This section provides talking points and answers to tough questions related to COVID-19. This message guidance and framing is regularly updated to reflect new developments and emerging issues.

Children and COVID-19

Talking Points
  • The CDC now recommends that children and adolescents age 6 months and older get a Pfizer or Moderna COVID-19 vaccine. Children age 5 and older who receive the Pfizer vaccine should get a booster at least 5 months after their second shot.
  • COVID-19 has become one of the top 10 causes of pediatric death, and tens of thousands of children and teens have been hospitalized because of the virus. While children and adolescents are typically at lower risk than adults of becoming severely ill or hospitalized from COVID-19, the effects of the virus are unpredictable. Vaccination is the best way to protect children from COVID-19.
  • The COVID-19 vaccine is safe and effective. Before it was authorized for children across age groups, scientists and medical experts reviewed safety and effectiveness data from clinical trials involving thousands of children.

Pediatric vaccines

As of June 18, 2022, the CDC recommends that children and adolescents age 6 months and older get a Pfizer or Moderna COVID-19 vaccine, and advises children and adolescents age 5 and older who receive the Pfizer vaccine to get a booster dose at least 5 months after their second shot.

The dose and series authorized for children is informed by clinical trials on safety and effectiveness of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccine in these age groups. 

Pfizer COVID-19 Vaccine Authorization

  • Children age 6 months through 4 years old receive a three-shot series, with two doses spaced three weeks apart and followed by a third at least two months later. The dosage is one-tenth the adult dosage.
  • Children age 5 to 11 receive a two-shot series spaced three weeks apart. The dosage is one-third the adult dosage. This age group should also get a booster dose at least five months after their second shot.
  • Children age 12 to 17 receive a two-shot series spaced three weeks apart. The dosage is the same as the adult dosage. This age group should also get a booster dose at least five months after their second shot.

Moderna COVID-19 Vaccine Authorization

  • Children age 6 months through 5 years old receive a two-shot series, with two doses spaced four weeks apart. The dosage is one-quarter of the adult dosage.
  • Children age 6 to 11 receive a two-shot series, with two doses spaced four weeks apart. The dosage is half the adult dosage.
  • Children age 12 to 17 receive a two-shot series, with two doses spaced four weeks apart. The dosage is the same as the dosage for adults.

The CDC recommends that children and adolescents age 6 months to 17 years who are moderately or severely immunocompromised should receive a three-shot series of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine. For more information on COVID-19 vaccine recommendations for immunocompromised children and adolescents, follow the CDC’s guidelines here.

Updated June 27, 2022 

Medical and public health experts, including the CDC and the American Academy of Pediatrics, recommend that children and adolescents age 6 months and older get a COVID-19 vaccine to help protect them from contracting and spreading the virus.

The vaccine is the best way to protect children from becoming severely ill or having long-lasting health impacts due to COVID-19. While children and adolescents are typically at lower risk than adults of becoming severely ill or hospitalized from COVID-19, it is still possible. COVID-19 has become one of the top 10 causes of pediatric death, and tens of thousands of children and teens have been hospitalized with COVID-19. 

Another important reason for children to get the COVID-19 vaccine is to protect their friends, family, and the broader community from the spread of the virus. The higher the vaccination rates, the lower the chances that the coronavirus will mutate into additional variants. 

Updated June 21, 2022 

Yes. Scientists and medical experts have worked to ensure the vaccine is safe for children and adolescents ages 6 months to 17 years old. Before being authorized for children, these experts completed their review of safety and effectiveness data from clinical trials involving thousands of children. What’s more, 22 million children and adolescents, ages 5-17 have already received the COVID-19 vaccine. As of June 18, the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are also authorized for children as young as 6 months.

Data from trials will continue to be collected for two years after each vaccine is first administered to ensure that they are safe for the long term. As with all vaccines, there will be ongoing monitoring among people who are vaccinated.

Updated June 21, 2022 

Yes, it is safe for children and adolescents to get a COVID-19 vaccine and other routine vaccines, including the flu shot and other routine pediatric immunizations, during the same visit. The CDC recommends that all children and adolescents age 6 months and older remain up to date with routine vaccinations, and to receive the COVID-19 vaccine when eligible.

Added June 21, 2022 

All the COVID-19 vaccines have undergone a rigorous review process before being authorized for a given age group. The FDA’s evaluation of vaccines for young kids has been part of this overall thorough review process. Clinical trials were not started in children until after the trials in adults showed safety and efficacy of the vaccines. Additionally, part of what made the review process longer for young kids is that experts were determining what dosage and series would be safe and effective for children under five. After reviewing initial data on the effectiveness of the vaccine in young kids, the FDA waited to receive additional findings from clinical trials to ensure that its recommendation was based on a substantial amount of clinical data. 

Updated June 16, 2022 

Side effects to the COVID-19 vaccines are typically mild and subside in one to two days — like soreness in the arm, fatigue, headaches, or a slight fever.

The risk of a child having a serious adverse reaction to the COVID-19 vaccine is very low. One rare complication that has been linked to the COVID-19 vaccine is myocarditis (inflammation of the heart), and data demonstrate a higher risk for such inflammation among younger males. However, reports of these complications are rare. The risk of developing myocarditis after a COVID-19 infection is much higher than the risk of developing myocarditis after the vaccine. 

If you have questions about how to protect your children from COVID-19, about the vaccines, or about myocarditis, speak to your health care provider or pediatrician.

Updated November 3, 2021 

Schools and in-person learning

In-person learning is critical for the educational and social development of students of all ages. Ensuring that schools open and operate in a manner that prioritizes the health and safety of students, teachers, school staff, their families, and the community is a national priority.

In addition to following local and school requirements and getting vaccinated if eligible, children can protect themselves and others from contracting and spreading COVID-19 by wearing a well-fitting mask, washing their hands, social distancing, staying home if they are feeling sick, and getting tested if they were exposed to the virus or are symptomatic.

Updated October 12, 2021 

The CDC recommends that all students, teachers, and staff at K-12 schools wear masks to protect children and the community against the spread of COVID-19. Along with COVID-19 vaccination, mask-wearing can play an important role in ending the pandemic. Especially in schools where children under 12 can’t yet get vaccinated, masks are a critical line of defense against the spread of COVID-19.

Data show that wearing masks in schools is effective in preventing COVID-19 outbreaks and keeping children safe. A CDC study found that schools without mask requirements were 3.5 times more likely to have COVID-19 outbreaks than schools that started the fall 2021 school year with mask requirements. In another analysis of 520 U.S. counties, the CDC found that in places where schools did not have mask requirements, pediatric COVID-19 cases rose at a  higher rate than in counties where schools do require masks.

Updated October 12, 2021 

School policies, including COVID-19 guidance, are made at the state, local, district, and school levels. The CDC continues to recommend universal masking in K-12 schools, vaccination, distancing, ventilation, and other prevention strategies, and that additional measures be based on local vaccination and infection rates.

Updated October 12, 2021 

Mask Guidance

Talking Points
  • Face masks and high filtration masks (also known as respirators) help prevent the spread of COVID-19. Along with vaccination, mask-wearing continues to be an important part of the public health strategy to end the COVID-19 pandemic—especially when combined with other prevention strategies like social distancing and washing hands.
  • Because COVID-19 spreads from person to person via respiratory droplets, properly wearing a mask helps prevent the spread of the virus to others, and it also helps protect the mask-wearer.
  • The CDC recommends masking based on the level of COVID-19 in your community, as well as your risk level. CDC maintains a database showing levels by county. If you’re in a county  with medium COVID-19 Community Level, you should consider wearing a mask if you are at increased risk for severe COVID-19 or regularly interact with someone who is. In an area with a high COVID-19 Community Level, everyone ages 2 and up should wear a mask in indoor public places. Regardless of Community Level, anyone may decide that wearing a mask is the right decision for them.
  • While all masks provide some level of protection, properly-fitted high filtration masks such as N95s, KN95s and KN94s provide the best protection. Masks are not effective if they are worn improperly or taken off frequently, so choosing a mask that fits well and that you will wear consistently will help you get the best protection. You can improve the protection of your mask by making sure it fits snugly over your nose and mouth with no gaps, and by wearing two masks (a cloth mask over a disposable mask) if you don’t have access to a high filtration mask.

  • Refer to CDC guidance for more information about when and how to wear a mask, what kinds of masks there are, how to check a high filtration mask for authenticity, and other guidance. For more information about mask guidance in your area, consult your local health department.

Mask usage

Face masks help prevent the spread of COVID-19 when worn consistently and correctly. Here are considerations to help you choose a mask and ensure you get the best protection from it.

  • Filtration. While all masks provide some level of protection, properly fitted high filtration masks such as N95s, KN95s, and KF94s offer the best protection. In absence of a high filtration mask, people can improve the protection of their masks by wearing two masks (a cloth mask over a disposable mask).
  • Fit. A poorly fitting or uncomfortable mask may be less effective if it is worn improperly or taken off frequently. If you are wearing a high filtration mask, ensure that it seals tightly to your face, which facial hair can interfere with. Masks should fit snugly over your nose and mouth with no gaps. Fit can be improved by combining a cloth mask or disposable mask with a fitter or brace, knotting and tucking ear loops of your mask, or wearing a mask that is secured behind the head instead of with ear loops.
  • Comfort. Some masks are more protective than others, and some are harder to tolerate than others. High filtration masks, such as N95s, KN95s and KF94s are recommended. People can get the best protection from COVID-19 by wearing the most protective mask you can that fits well and that you will wear consistently.

Added January 18, 2022 

As the science and the virus evolves, so do the policies and recommendations. While all masks provide some level of protection, the CDC now recommends using the most protective mask you are able to because the Omicron variant is even more infectious than earlier variants.

The CDC also updated recommendations on N95s based on supply. When there was limited nationwide supply, CDC recommended prioritizing N95 respirators for healthcare workers, but now N95s and KN95s are widely available.

Added January 18, 2022 

Mask mandates

COVID-19 Community Level is a CDC framework to monitor COVID-19, a measure that takes into consideration hospitalizations, hospital capacity, and cases within a community. This approach is designed to help keep people safer from severe COVID-19 and help maintain local healthcare systems. The CDC makes recommendations based on COVID-19 Community Level, and encourages local decision-makers to use it to inform policies and encourages community members to use it to assess their own risk. 

Regardless of COVID-19 Community Levels, the CDC recommends that people get vaccinated and boosted when eligible, and take precautions like getting tested when sick. When the level is higher, more prevention measures, like masking or enhanced screening protocols, are recommended to keep people healthy and limit strain on the local healthcare system. And at any Level, individuals may decide to take additional precautions based on their risk level, risk tolerance, and personal preference.

CDC recommendations at each COVID-19 Community Level include:

  • Low: Get vaccinated and boosted, and tested if you have symptoms.
  • Medium: Consider wearing a mask if you are or a member of your household is at high risk for severe COVID-19. (In addition to vaccination, boosting, and testing).
  • High: Everyone age 2 and up should wear a mask in public, indoor settings, including schools and workplaces. (In addition to vaccination, boosting, and testing).

Added February 25, 2022 

On April 18, a court ruling voided the federal requirement that people wear masks on public transportation. This has led some airlines, airports, and transit systems to lift their requirement that passengers or employees wear masks, while other airlines and systems are keeping those requirements in place. Check with your airline or local carrier for their current mask policy.

The CDC is still recommending that everyone age 2 and older wear a well-fitting mask or a high filtration mask such as an N95, KN95, and KF94 when indoors on public transportation and transportation hubs.

Whether or not a carrier is requiring mask wearing, individual passengers are recommended to wear a mask—especially when in crowds or poorly ventilated areas, during international travel or long-distance domestic travel, when the COVID-19 Community Level is high, or if you or a family member is at high risk for getting severely ill if infected with  COVID-19. For example, older adults and anyone with an underlying health condition that would make COVID-19 infection more serious, (e.g., diabetes, obesity, heart disease, cancer) or anyone who has older family members or family members with underlying health issues, should continue to wear a mask as a precaution against becoming infected and spreading the virus.

CDC recommendations on mask-wearing on public transportation are based on the latest scientific data on COVID-19 and current and projected trends in the CDC’s COVID-19 Community Level Framework. For more information about safer travel during the pandemic, including mask-wearing tips and recommendations for post-travel, visit the CDC Domestic and International Travel pages.

Updated May 4, 2022 

The CDC recommends masking based on the new COVID-19 Community Level framework, which is a measure that takes into consideration COVID-19 hospitalizations, hospital capacity, and cases within a community. When the level is higher, more prevention measures, like masking, are recommended to keep people healthy and limit strain on the local healthcare system.

CDC’s masking recommendations based on COVID-19 community level are:

  • Low: Mask use is based on personal preference and risk assessment.
  • Medium: People who are at high risk for severe health impacts if infected with COVID-19, or who regularly interact with someone at high risk, should strongly consider wearing a mask in indoor public settings for additional protection from COVID-19.
  • High: People should wear masks in indoor public settings, including in schools and workplaces.

There are also some situations where people should wear a mask, regardless of Community Level—such as if they have symptoms, have tested positive for COVID-19, or have been exposed to COVID-19. (See Quarantine and Isolation.)

Depending on where you live, state or local elected officials typically have the authority to create or lift mask mandates. As the number of COVID-19 cases decreases in many areas, and based on CDC’s new Community Level framework, some state and local officials are deciding to end mask mandates. Other jurisdictions are keeping them in place for now. Regardless of Community Level or whether your state, county, or city requires masks, you may decide that wearing a mask is the right decision for you.

Questions that may help you make a decision about whether to wear a mask include:

  • What is your COVID-19 Community Level?
  • What health risks do you and your family members have? For example, are you or anyone in your family an older adult or have an underlying health condition, such as diabetes or heart disease?
  • Do you have young children in your household who are not yet eligible to be vaccinated?
  • Are you up to date on your vaccinations (fully vaccinated and boosted if eligible)?

Updated February 25, 2022 

In many cases, yes. Regardless of state or local policies, private businesses have the authority to require masks (both for employees and customers) if they choose to. Some school systems may also continue to require students and school personnel to wear masks, and those policies vary by jurisdiction. Regardless of state, local, or school policy, teachers, students, and other individuals can choose to wear masks to safeguard their health.

Added February 11, 2022 

The authority for making mask requirements most often resides at the state and local level. The CDC issues recommendations and guidance to help inform policy decisions made at the local levels. Mask requirements often take into account local transmission levels of COVID-19, and may differ across businesses, employers, and schools.

Updated October 12, 2021 

Quarantine and isolation

Talking Points
  • The CDC updated recommendations for quarantine (staying away from others when you have been in close contact with someone with COVID-19) and isolation (staying away from others when you test positive for COVID-19). The recommendations for quarantine and isolation no longer differ by vaccination status.
  • Quarantine: what happens if you’re exposed to COVID-19?

    • If you are exposed to COVID-19, you should wear a high-quality mask for 10 days and get tested on day 5. The CDC no longer recommends quarantining if you are exposed.
  • Isolation: what happens if you test positive?

    • If you test positive for COVID-19, or if you’re sick and suspect you have COVID-19 and are awaiting test results, you should isolate from others, regardless of vaccination status.
    • If you test positive for COVID-19, you should isolate from others for at least 5 days. If you had mild or asymptomatic COVID-19 and are fever-free after 5 days, you can end isolation and wear a high-quality mask through day 10. But if you had moderate or severe COVID-19 or you are immunocompromised, you should isolate through day 10.
    • If you ended isolation but your COVID-19 symptoms recur or worsen, you should restart your isolation period back to day 0.

COVID-19 exposure or testing positive

On August 11, 2022, the CDC updated its COVID-19 guidelines. Many of the recommendations remain the same and are rooted in the most effective strategies to protect ourselves against COVID: get vaccinated and stay up-to-date with boosters, test if you have symptoms or have been exposed to COVID-19, isolate if you test positive, and wear a mask if you are in an area with a high COVID-19 Community Level. The CDC also continues to recommend that people take additional precautions if they are at higher risk for severe COVID-19.

The CDC updated recommendations for quarantine (staying away from others when you have been in close contact with someone with COVID-19) and isolation (staying away from others when you test positive for COVID-19). The recommendations for quarantine and isolation no longer differ by vaccination status.

Quarantine: what happens if you’re exposed to COVID-19?

  • If you are exposed to COVID-19, you should wear a high-quality mask for 10 days and get tested on day 5. The CDC no longer recommends quarantining if you are exposed.

Isolation: what happens if you test positive?

  • If you test positive for COVID-19, or if you’re sick and suspect you have COVID-19 and are awaiting test results, you should isolate from others, regardless of vaccination status.
  • If you test positive for COVID-19, you should isolate from others for at least 5 days. If you had mild or asymptomatic COVID-19 and are fever-free after 5 days, you can end isolation and wear a high-quality mask through day 10. But if you had moderate or severe COVID-19 or you are immunocompromised, you should isolate through day 10.
  • If you ended isolation but your COVID-19 symptoms recur or worsen, you should restart your isolation period back to day 0.

In most settings, the CDC also no longer recommends testing for COVID-19 if you are asymptomatic and have no known exposure.

Added August 12, 2022 

The latest guidance from the CDC recommends that people who test positive for COVID-19 should stay home and away from others (isolation) for at least five days after testing positive, as this time period is when you are most infectious.

CDC recommendations for ending isolation:

  • If you had mild or asymptomatic COVID-19 and are fever-free after 5 days, you can end isolation but should wear a high-quality mask through day 10. 
  • If you had moderate illness (shortness of breath or trouble breathing) or severe illness (you were hospitalized), or you are immunocompromised, you should isolate through day 10. 
  • If you ended isolation but your COVID-19 symptoms recur or worsen, you should restart your isolation from day 0.

In addition to isolating, you should notify people you have been in close contact with, which the CDC defines as someone who was less than six feet from you for at least 15 minutes. If you have had symptoms, you should notify all the people you had close contact with, starting from two days prior to the onset of symptoms up until you tested positive and began isolating. If you are asymptomatic, you should notify all of your close contacts within the two days leading up to your positive test.

If you are symptomatic, you should monitor your symptoms. The risk of severe illness from COVID-19 is elevated for some groups — including older adults, people with underlying medical conditions, immunocompromised people, and pregnant or recently pregnant women. If you are at an increased risk for severe illness or have worsening symptoms over time, you should consult a health provider. If you experience emergency warning symptoms – such as difficulty breathing or chest pain – you should seek medical care immediately.

Regardless of when you end isolation, you should wear a mask through day 10. You can shorten this if you have access to rapid antigen testing and test negative twice, 48 hours apart. 

Updated August 12, 2022 

The CDC recommends that anyone who comes into close contact with someone who has COVID-19 should wear a high-quality mask as soon as you find out you were exposed, and for 10 full days after exposure. The CDC recommends that you get tested for COVID-19 after five days. If you test positive, isolate immediately. Even if you test negative, you should continue wearing a high-quality mask when around others at home and indoors in public through day 10. 

Updated August 12, 2022 

Travel

Travelers should continue to follow CDC guidance for traveling, along with state and local travel return requirements. After a trip, travelers are recommended to self-monitor for COVID-19 symptoms; and isolate and get tested if you develop symptoms.

If you plan to travel internationally, you will need to get a COVID-19 viral test (regardless of vaccination status) before you travel by air into the U.S., and show your negative result to the airline before boarding. The CDC recommends that all travelers returning from international travel get tested for COVID-19 3-5 days after travel. 

If you are not fully vaccinated, the CDC also recommends that you get tested for COVID-19 3-5 days after returning from travel (domestic or international), and to stay home and self-quarantine for 7 days after travel. If you don’t get tested, stay home and self-quarantine for 10 days after travel.

Added November 29, 2021 

Testing, Tracing, and Treatment

Talking Points
  • Vaccination and booster shots are the best line of defense against COVID-19. People should be tested if they’re experiencing COVID-19 symptoms or five days after being in close contact with someone who’s tested positive for the virus.
  • To find testing options near you, search on the U.S. Health and Human Services testing site web page or visit your local health department’s website.  Additionally, most people with health plans are able to get up to eight free tests per month through their insurance.
  • If you test positive and have symptoms, you should notify all the people you’ve had close contact with – from two days before your symptoms started to the day you tested positive. If you do not have symptoms, you should notify all of your close contacts within the two days leading up to your positive test.

Testing

There are a few options for viral COVID-19 tests. The main two types of tests are PCR tests and rapid antigen tests:

PCR Test (NAAT is an alternative name)

  • Most accurate test currently available 
  • Typically administered by health providers at a clinic or pharmacy and analyzed in a laboratory
  • Results in typically in 24-72 hours

Rapid Antigen Test

  • Less accurate than PCR tests
  • Results in as little as 15 minutes when taken at home
  • Can be self-administered with an at-home testing kit, or taken at a testing site

There’s another kind of test known as an antibody test, which can help indicate whether you have had COVID-19 in the past. Antibody tests are used by scientists to better understand the virus, but they are not used to determine whether you currently have an infection.

Added January 20, 2022 

Regardless of vaccination status, you should get tested if you’re experiencing COVID-19 symptoms or 5 days after close contact with someone with COVID-19.

PCR tests are the most accurate, but may take multiple days to get results, during which time you should behave as if you are positive. Rapid antigen tests are available for self-administration and can provide results within 15 minutes, so they are helpful to get faster results when feeling sick or as a precaution before gatherings. However, rapid tests are not as sensitive, making them more likely to show a false negative than the PCR test. This is particularly true within the first couple days of infection, when there is a lower amount of virus in your body. 

If symptoms are worsening—especially if you are older or have underlying medical conditions and are at risk for severe COVID-19—you should consult with your health provider regardless of test results. 

COVID-19 tests help us prevent the spread of the virus and can help reveal cases in asymptomatic people. If testing is scarce near you, take advantage of whatever testing options you have available. Testing should be used alongside our best tools to stop this pandemic—getting vaccinated, getting boosted, and wearing a mask in indoor public settings.

Additional Resource: The COVID-19 Viral Testing Tool is an interactive web tool designed to help both healthcare providers and individuals understand COVID-19 testing options.

Added January 20, 2022 

COVID-19 tests are often administered at clinics, pharmacies, health centers, and other community testing sites. To find testing options near you, including free testing options, search on the U.S. Health and Human Services testing site web page or visit your local health department’s website. 

Rapid at-home tests are also available at many pharmacies, retailers, community sites, and online. Tests typically cost about $10-12 for an individual test without insurance.  As of January 15, 2022, these tests are covered by health insurance, meaning that most people with health plans will be able to get up to eight (8) tests per month for free by using their insurance coverage or can get reimbursed for purchasing tests by submitting a claim to their insurer. 

If you don’t have health insurance, you may be able to access free at-home tests from local community sites. As of September 2, 2022, the U.S. government program to receive free tests via home delivery has ended.

Updated September 7, 2022 

Antiviral drugs

Paxlovid is an oral antiviral drug used to reduce the risk of hospitalization or death from COVID-19. Paxlovid is authorized for use early in the course of a COVID infection—when illness is mild or moderate—in people aged 12 and older who are at high risk for severe COVID-19. Treatment must begin with 5 days of onset of illness. In clinical trials, Paxlovid reduced the risk of hospitalization or death by 89%. People who are considered high risk include older adults and those with underlying medical conditions such as cancer, diabetes, or heart disease.

Currently, Paxlovid is not available over the counter, but it is available at no cost when prescribed by a healthcare provider or pharmacist.

Updated July 22, 2022 

A small proportion of people who have taken Paxlovid have experienced a return of their symptoms several days after they initially recover and test negative for COVID-19. In clinical trials, one to two percent of participants experienced a recurrence of their symptoms after taking Paxlovid. While medical experts continue to monitor this issue, data from Pfizer and the CDC show that people who experience COVID-19 rebounds have had mild illness. The CDC continues to recommend the antiviral as a treatment for people who test positive and are at high risk for severe COVID-19.

If you experience COVID-19 rebound, you should restart the recommended 5-day isolation period. Currently, there is no evidence that you need to extend your treatment or be treated again with Paxlovid. You should contact a healthcare provider if your symptoms persist or worsen.

Added July 22, 2022 

Vaccination is the best line of defense against COVID-19 and can prevent infection altogether. While antiviral drugs and other treatments are an important advancement, they are not 100% effective in reducing risk of hospitalization or death from COVID-19, and they are no substitute for getting vaccinated. Getting COVID-19 still causes serious health impacts for some people, especially those who are not vaccinated. Preventing serious infection by getting vaccinated (and boosted, if you’re eligible) and taking other precautions, like masking and distancing — particularly if your COVID-19 Community Level is high — are the best ways to protect your health. 

Updated March 3, 2022 

Herd Immunity

Herd immunity is achieved when a virus stops circulating because a large segment of the population has already been infected or has been vaccinated against the virus. Getting vaccinated and getting boosted, when eligible, continues to be the best way to protect yourself against COVID-19. 

Updated February 2, 2022 

Contact notification

Notifying contacts helps to control the spread of the virus by quickly informing people who may have been exposed to a person who has tested positive for COVID-19. If you contract COVID-19 or are exposed to someone who has tested positive, you can protect other people from getting sick by notifying your close contacts (anyone who has been within six feet of you for at least 15 minutes).

If you test positive for COVID-19 and have had symptoms, you should notify all the people you have had close contact with, starting from two days before your symptoms started up until you tested positive. If you don’t have symptoms, you should notify anyone who you were in close contact with in the two days before you got your positive test. 

COVID-19 + the flu shot

Yes. The CDC recommends that everyone 6 months and older get a flu vaccine every season, which occurs in the U.S. in the fall and winter. The best time to get your flu shot is in September or October before the flu is spreading in your community.

Based on CDC guidance, the COVID-19 vaccines can be given the same day as other vaccines, including the flu vaccine. Some people choose to get each shot in a different limb to minimize possible discomfort. Ask your health provider if you have any questions about getting either or both vaccines. 

Trust and Uncertainty

Trust

Public health officials are trained and experienced in responding to infectious disease outbreaks and life-threatening emergencies. They work closely with scientists and researchers to translate the latest findings into action with the express goal of keeping people as safe and healthy as possible. 

It can be frustrating when guidance changes. It’s the job of public health officials to tell you what they know, when they know it, and guidance regarding COVID-19 has evolved as our understanding of the virus itself has improved and evolved.

Public health officials and scientists are continuing to learn about how the virus spreads, how it affects different people, and how best to control it. As scientists discover new information about COVID-19, public health officials work to provide accurate and timely guidance.  

Pandemic fatigue

Understandably, people are asking when the pandemic will end or if the pandemic is over. The following tips and messaging can help you communicate about the state of the pandemic and the continuing need for precautions.

  • Emphasize the progress we’ve made: We have come a long way in combating COVID-19, and we are on the right track. Case numbers, hospitalizations, and deaths are on the decline, and we have effective tools to stay healthy. Our progress continues with the release of new vaccines and boosters.
  • Explain that the threat remains: Though we have come far, COVID-19 continues to be a serious threat in some communities, with the U.S. still averaging hundreds of deaths per day. We must continue to take the public health measures we know work to protect people, especially those who are at highest risk of severe disease.
  • Emphasize public health recommendations: We know the most effective ways to protect ourselves from COVID-19—getting vaccinated and boosted, testing when exposed or sick, and monitoring COVID-19 Community Level. Taking appropriate precautions will keep us on the right track by reducing the spread of COVID-19 and protecting against serious illness.
  • Recognize uncertainty: Scientists continue to monitor COVID-19, tracking new variants and community spread. It’s likely new variants will continue to emerge, and there may be a fall or winter surge. Staying vigilant and taking up-to-date public health precautions is the best way to protect the progress we’ve made.
  • Underscore the role of public health: Public health departments and guidance are here not only to keep communities safe and informed in an emergency, but also to advance health and well-being year-round. Public health measures that keep communities safe from COVID-19 will continue to be present—just like public health measures dealing with the flu, mental health, air quality, and more.

Updated September 21, 2022 

Many Americans are tired and frustrated, but public health measures are not the enemy — they are the roadmap for a faster and more sustainable recovery. The pandemic has posed so many hardships, from the loss of loved ones, to job loss, to depression and loneliness, to parenting in the context of virtual schooling. However, COVID-19 still represents a real risk to the health of our communities and our economy. 

Many communities have made tremendous progress in protecting community members, but vaccination and booster rates are still lagging in many communities – and infections continue to rise in some places. 

We’re all looking forward to a time when we can do all the things we love safely, and the best way to get there is by getting vaccinated and following local guidelines. 

Updated February 3, 2022 

Data and reporting

COVID-19 Community Level is a CDC framework to monitor COVID-19, a measure that takes into consideration hospitalizations, hospital capacity, and cases within a community. This approach is designed to help keep people safer from severe COVID-19 and help maintain local healthcare systems. The CDC makes recommendations based on COVID-19 Community Level, and encourages local decision-makers to use it to inform policies and encourages community members to use it to assess their own risk. 

Regardless of COVID-19 Community Levels, the CDC recommends that people get vaccinated and boosted when eligible, and take precautions like getting tested when sick. When the level is higher, more prevention measures, like masking or enhanced screening protocols, are recommended to keep people healthy and limit strain on the local healthcare system. And at any Level, individuals may decide to take additional precautions based on their risk level, risk tolerance, and personal preference.

CDC recommendations at each COVID-19 Community Level include:

  • Low: Get vaccinated and boosted, and tested if you have symptoms.
  • Medium: Consider wearing a mask if you are or a member of your household is at high risk for severe COVID-19. (In addition to vaccination, boosting, and testing).
  • High: Everyone age 2 and up should wear a mask in public, indoor settings, including schools and workplaces. (In addition to vaccination, boosting, and testing).

Added February 25, 2022 

Hospitals, healthcare providers, and laboratories track COVID-19 cases and report COVID-19 case information to public health departments, which report detailed data to the CDC. The CDC makes this data publicly available and reports national COVID-19 data to the World Health Organization, as required under international health regulations. Accurately tracking the spread of COVID-19 helps federal, state, and local decision-makers allocate critical emergency response funding and develop public health guidance.  

COVID-19 remains a serious threat to public health, and there is evidence to support the current case count. In fact, experts agree that the number of COVID cases and deaths are probably undercounted because not everyone with COVID will have been tested and diagnosed.

The CDC’s data report also helps scientists and medical experts evaluate trends to identity groups most at risk. For example, data show that underlying conditions like diabetes and heart disease greatly increases a person’s risk for life-threatening consequences from the infection. The high rate of chronic illness in the U.S. (6 in 10 adults have a chronic disease) has contributed to the high number of COVID-19 deaths, but it is important to remember that people with pre-existing conditions would likely have lived years longer if they had not been infected with COVID-19. For that reason, even with an underlying condition, the cause of these deaths is COVID-19.

Updated February 18, 2022 

Vaccines

Additional Resources
The following messages can help you answer common questions about the COVID-19 vaccines. For more messaging guidance and vaccine communications resources, see below:
  • PHCC Messaging Resources
  • Changing the COVID Conversation: polling results and tested messaging produced by the de Beaumont Foundation
  • Vaccine Resource Hub: free resources to support individuals and organizations working to increase adult immunization across all communities, especially those experiencing racial and ethnic disparities (Partnership for Vaccine Equity, CDC, and CDC Foundation)
For more information about the vaccines and CDC recommendations, visit the CDC’s Clinical Resources for Each COVID-19 Vaccine.

Booster doses

On September 1, 2022, the CDC issued new recommendations for COVID-19 boosters, after the FDA authorized updated booster formulas from both Pfizer and Moderna. The CDC recommends that everyone who is eligible stay up-to-date on vaccinations by getting an updated booster dose at least 2 months after their last COVID-19 shot—either since their last booster dose, or since completing their primary series. Pfizer’s updated booster shot is recommended for individuals 12 and older, and Moderna’s updated booster shot is recommended for adults 18 and older. 

These new boosters contain an updated bivalent formula that both boosts immunity against the original coronavirus strain and also protects against the newer Omicron variants that account for most of the current cases. Updated boosters are intended to provide optimal protection against the virus and address waning vaccine effectiveness over time.

Eligible individuals can get either the Pfizer or Moderna updated booster, regardless of whether their primary series or most recent dose was with Pfizer, Moderna, Novavax, or the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

As per the CDC’s recommendations, the new bivalent booster replaces the existing monovalent vaccine booster, therefore that vaccine will no longer be authorized for use as booster doses in people age 12 and up. 

Added September 2, 2022 

Yes, the CDC recommends that everyone age 12 and up should get an updated COVID-19 booster this fall to stay up-to-date on vaccinations. The same is true for people who completed their primary series or received one or two boosters: they should get an updated booster dose at least two months after their last shot.

For maximum effectiveness of the updated booster dose, individuals who recently had COVID-19 may consider delaying any COVID-19 vaccination, including the updated booster dose, by 3 months from the start of their symptoms or positive test.

Added September 2, 2022 

No. The updated bivalent formula is in use only for COVID-19 booster doses, and not for initial vaccination. The best way to protect yourself from getting severely ill from COVID-19 is to get vaccinated. The CDC recommends that currently unvaccinated people get their primary series (the initial two doses of either Pfizer or Moderna, or one dose of the Novavax vaccine), and then wait at least two months to get the updated Pfizer or Moderna booster dose.

Added September 2, 2022 

As of September 1, 2022, updated Pfizer booster doses are authorized for individuals age 12 and older. The CDC continues to recommend that children age 5 and up get a booster dose at least 5 months after completing their primary series. For this younger age group (children 5-12), the original booster dose formula is still authorized for use.

As scientific experts at the FDA and CDC continue to review the data, updated Omicron-specific boosters could become available for younger children in the future.

Added September 2, 2022 

Booster doses are common for many vaccines, and over time, booster doses may need to be updated to provide optimal protection against new variants of the virus. The scientists and medical experts who developed the COVID-19 vaccines continue to watch for waning immunity, how well the vaccines protect against new mutations of the virus, and how that data differ across age groups and risk factors. 

To date, booster doses have worked well in extending the protection of the vaccine against serious illness, but have been somewhat less effective in boosting immunity against new variants of COVID-19 compared to the original strain. The updated booster dose formula is designed to protect against original strains of the virus, as well as Omicron variants that account for the majority of current new infections.

The latest CDC recommendations on booster doses help to ensure more people across the U.S. are better protected against COVID-19. The best way to protect yourself from COVID-19 is to get vaccinated and boosted if eligible. Vaccination and boosting is particularly important for individuals more at risk for severe COVID-19, such as older people and those with underlying medical conditions.

Updated September 2, 2022 

Yes. Eligible individuals can get either the Pfizer or Moderna updated booster, regardless of whether their primary series or most recent dose was with Pfizer, Moderna, Novavax, or the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

Updated September 2, 2022 

A booster dose is given after a complete vaccine series to provide additional protection against a vaccine’s effectiveness has decreased over time, while an additional dose is given to people with compromised immune systems to improve their response to the initial vaccine series. 

People with compromised immune systems may have a reduced ability to respond to vaccines, and having a weakened immune system can increase the risk of becoming severely ill from COVID-19. The CDC recommends that immunocompromised people who received the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine get an additional dose at least 28 days after their second shot. Data show that an additional dose of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines helps to increase protection for this group. 

Patients who are immunocompromised should consult with their health care provider to discuss additional precautions and any questions they have about protecting themselves from COVID-19.

Updated February 28, 2022 

Development, safety, and effectiveness

There are a few reasons why people who are vaccinated continue to get COVID-19. For one, no vaccine is 100% effective at preventing infection, and highly contagious variants have led to breakthrough infections among vaccinated people. Also, the level of protection from the vaccine decreases over time, leading to less protection against the virus. Ultimately, as the total number of vaccinated people increases, the pool of unvaccinated people gets smaller—that means proportionally, more cases will be among the vaccinated.

While vaccines are developed in part to prevent infection from disease, the main goal of vaccines is to prevent severe illness or death. The COVID-19 vaccines continue to be highly effective in reducing risk of severe disease, hospitalization, and death, and can provide sustained protection when you receive a booster dose. When COVID-19 cases rise, breakthrough infections among vaccinated individuals are significantly more likely to be mild cases, while unvaccinated people are more likely to become severely ill or require hospitalization. CDC data show that through December 25, 2021, the risk of being hospitalized with COVID-19 in the U.S. was 16 times greater for unvaccinated adults than fully vaccinated adults.

Updated February 18, 2022 

The COVID-19 vaccines have received the most intense safety monitoring in U.S. history, which has allowed public health officials to make science-based recommendations that keep people safe.

All COVID-19 vaccines have been rigorously tested and reviewed. The vaccine’s clinical trials three-phase process was detailed and thorough, and no shortcuts were taken. More than 150,000 people participated in U.S. clinical trials of the vaccines, and now, hundreds of millions of vaccine doses in the U.S. have been safely administered. Data from trial will continue to be collected for two years after each vaccine is first administered to ensure that they are safe for the long term. As with all vaccines, there will be ongoing monitoring for adverse events among people who are vaccinated into the future.

Updated October 12, 2021 

It may seem like the vaccines were developed quickly, but the process included rigorous safety reviews required for all new vaccines. The urgency of the pandemic created greater access to research funding, reduced bureaucratic obstacles, and encouraged unparalleled levels of government and industry cooperation. With these supports in place, scientists built upon previous work on coronavirus vaccines and on mRNA vaccine technology to develop these new vaccines quickly and effectively.

Updated October 12, 2021 

In general, you are considered fully vaccinated for COVID-19 two weeks after you have received the second dose in a two-dose series (Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna) or two weeks after you have received a single-dose vaccine (Johnson & Johnson).

As the science and the virus evolve, so does our understanding of what it means to be fully vaccinated.  Scientists and medical experts continue to closely watch for signs of waning vaccine immunity over time, how well the vaccines protect against new variants of the virus, and how that data differs across the population.

While additional or booster doses are recommended for some people, the CDC definition of what it means to be “fully vaccinated” has not changed at this time. More messaging guidance about booster doses can be found here.

Updated October 12, 2021 

The CDC recommends all people age 5 and older get vaccinated against COVID-19, including people who were previously infected with the virus. Data show that immunity in people who have been infected with COVID-19 wanes over time, and scientists continue to study this. New data show that COVID-19 vaccination can provide a higher, more robust, and more consistent level of immunity to protect people from COVID-19 than antibodies from infection alone. 

COVID-19 vaccination is effective in preventing reinfection in people who previously had COVID-19. One study, for example, showed that among people hospitalized with COVID-19, those who were previously infected with COVID-19 were 5 times more likely to get COVID-19 again if they were unvaccinated than people who were fully vaccinated. For that reason, even if you have already had COVID-19, vaccination is an important step to protect yourself and those around you.

Updated November 15, 2021 

While COVID-19 vaccines are highly effective, no vaccine provides 100% immunity. Because this is a new virus, scientists and medical experts continue to monitor how long immunity lasts, whether some groups may need additional doses, and how well the vaccines protect against new variants of the virus.

Data continue to show that the COVID-19 vaccines are extremely effective in protecting fully vaccinated people from catching and spreading the virus, including the Delta variant, and scientists continue to monitor vaccine efficacy for new variants. A small percentage of vaccinated people experience breakthrough cases, but they are much more likely to have milder symptoms than unvaccinated people who get COVID-19.

Unvaccinated people continue to account for the vast majority of severe cases, hospitalizations, and deaths from COVID-19. CDC data show that in August 2021, the risk of dying from COVID-19 in the U.S. was more than 11 times greater for unvaccinated people than for fully vaccinated people.

The risk of severe illness from COVID-19 is elevated for some groups — including older adults, people with underlying medical conditions, immunocompromised people, and pregnant or recently pregnant women. If you have questions about your risk of COVID-19, how to protect yourself, or the vaccines, speak to your health care provider.

Updated December 9, 2021 

The threat of COVID-19 is real and urgent, and getting vaccinated is the best way to protect yourself. Side effects to the COVID-19 vaccines are typically mild and subside in one to two days — like soreness in the arm, fatigue, headaches, or a slight fever.

The risk of having a serious adverse reaction to the COVID-19 vaccine is very low — far lower than the risk of contracting COVID-19. The CDC and FDA are closely monitoring vaccine outcomes to ensure safety.

If you have a question about the vaccines, talk with your healthcare provider.

Updated October 12, 2021 

Pregnancy and fertility

Yes. Based on data on the safety of COVID-19 vaccines during pregnancy, CDC recommends COVID-19 vaccination for all people who are pregnant, breastfeeding, or trying to get pregnant now or in the future. Data show that pregnant and recently pregnant people are more likely than non-pregnant people to get severely ill if they are infected with COVID-19, and the highly contagious Delta and Omicron variants makes it even more important for eligible people to get vaccinated. 

In addition, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and other leading maternal health and public health organizations are “strongly urging” all pregnant individuals, and anyone planning to become pregnant, to get vaccinated against COVID-19. 

Updated February 18, 2022 

No. There is no evidence to show that getting a vaccine increases the risk of miscarriage.

There has been extensive safety monitoring of the COVID-19 vaccines, including analysis of vaccination during pregnancy. Specifically, studies show that the rate of miscarriage in the first 20 weeks of pregnancy in the general population is about 11-16%, and an analysis of safety monitoring data of people who received an mRNA COVID-19 vaccine showed a similar rate of 13%.In other words, being vaccinated with one of the currently available COVID-19 vaccines does not increase miscarriage risk; rather, it protects against the higher risk of serious illness if you are pregnant and become infected with the virus.

Added August 12, 2021 

No. There is no evidence that fertility problems are a side effect of any vaccine, including COVID-19 vaccines.

Added August 12, 2021 

Antibodies made after a pregnant person received an mRNA COVID-19 vaccine have been found in umbilical cord blood, which means that COVID-19 vaccination during pregnancy might help protect babies against COVID-19. Additionally, recent reports have shown that breastfeeding people who have received mRNA COVID-19 vaccines have antibodies in their breast milk, which could help protect their babies. In both of these cases, more data are needed to determine the level of protection these antibodies may provide to the baby and how long that protection would last.

Added August 12, 2021 

FDA approval

Emergency use authorization (EUA) allows the FDA to authorize the use of yet to be approved drugs, or unapproved uses of approved drugs, for life-threatening conditions when there are no other adequate, approved, and available options and other conditions are met. In the case of COVID-19, the FDA issued EUAs for the Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson vaccines, and has now issued full approval for the Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines.

In an emergency when lives are at risk, like a pandemic, it may not be possible to have all the evidence that the FDA would usually have before approving a vaccine or drug. If there’s evidence that strongly suggests that patients have benefited from a treatment, the agency can issue an EUA to make it available. For the COVID-19 vaccines, FDA required two months of safety and efficacy data before the EUA was granted. That included clinical trials with tens of thousands of people and rigorous testing and review, and all the vaccines continue to be closely monitored. Compared to emergency use authorization, FDA approval of vaccines requires even more data on safety, manufacturing, and effectiveness over longer periods of time and includes real-world data.

Updated February 2, 2022 

The CDC recommends that most people get a Pfizer or Moderna COVID-19 vaccine over the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, but there is no preference between the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine. These two vaccines are widely available, and for most people, getting the first available COVID vaccine is the best thing you can do to safeguard your health. If you have additional questions about which vaccine is best for you, check with your doctor.

The Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines have both received full FDA approval. Before receiving EUA, all three vaccines underwent rigorous testing and review—including clinical trials with tens of thousands of people, and the FDA evaluated comprehensive data on their safety and effectiveness. All three showed excellent safety and effectiveness profiles, and now, hundreds of millions of vaccine doses in the U.S. and billions worldwide have been safely administered. The Johnson & Johnson vaccines will continue to be safely administered through emergency use authorization as the FDA reviews data about their real-world use. 

February 2, 2021 

Johnson & Johnson vaccine

On May 5, the FDA updated its authorization of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine, limiting its use to adults 18 and older in certain cases where other vaccines are not appropriate. This means that most people should receive either the Moderna or Pfizer vaccine, and should only get the Johnson & Johnson vaccine if other vaccines are not accessible or clinically appropriate (such as people who have had an anaphylactic reaction to a different COVID-19 vaccine) or in cases where individuals who elect to get a Johnson & Johnson vaccine would otherwise not receive a COVID-19 vaccine. 

This update was based on the latest data about the risk of developing a rare blood clotting disorder after receiving the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. While the risk of a serious adverse reaction to the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is very low and far lower than the risks for COVID-19 infection, it is higher than for the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines, which is why the CDC recommends that most people should get a Moderna or Pfizer vaccine. The identification of any possible risks, like the risks associated with the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, is a sign that the nation’s safety monitoring system for COVID-19 vaccines is working.

People who are not yet vaccinated, along with those who received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine and are now eligible for a booster shot, should get a Pfizer or Moderna vaccine. These two vaccines are widely available, but Johnson & Johnson vaccines are still on the market for cases where other vaccines are not accessible or clinically appropriate.

Updated May 6, 2022 

Data show an overall rate of 3.23 cases of the blood clotting disorder per 1 million Johnson & Johnson doses administered, and the onset of symptoms for the individuals typically occurred one to two weeks after getting the vaccine. Risk varies by age and gender, but data show that the risk of developing a rare blood clotting disorder after receiving the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is highest for women age 30-49. Most people should get a Pfizer or Moderna COVID-19 vaccine, with the use of Johnson & Johnson limited to adults age 18 and older in instances where other vaccines are not accessible or clinically inappropriate.

Updated May 6, 2022 

Rare adverse events associated with the Johnson & Johnson vaccine typically present within days or weeks following the shot. The risk of having an adverse reaction to the vaccine is very low, and even lower as time passes.

Data show that symptoms of a blood clotting disorder (severe headache or abdominal pain, shortness of breath, neurological symptoms, leg swelling) typically developed about nine days after vaccination, and in no cases did the onset of symptoms occur after 18 days. If you have questions or concerns, consult your doctor.

Updated December 17, 2021 

Novavax vaccine

On July 19, 2022, the CDC updated its COVID-19 vaccine recommendations, approving the Novavax vaccine for emergency use authorization for adults 18 years and older. Novavax is a two-dose, protein-based COVID-19 vaccine that is currently being used in more than 40 countries and has been authorized by the European Union and the World Health Organization.

Novavax will now be the fourth COVID-19 vaccine available in the U.S., in addition to Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson. As a protein-based vaccine, Novavax is another option for people who are allergic to one of the components in a mRNA or viral-vector vaccine. The vaccine is currently authorized as a primary series only, and not as a booster dose.

Regulators authorized the vaccine following an extensive review of clinical trials and safety and effectiveness data. At the time of the announcement, the CDC stated that the Novavax vaccine would be available in the coming weeks.

Updated July 20, 2022 

The Novavax vaccine is created using more traditional protein-based technology for vaccine development, unlike the other vaccines currently available in the United States (the Pfizer and Moderna mRNA vaccines and viral-vector Johnson & Johnson vaccine). 

The Novavax vaccine uses a combination of purified coronavirus spike proteins and an immune-boosting stimulant called an adjuvant (common in many vaccines) to strengthen the body’s immune response against COVID-19. Novavax has already been authorized in more than 40 countries and has been granted emergency authorization from the European Union and the World Health Organization.

Updated June 29, 2022 

Data from the Novavax clinical trial also show that Novavax is more than 90% effective at protecting against symptomatic COVID-19, and 100% effective against severe illness and death. Common side effects include soreness at the injection site, fatigue, muscle pain, and headaches. 

In terms of serious adverse reactions to Novavax, data show there were six cases of myocarditis from a clinical trial of about 30,000 people, primarily among young men. The cases of myocarditis in the clinical trial were treatable, and all six individuals recovered well. The risk of developing myocarditis from COVID-19 remains higher than the risk of developing it from a COVID-19 vaccine, including Novavax.

Updated June 29, 2022 

Vaccine mandates

Vaccines are a safe and effective way to stop the spread of preventable diseases and decrease rates of infection, hospitalization, and death. The CDC recommends all people age 5 and older get vaccinated against COVID-19, and get a booster shot when eligible. Schools or employers may require vaccinations for attendance or employment, and requirements vary by state and employer. 

While vaccine requirements vary by state, location, business, and school, the science remains the same: the best way to protect yourself from getting COVID-19 is to get vaccinated, and boosted when eligible.

Schools: All states have vaccination requirements for children attending school and childcare facilities. Vaccination requirements help safeguard children by making sure they are protected when they begin school, where there is a higher potential for transmission of some diseases. To learn more about vaccine requirements by state, visit the CDC’s SchoolVaxView Requirements Database

Employers: On January 13, 2022, the Supreme Court ruled that the federal government cannot enforce a vaccine mandate for large businesses. This does not mean that private employers are blocked from creating vaccine mandates. Vaccines remain the safest and most effective way to protect against COVID-19, and employers are still legally able to mandate COVID-19 vaccinations for employees.

Other Vaccine Requirements:

  • Health care workers at facilities that receive Medicare and Medicaid funding are required to get a COVID-19 vaccine.
  • Businesses may also require patrons to show proof of vaccination for entry, and these requirements vary on the state and local level.

 

Variants

Talking Points
  • Variants emerge as a result of naturally occurring mutations in viruses. For example, the flu virus changes often, which is why doctors recommend a flu shot each year.
  • Scientists monitor all COVID-19 variants but may classify certain ones, like Omicron and Delta, as “variants of concern.” Scientists monitor these variants carefully to learn if they spread more easily, cause more severe cases than other variants, or evade vaccine protection.
  • As long as COVID-19 spreads, mutations and new variants are expected to occur, and the best way to prevent the spread of COVID-19, including its variants, is to get vaccinated and boosted. Being vaccinated decreases the likelihood you will get sick and makes it less likely you will need hospitalization or die if you get infected. Increased vaccination rates around the world will decrease the likelihood that the coronavirus will mutate into other dangerous variants.

New COVID-19 variants

Variants emerge as a result of naturally occurring mutations in viruses. For example, the flu virus changes often, which is why doctors recommend a new flu vaccine each year.

Scientists monitor all COVID-19 variants but may classify certain ones, like Omicron and Delta, as “variants of concern.” Scientists monitor these variants carefully to learn if they spread more easily, cause more severe cases than other variants, or evade vaccine protection.

As long as COVID-19 spreads, mutations and new variants are expected to occur, the best way to prevent the spread of COVID-19, including its variants, is to get vaccinated and boosted. Being vaccinated decreases the likelihood you will get sick, and makes it less likely you will need hospitalization or die if you get infected. Increased vaccination rates around the world will decrease the likelihood that the coronavirus will mutate into other dangerous variants.

Added December 9, 2021 

Omicron

What we know about the Omicron variant continues to evolve, but preliminary data do not suggest that the Omicron variant is causing more severe illness in children. However, the Omicron variant is spreading rapidly, leading to record-breaking case counts, including pediatric cases. As the total number of children with COVID-19 increases, hospitalizations are also rising, even if the proportion of hospitalizations remains small. Lower vaccination and booster rates among children compared to adults may also be a factor contributing to increased cases and hospitalizations in children. 

The best way to protect children from the virus is to follow the leading COVID-19 prevention strategies. Children age 5 and older should get vaccinated, and adolescents age 12 and older are now eligible to get boosted at least 5 months after their second shot for optimal protection against the virus. Parents and adults can help protect their children by getting all eligible family members vaccinated and boosted if eligible—which will also help protect children under 5 who are currently ineligible to be vaccinated. Children over 2 should also wear a well-fitting mask in indoor public settings or crowded environments, wash their hands, stay home if they are feeling sick, and get tested if they were exposed to the virus or are symptomatic.

Added January 6, 2022 

Scientists have been studying this question since the variant was first identified. While experts continue to learn more about the Omicron variant, data show that the vaccines continue to be highly effective in reducing risk of severe disease, hospitalization, and death. The latest data show that booster doses significantly increase protection from the Omicron variant. Based on this data, the CDC recommends that everyone age 5 and older get vaccinated, and everyone age 12 and older get boosted when eligible. 

Updated January 6, 2022 

Data suggest that the Omicron variant is more contagious than other variants, including the fast-spreading Delta variant. Studies suggest the variant may be less likely to cause severe disease, but Omicron infection continues to lead to hospitalization and deaths, particularly in unvaccinated people and people at risk of severe COVID-19. Any coronavirus infection can be life-threatening, and the best way to prevent the spread of this or any other variant is to get vaccinated, get a booster if you are eligible, and to wear a mask in indoor public settings or in crowded environments. 

Added November 29, 2021 

Emergent Public Health Concerns

Monkeypox

Monkeypox is an illness caused by the monkeypox virus. Common symptoms of monkeypox can include fever, headache, muscle aches, swollen lymph nodes, and a rash that can look like pimples or blisters and may be painful or itchy. The rash may be on the face, the inside of the mouth, hands, feet, chest, genitals, or anus. Symptoms are usually mild or moderate and typically resolve within 2-4 weeks. Monkeypox is rarely fatal. 

There is a growing outbreak of monkeypox in the U.S. and globally, and currently cases have primarily been in men who have sex with men. The White House declared monkeypox a national public health emergency on August 4, 2022 and the World Health Organization declared a global health emergency in late July 2022. 

Updated August 8, 2022 

Monkeypox spreads through direct skin-to-skin contact with the infection rash, scabs, or body fluids. It can also be spread through respiratory droplets during prolonged, face-to-face contact or during intimate physical contact. Any person, regardless of gender identity or sexual orientation, can acquire and spread monkeypox. Currently, the vast majority of the known monkeypox cases are among men who have sex with men.

Updated August 8, 2022 

Anyone can contract monkeypox but to date the vast majority of the cases have been in men who have sex with men, and the general population is currently at low risk of contracting the infection.

The CDC recommends vaccination for people who have been in close contact with people who have monkeypox. The current supply of the vaccine is limited, and so currently vaccination is prioritized for individuals at high risk. Eligibility for vaccination varies locally, but typically includes groups considered to be at high risk for monkeypox, including:

  • People who have been in close physical contact with someone with monkeypox in the past two weeks
  • People who have had multiple sexual partners in the past two weeks in an area with known monkeypox cases
  • People whose jobs may expose them to monkeypox, including some healthcare or public health workers

The preferred vaccine to protect against monkeypox is Jynneos. There is a limited supply of Jynneos, but more is expected in the coming weeks and months. Guidelines may be expanded to others (at some, but lower risk) as vaccine supply increases). The alternative to Jynneos is the ACAM2000 vaccine, but it is not recommended for people with weakened immune systems and has the potential for more side effects. Contact your local health department for information about vaccine eligibility and testing.

Updated August 8, 2022 

Monkeypox is much less contagious and less likely to cause severe illness or death than COVID-19. The spread of monkeypox is also different than the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic in a few key ways:

  • There is already a vaccine for monkeypox.
  • Monkeypox can be treated with available antiviral medicines.
  • While COVID-19 passed easily from person to person, monkeypox does not spread as easily between people. Monkeypox transmission typically requires skin-to-skin contact, direct contact with body fluids, or prolonged, close face-to-face contact.

Updated August 8, 2022