COVID-19 Vaccine FAQs

COVID-19 Vaccine Frequently Asked Questions

  • Who can get the vaccine and why is availability inconsistent?

    The most frequently asked questions we are hearing about the COVID-19 vaccine are who can get the vaccine and why is availability inconsistent? In addition, many ask how some states or local health departments can offer vaccinations to senior individuals when pharmacy partners, like CVS and Walgreens, may not be able to include them in community vaccine clinics. 

    It is essential to know that Five Star, working through our distribution partner, CVS, reserved COVID-19 vaccinations for ALL team members and ALL residents; however, due to overpromising by the federal government, vaccine doses fell short of expectations. Additionally, state health agencies stepped in to regulate and oversee the allocation and distribution of the vaccine. Almost universally, skilled nursing facilities and healthcare workers have been on the priority list to receive the vaccine. Less consistent among states is the allocation for assisted living residents. At the time of this writing, eight states have not yet activated a vaccine distribution plan for assisted living (Alabama, Arizona, Illinois, Indiana, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Oregon and Wisconsin). Meanwhile, many state health agencies have received and now offer vaccinations to senior individuals, while CVS and Walgreens, which contracted with the federal government to be key vaccine distributors, await their full vaccine allotments. The companies have been informed that, during Phase 1a, they may NOT offer vaccine clinics to independent living communities. 

    To help overcome potential delays, Five Star communities, wherever possible, are actively encouraging team members to go to local health agencies if they can be vaccinated there sooner. Additionally, these communities are proactively researching where independent living residents can obtain vaccinations nearby and are arranging for transportation so that they, too, can be vaccinated sooner. All of us at Five Star want to see everyone in our communities receive the COVID-19 vaccine as soon as possible. We are doing everything we can to overcome supply shortages and distribution inconsistencies that have been outside of our control.

  • How were the COVID-19 vaccines developed, tested and approved?

    The COVID-19 vaccines were developed and tested in multiple phases as required for all vaccines. Tens of thousands of people were given the vaccine during the tests, and effectiveness and safety was monitored for eight weeks. Before approving a vaccine, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) independently and rigorously analyzes data from the clinical trial. Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) is not granted until this independent analysis is completed. 

  • How do I know that the COVID-19 vaccine is safe?

    Safety is the most important requirement of the vaccine, and data from the clinical trials is assessed by independent experts on at least two important committees: the Vaccines and Related Biologics Products Advisory Committee (VRBPAC) and the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP). The FDA requires eight weeks of safety data on the vaccine. To date, from 30,000 to 50,000 individuals have been monitored for more than eight weeks after receiving the vaccine, and no serious side effects have been documented. Since being approved for emergency use, more than 35 million individuals in the United States have received the vaccine safely. Since being approved for emergency use, more than 35 million individuals in the United States have received the vaccine safely.

  • How was the COVID-19 vaccine created so quickly, and can we trust it?

    While COVID-19 vaccine development was called “Operation Warp Speed,” drug makers maintained all established quality and safety requirements required of all other vaccine and drug approvals.  There are several reasons why the development of the vaccine occurred so quickly:

    • Early publication of the genomic sequence (based on SARS-1 virus)
    • Use of messenger RNA (mRNA) vaccine technology, which is faster than using live or killed virus particles
    • Fast recruitment of vaccine trial subjects
    • Unprecedented global funding resources
    • Speed of regulatory approvals 
  • What type of COVID-19 vaccine will be approved?

    The new COVID-19 vaccines use mRNA technology. According to the CDC, there have previously been no licensed mRNA vaccines in the United States; however, researchers have been studying and working with them for decades. Interest has grown in these vaccines because they can be developed in a laboratory using readily available materials. This means the process can be standardized and scaled up, making vaccine development faster than traditional methods of making vaccines. Vaccines developed with mRNA technology work by giving our cells instructions for making a harmless protein that is unique to the virus. Our body recognizes that the protein should not be there and builds antibodies to fight the virus. There is an additional COVID-19 vaccine (Johnson and Johnson) that may be approved for emergency use soon. This vaccine uses an inactivated cold virus (adenovirus), to stimulate our bodies to produce the spike protein and production of antibodies. 

  • Do the COVID-19 vaccines contain live or killed viral particles?

    No. None of the mRNA vaccines (Pfizer/Moderna) contain live or killed viral particles.  The Johnson and Johnson vaccine will contain a harmless, inactivated cold virus called adenovirus.

  • What are the side effects from the COVID-19 vaccine?

    Clinical trial participants experienced side effects, such as pain or swelling at the injection site, headache, body aches, low-grade fever and fatigue. In all cases, symptoms resolved within 24 hours. Many participants reported that side effects were more pronounced after the second dose as well as in those who have had a recent COVID-19 natural infection. In general, COVID-19 vaccine side effects have been described as more noticeable than side effects from the flu vaccine but less pronounced than side effects from the shingles vaccine.

  • If I experience side effects after receiving the vaccine, does it mean the vaccine gave me COVID-19?

    No. The presence of side effects does not mean the vaccine gave you COVID-19. In fact, vaccines cannot give someone COVID-19 because the vaccines do not use the live virus that causes COVID-19. Any side effects are a sign that your immune system is doing exactly what it is supposed to do –working and building up protection against disease. In other words, if you feel some discomfort, this means the vaccine is doing its job.

  • Were older adults included in the testing of the COVID-19 vaccine, and are there any unique side effects for seniors from the vaccine?

    Yes, older adults were included in all clinical trials, and the vaccine was found to be effective for this population as well. Older adults were also found to have decreased and less-pronounced side effects associated with the vaccine compared with other populations.

  • Is it true that you need two doses of the COVID-19 vaccine?

    Yes. Current mRNA vaccines require two shots between 21 (Pfizer) and 28 (Moderna) days apart. The first shot starts building protection, and the second shot serves as a “booster” to maximize immunity and protection against the virus. You should make every effort to receive your second dose as scheduled (or within four days of the recommended date).  However, if you miss your scheduled appointment, you should schedule your second dose as soon as possible. You do not need to repeat the first dose. The Johnson and Johnson COVID-19 vaccine will require just one dose.

  • Isn’t it better to get immunity from actually having COVID-19 than it is to get immunity from a vaccine?

    No. While a COVID-19 infection may confer immunity for a few months, it also carries the risk of causing serious illness and of spreading the virus to others. A COVID-19 vaccination gives you immunity without the risk of being actively infected.

  • Why is handwashing, social distancing and facemasks not enough to prevent the spread of COVID-19?

    Although safeguards, such as washing hands and using hand sanitizer, maintaining social distance and wearing facemasks, help reduce your chances of being exposed or of spreading the virus to others, the only way to truly stop this pandemic is through widespread vaccination.  Even when people are as safe as possible, the virus can still spread rapidly and lead to serious illness in large groups of people. Like infectious outbreaks of the past, such as smallpox, measles and pertussis, widespread vaccination is the only effective tool to stop the COVID-19 pandemic.   

  • Do we still need to wear facemasks if we get the COVID-19 vaccine?

    Yes. Even if you are vaccinated, some people around you may not be. We know the vaccine prevents disease in the vaccinated person, but it still may be possible to transmit the disease to others. Studies are ongoing to assess the impact of vaccination on transmissibility, but until the majority of the population is vaccinated, we need to continue current facemask use. 

  • If both a resident and family member receive the vaccine, may visitation be allowed?

    Not yet.  In this instance, while both the resident and family member are protected, it is possible that either may be carriers of the virus and may unknowingly spread the virus to unvaccinated individuals at the community. This may lead to sickness and outbreaks in unvaccinated individuals. 

  • When can we be “free” from COVID-19 again?

    This is unknown. Experts hope that when at least 70 percent of the population is vaccinated, “herd immunity” will occur. Herd immunity, also known as “population immunity,” occurs when a large portion of the population becomes immune to the disease, making the spread of the virus from person to person unlikely. Government healthcare leaders expect to have enough vaccine doses to vaccinate 70 percent of the U.S. population by May 2021. Therefore, it is possible that we may return to some semblance of pre-COVID life during 2021, but this can only happen if the majority of individuals are vaccinated

  • What happens if some people get the vaccine and others do not?

    The vaccine will be most effective in the general population if the majority of people receive it. While clinical trials analyzed effectiveness of the vaccine, they did not review infectiousness and if the vaccine protects from virus spread. Therefore, it is possible that vaccinated individuals may still spread the virus, making unvaccinated individuals at risk of developing serious disease. Herd immunity and return to “normal” life can only happen if the majority of individuals are vaccinated.

  • Does the vaccine hurt?

    The COVID-19 vaccine is administered in a similar manner to the flu shot. You may experience mild pain and soreness at the injection site; otherwise, the shot should be painless.

  • If someone has COVID-19 and doesn’t know they have it, what happens if they get a vaccination at the same time?

    It is considered safe to get the vaccine even if you have or recently had COVID-19 infection. The vaccine will increase your protection even more from future COVID-19 infections; however, due to limited available doses in the early phases of vaccine distribution, it is recommended that COVID-19-positive individuals wait two to three months before receiving the vaccine.

  • If I have an acute COVID-19 infection, should I receive the vaccine?

    To reduce the risk of virus spread, it is recommended that only individuals who are considered “recovered” and out of the quarantine or isolation period receive the vaccine.   Natural immunity after COVID-19 infection lasts ~3 months.  Therefore, individuals who have had a recent COVID-19 infection may choose to be vaccinated 2-3 months after recovery.  However, it is considered safe to receive the vaccine earlier.

  • Severe allergic reactions to the COVID-19 vaccine have been reported. Should I worry about this?

    There were only a handful of individuals out of millions of vaccine recipients who developed an allergic reaction to the vaccine. Most of these individuals carried a history of severe allergies, and all allergic symptoms resolved with medical treatment. If you have a history of severe allergies or anaphylaxis to any of the vaccine ingredients (polyethylene glycol, synthetic mRNA), you should not receive the mRNA vaccine.  However, if you have a history of allergies or anaphylaxis to foods, medications and/or other vaccines, the COVID-19 vaccines are still considered safe for you to receive. As a precaution, the CDC recommends that all vaccine recipients be monitored for 15 minutes after administration. Anyone with a history of allergies or anaphylaxis should be monitored for 30 minutes.

  • Is the vaccine appropriate for pregnant or lactating women?

    Per multiple major professional and regulatory agencies (CDC, WHO, ACOG, ASROM) the vaccine is considered safe for both pregnant and lactating women. Pregnant women were not included in clinical trials (it is typical for most clinical trials to not include pregnant women); however, based on animal studies and what is known about the mechanism of action of the vaccines, the mRNA vaccines are considered safe for pregnant women to receive. Given that pregnant women experience more severe COVID-10 disease if infected, vaccine administration to this subgroup is recommended.

  • Do the COVID-19 vaccines affect fertility in women?

    No. The rumors suggesting that the COVID-19 vaccine may affect fertility originated from false information that was propagated through the internet. Per the American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM), the COVID-19 vaccines have no effect on fertility. In addition, women undergoing fertility treatment are safe to receive the vaccine as well.  In the Pfizer and Moderna clinical trials, a total of 36 women became pregnant, with equal numbers in both the vaccine and placebo groups. Out of these 36 women, there were only four adverse pregnancy outcomes, all which occurred in the placebo group. 

  • Is the vaccine safe for individuals who are immunosuppressed or with HIV?

    Per the CDC, the vaccine is considered safe for individuals who are immunosuppressed due to autoimmune conditions, with HIV or who take immunosuppressant medications.  

  • Is the COVID-19 vaccine safe to administer with other vaccines?

    Due to lack of safety data, at this time the CDC does not recommend concurrent administration of other vaccines (i.e. flu, shingles, pneumonia) with the COVID-19 vaccines. Other vaccines must be given at least 14 days before the first dose or 14 days after the second dose.

  • May I receive the COVID-19 vaccine if I have received COVID-19 antibody treatment (I,e, Remdesivir) ?

    Per the CDC, it is recommended that the COVID-19 vaccine is given at least 90 days after last antibody treatment.

  • Will Five Star independent living residents be offered the COVID-19 vaccine?

    The federal government has informed CVS that they may not offer vaccine clinics to assisted living residents during Phase 1a distribution.  Allocation and distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine is regulated and decided by state health agencies.  Independent living residents are expected to receive the vaccine; however, timing and availability will vary depending on state directives. 

  • Will the COVID-19 vaccine be covered by Medicare and other payors?

    Under Phase 1a distribution, the vaccine will be free of cost, the government has purchased all vaccine doses that are available for distribution.  There is a small administration fee associated with each vaccine dose, which will be covered by Medicare and commercial insurance.

  • Who is allowed to administer COVID-19 vaccines?

    Similar to other vaccines, after obtaining a physician order, a nurse or pharmacist may administer the COVID-19 vaccine.

  • Is COVID-19 dangerous for the elderly? How are the symptoms for the elderly different?

    COVID-19 infection is significantly more dangerous for the elderly.  While nursing home COVID-19 cases represent just 2% of total cases in the nation, COVID-19 deaths in nursing homes represent a staggering 40% of total COVID-19 deaths.  In the elderly, while some individuals remain asymptomatic while infected, many develop respiratory failure and failure to thrive. Widespread vaccination of the senior population is critical to helping keep our residents as healthy as possible.

  • Which COVID-19 vaccines are available in the United States? How are they similar and different?

    Two COVID-19 vaccines are currently available for use in adults, the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines. Both vaccines are messenger RNA (mRNA) vaccines and have shown to have greater than 94% efficacy rates. No serious adverse effects have been associated with either vaccine. The vaccines are different in their second dose schedule (Pfizer at 21 days, Moderna at 28 days). Additionally, the two vaccines have different storage requirements. The two vaccines are not interchangeable. A third COVID-19 vaccine, developed by Johnson & Johnson, is expected to receive emergency use authorization (EUA) by the FDA as well. The Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine uses an inactivated adenovirus to stimulate your body to produce an immune response to protect you against COVID-19 infection. Efficacy in the United States is 72%, which is considered to be an effective vaccine. The Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine was also tested in tens of thousands of individuals in clinical trials and was found to be safe.

  • Can I choose which vaccine I will receive?

    No. Distribution and allocation of the COVID-19 vaccines will depend on state directives. In general, due to storage requirements, the Pfizer vaccine is being used in the hospital setting, while the Moderna vaccine is used in long-term care; however, this may vary from state to state.

  • How long will immunity from the vaccine last?

    This is unknown. Natural immunity from COVID-19 infection is thought to last 3-6 months; however, clinical trials are ongoing to assess immunity duration after COVID-19 vaccine administration. After this is determined, individuals will likely need additional doses of the vaccine.

  • Are there any contraindications to receiving the vaccine?

    Per the CDC, the only contraindication to receiving the vaccine is history of severe allergic reaction to a previous dose of COVID-19 vaccine or to any of its components (including polyethylene glycol or polysorbate).  

  • Will vaccine administration have an effect on COVID-19 testing results?

    No. Prior receipt of the COVID-19 vaccine will not affect the results of current recommended testing (PCR or antigen). Antibody testing is not currently recommended to assess immunity following COVID-19 vaccination or to assess the need for vaccination in an unvaccinated person.

  • Will the vaccine be effective against the new strains of the virus?

    Yes, per all vaccine manufacturers, the vaccine is expected to be effective against new strains of the virus.  Some vaccines may show decreased efficacy against some strains of the virus, but minor modifications in the vaccine can be made to increase effectiveness.  The same process occurs with the flu vaccine. Every year, the flu vaccine is slightly modified to be more effective against new flu strains from the previous season.

Find a community nearby

Five Star offers options and excellence, with 260 senior living communities in 33 states.