May 6, 2021

Experts agree all available COVID-19 vaccines are effective

Receiving the vaccine is the best way to protect your friends, family, and yourself from the COVID-19 virus.

Medical experts agree the COVID-19 vaccines in use are highly effective at preventing hospitalization and death after recipients achieved full protection from vaccination. And the faster we get communities vaccinated and decrease the number of new cases, the faster we can end the pandemic.

With multiple COVID-19 vaccines now available, people may wonder if one is better than another. Reports have even suggested some people are “shopping” for specific brands. However, delaying vaccination to wait for a preferred brand could be risky.

Katie Sharff, MD, an infectious disease leader with Kaiser Permanente in the Northwest, explains why people should feel confident taking whichever brand is available.

What concerns have people shared when comparing the vaccines?

There is so much focus on the vaccine efficacy numbers that have been reported, but many people don’t understand exactly what those numbers mean. In clinical trials, the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines were shown to be 95% effective, and Johnson & Johnson reported 72% efficacy against moderate to severe disease in the United States. What’s missed in the message is that the Johnson & Johnson vaccine was 100% effective at preventing hospitalization and death after recipients achieved full protection from vaccination, making it a highly effective vaccine. In other words, whichever vaccine you choose will protect you from severe disease, hospitalization, and death.

What’s the problem with waiting for a specific vaccine?

Right now, coronavirus is still circulating, so every day you aren’t vaccinated is another day you’re at risk. The faster we can get people vaccinated, the more we reduce the burden on medical resources, provide protection to our most vulnerable populations, and lower the odds of new variants emerging.

Do I need 1 shot or 2?

All COVID-19 vaccines currently available in the United States have been shown to be highly effective at preventing COVID-19. If you receive a Pfizer or Moderna COVID-19 vaccine, you will need 2 shots to get the most protection. Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine only requires one shot. It takes time for your body to build immunity after vaccination, so you won’t have full protection until 2 weeks after your final dose.

Do the vaccines protect against the variants?

Current data suggests the COVID-19 vaccines in use in the United States do provide protection against new forms or variants of the COVID-19 virus. Some variants are much more contagious, so this makes vaccination an essential tool in stopping the spread of disease.

What would you say to people worried about side effects?

The benefits of the vaccine outweigh the risk of serious side effects. Side effects from these vaccines are usually mild or moderate and resolve within a few days after vaccine administration.

Common side effects include things such as a sore arm, tiredness, muscle aches, and fever. These symptoms are an expected sign that the body is building immunity.

I have heard about a pause on the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. Should I still get vaccinated with the J&J COVID-19 vaccine?

Use of the J&J COVID-19 vaccine has been resumed in the United States. Safety monitoring identified a small number of cases of rare and severe blood clotting with low platelets, called thrombosis with thrombocytopenia syndrome. This occurred within 3 weeks following vaccination, primarily among women 18 to 49 years old. After a brief pause, the Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have resumed its use in the United States and have confidence that this vaccine is safe and effective in preventing COVID-19. A review of all available data at this time shows that the vaccine’s known and potential benefits outweigh its known and potential risks. However, women younger than 50 years old especially should be aware of the rare but increased risk of this adverse event and that there are other COVID-19 vaccine options available for which this risk has not been seen.

After you get the vaccine, is it OK to stop wearing your mask?

If you are fully vaccinated, you can start engaging in some activities that you had stopped doing because of the pandemic. For example, once you are fully vaccinated you can do activities outdoors without wearing a mask, as long as you avoid crowded venues. Additionally, you can gather indoors with other fully vaccinated individuals without wearing a mask. However, even after you get your vaccine, it will be important to keep using all available methods to help reduce the spread of COVID-19. You should continue to wear a mask when in indoor public settings and avoid large indoor gatherings. When choosing activities, keep in mind that outdoor activities are much safer than indoor activities.

What else should people know about the COVID-19 vaccines?

Any shot is a good shot. The approved COVID-19 vaccines in use have undergone rigorous safety reviews by scientists, clinicians, and federal public health agencies. They are safe, effective, and lifesaving. You should feel confident taking whichever vaccine brand is available. The faster we get communities vaccinated, the faster we can end this pandemic.