COVID-19 Vaccines

An OHSU provider receives the COVID-19 vaccination from an OHSU nurse.
Ansu Drammeh, an OHSU cardiovascular intensive care nurse, receives a dose of the Pfizer vaccine from OHSU dental resident Ryan Thrower, D.M.D. A 2019 law made Oregon the first state to allow dentists to prescribe and give any vaccine, regardless of a patient's age.

We’ve gathered information on COVID-19 vaccines. OHSU is here to help you follow developments, and make informed decisions for yourself and your family.

Who can get vaccinated

  • Oregon vaccine tool: See the Oregon Health Authority's Vaccine Eligibility & FAQ tool (scroll down to "Let's get started.") If you are eligible for a vaccine, the tool will enable you to make an appointment at the Oregon Convention Center.
  • Now and next: See the chart below to learn who is eligible now and when other groups will be added.
  • General public: Vaccines are expected to be available to the general public as soon as this spring.
  • Children and teens: Vaccines are not yet available for ages 15 and younger, pending results from clinical trials.
  • Learn more:  See these Oregon Health Authority's pages: 

Chart updated Jan. 25:

Large scale Oregon Health Authority Vaccination Phase Chart
Click to enlarge.

How to know when you can get vaccinated

Please do not call your clinic or provider.

OHSU is working to vaccinate as many people as possible, as quickly as possible. We are taking part in mass-vaccination sites and other efforts seven days a week. But because of limited supplies, appointments are currently by invitation only.

Top things to know about the vaccines

  • A vaccine will help protect you from getting COVID-19.
  • The Food and Drug Administration has given emergency-use authorization to two vaccines, one made by Pfizer-BioNTech and one by Moderna. More vaccines are in the pipeline. 
  • The Pfizer vaccine is approved for ages 16 and older, and Moderna's for 18 and older. The FDA needs more data to know if the vaccines are safe for younger people.
  • Both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines require two doses — Pfizer's three weeks apart, and Moderna's four weeks apart.
  • Vaccines are expected to be available to the general public, for ages 16 and older, as early as spring 2021 as supplies increase.
  • Experts have placed a high priority on making sure the vaccines are safe and effective.
  • Cost shouldn’t be an issue. The federal government is buying doses to provide free of charge.
  • It’s important to continue safety practices: Wear a mask, maintain physical distance, and wash your hands often.

Benefits of getting a vaccine

An OHSU provider examines a syringe with measured dosage of COVID-19 vaccine.
An OHSU provider prepares a dose of the Pfizer vaccine.

A vaccine helps protect you: A vaccine will make you much less likely to  get COVID-19. If you do get COVID-19, health experts expect the vaccine to make you less likely to become seriously ill.

Getting vaccinated may protect those around you: If you avoid getting sick, you are less likely to spread the virus to others, including people in your family and people at high risk of becoming seriously ill.

Vaccination is a safer way to get immunity: You may develop natural immunity by getting  COVID-19, but we don’t know how well this will protect you or how long this natural immunity may last. COVID-19 is unpredictable and can cause serious illness and death, so gaining immunity through infection is not as safe as being vaccinated. Also, getting sick puts you at higher risk of infecting others.

Vaccines can help end the pandemic: Over time, vaccines help populations safely develop immunity. Once enough people are vaccinated, the coronavirus won’t be able to widely spread, ending the pandemic. People who haven’t been vaccinated (such as babies) will also be protected because those around them won’t have the virus. 

Learn how COVID-19 vaccines work, why OHSU experts are confident they’re safe, and why they recommend getting one.

COVID-19 vaccine FAQ

Supplies are limited. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends vaccinating the highest-risk groups first, and states are following suit.

Vaccines are being given first to at-risk health care workers and to residents of long-term care facilities. Both the CDC and the Oregon Health Authority say it’s important to protect health care workers so they are able to care for patients who get COVID-19.

OHSU, in line with CDC and OHA guidelines, is first vaccinating health care workers most at risk of being exposed to the coronavirus. We are also putting a high priority, among those workers, on:

  • Those who are 55 and older.
  • Those who identify as part of the BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and people of color) community.
  • Those who disclose a medical risk factor.

States have detailed plans on how to distribute vaccines as supplies increase:

  • Oregon vaccine tool: See the Oregon Health Authority's Vaccine Eligibility & FAQ tool (scroll down to "Let's get started.") If you are eligible for a vaccine, the tool will enable you to make an appointment at the Oregon Convention Center.
  • See the chart near the top of this page to learn who is eligible for a vaccine now and when other groups will be added.
  • Vaccines are expected to be available to members of the general public who are 16 or older as soon as spring 2021. 
  • Learn more on the Oregon Health Authority's COVID-19 Vaccine in Oregon page.

It's not clear.

So far, vaccines are available in the U.S. only for people who are at least 16. Vaccines are first tested in adults to make sure they are safe and effective. Then they are tested in older children before clinical trials start with younger children.

Both Moderna and Pfizer are testing their vaccines in children as young as 12. Moderna hopes to have a vaccine approved for ages 12 and older by summer 2021, CEO Stephane Bancel said in January 2021. That could enable older students to return to school in fall 2021.

Moderna expects to start clinical trials in younger children soon, but Bancel said the company doesn’t expect to have results until 2022.

Meanwhile, vaccinations of adults will help protect children, too. As more people are vaccinated, the coronavirus will become less able to spread. Children are also at much lower risk of serious illness from the coronavirus.

The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines spur the body to make antibodies that specifically fight the coronavirus. Antibodies are made by white blood cells and are part of the immune system — the body’s system to fight infection.

The vaccines do this by sending a snippet of genetic material from the coronavirus — instructions called messenger RNA or mRNA — into  cells. The instructions tell the cells to make a harmless spike protein like the one on the coronavirus.

The body’s immune system recognizes that this protein doesn’t belong here. It activates white blood cells to form the infection-fighting antibodies. The immune system also remembers the spike protein, so it's ready to fight the real coronavirus should it become present in the body.

Once the proteins are made, the body destroys the mRNA.

After vaccination:

  • If you contract the coronavirus, your immune system is better able to attack it, making you less likely to develop COVID-19.
  • Based on knowledge of other illnesses, health experts expect that if you do develop COVID-19, you will be less likely to become seriously ill.
  • Your immune system knows how to fight the coronavirus without having come in contact with it.

Learn more:

Health and government experts are confident the vaccines are as safe as possible.

The FDA’s emergency-use authorization makes a vaccine or other treatment available quickly in a crisis. It is not full FDA approval. Vaccines are also being developed in months instead of years.

To get emergency authorization, though, vaccines have gone through three phases of clinical trials (tests on people) involving tens of thousands of participants. Clinical trials must follow rigorous rules for safety and oversight.

The FDA, CDC and other government agencies have many systems to monitor the vaccines for any safety issues that didn’t turn up in the trials. They can act quickly if a problem is spotted. Tools include v-safe, which lets people use a smartphone to report any side effects to the CDC.

Dr. Peter Marks, the FDA’s top vaccine official, said speed did not come at the expense of safety. He noted:

  • The trials have been unusually large, quickly producing data from many participants.
  • Vaccine makers, some aided by government funding, have been able to start large-scale manufacturing much sooner than usual.
  • Gaps between phases were shortened.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious-disease expert, agreed. “The speed was not at all at the sacrifice of safety,” he told ABC. “The speed was the reflection of extraordinary advances in the science of vaccine platform technology.”

Learn more:

You can expect mainly mild to moderate side effects such as:

  • Fatigue
  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Muscle aches and pains

In clinical trials, side effects tended to be higher after the second dose, and less for those older than 65.

Side effects can be managed with:

  • Rest
  • Drinking fluids
  • Fever-reducing medication, such as acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin)

Call your health care provider if you have side effects that bother you or that don't go away.

Learn more:

What to Expect after Getting a COVID-19 Vaccine, CDC

Call 911 or go to the nearest hospital if you have a severe allergic reaction such as:

  • Swelling of the throat and mouth
  • Trouble breathing
  • Lightheadedness
  • Confusion
  • Blue skin or lips
  • Fainting

Call your health care provider if you have side effects that bother you or that don’t go away.

Learn more:

COVID-19 Vaccines and Allergic Reactions, CDC

Health officials are tracking side effects as part of widespread efforts to monitor vaccine safety. You can report side effects to:

  • The FDA/CDC Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS): Visit the VAERS website or call 1-800-822-7967.
  • V-safe: Learn how to use the CDC’s new v-safe smartphone tool.

Yes. There are several reasons:

  • If you have a two-dose vaccine, your vaccination won’t be complete until after you’ve had the second dose. The second dose is after three weeks for the Pfizer vaccine, four weeks for Moderna.
  • It can take two weeks for your body to develop immunity after your vaccination. You could come in contact with the coronavirus in the meantime.
  • The vaccines appear to do a good job of preventing COVID-19. But experts don't yet know if being vaccinated will prevent you from carrying and spreading the virus to others, with or without symptoms.
  • Health experts say that stopping the pandemic will require every tool available. Masks, frequent hand-washing and physical distancing (staying at least 6 feet from others) will still play important roles.

To start your protection as soon as possible, you should be vaccinated as soon as possible. This means getting the vaccine that is available to you.

Both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines have been found to be highly effective. In addition, any new vaccine must be found to offer good protection against COVID-19 to win FDA authorization. The FDA also continues monitoring vaccines to see how they perform.

No. The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines and others in the pipeline do not contain live virus. That makes it impossible to get COVID-19 from the vaccine.

Although mRNA vaccines have not been widely used against an infectious disease before, they have been used in cancer treatments. Researchers have also been working with mRNA vaccines for decades in studies of the flu, Zika and other illnesses.

The mRNA vaccines for COVID-19 have been developed with the same rigorous standards applied to all vaccines.

No. DNA is in the nucleus of cells, protected by the nuclear membrane. The mRNA does not enter the nucleus, and it does not affect or interact with DNA. In addition, mRNA from a vaccine cannot be made into DNA that could change a person's DNA.  

Yes, you may choose to be vaccinated. Though it’s not required, you may want to talk with your pregnancy provider about:

  • Your risk of being exposed to the coronavirus.
  • The higher risk of serious illness for people who get COVID-19 while pregnant.
  • The higher risk of premature birth or other pregnancy complications for people who get COVID-19 while pregnant.
  • Whether you have any other medical condition that could put you at higher risk of serious illness from COVID-19.
  • Information about vaccines in people who aren’t pregnant.
  • The lack of information about COVID-19 vaccines in people who are pregnant.

Learn more:

OHSU experts recommend that you talk with your health care provider. The CDC says people who are both breastfeeding and in a high-priority group recommended for vaccination, such as health care workers, may choose to be vaccinated.

There is no data on the safety of COVID-19 vaccines in people who are breastfeeding, in breast milk or in breastfeeding infants. Breastfeeding people were not part of clinical trials. The CDC says, though, that mRNA vaccines are not thought to be a risk to breastfeeding infants.

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends that vaccination be offered to people who are breastfeeding under the same guidelines as for people who aren’t.

Learn more:

Vaccination Considerations for People who are Pregnant or Breastfeeding, CDC

Yes. It's possible to get COVID-19 again, which can result in serious illness.

In addition, experts don’t know how long people can expect to be immune after having COVID-19. The CDC said early evidence suggests it’s not very long.

Scientists don’t know yet. Dr. Anthony Fauci estimates the U.S. will reach population immunity (also called herd immunity) when 75-80% of the population has been vaccinated. This is the point at which enough people have immunity to keep the coronavirus from easily spreading.

Learn more about COVID-19 vaccines

An OHSU health care worker is vaccinated with COVID-19 vaccine
An OHSU health care worker is vaccinated after OHSU received a shipment of Pfizer vaccines.