This section is an ongoing compilation of tough questions related to COVID-19, with suggested answers. Many of these topics are sensitive and often politicized. The document is designed to provide message guidance and framing for public health officials and others, and it is regularly updated to reflect new developments and emerging issues.

Omicron and other variants

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

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 is a new variant of the virus that causes COVID-19. The Omicron variant has been detected in a growing number of countries, including the U.S.

Added November 29, 2021

Studies are underway to answer that question. While it is possible that current vaccines may be less effective against the Omicron variant, vaccine availability is limited in many African countries, and South African officials are reporting that most of the people there who are sick due to the omicron variant were not vaccinated. Vaccines remain widely available in the U.S. and the Omicron variant is yet another reason to get vaccinated and get a booster if you are eligible.

Added November 29, 2021

Health officials are collecting data to be able to answer these questions. In the meantime, it is important to remember that any coronavirus infection can be life threatening especially in people with underlying medical conditions. The best way to prevent the spread of this new variant 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 a crowded environment. In most places, masking is also required for air, train and bus travel and other forms of public transportation.

Added November 29, 2021

Vaccine Booster Doses

Topline messages: Updated guidance as of January 5, 2022

Everyone age 12 and older is eligible to get a COVID-19 booster dose. 

  • Moderna recipients age 18 and older should get a booster at least 6 months after second shot.
  • Pfizer recipients age 12 and older should get a booster at least 5 months after second shot.
  • Johnson & Johnson recipients age 18 and older should get a Pfizer or Moderna booster at least 2 months after initial shot.
  • Children younger than 12: a booster is not recommended at this time.

The CDC recommends that people who received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine get a Pfizer or Moderna booster. The CDC advises people who got a Pfizer or Moderna vaccine to get the same booster as their initial vaccine, but allows them to mix and match (i.e., get a different COVID-19 booster than their initial vaccine) depending on preference or availability—with the exception of adolescents age 12-17 who are only eligible to receive the Pfizer vaccine.

The emergence of the Omicron variant underscores the importance of vaccination, boosters, and preventive efforts to protect against COVID-19. The COVID-19 vaccines continue to be highly effective in reducing risk of severe disease, hospitalization, and death. CDC recommendations on booster doses are based on the latest data, which show that booster doses significantly increase protection from the Omicron variant, with the goal of ensuring that people have optimal protection against COVID-19 infection, severe illness, and death.

Updated January 6, 2022

COVID-19 vaccines are working well to prevent severe illness, hospitalization, and death, but the latest data show that booster doses significantly increase protection against the Omicron variant. 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—particularly for groups that are more at risk for severe COVID-19, such as older people and those with underlying medical conditions.

Updated January 6, 2022

The CDC recommends that people who received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine get a Pfizer or Moderna booster. The CDC advises people who got a Pfizer or Moderna vaccine to get the same booster as their initial vaccine, but allows them to mix and match (i.e., get a different COVID-19 booster than their initial vaccine) depending on preference or availability—with the exception of adolescents age 12-17 who are only eligible to receive the Pfizer vaccine.

If you received the Pfizer vaccine and are 12 years of age or older, you are eligible to get a booster dose 5 months after your second shot. If you received the Moderna vaccine, you should get the booster dose 6 months after your second shot. If you received the J&J vaccine, you are eligible for a booster two months after getting the initial shot.

If you have questions about your eligibility for booster doses or which booster you should get, speak to your health care provider.

Updated January 6, 2022

At this point we don’t know if additional booster doses, beyond the now recommended or available third dose, will be needed. Booster doses are common for many vaccines. The scientists and medical experts who developed the COVID-19 vaccines will continue to closely watch for signs of waning immunity, how well the vaccines protect against new mutations of the virus, and how that data differ across age groups and risk factors. It is possible that the current booster dose could result in long lasting immunity or alternatively that additional booster doses might be needed in the future, and scientists will be carefully monitoring that issue.

Added November 22, 2021

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.  All Johnson & Johnson recipients, including immunocompromised people, should get a booster shot at least two months after their initial 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 October 22, 2021

Quarantine and isolation

The latest guidance from the CDC recommends that people who test positive for COVID-19 should stay home and isolate alone and away from others for at least five days after testing positive, reduced from a 10-day isolation. If you do not have symptoms five days after your positive test, you can leave isolation, but should continue to wear a well-fitting mask around others for an additional five days. If you still have symptoms after isolating for five days, you should stay home until symptoms resolve.

The CDC’s recommendations are based on the latest scientific data on COVID-19 transmission. Data show that people with COVID-19 are most contagious one to two days prior to experiencing symptoms and two to three days after the onset of symptoms. The new guidance also recognizes the added degree of protection provided by vaccination and a booster dose.

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.

Added December 28, 2021

The CDC recommends that anyone who comes into close contact with someone who has COVID-19 should get tested five days after exposure, or sooner if you develop symptoms. The CDC also recommends different courses of action after exposure, depending on vaccination status and timeline:

If you are unvaccinated, or if you are eligible to be boosted and have not yet received your booster, the CDC recommends that you quarantine alone and away from others for five days. After a five day quarantine period, you should wear a mask around others for five additional days, and get tested for COVID-19.

If quarantine is not possible, it is critical to wear a well-fitting mask at all times when around others for 10 days after exposure. If you develop symptoms at any point within ten days after exposure, get a test and stay home.

If you have been boosted, or have been fully vaccinated and are not yet eligible to be boosted, the CDC recommends that you wear a mask around others for 10 days, but you need not quarantine unless you develop symptoms.

Added December 28, 2021

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

Johnson & Johnson vaccine

On December 16, the CDC updated its recommendations on COVID-19 vaccines, recommending that people opt to get a Pfizer or Moderna COVID-19 vaccine over the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. This recommendation was based on the latest scientific evidence on vaccine effectiveness, vaccine safety, and considerations of the U.S. supply. Specifically, new data showed a very small, but increased risk for a rare blood clot disorder for those who received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. Out of more than 16 million people who received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, the CDC has confirmed cases of this disorder. 

The FDA and CDC take vaccine safety very seriously, which is why all vaccines are closely monitored. 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 identification of any possible risks, like the low 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 people who are unwilling or unable to get a Pfizer or Moderna vaccine.

The onset of adverse reactions to the J&J vaccine have been reported to occur within 18 days of receiving the vaccine.

Added December 17, 2021

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

The risk of having an adverse reaction to the vaccine is very low. Data show an overall rate of 3.8 cases of the blood clotting disorder per 1 million Johnson & Johnson doses administered. 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.

Updated December 17, 2021

The Pfizer and Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccines are not associated with increased risk for a rare blood clotting disorder that appear on the warning label for the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

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. 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 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 for adverse events among people who are vaccinated into the future.

Updated December 17, 2021

On July 12, the Food and Drug Administration announced it is adding a warning label to the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine, noting increased risk of a rare neurological syndrome called Guillain-Barré syndrome. The new warning label is based on preliminary data, after about 100 reports of GBS were detected in the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System, out of more than 12.8 million administered doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine administered.

The CDC continues to advise that everyone 12 years of age and older receive a COVID-19 vaccine. The risk of severe adverse events after any COVID-19 vaccination remains rare, far lower than adverse health outcomes associated with contracting COVID-19.

The CDC and FDA will continue to provide monitoring and treatment information to health care providers and vaccine recipients. Anyone with questions about which vaccine is best for them should speak to their healthcare provider.

Added July 13, 2021

Antivirals and treatment

Topline messages about COVID-19 antiviral drugs


Vaccination continues to be the best line of defense against preventing COVID-19. Antiviral drugs are an important and welcome advancement in COVID-19 treatments, but they are not a substitute for COVID-19 vaccines. New data show that oral antiviral medications may decrease the risk of severe disease, hospitalization, and death, but these treatments won’t prevent infection. 

COVID-19 vaccines are safe, effective, free, and widely available. There are emerging data about the safety and effectiveness of antiviral treatments in clinical trials, but we still need to learn more about antiviral treatments — including availability, cost, and how these treatments affect the development of long-term COVID symptoms. What we do know is that COVID-19 vaccines are widely available, extremely safe and effective, free, and the best way to protect yourself and others from the spread of COVID-19.

Antiviral medications are not currently available. While new data about the effectiveness of antiviral pills developed by Merck and Pfizer look promising, these medications are not currently available in the U.S. 

Added November 15, 2021

Vaccination continues to be the best line of defense against preventing COVID-19. While antiviral drugs are an important and welcome advancement in COVID-19 treatments, they are no substitute for COVID-19 vaccination. New data show that oral antiviral medications may decrease the risk of severe disease, hospitalization, and death, but these treatments won’t prevent infection — and like any treatment, they are not 100% effective. 

Furthermore, the safety and effectiveness data from clinical trials are promising, but there is a lot we don’t know yet about antiviral treatments — including availability, cost, and how these treatments may or may not affect the development of long-COVID symptoms. 

The information we have about new antiviral treatments are from clinical trials, and these medications have not yet been authorized in the United States. What we do know is that COVID-19 vaccines are widely available, extremely safe and effective, free, and the best way to protect yourself and others from the spread of COVID-19.

Added November 15, 2021

While new data are emerging about the effectiveness of antiviral pills, these medications are not currently available in the U.S. Advisors to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) are slated to meet on November 30 to discuss emergency use authorization for a pill developed by Merck, and Pfizer plans to submit data to the FDA to apply for authorization.

The CDC continues to recommend that everyone age 5 and older get a COVID-19 vaccine, and recommends booster doses for some people. Getting vaccinated is the best way to protect people from becoming infected, getting severely ill or dying from COVID-19, and spreading the virus.

Added November 15, 2021

FDA Approval

Comirnaty is the new name for the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine. Once a drug or other intervention receives FDA approval the manufacturer typically gives it a brand name, and Comirnaty is the brand name that Pfizer has chosen for its COVID-19 vaccine. It is the exact same vaccine as the one that was first authorized for use in December 2020, which we have come to know as the COVID-19 Pfizer vaccine, with the same high degree of safety and effectiveness.

Added August 23, 2021

FDA approval requires a rigorous and structured review process, and it means that a vaccine or drug has cleared every level of review. 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. The FDA conducts its own analyses of the information included in an application for approval to make sure the vaccine is safe and effective and meets the FDA’s standards for approval.

Added August 23, 2021

On August 23, the FDA issued full approval to the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine, now known as Comirnaty. The vaccine has been fully approved for use in individuals age 16 and older, with a two-dose regimen spaced at least three weeks apart. The full approval by the FDA means that the Comirnaty vaccine now has the same level of approval as other vaccines routinely in use in the U.S., such as vaccines for hepatitis, measles, chicken pox, and polio.

On top of the rigorous testing and trials that went into Emergency Use Authorization of the Pfizer vaccine, the FDA analyzed additional and follow-up data from the ongoing clinical trial to determine the safety and effectiveness of Comirnaty, including:

  • The analysis of effectiveness data from approximately 20,000 vaccine recipients and 20,000 placebo recipients age 16 and older, which found that overall, the vaccine was 91% effective, with 77 cases of COVID-19 occurring in the vaccine group and 833 COVID-19 cases in the placebo group.
  • The analysis of safety data in approximately 22,000 vaccine recipients and 22,000 placebo recipients age 16 and older. More than half of participants were followed to monitor safety for at least four months after the second dose; approximately 12,000 vaccine recipients have been followed for at least 6 months.
  • Rigorous evaluation of safety surveillance data regarding myocarditis and pericarditis. Data demonstrated an increased risk for vaccine recipients, which was higher in males under 40, particularly males 12-17. Comirnaty prescribing information will include information about this risk, and in addition to these analyses, the FDA is requiring the company to conduct postmarketing studies to further assess the risks of myocarditis and pericarditis in vaccinated individuals. It is important to note that reports of these complications are rare, and most patients who received care responded well to treatment.

The vaccine also continues to be available for adolescents age 12 through 15  and for the administration of a third dose in certain immunocompromised individuals (read more about booster doses here.)

Added August 23, 2021

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 COVID-19 vaccine, now known as Comirnaty.

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.

Added August 23, 2021

Pfizer’s application for FDA approval was for use in individuals age 16 and older. The FDA issued the EUA for the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine in December 2020, at which time this vaccine was authorized for use in individuals age 16 and older. In May 2021, based on extensive effectiveness and safety data in clinical trials of adolescents, the EUA was expanded to include those 12 through 15 years old. Pfizer plans to request full approval for this age group once it has collected and analyzed six months of safety data from clinical trial participants. The EUA remains in place for individuals age 12 through 15, and the CDC continues to recommend that all adolescents and adults age 12 and older get a COVID-19 vaccine.

Added August 23, 2021

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.

All of the COVID-19 vaccines have been rigorously tested and reviewed, and are collecting data toward their application for full approval status. Before receiving EUA, all three vaccines underwent 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 Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines will continue to be safely administered through emergency use authorization as the FDA reviews data about their real-world use. The Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine was the first vaccine to receive emergency authorization, which is why it is the first to have enough data to receive full approval. It does not mean anything about the safety and effectiveness of either the Moderna or Johnson & Johnson vaccine. Moderna has also submitted an application for full approval of its COVID-19 vaccine, and the FDA is currently reviewing that data.

August 23, 2021

FDA Approval

On August 23, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued full approval to the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine, which will now be marketed as Comirnaty. The FDA has been issuing Emergency Use Authorizations (EUA) for COVID-19 vaccines based on the urgent need created by the pandemic and the vaccine’s extensive safety and efficacy data. Topline messages to answer questions about FDA approval include:
  • FDA’s full approval of the first COVID-19 vaccine, which required additional safety and efficacy data beyond what was provided for the EUA, is an important milestone that should reassure anyone who has concerns about getting vaccinated. On top of the rigorous testing and trials that went into Emergency Use Authorization of the Pfizer vaccine, the FDA has now completed additional analysis of the effectiveness and safety data from tens of thousands of clinical trial participants, as well as the analysis of real-world safety data.
  • All of the COVID-19 vaccines authorized or approved in the U.S. are extremely safe and effective, based on extensive clinical trials and the fact that nearly 200 million Americans have received at least one shot.
  • With increasing rates of COVID-19 infection, hospitalization, and deaths across the country, it is more important than ever for all eligible people to get vaccines. All three vaccines work. They reduce the risk of getting COVID-19 and greatly reduce your risk of being hospitalized or dying.
Added August 23, 2021

Comirnaty is the new name for the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine. Once a drug or other intervention receives FDA approval the manufacturer typically gives it a brand name, and Comirnaty is the brand name that Pfizer has chosen for its COVID-19 vaccine. It is the exact same vaccine as the one that was first authorized for use in December 2020, which we have come to know as the COVID-19 Pfizer vaccine, with the same high degree of safety and effectiveness.

Added August 23, 2021

FDA approval requires a rigorous and structured review process, and it means that a vaccine or drug has cleared every level of review. 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. The FDA conducts its own analyses of the information included in an application for approval to make sure the vaccine is safe and effective and meets the FDA’s standards for approval.

Added August 23, 2021

On August 23, the FDA issued full approval to the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine, now known as Comirnaty. The vaccine has been fully approved for use in individuals age 16 and older, with a two-dose regimen spaced at least three weeks apart. The full approval by the FDA means that the Comirnaty vaccine now has the same level of approval as other vaccines routinely in use in the U.S., such as vaccines for hepatitis, measles, chicken pox, and polio.

On top of the rigorous testing and trials that went into Emergency Use Authorization of the Pfizer vaccine, the FDA analyzed additional and follow-up data from the ongoing clinical trial to determine the safety and effectiveness of Comirnaty, including:

  • The analysis of effectiveness data from approximately 20,000 vaccine recipients and 20,000 placebo recipients age 16 and older, which found that overall, the vaccine was 91% effective, with 77 cases of COVID-19 occurring in the vaccine group and 833 COVID-19 cases in the placebo group.
  • The analysis of safety data in approximately 22,000 vaccine recipients and 22,000 placebo recipients age 16 and older. More than half of participants were followed to monitor safety for at least four months after the second dose; approximately 12,000 vaccine recipients have been followed for at least 6 months.
  • Rigorous evaluation of safety surveillance data regarding myocarditis and pericarditis. Data demonstrated an increased risk for vaccine recipients, which was higher in males under 40, particularly males 12-17. Comirnaty prescribing information will include information about this risk, and in addition to these analyses, the FDA is requiring the company to conduct postmarketing studies to further assess the risks of myocarditis and pericarditis in vaccinated individuals. It is important to note that reports of these complications are rare, and most patients who received care responded well to treatment.

The vaccine also continues to be available for adolescents age 12 through 15  and for the administration of a third dose in certain immunocompromised individuals (read more about booster doses here.)

Added August 23, 2021

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 COVID-19 vaccine, now known as Comirnaty.

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.

Added August 23, 2021

Pfizer’s application for FDA approval was for use in individuals age 16 and older. The FDA issued the EUA for the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine in December 2020, at which time this vaccine was authorized for use in individuals age 16 and older. In May 2021, based on extensive effectiveness and safety data in clinical trials of adolescents, the EUA was expanded to include those 12 through 15 years old. Pfizer plans to request full approval for this age group once it has collected and analyzed six months of safety data from clinical trial participants. The EUA remains in place for individuals age 12 through 15, and the CDC continues to recommend that all adolescents and adults age 12 and older get a COVID-19 vaccine.

Added August 23, 2021

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.

All of the COVID-19 vaccines have been rigorously tested and reviewed, and are collecting data toward their application for full approval status. Before receiving EUA, all three vaccines underwent 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 Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines will continue to be safely administered through emergency use authorization as the FDA reviews data about their real-world use. The Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine was the first vaccine to receive emergency authorization, which is why it is the first to have enough data to receive full approval. It does not mean anything about the safety and effectiveness of either the Moderna or Johnson & Johnson vaccine. Moderna has also submitted an application for full approval of its COVID-19 vaccine, and the FDA is currently reviewing that data.

August 23, 2021

Mask Guidance

Topline messages about masks and COVID-19

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 respirator or mask helps prevent the spread of the virus to others, and it also helps protect the mask-wearer.

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 less 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.

People ages 2 and older should wear a mask in indoor public places if they are:

  • Not up to date on their COVID-19 vaccines, including a booster if they are eligible
  • Fully vaccinated and in an area with substantial or high virus transmission
  • Fully vaccinated and have a weakened immune system
  • In any setting where mask use is required for everyone, regardless of vaccination status

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.

Updated January 18, 2022

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

The COVID-19 vaccines are remarkably effective in reducing the risk of severe disease, hospitalization, and death, including against the delta variant. If you are fully vaccinated, you have a very low risk of contracting COVID-19 or spreading it to others. (Read more for messaging guidance on what it means to be “fully vaccinated.”) However, much of the nation continues to see substantial and high transmission of COVID-19, and in these areas, the CDC recommends that everyone, regardless of vaccination status, wears a mask in public, indoor settings to help prevent the spread of the virus.

There are a few other places where everyone should wear a mask, regardless of whether they are vaccinated: health care settings, public transportation, planes, shelters, K-12 schools, and correctional facilities. Regardless of vaccination status, people should follow local regulations and the requirements of businesses, workplaces, and schools — which may require masks.

While COVID-19 vaccines are highly effective, no vaccine provides 100% immunity. Data show that a small percent of vaccinated people can be infected by the delta variant in a breakthrough infection and transmit their infection to others. Fully vaccinated individuals may make the personal decision to continue to wear a mask based on their own risk assessment and preference. Those with certain medical conditions or who are immunosuppressed should consult their physicians regarding mask-wearing and other protective measures.

Updated October 12, 2021

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

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

Vaccines

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, Frank Luntz, and Morning Consult

·       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.

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.

There are a few reasons why COVID-19 cases may continue to rise even as vaccination rates increase. For one, no vaccine is 100% effective, and highly contagious strains like the Delta variant have led to breakthrough infections among a small percentage of vaccinated people. 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. Breakthrough cases are still a small percentage of total cases.

The COVID-19 vaccines continue to be highly effective in reducing risk of severe disease, hospitalization, and death. When COVID-19 cases rise, breakthrough infections among vaccinated individuals are more likely to be mild cases, while unvaccinated people are more likely to become severely ill or require hospitalization. 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. 

Added December 9, 2021

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

Emergency use authorization (EUA) allows the FDA to authorize the use of yet-to-be-approved drugs, or unapproved uses of approved drugs, often in emergency situations when there are no other prevention or treatment options. The FDA issued EUAs for the Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson vaccines, and has now issued full approval for the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine.

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

The Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine was the first vaccine to have the necessary data to receive EUA, and it was the first to have enough data to receive full approval (read more about FDA approval here). Moderna has also submitted an application for full approval of its COVID-19 vaccine, and the FDA is currently reviewing those data. For the time being, the Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines will continue to be safely administered through emergency use authorization.

Updated October 12, 2021

Children and Vaccinations

Topline messages on children and COVID-19 vaccination

The CDC recommends that children and adolescents age 5 and older get a COVID-19 vaccine. The Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine is authorized for children and adolescents age 5 and up, as a 2-dose series taken 3 weeks apart. The dose for children age 5-11 is one-third of the dosage of the vaccine for older adolescents and adults.

Vaccination is the best way to protect children age 5 and older from COVID-19. 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. While children and adolescents are typically at lower risk than adults of becoming severely ill or hospitalized from COVID-19, it is still possible.

The vaccine is safe and effective. Before being authorized for children, scientists and medical experts completed their review of safety and effectiveness data from clinical trials of thousands of children. The Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine was rigorously tested and reviewed, and more than 11 million adolescents ages 12-17 have already safely received the COVID-19 vaccine.

Updated November 3, 2021

Medical and public health experts, including the CDC and the American Academy of Pediatrics, recommend that children and adolescents age 5 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. 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. While children and adolescents are typically at lower risk than adults of becoming severely ill or hospitalized from COVID-19, it is still possible.

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. As vaccination rates increase, the lower the chances that the coronavirus will mutate into dangerous variants. 

Updated November 3, 2021

Yes. Keeping children safe and healthy is top of mind for parents, and scientists have worked to ensure the vaccine is safe for children ages 5-17. Before being authorized for children, scientists and medical experts completed their review of safety and effectiveness data from clinical trials of thousands of children. The Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine was rigorously tested and reviewed, and more than 11 million adolescents ages 12-17 have already received the COVID-19 vaccine. As of November 2, the Pfizer vaccine is also authorized for children ages 5-11.

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 November 3, 2021

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

Pregnancy + fertility

Yes. Based on data on the safety of COVID-19 vaccines during pregnancy, CDC is now recommending 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 to get severely ill if infected with COVID-19 compared with non-pregnant people, and the highly contagious delta variant makes it even more important for eligible people to get vaccinated.

The CDC’s recommendation, announced on August 11, is based on further evidence about the safety of COVID-19 vaccines and a new analysis of current data from the CDC’s v-safe pregnancy registry. 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, be vaccinated against COVID-19.

Added August 12, 2021

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

Pandemic fatigue

We understand that people are tired, 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 loneliness, to parenting in the context of virtual schooling. We’ve made progress in putting the pandemic behind us, but we risk the health of our communities and our economy if we declare victory too soon, particularly in the light of the high degree of contagiousness of the delta variant..

Many communities have made tremendous progress in protecting ourselves and our loved ones from COVID-19, but vaccination rates are still lagging in many communities. After months of decreasing in many places, COVID cases are increasing across the country, with infection rates highest in places where vaccination rates are low. The delta variant is roughly twice as contagious as the initial strain and is now the dominant strain in the U.S. and worldwide. Because of how contagious this variant is, it’s more important than ever for eligible adults and adolescents to get vaccinated, and for unvaccinated people to continue wearing a mask in public settings.

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

Updated August 5, 2021

Trust in public health officials

For decades, the CDC has put its scientific expertise to work to protect Americans from infectious disease, chronic illness, and preventable injuries. Around the world, the agency is a trusted source for public health and health promotion guidance; the CDC’s career staff remain a respected and credible information source.

The CDC is at its best when its scientists are free to provide public health advice based on the best available data and free of any political or non-scientific considerations.

There’s no avoiding the fact that the COVID-19 pandemic has been extremely challenging for the entire country, including the CDC. There was an early misstep at the CDC with the initial development of a COVID-19 test. However, since then CDC has gathered and shared data on the pandemic’s impact, produced educational materials, distributed billions of dollars in grant funding to local, state, tribal, and territorial agencies, and supported essential services necessary for testing, contact tracing, and protection of the public.

During the initial response, the CDC did not have the central and visible roles in coordinating and messaging during the COVID-19 pandemic that it had during past infectious disease outbreaks, including malaria, HIV, H1N1, Ebola, and Zika. This lack of a central, public-facing role for the CDC impeded the federal response, contributed to mixed messaging on the optimal response to the pandemic, and delayed and sometimes distorted the guidance needed by the American public.

That has changed. The CDC has been empowered to take a central role in developing guidance and messaging and coordinating the national response. Everyone benefits when the CDC is allowed to do its job without interference and with regular, unfettered science-based messaging offered directly to the public and policymakers. Under the new leadership, the thousands of rank-and-file CDC employees scientists and public health experts dedicated only to the protection of the public are leading the day in and day out work necessary to fight the virus.

Going forward, the nation needs to ensure that science guides public health without any interference. When statements are made or policies suggested that are not grounded in science, public health experts need to continue to say so.

Updated May 7 , 2021

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.

Public health officials strive to be guided by science and independent of political or partisan considerations. The most effective way to address COVID-19 is to have state, local, and federal officials working in coordination and operating based on scientific guidance.

As always, the role of public health officials is to follow the science, develop programs and guidelines that protect health, advise elected officials, work with public and private sector partners, and keep the public informed.

updated November 3

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. Public health officials estimate that 70 to 85% of the population will need to be vaccinated before herd immunity is achieved. Until then, getting vaccinated and the 3 Ws – wearing a mask indoors (beyond your home), watching your distance, and washing your hands – are the best tools we have to stop the spread of the virus.

Updated May 7, 2021

Hospital shortages

The most serious potential shortage is for hospital intensive care capacity. The only way to prevent such shortages is to control the spread of COVID-19. In the last year, we have seen increased risk for shortages following unprecedented surge in cases, often after holidays or other moments of large gatherings. In those situations, patients may be at risk if the capacity of local hospitals to provide intensive care is exceeded by the number of patients needing that care. That’s why it is vital for us to work together and follow the latest public health guidance to prevent the spread of the virus.

updated February 24

Economy + jobs

Public health measures are not an obstacle to a return to normalcy, they are the roadmap to faster and sustained recovery. Americans are coping with job losses, school closures, social isolation, and fears around health and safety. Many people are frightened, angry, and frustrated. As public health officials, we share this frustration. We want the economy and our schools to open. At the same time, we want to protect our families, friends, and neighbors from the virus, and we know that if we don’t, there will be even worse consequences for the economy and for schools.

Nobody should have to decide between the health of their family and putting food on the table. The goal is both public health safety and economic security; the two are dependent on each other.

Updated May 7, 2021

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, 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 18, you can order free at-home COVID-19 tests provided by the US. government here. Every U.S. household is eligible to order up to four (4) free at-home COVID-19 tests and orders will usually ship in 7-12 days. 

As of January 15, 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 through direct 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. You can also request free tests for home delivery through the new federal program.

Added January 20, 2022,

Contact tracing

Vaccination is the most effective public health strategy to reduce the spread of COVID-19, and contact tracing is an important tool to prevent spread while we continue to increase vaccination rates. Contact tracing helps to control the spread of the virus by quickly identifying and informing people who may have been exposed to an infected person. If you contract COVID-19 or are exposed to COVID-19, cooperating with contact tracers will help prevent other people from getting sick.

Changes in official guidance

Safety guidance has changed as more has been learned about the virus and how to prevent its spread. The rate of virus spread in your local community, in addition to your individual health and vaccination status, will largely determine the safest options for you. Your local health department is an important source of COVID-19 information that’s specific to your community.

Updated May 7, 2021

We understand it is frustrating that guidance continues to change. It’s the job of public health officials to tell you what we know, when we know it, and guidance regarding COVID-19 has evolved as our understanding of the virus evolves.

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

updated September 25

Data and reporting

Breakthrough COVID-19 cases are new infections in people who have already been fully vaccinated.

COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations, and deaths, as well as breakthrough infections, are tracked on a state-by-state basis. Many states monitor reports of breakthrough infections and report this information to CDC. However, this information is likely not complete because many breakthrough infections are mild or asymptomatic and therefore undiagnosed. States and CDC do investigate and track COVID hospitalizations and deaths in vaccinated people and this information is likely more accurate and a better measure of the risk of severe disease.

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 compared to fully vaccinated people, and the rate of hospitalizations associated with COVID-19 was 12 times higher among unvaccinated people.

Data continue to show that the COVID-19 vaccines are extremely effective in protecting individuals from catching and spreading the virus, but no vaccine provides 100% immunity. For the small percentage of vaccinated people who experience breakthrough cases, they are much more likely to be mild.

Updated October 20, 2021

COVID-19 remains a serious threat to public health, and there is no evidence that the reported number of COVID-19 deaths has been inflated. The CDC has tracked and reported COVID-19 fatalities from the start of the pandemic, with detailed data from the local and state level that originates with each individual death certificate. In fact, experts agree that the number of COVID deaths are probably undercounted because not everyone with COVID will have been tested and diagnosed.

The CDC’s report also gives a detailed account of something we’ve known since the beginning of the pandemic – having pre-existing conditions like diabetes, heart disease, or obesity greatly increases a person’s risk for life-threatening consequences from the infection. We also know that COVID-19 deaths can be caused by related complications, such as pneumonia or respiratory distress. 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 even people with pre-existing conditions may have lived years longer if they had not been infected with COVID-19. For that reason, the cause of these deaths is COVID-19.

Updated August 9, 2021

Equity

Prevention and treatment of infectious and chronic disease for low-income people and communities of color is woefully insufficient in our country, and the COVID-19 pandemic has been no exception to that pattern.

In general, access to affordable health care services for these communities, including testing, has been more challenging than in white communities. Limited economic opportunity and substandard housing have led to higher rates of underlying chronic health conditions, making serious illness and death from COVID more likely among communities of color. In addition, people of color and lower-income Americans have also been disproportionately designated as essential workers during the pandemic, with fewer job protections, placing them at increased risk for exposure. They also tend to live in more densely populated neighborhoods, making social distancing difficult.

These circumstances are the results of our country’s long history of structural racism in housing, jobs, education and healthcare. Addressing this racism is not only critical to protecting communities of color from the impact of COVID, it is critical to address them to allow all people to lead healthy lives.

Seasonal flu

It is more important than ever to protect against influenza, which, like COVID-19, is a respiratory illness. Vaccination for the flu is critical to help reduce the overall impact of respiratory illnesses on the general population and lower the resulting burden on the healthcare system during the pandemic.

State + local response

National, state, local, tribal, and territorial health officials are all working hard to ensure the safety of their communities and the country as a whole. While federal public health experts can coordinate national response strategies, the impact of COVID-19 varies by state, city, county, village, and town. Local and state health officials have the best understanding of how the virus is impacting their immediate community, the level of community spread, community-specific risks, and who the community will trust to provide public health information. They use that understanding to adapt national guidelines for their communities.

U.S. response + infection rate

The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the impact of chronic underfunding of America’s public health and emergency preparedness systems. More than 56,000 local public health jobs were eliminated between 2008 and 2017 — nearly one-quarter of the workforce. And in 2018, the White House Office of Global Pandemics was eliminated, leaving the country less prepared for pandemics like COVID-19. This chronic under funding has real consequences, as we’ve learned as health departments struggled to respond to the biggest public health crisis in a century with outdated technologies and inadequate staffing levels. Building and maintaining a public health system capable of effectively protecting and promoting health requires a significant increase in funding. This would be a wise investment considering the much higher costs of responding to uncontrolled epidemics.

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Medical and public health experts, including the CDC and the American Academy of Pediatrics, recommend that children and adolescents age 5 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. 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. While children and adolescents are typically at lower risk than adults of becoming severely ill or hospitalized from COVID-19, it is still possible.

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. As vaccination rates increase, the lower the chances that the coronavirus will mutate into dangerous variants. 

Updated November 3, 2021

Yes. Keeping children safe and healthy is top of mind for parents, and scientists have worked to ensure the vaccine is safe for children ages 5-17. Before being authorized for children, scientists and medical experts completed their review of safety and effectiveness data from clinical trials of thousands of children. The Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine was rigorously tested and reviewed, and more than 11 million adolescents ages 12-17 have already received the COVID-19 vaccine. As of November 2, the Pfizer vaccine is also authorized for children ages 5-11.

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 November 3, 2021

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