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COVID-19 Vaccine & Vaccination FAQ

THE HEALTH AND WELL-BEING of our community is our top priority. Tompkins County Health Department (TCHD) is working closely with community partners to prevent and respond to the evolving novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak.

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On This Page

The Tompkins County Health Department is urging everyone in our community who is able to get vaccinated for COVID-19 as it becomes available. Widescale vaccination is critical for developing immunity in our community. When a high percentage of people are vaccinated, their immunity against the virus will stop the transmission, as well as protect those who are unable to get the vaccine.

Everyone has a part in ensuring that the community stays healthy and safe. In addition to continuing to wear masks, maintain distance, wash hands, and follow gathering guidance, we can all encourage our friends, family, and neighbors to get vaccinated when it is available. Follow this website and the Health Department’s Facebook and Twitter channels for updates on the vaccine in our community.

About the vaccines

Are the vaccines safe?

Yes. The COVID-19 vaccines have gone through the same rigorous review that all vaccines must follow in the U.S. In New York, the State’s independent COVID-19 Clinical Advisory Task Force also approved these COVID-19 vaccines as safe and effective. While the vaccine is in use, the FDA and the CDC are constantly monitoring for new side effects.

Do the vaccines work?

Yes. All of the vaccines currently available in the US protect people against severe disease, hospitalization, and death due to COVID-19, based both on clinical trials and real-world experience and observation. No vaccines are 100% effective, so some fully vaccinated individuals will still get sick. However, data collected on these "breakthrough cases" suggest that symptoms are milder for these individuals. The vaccines can also reduce the spread of COVID-19, protecting others.

The vaccine was developed too fast.

Even though this is the first time the “mRNA” vaccines have been authorized for public use, the science and testing behind them has been underway for more than 10 years. The clinical trials for the vaccines were thorough and the results were carefully reviewed. Because the FDA granted a Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) for each vaccine, they were available much sooner than would be expected when an emergency use is not necessary.

The Pfizer vaccine has full FDA approval as of 8/23/21.

Could a vaccine infect me with COVID-19?

No. None of the vaccines authorized or under review for use in the U.S. are made with the live virus that causes a COVID-19 infection or would make you sick.

Are the vaccines effective against COVID-19 “variants?”

Yes. The vaccines are effectively protect against severe disease caused by the dominant variants. However, data suggests that the effectiveness rate may decrease (wane) over time and booster shots may be needed. An effective vaccine protects against severe disease, hospitalization, and death. 

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Getting vaccinated

When can I be vaccinated?

Now. Everyone age 6 months and over who lives, works, or goes to school in New York State is eligible to be vaccinated here.

When is someone "fully vaccinated?"

According to the CDC, you are up to date with your COVID-19 vaccines only when you have received all doses in the primary series and all boosters that are recommended for you and you are eligible to receive.

Will getting vaccinated prevent me from getting sick with COVID-19?

No. There is still a chance of getting the disease. However, you risk of severe disease, hospitalization, or death is much lower when you are up to date with your vaccinations.

Will the vaccine cause a positive test on future COVID-19 viral tests?

No. Authorized vaccines will not cause a positive on any of the tests used to detect a current infection.

Can I infect others even after I’m vaccinated?

Yes. If you are exposed to someone with COVID-19 you should take precautions around others until you are certain that you're not infected (about 5 days after exposure). If you are sick with COVID-19 you should isolate from others even if you are up-to-date with your vaccination.

Should I get the vaccine if I already had a coronavirus infection?

Yes. The science shows that the vaccine provides better and longer-lasting protection than the defenses your body builds up when you were infected.

Can I get vaccinated if I am currently sick with COVID-19?

No. People with COVID-19 — both those who have symptoms and those who do not — should wait to be vaccinated until they have recovered from their illness and are released from isolation by the Health Department.

How much will it cost to get vaccinated against COVID-19?

Nothing. There is no charge or co-pay to be vaccinated in NYS. However, if you have health insurance or Medicare Part B, bring your card with you to the clinic.

What do I need to bring to the vaccination site?

You need to bring identification that shows your date of birth and that you are a resident of New York State. If you are not a resident, you need to bring documents that show you work or go to school in New York. You should also bring your CDC vacciation card if you have one.

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

Yes. There is no required interval of time between receiving a COVID-19 vaccine and any other vaccine, such as the flu shot (you may want to consider getting one in each arm rather than both in the same arm). The Health Department recommends that everyone age 6 months and older get a flu shot every year. Most local pharmacies provide flu vaccines, or contact your primary care provider.

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What if …

What if I am pregnant or breastfeeding?

All of the currently authorized COVID-19 vaccines are safe for people who are pregnant or breastfeeding. If you have questions, discuss this with your practitioner. There is currently no evidence that any vaccines, including COVID-19 vaccines, cause fertility problems.

Will the vaccine affect my fertility?

There is no scientific evidence to suggest that either the COVID-19 vaccines or being infected by the virus affect fertility in women. Out of all the women of child-bearing age who have been either infected or vaccinated, there is no evidence that the COVID pandemic has changed fertility patterns.

Can children be vaccinated with the current vaccines?

The Pfizer vaccine has been authorized for use in individuals ages 6 months and up. The Moderna vaccine has been authorized for ages 6 months and over. The Pfizer bivalent booster is authorized for ages 5 years and up, the Moderna bivalent booster for ages 6 and up.

Will I need the vaccine to go to work or school?

Maybe. Many workplaces and schools are requiring staff and students to be vaccinated as a condition of employment or enrollment. This is legal. In some cases regular testing is allowed as an alternative to vaccination. You should check with the school, college, or employer.

What are the side effects of the vaccine?

The vaccination is an injection (shot) like the flu vaccine. The most common side effects are injection site pain or soreness, tiredness, headache, muscle pain, fever. These symptoms go away after a few days. You can learn more about side effects in this section below.

Can I get time off to get vaccinated?

A NYS law grants time off for public and private employees to receive any dose of the COVID-19 vaccination, including booster doses. Under the law, employees will be granted up to four hours of excused leave per injection that will not be charged against any other leave the employee has earned or accrued. This legislation was passed and signed in March 2021, and remains in effect through the end of the year. 

Can I get sick pay if I have side effects from the vaccine? How long will I be out of work if I have side effects?

Whether there are side effects from the vaccination, and if so the severity, is different for everyone. New York’s paid sick leave law requires employers with five or more employees or net income of more than $1 million to provide paid sick leave to employees, and for employers with fewer than five employees and a net income of $1 million or less, to provide unpaid sick leave to employees. This law is in addition to the New York State provisions already in effect providing emergency paid sick time due to COVID-19, as well as the COVID-19 vaccination leave protections signed into law by Governor Cuomo on March 12, 2021. Additional information is in this guidance document from NYSDOL.

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But …

I’m afraid of needles, is there another way to receive the shot?

Many people are afraid of needles, so you are not alone. However, right now there are no other ways of getting vaccinated. If you have a chronic illness or condition and are concerned about pain during or after you get a shot, it is best to talk with your primary care doctor who knows your situation. You may also speak with a nurse at the vaccination site.  

I’ve got a lot of allergies and someone told me not to get it

There is a remote chance that a vaccine could cause a severe allergic reaction, but this would usually occur within a few minutes to one hour after getting vaccinated. For this reason, individuals are asked to stay at the clinic site for 15 to 30 minutes after they get their shot to be monitored by medical staff for any allergic response. Registered nurses are on site, both administering vaccinations and in the observation area, so be sure to tell one if you are concerned.

I take a lot of vitamins and keep myself really healthy.

A healthy lifestyle can make you feel better everyday!  But that may not be enough to keep you from getting infected with the virus. Even with a mild or “asymptomatic” case of COVID-19, you can still spread the virus to others with weaker immune systems. That is why it’s so important to get vaccinated, and continue to wear a mask in public places, wash hands well, avoid crowds, and social distance to prevent the disease from spreading.

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Booster doses

According to the CDC, you are up to date with your COVID-19 vaccines when you have received all doses in the primary series and all boosters recommended for you, when eligible.

Why are booster doses needed?

COVID-19 vaccines are working very well to prevent severe illness, hospitalization, and death, even against many of the currently circulating variants. However, studies show after getting vaccinated against COVID-19, protection against the virus and the ability to prevent infection with variants may decrease over time and due to changes in variants.

A booster or additional dose of the COVID-19 vaccine will help maximize your protection, prolong the vaccine’s durability, and continue to safeguard us all against the virus. The newest "bivalent" vaccines also target the Omicron variant, which continues to be the most widely circulating variant of the Sars-CoV-2 virus that causes the COVID-19 disease.


The updated (bivalent) boosters add Omicron BA.4 and BA.5 spike protein components to the current vaccine composition. This addition helps restore protection that has decreased since previous vaccination by targeting variants that are more transmissible and evade the immune system. Receiving an updated booster dose will increase your protection against current variants, reducing severity of illness should you become infected.

Ages 6 months to 5 years old

Follow the protocol below for which vaccine brand to get. Contact your child's pediatrician for guidance and to schedule a vaccination. Local pharmacies are able to vaccinate children age 3 and older. Call or go online for availability and appointments before you go. Contact information for local pharmacies is here.

  • Children ages 6 months through 5 years who previously completed a Moderna primary series are eligible to receive a Moderna bivalent booster 2 months after their final primary series dose.
  • Children ages 6 months through 4 years who are currently completing a Pfizer primary series will receive a Pfizer bivalent vaccine as their third primary dose.

Ages 5 years and older

You are eligible to receive an updated booster dose at least 2 months following your last vaccination, regardless of whether it was a completion of your initial series, a 1st booster or a 2nd booster dose.

  • Those ages 5 and older can receive the updated bivalent Pfizer-BioNTech booster. Moderna bivalent is also available for ages 6 and older
  • Those ages 18 and older can receive the updated bivalent Pfizer-BioNTech or updated Moderna bivalent booster.

Note: Ages 5 and older may mix vaccine brands. It is not necessary to get the same brand for your booster as you got for your primary series, or a previous booster. Get what's available so you stay up to date.

To find out if you are eligible for a booster dose, use the CDC’s interactive, online Booster Tool.

The booster doses will be primarily available at local pharmacies and healthcare provider offices. Find a vaccine near you online at or dial 2-1-1 (1-877-211-8667) for assistance. You will need to present your vaccination card demonstrating which vaccine(s) you were given and the date your most recent vaccine was received to obtain an updated booster dose.

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Vaccines for Children FAQ

The CDC recommends COVID-19 primary series vaccines for everyone ages 6 months and older, and COVID-19 boosters for all eligible individuals ages 5 years and older.

Should I consider getting my child vaccinated for COVID-19?

Yes. A wide range of doctors and other experts agree that there are many benefits of getting children vaccinated.

The vaccine helps prevent children from getting COVID-19:

While COVID-19 illness may be milder in children than in adults, severe lung infections can occur and make the child very sick, or even result in hospitalization. And because the Delta and Omicron variants are significantly more contagious than other variants that cause COVID-19, the risk of kids getting infected is even greater. The vaccines available now are effective in preventing severe illness, hospitalization, and death from all known variants that cause COVID-19. 

COVID-19 can cause death in children, although this is rarer than for adults.

The vaccine helps prevent or reduce the spread of COVID-19:

Cases of COVID-19 are increasing among children, and children infected with the coronavirus can transmit it to others, even when they have no symptoms. Getting vaccinated can protect both the child and others by reducing the chance that they transmit the virus to others, including your family members and friends who may be more susceptible to severe consequences of the infection.

Getting vaccinated for COVID-19 can help stop other variants from emerging:

Coronavirus can only mutate into new variants if it’s replicating in an infected person. Getting vaccinated reduces the potential for the virus to grow in the vaccinated person. That in turn decreases the opportunity for more mutations and new variants that may be even more dangerous than Delta.

Having your child vaccinated for COVID can help restore a more normal life:

The virus can transmit easily between unvaccinated children and adults, but children who are vaccinated are less likely to get infected when they are exposed to another child or adult with the virus, and therefore less likely to get sick or spread the virus. Less sickness and spread means they are more likely to be able to continue going to school and participating in other activities.

COVID-19 vaccines help protect the community:

Every child and adult who gets vaccinated reduces the potential of transmitting the virus to others in the community. This protects the health of those living and working here and throughout the region. When you and your child are vaccinated, you help break the cycle of spreading the virus from one person to another and so on throughout the community, slowing or stopping the possibility that more people will get sick, get hospitalized, or maybe even die.

Fewer overall infections among the population means less chance of severe infection and death in the community and of dangerous coronavirus variants emerging.

Is the children’s vaccine different than the adult vaccine?

Yes. The Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine for ages 5 through 11 years is a lower dose (10 micrograms) than that used for individuals aged 12 years and older (30 micrograms). It is administered as a two-dose primary series, 3 weeks apart, just like the adult vaccine. For children ages 6mos. through 4 years is also a lower dose (3 micrograms), administered as a three-dose series, 3 weeks apart.

The Moderna COVID-19 Vaccine for ages 6mos - 5 years is a lower dose, two-dose series, administered one month apart. Moderna for ages 6 years - 17 years is not yet authorized.

Are COVID vaccine side effects the same in children?

Generally, yes. These include pain at the injection site (upper arm), feeling more tired than usual, headache, achy muscles or joints. Even fever and chills are possible. The side effects generally clear up within 48 hours.

Are there specific concerns for kids getting COVID vaccines?

Since April 2021 there have been more than a thousand reports to the CDC of cases of myocarditis (inflammation of the heart muscle) and pericarditis (inflammation of the lining outside the heart) happening after some COVID-19 vaccinations in the United States.

However, after hundreds of millions of COVID-19 vaccine doses that have been administered, these reports are very rare. The myocarditis or pericarditis occurs more often in adolescents (teens) and young adults, and in males, and in almost all cases is mild and resolves quickly. And myocarditis is much more common as a complication from having COVID-19 than from getting vaccinated.

What to watch for: If, within a few days of receiving the second injection of an mRNA COVID-19 vaccination your child experiences chest pain, shortness of breath, or feelings of having a fast-beating, fluttering, or pounding heartbeat, you should seek medical attention right away.

The FDA and the CDC carefully go through the available clinical trial data before deciding whether to extend authorization of a vaccine for use by new age groups. The vaccines are continuously monitored for any signs of serious side effects and safety issues among the public.

Can I get COVID-19 from my child?

Yes, an infected child can transmit COVID-19 to you or another child or adult. Some studies suggest that young children may be less likely to spread the virus to others than older children and adults, but it can still happen. Getting vaccinated yourself will help protect you from severe illness if you catch COVID-19 from your child, and reduce the risk that you will spread the coronavirus to your children and other family members if you become infected

When & Where can I get my child vaccinated?

You can get your child vaccinated now. The CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) met on Saturday, June 18, 2022, and voted in favor of using the Moderna and Pfizer COVID-19 vaccines for children aged 6 months and older. On June 17th, the FDA authorized use of the Moderna and Pfizer vaccine for this age group. The decision was made after analyzing substantial data from clinical trials involving thousands of children, confirming the vaccine's safety and effectiveness for children in this age group. 

The CDC's ACIP met on November 2, 2021, and voted in favor of using the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine for children aged 5-11. On October 29, the FDA authorized use of the Pfizer vaccine in this age group .

Contact your child's healthcare provider or a local pharmacy for vaccine availability. Parents or guardians/caregivers must accompany every child and will need to sign a consent form for those under the age of 18.


Source for this section: COVID Vaccine: What Parents Need to Know, Johns Hopkins Medicine

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Safety of the COVID-19 Vaccines

Will these vaccines continue to be monitored for problems?

Yes. Even though no safety issues arose during the clinical trials, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and other federal partners will continue to monitor the new vaccines for serious side effects that may not have been seen in clinical trials. Any unexpected side effect will be quickly studied to determine if it is an isolated incident or a broader safety concern.

How will experts evaluate the COVID-19 vaccines in real-world conditions?

Experts are working on many types of real-world studies to determine vaccine effectiveness, and each uses a different method. CDC will use several methods because they can all contribute different information about how the vaccine is working.

  • Case-control studies.
  • A test-negative design study.
  • Cohort studies.
  • Screening method assessments.
  • Ecologic analysis assessments.

Details about the different types of studies are in this FAQ Addendum.

Common side effects of the vaccine

Side effects that have been reported for the vaccines include:

  • Injection site pain
  • Tiredness
  • Headache
  • Muscle pain
  • Chills
  • Joint pain
  • Fever
  • Injection site swelling
  • Injection site redness
  • Nausea
  • Feeling unwell
  • Swollen lymph nodes

There is a remote chance that a vaccine could cause a severe allergic reaction including difficulty breathing, swelling of your face and throat, rapid heartbeat, a rash all over your body, dizziness and weakness. Severe allergic reactions usually occur within a few minutes to one hour after getting vaccinated. For this reason, individuals are asked to stay at the clinic site for a 15 to 30 minute observation period after they get their shot. If you experience a severe allergic reaction, seek medical attention or call 9-1-1.

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Vaccination Process

There is no residency requirement for being vaccinated at a Tompkins County facility.

What questions will be asked before I get the vaccine?

Your vaccinator will ask you a series of screening questions before you are vaccinated, similar to questions you are asked when you get a flu shot. Examples are listed below. You may be asked these questions on your registration form, and again at the vaccination site.

  • Have you ever had an allergic reaction to any vaccine or shot?
  • Do you feel sick today?
  • In the last 10 days, have you had a COVID-19 test or been told to isolate or quarantine at home?
  • Are you immunocompromised or on a medicine that affects your immune system?
  • Are you pregnant or plan to become pregnant?
  • Are you breastfeeding?

Sample screening forms

How often will I need to get a COVID-19 vaccination?

Two of the currently authorized vaccines require a second dose to increase their effectiveness, and one just a single dose. The Pfizer vaccine second dose should be 21 days after the first shot, and the Moderna vaccine’s second dose should be taken 28 days after the first. Second doses must be given at the same location where you received your first dose. Be sure you have an appointment for your second shot before you leave the clinic where you get your first shot. 

The Johnson & Johnson vaccine is just one dose, and no future appointments are needed to become fully vaccinated.

Information about third doses and booster doses is here.

What happens if I don’t get the second shot on time?

There have not been enough studies to know if a delayed second shot will still reach the full effectiveness for each vaccine. The schedule for doses of each vaccine is based on data from clinical trials. Everyone who receives a first dose of the vaccine should get the second dose according to schedule in order to provide the best possible protection against the disease.

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Explainer Video

This 2-1/2 minute (2:19) video provides the basic information about the vaccine and vaccination. Watch on YouTube or Download from Google.

This same video is currently available in these languages: Karen, Spanish

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“Office Hours” Live Stream Video Series

Photo graphic for the Office Hours live stream series

"Office Hours" is a series of virtual Vaccine Q&A live streams produced by TCHD in partnership with local physicians and community members. Each event is designed to offer a safe space and informative experience for attendees seeking more information on COVID-19 vaccines.

Each event is moderated by a member of the community or TCHD staff and will focus on the safety and efficacy of the vaccines. Attendees will be able to ask questions live or anonymously. Some sessions will be recorded for later viewing and archived on the County's YouTube Channel. Direct links to recordings are in the listings.

Registration: Online use the links below. By phone call 2-1-1 (or 1-877-211-8667). 


  • For All Community Members.
    • Open session for all community members with questions and concerns about the safety and effectiveness of the vaccine. 
    • Hosted by Dr. Kathryn Rooth, Cayuga Medical Center
    • Watch the recorded event on YouTube
  • Focus on Questions from People of Color.
  • With REACH Medical.
    • Open session with REACH Medical, for community members with concerns about the vaccine. 
    • Hosted by Dr. Judy Griffin & Dr. Elizabeth Ryan, REACH Medical
    • Watch the recorded event on YouTube
  • For Parents and Caregivers.
    • Open session to answer questions and concerns from those who are pregnant, breastfeeding, or parents/caregivers about the vaccine & children.
    • Hosted by Dr. Audrey DeSilva & Dr. Jeffrey Snedeker, Northeast Pediatrics
    • Watch the recorded event on YouTube   
  • For Karen/Burmese Speakers.
    • Catholic Charities Immigration Services with translation for Karen/Burmese speakers.
    • Contact Paige Cross at Catholic Charities for access to recording: (607) 272-5062; 
    • Hosted by Tompkins County Health Department Community Health Nurses Melissa Gatch, Karen LaCelle, & Director of Health Promotion Samantha Hillson 
  • For Older Adults
    • Wednesday, Feb. 24, 3:00 p.m. 
    • Open session for older adults with questions about the COVID-19 vaccine
    • Hosted by Dr. Deidre Blake, MD, Cayuga Health Systems Orthopedic Program
    • Watch the recorded event on YouTube
  • Horario de Oficina en Español
    • Miércoles 24 de Febrero, 17:00 h. 
    • Con Dr. Maya Aponte, CMC, y Carolina Gilbert, RN, CMC
    • Moderado por Patricia Fernandez de Castro Martinez, Asociación Cívica Latina
    • Mira el evento grabado en YouTube
  • Q&A for communities of color
    • ​Friday, March 5, 6:00 p.m. 
    • Guest practitioner: Dr. Daryll Dykes, Upstate Medical Center
    • Moderators: Rev. Wright, Calvary Baptist Church, and Dr. Clarke, Tompkins County Office of Human Rights
    • In partnership with Calvary Baptist Church, St. James A.M.E. Zion, Baptized Church of Jesus Christ, T.C. Office of Human Rights and T.C. Dept. of Veteran Services
    • Watch the recorded event on YouTube
  • Vaccine Q&A with Dr. Blake (Live)
    • Wednesday, May 5, 3:00-4:00 p.m.
    • Guest practitioner: Dr. Deidre Blake, Cayuga Medical Center
    • Open session for all interested community members
    • Register for the event here.Registration required to ask questions live or anonomously. 
  • Preguntas y respuestas para hispanohablantes (evento en vivo)
    • Martes, 18 de mayo de 2021, 12:00 p.m.
    • Con la Dr. Maya Aponte de CMC
    • Durante cada evento, los asistentes tendrán la posibilidad de hacer preguntas en vivo o de forma anónima. Cada evento será moderado por un miembro de la comunidad o el personal de TCHD.

    • Mira el evento grabado en YouTube
  • Vaccine Q&A for parents and caregivers (Live)
    • Tuesday, May 18, 6:30-7:30 p.m.
    • Guest practitioners: Dr. Snedeker, Northeast Pediatrics and Dr. Casey, Buttermilk Falls Pediatrics 
    • Vaccinating children, and questions related the vaccine and fertility, pregnancy, and breastfeeding

    • Watch the recorded event on YouTube

Flu Vaccine

Everyone age 6 months and older should get a flu shot to be immunized against influenza now. Visit your local pharmacy or your health care practitioner today. More info is here.

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References and resources:

New York State

Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC)

Professional Associations

Other sources

If you have questions about whether you meet these criteria after you read the guidance or have questions about registration, you may email the Tompkins County Health Department at, or call 2-1-1 (877-211-8667)

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