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Understanding the different COVID-19 vaccines

Update: On April 13, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommended pausing the administration of the Johnson & Johnson/Janssen COVID-19 vaccine due to a rare and severe type of blood clot reported in a small number of individuals. While the adverse reactions appear to be extremely rare — with six cases reported out of more than 6.8 million doses administered — pausing the administration of the J&J COVID-19 vaccine reinforces the safety measures in place and allows the CDC and FDA to update guidance as appropriate. For more information, click here.  

Now that there are several different COVID-19 vaccines in distribution across the country, it’s time to address common questions about each to help you make sense of the similarities and differences. Below, you’ll find a helpful breakdown of each vaccine by type, dosage, effectiveness, side effects and more.

But before we get to that, a quick note on vaccine choice — we recommend you get vaccinated at your earliest opportunity with whichever vaccine is available to you. Each vaccine has proven safe and highly effective. Getting vaccinated is key to not only protecting yourself but also helping us bring the pandemic to an end.

With that, here’s what you need to know about each vaccine currently available in the U.S.

Pfizer-BioNTech Vaccine

The Pfizer vaccine was the first COVID-19 vaccine to receive an Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on Dec. 11, 2020.

  • Type: mRNA vaccine. Simply put, messenger RNA (mRNA) vaccines tell your body to produce a protein that will protect you from getting infected with the virus.
  • Recommended for: People 16 years and older
  • Dosage: Two shots, 21 days to six weeks apart
  • Common side effects: Pain, swelling and redness at injection site, tiredness, headache, muscle pain, chills, fever and nausea. Side effects should resolve with a day or two of rest, hydration and over the counter pain reliever like acetaminophen (if recommended by your physician).
  • Efficacy rate: 95% against symptomatic COVID-19 disease seven days after receiving the second dose.

Moderna Vaccine

The Moderna vaccine was granted an EUA shortly after the Pfizer vaccine on Dec. 18, 2020.

  • Type: mRNA vaccine (see description under Pfizer)
  • Recommended for: People 18 years and older
  • Dosage: Two shots, 28 days to six weeks apart
  • Common side effects: Similar to the Pfizer vaccine, side effects can include pain, swelling and redness at injection site, tiredness, headache, muscle pain, chills, fever and nausea. Side effects should resolve with a day or two of rest, hydration and over the counter pain reliever like acetaminophen (if recommended by your physician).
  • Efficacy rate: 94% against symptomatic COVID-19 disease 14 days after receiving the second dose.

Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen (J&J) Vaccine

The Johnson & Johnson vaccine received EUA on Feb. 27, 2021, and is the first single dose COVID-19 vaccine to be approved for distribution.

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  • Type: Viral vector vaccine. With viral vector vaccines, a false virus carries a protein just like a delivery truck carries a package to your house. This protein doesn’t cause infection but will cause your body to be protected from infection.
  • Recommended for: People 18 years and older
  • Dosage: Single shot
  • Common side effects: Pain, swelling and redness at injection site, tiredness, headache, muscle pain, chills, fever and nausea. Side effects appear to be milder than those experienced with the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, according to the FDA report released in late February. 
  • Efficacy rate: 85% effective against severe COVID-19 disease 28 days after vaccination.

While there are a few differences between the vaccines, all are effective against COVID-19 illness and its variants. The bottom line is this: get a vaccine. Any vaccine. To find a vaccination site near you in Texas or check the current eligibility status, click here.

Remember, getting vaccinated doesn’t mean you can immediately go back to how life was before the pandemic. We’re all eager to move forward, but we must continue to protect ourselves and those around us as vaccination continues across the country and world. For advice on life after vaccination, consult these CDC post-vaccination guidelines.

Get the latest information on our dedicated COVID-19 vaccine page and discover more ways to stay safe here.

Understanding the different COVID-19 vaccines