to show that it’s safe and effective. This means the benefits have to outweigh the known or potential risks.
Though the COVID vaccine rolled out relatively quickly due to the urgency of the pandemic, no corners were cut. The data show not only that it’s safe but also that the benefits of getting vaccinated greatly outweigh the potential harm of contracting the virus and spreading it to others.
There are several ongoing safety monitoring systems that look for possible side effects or adverse reactions from the vaccine. In fact, the COVID-19 vaccines are currently the most intensely monitored vaccines in U.S. history.
While there was a pause in the use of the concern about the Johnson & Johnson vaccine due to a very rare risk of dangerous blood clots in the setting of low platelets, distribution has now resumed. The CDC and FDA have determined the risk of this condition, called thrombosis with thrombocytopenia syndrome or TTS, is extremely low while the risk of severe COVID-19 disease remains much higher. Thus, the benefits far outweigh the risk of getting this vaccine in certain populations. The FDA does recommend that most people choose a MRNA or the Novavax vaccine as their first choice, but if this is not possible due to health or personal reasons, then the one dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine is still an alternative. There have been reports of inflammation of the heart muscle or the area surrounding the heart in adolescents and young adults who have received the mRNA COVID vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna. The CDC and FDA have acknowledged this increased risk in males younger than 30 and ongoing studies are underway to determine the long-term effects of this adverse event. Thankfully, to date, most cases of this inflammation (myo or pericarditis) have responded well to treatment.
The CDC continues to recommend that all those 6 months and up get the vaccine as the risk of developing any adverse reaction is much smaller than the risk of contracting COVID-19. Vaccine side effects for children are mild. The most common one is a sore arm.
What if you’re trying to get pregnant?
The CDC, ACOG (American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists), and the American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM) recommend that pregnant people get the COVID vaccine. They also recommend it for those who are trying to conceive or breastfeeding. The vaccine doesn’t contain the virus itself, so it can’t give someone COVID-19. And despite some misconceptions, there’s no evidence that it causes infertility or increases the risk of miscarriage or other problems in pregnancy.
The vaccine has not only been shown to be safe and effective for pregnant people, it is particularly important for this group, as those who are pregnant or were recently pregnant (up to 42 days after giving birth), who do contract the virus have an increased risk of severe illness themselves and increased risk of preterm delivery for baby. The vaccine is safe and effective at any point while TTC as well as in any trimester of pregnancy. There is more available information now that suggests vaccination or boosting during pregnancy protects your infant up to 6 months as well.
That said, if you’ve experienced severe allergic reactions to other vaccines in the past or have an underlying health condition, it’s a good idea to chat with your healthcare provider beforehand.
What are the risks of not getting the vaccine?
As you’re probably aware, COVID-19 can be serious and even life-threatening, and unfortunately, there’s no way to know how it will affect you. If you do get sick, you could spread it not only to your loved ones but to your community and beyond.
We know that getting COVID during pregnancy can be more serious than having it while trying to conceive. So, if you’re TTC, getting the vaccine now is a proactive way to protect yourself and your growing family.
How does it work?
The vaccines teach the body to respond to the COVID-19 virus and essentially help you develop immunity to the virus that causes the disease without actually having to get sick. After receiving the shot, your cells will learn to make copies of the spike protein on the surface of the virus. This will then cause production of T-lymphocytes and B-lymphocytes (T-cells and B-cells for short), which help your immune system create the necessary antibodies that recognize and inactivate the COVID-19 virus, stopping it from being able to enter your cells, reproduce, and cause illness in the future.
Since it takes a few weeks for your body to produce the necessary T-cells and B-cells, your chances of getting COVID-19 remain elevated until the vaccine has a chance to make enough antibodies. The process of building immunity can cause some symptoms like fatigue and fever, but this is normal and shouldn’t last more than a couple of days. And many people don’t experience any side effects.
Can the vaccine impact my cycle? What about COVID-19 infection?
For those whose bodies and cycles are easily affected by stress, the pandemic in general (and the recent Omicron strike specifically) could be making it more difficult to conceive right now.
In 2021 there were some anecdotes of people noticing temporary changes to their periods after getting a COVID vaccine, and Ovia’s own research suggests that up to 1 in 3 women have experienced menstrual cycle length and/or symptom changes throughout the COVID era. However, a recent study found that the COVID-19 vaccines do not severely disrupt menstrual cycles. Multiple studies have been conducted to look at the impact of vaccination on cycle length and changes, and there isn’t a consensus. For most people, vaccination will have no impact, but if you notice a period that lasts an extra 1-2 days or an overall cycle length that’s different – it could be your recent vaccination or booster. The good news is that all of these changes are temporary and shouldn’t be noticeable for more than one cycle.
COVID-19 infection, however, can have catastrophic impact on the HPA (hypothalamic-pituitary-ovarian axis) that regulates menstruation. More research is needed here to thoroughly understand the way a COVID-19 infection could impact the menstrual cycle.
The Ovia Fertility app can help you better understand your cycle and your symptoms and can help you predict your fertile window. Especially if your cycle is irregular, it’s important to closely track and monitor all your symptoms.
For you, your family, and everyone else
Everyone aged 6 months and older in the United States is eligible for vaccination. Your local pharmacy or Department of Health’s website should have information about where to go to get your vaccine. And, the vaccine is free to everyone regardless of insurance status until at least May 11th, 2023.
Deciding you want to get pregnant and TTC is deeply personal, especially during a public health crisis. You’re undoubtedly weighing the pros, cons, benefits, and risks before making any major decisions about your health. That said, getting the vaccine now (or as soon as you’re able to) can help protect you, your growing family, and everyone else.
When in doubt, ask your provider. Fertility and prenatal care might look a little different during the pandemic, but healthcare is still essential.
Any recent updates I should know about?
On Sept. 1st 2022 the CDC recommended an updated version of the Pfizer and Moderna boosters which include the use of an Omicron specific spike protein. This booster is available to anyone aged six months or older who has completed their initial vaccination series against Covid. It should enhance the success of the vaccines against these variants, which are now dominant in the US.
Reviewed by the Ovia Health Clinical Team
Updated February 28, 2023
- “Benefits of Getting a COVID-19 Vaccine.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. January 5, 2021. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/vaccines/vaccine-benefits.html.
- “Ensuring the Safety of COVID-19 Vaccines in the United States.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. January 19, 2021. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/vaccines/safety.html.
- “Vaccination Considerations for People who are Pregnant or Breastfeeding.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. January 7, 2021. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/vaccines/recommendations/pregnancy.html.
- “COVID-19 Vaccines and Pregnancy.” ACOG. December 21, 2020. https://www.acog.org/en/advocacy/advocacy-and-covid-19/covid-19-vaccines-and-pregnancy.
- “Understanding How COVID-19 Vaccines Work.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. January 13, 2021. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/vaccines/different-vaccines/how-they-work.html.
- “When Vaccine is Limited, Who Should Get Vaccinated First?” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. January 8, 2021. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/vaccines/recommendations.html.
- Sheann Brandon.“Does the COVID-19 vaccination cause infertility?” Loma Linda University Health. January 20, 2021. https://news.llu.edu/health-wellness/does-covid-19-vaccination-cause-infertility.
- “Frequently Asked Questions about COVID-19 Vaccination.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. January 25, 2021. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/vaccines/faq.html.
- “The Moderna COVID-19 (mRNA-1273) vaccine: what you need to know.” World Health Organization. January 26, 2021. https://www.who.int/news-room/feature-stories/detail/the-moderna-covid-19-mrna-1273-vaccine-what-you-need-to-know.
- “Testing and Vaccine Truths.” American Society for Reproductive Medicine. January 18, 2021. https://www.asrm.org/globalassets/asrm/asrm-content/news-and-publications/covid-19/covidtaskforceupdate12.pdf.