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The coronavirus (COVID-19) has had a devastating toll on our communities. This is especially true among older adults, people of color, people with low incomes, and those doing frontline service work. It’s the first disease in years that has lowered life expectancy in the United States.

But now we have highly effective tools—approved COVID-19 vaccines—to prevent serious illness and deaths caused by the virus. Hundreds of millions of Americans have received the vaccines. Nonpregnant and pregnant women can choose to get any of the available COVID-19 vaccines.

These vaccines prevent illness and save lives. They curb the spread of COVID-19 in our communities.

I have heard many questions about the COVID-19 vaccines, as a physician and public health official in Arizona. I’m glad to be able to give reassuring answers. Here are some key things to know.

1. The vaccines are safe, even though they were made quickly.

The approved COVID-19 vaccines are very safe. The vaccines came to market quickly, and I know that makes some people nervous. But the speed is a sign of how much money and resources were put into making the vaccines. All of the usual steps to make and test vaccines were still included in the process.

Also, the process was faster than other new vaccines because the science behind the COVID-19 vaccines is not new. The technology used in the vaccines had been in development for decades. So the scientists were not starting from scratch when they made these vaccines.

Thorough safety studies were done when the vaccines were made, and ongoing safety monitoring is the most intense in U.S. history. These safety checks have shown that serious side effects are very rare.

These safety checks have found and addressed a few rare risks that may be related to the vaccines. One is the risk of blood clots after receiving the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. Another is the potential risk of inflammation of the heart muscle (myocarditis) in male teens and young adults who get the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines. Scientists have reviewed the reports and decided the benefits of the vaccines are greater than these very rare risks.

The fact that we know about these reports and that they are carefully reviewed by experts and discussed with the public is a good sign. It means that the process is working as expected, and that officials are being open and honest.

Our high confidence in safety keeps growing as millions of people continue to be vaccinated without serious issues.

2. The vaccines give you powerful protection against the virus.

The vaccines work extremely well to protect people from getting sick or severely ill with COVID-19. All of the vaccines are highly effective.

Data published in May 2021 looked at how well the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines work in the real world versus in clinical trials. It showed that full vaccination (two doses with these vaccines) prevents 94 percent of infections with symptoms. The Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which requires only one dose for full vaccination, is also highly effective.

Based on current data, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) scientists also believe that the vaccines help protect you from the COVID-19 variants found in this country.

Variants are slightly different versions of the virus. There are variants that can spread more easily than the original virus, and some of them are becoming more common in the U.S. The CDC is tracking how well the vaccines work against the variants, but early studies suggest that the vaccines still offer protection.

3. The vaccines are free and widely available.

There are enough vaccines for everyone. All of them are free. They are available for all adults and children age 6 months and older, depending on the type of vaccine.

You do not need health insurance or a social security number to get a vaccine. And everyone has the right to get a COVID-19 vaccine regardless of your immigration status.

The CDC website can help you find a vaccine near you.

4. The vaccines will not make you sick with COVID-19.

None of the vaccines contain any living COVID-19 virus. That means it’s not possible for them to make you sick with the virus.

Instead, they teach your immune system to spot and fight off COVID-19. In some people the vaccines cause short-term side effects. These can include pain in the arm in which you got your shot, tiredness, and fever.

These side effects show that your body is building protection against COVID-19, not that you have the virus. They go away on their own after a few days. And side effects vary from person to person. Some people have only mild side effects or none at all. Remember that short-term side effects from the vaccine are better than severe illness from the virus.

5. The vaccines do not affect your fertility.

There is a lot of false information out there about the vaccines. One common question to clear up: The COVID-19 vaccines do not cause infertility.

The science of how the vaccines are made makes us confident that the vaccines are not a cause of infertility. And a recent study has confirmed this. It showed that women who had the COVID-19 vaccines were able to get pregnant at the same rates as women who did not get the vaccines.

We recommend vaccination for all people who may want to get pregnant in the future.

6. Vaccination protects you, your family, and your community.

When you protect yourself from COVID-19, you’re protecting children, older relatives, and your community too. The more people who are vaccinated, the harder it is for the virus to spread.

This is important because some people can’t be vaccinated. There’s not yet a COVID-19 vaccine for babies younger than 6 months, for example. This means that for families with infants, vaccination gives the whole household important protection.

There are also people who have medical conditions or allergies that mean they cannot get vaccinated. When you get vaccinated, you protect yourself and the people in your family and community.

7. Staying up to date with vaccines makes many activities safer.

With any of the vaccines, you are fully vaccinated 2 weeks after your final dose of vaccine. It's also important to stay up to date with booster shots. When you have all the recommended shots, it is safer to travel, participate in indoor activities, and gather in large groups.

You may choose to keep wearing a mask even if you are up to date with vaccines. Everyone should still wear masks when recommended by the CDC, your state or local government, and businesses or workplaces.

The bottom line is simple: vaccination works! Along with other tools, such as continuing to wear a mask where needed, vaccines have helped bring life back to normal. Vaccines can help us safely spend time with friends and family in person.

Last updated: March 2023

Last reviewed: July 2021

Copyright 2023 by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. All rights reserved. Read copyright and permissions information.

This information is designed as an educational aid for the public. It offers current information and opinions related to women's health. It is not intended as a statement of the standard of care. It does not explain all of the proper treatments or methods of care. It is not a substitute for the advice of a physician. Read ACOG’s complete disclaimer.

About the Author
Headshot of Dr. Francisco Garcia.
Dr. Francisco García

Dr. García is an obstetrician–gynecologist (ob-gyn). He serves as deputy county administrator and chief medical officer for Pima County, Arizona. He is an ACOG Fellow.