Conversation Guide: COVID-19 Vaccines

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Updated March 2022 to emphasize boosters and staying up-to-date.

Many client-facing staff are receiving client questions related to the COVID-19 vaccine. These questions may be in response to vaccine-related outreach and support, or they may occur during other programming and work. Staff may feel unsure about how to respond for reasons such as health-related issues being outside their normal scope of work or not having in-depth training on the vaccines. This webpage is designed to help client-facing staff competently respond to common vaccine questions. It lists frequently asked questions and helpful responses as well as provides additional resources to give to clients who wish to seek out additional information.

For more information, view the slides and download the role play script from our webinar, Practical Approaches For Discussing COVID-19 Vaccines With Clients.

  • Remember, the role of service provider agencies is to ensure that clients have accurate information from trusted sources and an avenue for addressing questions and concerns in order to make informed decisions that are best for themselves and their family. Client facing staff are not responsible for convincing clients to get the vaccine. 
  • Stay within your knowledge base. If you don’t know the answer to a client’s question, consider connecting the client to linguistically accurate information from trusted and vetted sources, or telling clients that you don’t currently have the answer but will get back to them.
  • Let people know that having questions and concerns are normal and that you want them to have accurate information from credible sources so they can make the best decision for themselves and their family.
  • If a client has incorrect information, don’t tell them that they are wrong, as that response is likely to be unproductive and discounts what may be an understandable hesitancy. Instead, equip people by pointing them to trusted and accessible sources of information so that they can make their own decisions.
  • When countering misinformation, try not to repeat it. Studies show that repeating myths and misinformation – even when fact-checking or discounting it – increases the chance that people will remember the myth or misinformation. Instead, repeat what you know to be facts and bolster these with accurate information from trusted sources.
  • Make sure any information you give is linguistically accessible in the client’s preferred language and, where possible, that you offer a variety of formats – print, video, etc. – to accommodate different learning styles and literacy levels.

Vaccine Safety

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How do you know the vaccine is safe?

The vaccines have been proven safe for people of different races, ethnicities, ages, and health conditions. Furthermore, the vaccines have met the US Food and Drug Administration’s high scientific standards for safety, effectiveness, and manufacturing. Since December 2020, hundreds of millions of doses have been given in the United States. The vaccines' safety has been closely monitored, and has resulted in no serious safety concerns with the vaccines being used in the US. If you want more information, here are some resources that might be helpful.

Videos Resources 

“How We Know the Vaccine is Safe” from EBARC nonprofit in Polk County, Iowa in Burmese, Falam Chin, French, Hakha Chin, Karen, Karenni, Lingala, Mizo Chin, Spanish, Swahili

How did they make and approve the vaccine so quickly?

There are lots of different types of coronaviruses and scientists have been studying them for many years. Because of this, scientists already had lots of previous research that they could use to develop the vaccine. 

In addition, the government funded many companies to work in development and testing at the same time. When a vaccine is normally made, it gets tested first before large amounts of the vaccine are made. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic and funding from governments, scientists were able to do both at the same time. 

All of this allowed the development of the vaccine to move faster than usual. It is important to know that not all of the vaccines that were made and tested were approved. Only the vaccines that were tested and proven to be safe were approved for use.

Print Resources

"Frequently Asked Questions About How COVID-19 Vaccines are Made” in English, Amharic, Arabic, Chinese, French, Hindi, Hmong, Karen, Lao, Nepali, Oromo, Russian, Somali, Spanish, Swahili, Vietnamese

Videos Resources

Frequently Asked Questions about How COVID-19 Vaccines are Made” in Spanish (YouTube)

“How Can Vaccine and Antibody Studies Move So Quickly and Still Be Safe?” from the Washington State Department of Health in Amharic, Arabic, Burmese, Chinese (Simplified), Chinese (Traditional), Chuukese, English, English (ASL), Farsi, French, German, Hindi, Hmong, Japanese, Karen, Khmer (Cambodian), Korean, Lao, Marshallese, Mixteco Bajo, Nepali, Oromo, Portuguese, Punjabi, Romanian, Russian, Samoan, Somali, Spanish, Swahili, Tagalog, Tamil, Telugu, Thai, Tigrinya, Ukrainian, Urdu, Vietnamese

Audio Resources

"How COVID Vaccines are Made" from the Washington State Department of Health in English, and Spanish 

How does the COVID-19 vaccine work?

The vaccines teach your body to recognize and kill the virus that causes COVID-19. That is why some people have cold or flu-like symptoms for a day or two after getting a vaccine. This is the body working to recognize the virus and activating the body’s immune system to kill it in the future if you get the actual virus. 

Video Resources

“How Would COVID Vaccines Work in Your Body” from the Washington State Department of Health in English, Spanish, Amharic, Chinese (Simplified), Chinese (Traditional), Farsi/Persian, Japanese, Korean, Oromo, Russian, Tagalog, Tigrinya, Ukrainian, Vietnamese

Audio Resources

"How Vaccines Work in Your Body": English, Spanish

Is the COVID-19 vaccine halal?

Yes. The vaccines are deemed Halal by many Islamic religious leaders and scholars. The vaccines have received stamps of approval from many Muslim religious leaders, scholars, and organizations, including the British Islamic Medical Association, the Assembly of Muslim Jurists of America, and the Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia.

Video Resources

Watch Imam Magid talks about COVID-19 vaccines with the US Surgeon General (English) - Full video
Clip: Are COVID-19 Vaccines Halal?, Clip: Can we trust the COVID-19 vaccines?

Imam Wazir (Atlanta) discusses Muslim faith and COVID-19 vaccines – English, Somali, Oromo, Arabic, Harari, Amharic

What does it mean for a vaccine to receive "full approval" from the FDA?

When the Pfizer (Comirnaty), Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson vaccines were first made available in the United States, they had something called “Emergency Use Authorization” or EUA. 

The process for giving vaccines EUA is very rigorous. A vaccine gets EUA in an emergency situation if scientists can clearly see that it is very effective in preventing severe COVID-19 and the risks of serious side effects are extremely low. When a vaccine has EUA, people can receive it earlier in the approval process to be protected from serious effects of COVID-19 while scientists continue to study the vaccine. Hundreds of millions of people have been safely vaccinated with vaccines that have EUA.

A vaccine gets “full approval” when the FDA has even more scientific evidence that shows that the vaccines are safe and effective, and the FDA is sure that the vaccines are manufactured reliably and safely.

As of February 2022, only the Pfizer (Comirnaty) and Moderna vaccines have received full approval. However, because the EUA process is very rigorous, Johnson & Johnson is also considered to be very safe and effective. 

What is VAERS and why does it include reports of people having complications from the vaccine?

The Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting (VAERS) is a national early warning system to detect possible safety concerns related to immunizations. It is co-managed by the Federal Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Anyone can submit information to VAERS, even members of the public. Some reports are inaccurate or incomplete. Some reports could even be false. Healthcare providers are encouraged to submit reports to VAERS for any health problem, even if they don’t think it is related to the vaccine.

Even if all the reports are accurate, the risk of severe complications from COVID-19 is much, much greater than any risk from the vaccine.

For more information, visit the CDC and HHS websites. 

Side Effects

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What sort of side effects should I expect from the vaccine?

Some people have side effects after vaccination and some people do not. Side effects show that your body is building protection against the virus. The most common side effects after the COVID-19 vaccination include tenderness, redness, and swelling of the area where you received the shot. In addition, you may experience tiredness, headache, muscle pain, chills, fever, and nausea. For both adults and children, these side effects typically last 1 or 2 days.

While side effects can be uncomfortable, adults and children who are vaccinated are less likely to catch the virus and much less likely to get dangerously ill from the virus. A healthcare provider can give you advice for how you can make you or your child more comfortable if side effects occur. 

It is important to note that the benefits of the COVID-19 vaccination are much greater than any potential risk of side effects. 

Videos Resources

"COVID-19 Vaccine Information" by Milwaukee's Refugee Community Advisory Board in Karen, Rohingya, and Swahili (English Script)

I am concerned about long-term side effects of COVID-19 vaccines. What do scientists know about it?

There are no known long-term side effects of COVID-19 vaccines, even after hundreds of millions of people have been safely vaccinated. Given the experience with the vaccines for more than a year, any long-term side effects would be extraordinarily rare, and likely will not occur. Most side effects or adverse events related to vaccines actually happen within a couple days of receiving the vaccine.

Many people do get long-term side effects of a COVID-19 infection. This is called “long COVID” and includes joint or muscle pain, shortness of breath, sleep problems, change or loss of your sense of smell or taste, difficulty thinking or concentrating, and more. Even if you did not have symptoms when you had COVID-19, you can still develop long-term complications later. These long-term effects of COVID-19 have negatively impacted hundreds of thousands of people’s quality of life.

Getting vaccinated has a much, much lower risk of causing long-term effects than getting the infection. Getting vaccinated is the best way to protect yourself against COVID-19.

I have been hearing lots of things about the vaccine, like it can alter your DNA or make it so that you can’t have children. Is that true?

No. The COVID-19 vaccines will not interact with or alter your DNA. The vaccines have been extensively studied and there have been no effects on fertility

There is a lot of information about the COVID-19 vaccines – some of it factual and some of it not true. The most important thing is for you to go to sources that are reliable and that use studied, scientific facts. This will allow you to get all of the information you need to make the best decision for you and your family. Sometimes it is also helpful to talk to someone you trust and whom you know has accurate information – like a doctor, nurse, or a community health worker. Many of these professionals have already gotten the vaccine so they can also tell you about their experiences. Here are some resources that might be helpful.

Websites (Could also consider printing out for clients)

“Is it True? COVID-19 Vaccine Fact Checking” from King County, WA in English, Amharic, Arabic, Chinese (Simplified), Chinese (Traditional), French, Khmer, Korean, Marshallese, Oromo, Russian, Samoan, Somali, Spanish, Tigrinya, Tongan, Ukrainian, Vietnamese

Video Resources

“COVID-19 Vaccine Hesitancy” from New American Neighbors in AmharicArabicDari, FrenchNepaliPashtoSomali

“How to Spot Fact vs. Fiction Online” from the Washington State Department of Health in English


Getting Vaccinated

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Should I get the vaccine?

COVID-19 is still infecting thousands of people every day including elderly, adults, teens and children. The best way to protect yourself, your family, and your community is to stay up-to-date with your COVID-19 vaccines. If you are not up-to-date, you are more likely to get infected, get dangerously ill or die, and spread it to others - including your family and friends.

A few months after you receive your first shot(s), you will be eligible for a booster shot. Getting boosters when you are eligible helps you stay protected against COVID-19.

It is important that everyone makes the decision that is best for themselves, their family, and their community after knowing all the facts. 

Video Resources

“You Should Get the Vaccine – Here’s Why” from Georgia State University in AmharicArabicBurmese, Chin, Burmese Karen, English, Farsi, French, Haitian Creole, Japanese, Korean, Kurdish, Kurmanji, Kurdish Sorani, Mandarin, Nepali, Pashto, Portuguese, Spanish, Somali, Swahili, Tigrinya, Vietnamese

How much do I have to pay for the COVID-19 vaccine(s)?

In the US, vaccines are free for everyone. There is a possibility that you may be asked for your health insurance information, but you can receive a free vaccine even if you do not have insurance. Anyone can be vaccinated regardless of immigration status or whether they have an ID. 

For more information, please visit the CDC's Frequently Asked Questions about COVID-19 Vaccination.

I was vaccinated outside of the United States. Do I need to get vaccinated again?

You probably don’t need to get vaccinated again if you were vaccinated with a vaccine that is:

  • offered in the United States (currently Moderna, Pfizer, or Johnson & Johnson)
  • not offered in the United States but is approved by the World Health Organization (WHO). 

If you received a vaccine that is not approved by the WHO (like Sputnik or CanSino) you will likely need to get vaccinated again in the United States (source). Ask your doctor what is best for your specific situation.

Everyone in the U.S. should stay up-to-date with their COVID-19 vaccines by getting a booster shot when they are eligible. If you did not get a booster outside the United States, you should get one here so you can stay protected. It is best to get a booster a few months after your second dose of a two-shot vaccine (Moderna or Pfizer), or your first dose of a one-shot vaccine (Johnson & Johnson).

Why is everyone so interested in having refugees and immigrants get the vaccine? I worry that this is because they want to test the vaccine on us.

Even though COVID-19 has hit communities of color hardest – including refugee and immigrant communities - the vast majority of people who have gotten the vaccine are white. This is because there can be lots of barriers to getting the vaccine! For instance, many times you have to sign up to get the vaccine on a computer and all the instructions are in English. Sometimes you have to print out and complete a form, which means you have to have a printer at home. Being able to take time off from work, or having a car to get to a vaccine site, can also be barriers. These barriers can make it much harder for refugees and immigrants to get the vaccine.

Can I prevent COVID-19 with my home remedies?

No. There have been many scientific studies on the vaccines and they have proven to be effective in preventing serious illness and death from the virus that causes COVID-19; this is not true for home remedies. The most effective way to protect yourself and your family from COVID-19 is to get an approved vaccine.

I’ve heard that there are treatments now for COVID-19. Does that mean I don’t need to worry about getting vaccinated?

While the news about new treatments for COVID-19 is promising, it is much safer to prevent yourself from getting sick in the first place by being vaccinated, rather than seeking treatment after you are already ill. It is better to be vaccinated and use treatment as a back-up, if you need it. Once you get ill, you could have severe complications that cause hospitalization or death even if you get treatment. 

It is also best for you to be vaccinated because if you get COVID-19, it will be dangerous for others around you because you could get them sick with the virus.

The best way to protect yourself, your family, and your community from COVID-19 is to stay up-to-date with your COVID-19 vaccines. If you are not up-to-date, you are much more likely to get infected with COVID-19, get dangerously ill or die, and spread it to others.

Wearing a mask, practicing social distancing, avoiding gatherings with many people, staying home when you are sick and washing your hands frequently are other ways to keep yourself and others safe.

After Vaccination

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How long does it take after I get my vaccine to be protected?

With all the currently approved vaccines, it takes at least a couple weeks after your last shot to get most of the protection the vaccines offer. This is because it takes time for your immune system to learn how to recognize and kill the virus and build its defenses.

In order to stay protected from COVID-19, it is important to stay up-to-date on your COVID-19 vaccines, including getting booster shots when you are eligible. 

Why do I have to still wear a mask after I get the vaccine?

When people to get COVID-19 after they are vaccinated, scientists call it a “breakthrough infection.” Even if you are vaccinated, you can catch COVID-19 and may not know it because you may not feel sick at all. This makes it more likely that you could spread it to family and friends. 

While getting vaccinated is the most important step for you to take to protect yourself and your community, wearing a mask provides even more protection. Masks protect you and people around you from getting COVID-19. 

Will I need to get an additional shot after I am fully vaccinated?

It is important to stay up-to-date with your COVID-19 vaccines. This includes getting a booster shot when you are eligible. If you are not up-to-date, you are much more likely to get infected with COVID-19, get dangerously ill or die, and spread it to others.

Boosters are shots you get after you are fully vaccinated so that you can stay protected against COVID-19. You should get a booster a few months after your second dose of a two-shot vaccine (Moderna or Pfizer), or your first dose of a one-shot vaccine (Johnson & Johnson).

Why do COVID-19 guidelines keep changing? Boosters, mask guidelines, and other recommendations have all changed since I first heard about them.

As health experts study COVID-19, how it spreads, and how long the vaccines last, they change the guidelines to reflect what they learn. COVID-19 is brand new in humans and they are learning and studying it every day. Every time health experts change the recommendations, it is because they have found new ways to keep us safe.

COVID-19 also changes over time. For example, the Delta variant of COVID-19 is much easier to catch and spread to others, and it may cause more severe illness. As COVID-19 changes, experts may need to change recommendations to keep up with the virus.

It is common for health recommendations to change. Health experts have changed what age they recommend starting certain cancer screenings, for example. These changes usually occur slowly. When a virus is brand new, like COVID-19, recommendations change more quickly.

What does it mean to be “fully vaccinated”?

Being “fully vaccinated” means it has been at least two weeks since your second dose of a two-shot vaccine (Pfizer or Moderna), or two weeks since you received the one-shot vaccine (Johnson & Johnson).

​​Fully vaccinated, however, does not mean you are fully protected. For the most protection, it is important to be up-to-date on your COVID-19 vaccines. That means getting a booster shot when you’re eligible.

What does it mean to be “up-to-date”?

Being up-to-date means getting both doses of a two-shot vaccine, and then getting any booster shots you are eligible for. If you are not up-to-date, you are much more likely to get infected with COVID-19, get dangerously ill or die, and spread it to others.


Vaccine Cards

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What is a vaccine card?

If you were vaccinated in the U.S. you were likely given a small white card that has information about which vaccine you got, when you got it, the medical provider who gave it to you, and how many doses you have had. This is called a CDC COVID-19 Vaccination Record Card or “vaccine card” for short.

Woman in business suit holds COVID-19 Vaccine Card

Why is it important to keep my vaccine card?

Because your vaccine card shows which vaccines you got and when you got them, it makes it easier for healthcare providers to know which vaccine to give you for your second dose and your booster(s).

It is also important to keep your card because you may be asked to show it to prove that you have been vaccinated.

When might I need to show my vaccine card?

You may be asked to show your vaccine card at restaurants, movie theaters, malls, retail stores, sports stadiums, concerts, and some outdoor events. You may also be asked to show this card to board airplanes, travel outside the country, or return to the U.S. after traveling. 

Many employers require their workers to be vaccinated. It is best to check with your employer about company-specific vaccine policies. In general, if you were vaccinated in the U.S., you can show them your vaccine card as proof. 
 

How can I ensure I do not lose my card?

Take a photo of your card with your phone if you have one. That way you can prove that you are vaccinated while keeping your card safe at home.
Some states and providers have phone apps or other ways to access your records electronically. Ask your vaccine provider about your options.

I was vaccinated in the United States. What should I do if I do not have a vaccine card?

If you were not given a COVID-19 vaccination card or it is lost, you can first try asking your vaccine provider for a replacement card or proof of vaccination. If this is not possible, you can try contacting your state's health department. Each state has an immunization registry where you may be able to look up your vaccine record online. COVID-19 vaccine registries vary by US state and sometimes by city. 

I was vaccinated in another country. Can I get a vaccine card?

CDC COVID-19 Vaccination Record Cards are only given to people vaccinated in the United States. If you have a record of the vaccination you received in another country, you can show it to your healthcare provider or local health department and ask them about the best way to prove you are vaccinated without a vaccine card.

I was vaccinated in another country. What should I do if I don’t have a record?

  • If you arrived through the United States Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP), contact your state health department for help. They may be able to get your record from the CDC’s Division of Global Migration and Quarantine (DGMQ) and the International Organization for Migration (IOM).
  • If you did not arrive through USRAP or are otherwise unable to get proof of your vaccination, you should talk to your local health departments or a healthcare professional about whether they can give you a vaccine card based on the information you can remember from your vaccination. 
  • If they cannot give you a vaccine card based on what you remember, you may need to get vaccinated again. This is safe as long as enough time has passed since the vaccine you got when you were abroad. Your healthcare provider or the vaccine clinic where you will receive additional vaccines can help you determine what timing is the safest for you.
     

COVID-19 + the Flu

View fact sheet

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How do I know if I have COVID-19 or seasonal influenza (flu)?

The symptoms of COVID-19 and the symptoms of the seasonal influenza (flu) are very similar: fever, cough, shortness of breath, fatigue (tiredness), sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, muscle pain or body aches, and headache.

The only way to know for sure whether you have COVID-19, the flu, or another cold virus is to get tested.

Is it safe to go to work or school if I feel sick?

Staying home from work, school or social events anytime you feel sick is one of the most important things you can do to protect your family, friends and community.

Why is it important that I get protected against the flu?

Getting the flu can be dangerous anytime, and protecting yourself with a vaccine is always wise. However, this year there is additional reasons why to get protected:

  • People who get the flu and COVID-19 at the same time may be at even higher risk for severe complications and death.
  • If you get very sick with the flu it can be difficult to get medical help. Doctors, clinics and hospitals may not be able to take care of as many flu patients as they normally do because there are so many people sick with COVID-19. 

How can I protect myself and my community from the flu and COVID-19?

Get the COVID-19 vaccine and the flu vaccine for the most protection.

  • Both vaccines protect you, your family, and your community. 
  • Both vaccines make it less likely for you to get sick and spread illness to others. They also prevent you from getting dangerously ill if you do get sick.

Other things you can do to protect yourself and your community include:

  • Stay home from work, school or social events anytime you feel sick
  • Wear a mask, even if you’re vaccinated
  • Practice social distancing
  • Wash hands and surfaces frequently
     

Can I get the flu vaccine and a COVID-19 vaccine at the same time?

Yes, it is safe and effective to get both the COVID-19 vaccine and the flu vaccine at the same time.

Can children receive a flu vaccine?

Yes, flu vaccines are safe for children. Even children who are not yet old enough for the COVID-19 vaccine can receive a flu shot.


Different Vaccines

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What is the Comirnaty vaccine?

Comirnaty is another name for the Pfizer BioNTech vaccine. This is the exact same vaccine that millions of people have received since it was first introduced in December 2020; it is very safe and effective. 

Why do some vaccines have two doses and some have one?

The two-shot vaccines and one-shot vaccines are slightly different – but they are all safe and effective at preventing serious illness, hospitalization and death. There are lots of other vaccines that need two or more doses to be the most effective – like the hepatitis A & B vaccines, and the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine.

It is important to stay up-to-date with your COVID-19 vaccines so you stay protected. This includes getting both doses of a two-shot vaccine, and then getting a booster shot when you are eligible. 

Boosters are common for many vaccines. For example, tetanus vaccines require boosters every 10 years for adults. 

Johnson & Johnson (J&J) Vaccines

View Fact Sheet

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What information do you have about side effects of the J&J vaccine?

In spring 2021, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a temporary pause on the J&J vaccine in order to study incidences of a rare type of blood clot in some people who received it. 

After careful review, the CDC determined the J&J vaccine was safe and effective at preventing serious illness, hospitalization and death. However, The CDC recommends getting a Pfizer or Moderna vaccine instead of the J&J vaccine if possible, because they do not have this rare side effect.

Is the J&J vaccine unsafe?

The J&J vaccine is safe. After review of all available data, the CDC and FDA have determined that the benefits that the J&J vaccine bring in keeping us and our loved ones safe exceedingly outweigh the rare side effect. However, the CDC recommends that people get the Moderna or Pfizer vaccines if possible, because there are currently no concerns about this type of blood clot in people who have received these COVID-19 vaccines.