COVID-19 vaccine: Member information and FAQs

One of the most important tools to help stop the COVID-19 pandemic is a safe and effective vaccine. Please check this page often for updated information.

The top three things you should know about the vaccine are:

  1. As a Blue Shield of California or Blue Shield of California Promise Health Plan member, you will have no out-of-pocket costs; the vaccine is fully covered for you.
  2. There is currently limited supply of the two approved safe and effective vaccines. Most of the state is in Phase 1 of the rollout. This phase targets groups at high risk for getting COVID-19 or having severe illness from it. Phase 2 expands access to more Californians at high risk not included in Phase 1. The general public will be able to get vaccinated in Phase 3. This is expected to be some time in the summer 2021.
  3. You will need to continue with preventive measures before and after getting vaccinated:
    • Wear a mask
    • Social distance
    • Wash your hands often
    • Minimize mixing with other households

About the vaccine

Availability and eligibility

Getting a vaccine: what to expect

Vaccination support from community groups

About the vaccine

On December 11, 2020, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) gave Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) to Pfizer for their vaccine. On December 18, 2020, they also gave EUA to Moderna for their vaccine. Other vaccines are also being developed and will be reviewed. 

What does Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) mean?

The FDA ensures medical products are safe and effective for us to use. FDA approval can often be a long process. EUA helps the FDA provide faster access to medical products during a health emergency. It balances known risks and benefits to the public.

EUA helps when there are no other adequate, approved, and available options. EUAs may change as the FDA approves, clears, or licenses the medicines or treatments.

You can learn more about EUAs on the FDA’s website.

Are these vaccines safe?

Safety is a top priority. The U.S. vaccine safety system ensures that all COVID-19 vaccines are as safe as possible.

COVID-19 vaccines are carefully looked at in clinical trials with thousands of people. In each of these trials, people are closely checked for any health risks. Once the trial results indicate the vaccine is safe and effective, it can be authorized by the FDA.

Checks on the vaccine will continue in the real-world setting. These can help researchers know if there might be very rare side effects or long-term risks not seen in trials. 

Also, California has formed a Scientific Safety Review Workgroup to look at data to help ensure the COVID-19 vaccine meets safety requirements. 

Read this fact sheet about the vaccines.

How were these vaccines developed so quickly?

The speed to development of these vaccines may seem fast. But there were no cutting corners. The apparent speed comes from unprecedented worldwide collaboration between:

  • Scientists
  • Pharmaceutical companies
  • New technologies

The U.S. government was able to help aid faster development, too. It worked closely with pharmaceutical companies and supported swift distribution efforts.

All vaccines come with side effects or some risk. But the FDA, in authorizing the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines, concluded that their benefits outweighed their risks.

Are these vaccines effective?

The authorized vaccines have 95% (Pfizer) and 94% (Moderna) effectiveness in protecting against COVID-19.

What we know today is that the vaccine decreases:

  • Risk of getting COVID-19
  • Being hospitalized with COVID-19
  • Death from COVID-19

Why get a vaccine?

Simply put, it’s good for you, your family, and your community. It’s the right thing to do.

Getting the vaccine will help protect you and your loved ones from severe illness or death and reduces the risk of getting COVID-19. 

The more people who get vaccinated, the more we can reduce restrictions and return to “normal” daily activities.

The pandemic has also had major impacts to local and national economies. Getting vaccinated is the first step to ending the pandemic. It puts us on the road to faster economic recovery.

Learn more about the benefits of vaccination from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

How many COVID-19 vaccine doses are needed?

Two doses are needed for both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccine. These both have a waiting period between the two shots. Pfizer’s vaccine doses are 21 days apart. Moderna’s are 28 days apart.

If you skip the second shot, you will not have the full protection that the vaccine offers. It is important to get both shots to be fully protected.

Are there side effects to the COVID-19 vaccines?

Yes. Side effects are normal with most vaccines and are usually mild. Reported side effects include:

  • Fatigue
  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Headache
  • Muscle aches
  • Joint pain
  • Pain at the injection site

These symptoms are signs that the body is building immunity. They may be uncomfortable. The good news is these side effects don’t last long. 

How long does it take to be protected after vaccination?

Although protection from the vaccine is not immediate, the first shot starts building protection. Both available vaccines require a two-dose series. It will take one to two weeks following the second dose to get the most protection the vaccine can offer. 

I heard there’s a new COVID-19 strain. Are the vaccines effective against it? 

All viruses mutate over time. COVID-19 is no exception. Most mutations have little to no impact on how a virus behaves. They disappear over time. 

Of the COVID-19 strains that have mutated, three have become the primary focus of health experts: "UK," "Brazil," and "South Africa."  The CDC and California Department of Public Health are tracking these new strains. A new variant found in California is also being tracked.

Early results suggest the vaccines offer strong protection against the UK strain but somewhat less protection against the South Africa strain. Even if vaccines are less effective against some strains, they are still worth getting. This is because they make infections less serious.

Continue to follow the preventive measures recommended. These are also effective against the new variants:

  • Staying home except for essential activities
  • Wearing a mask when leaving home
  • Limiting interactions with people outside your immediate household
  • Keeping physical distance of at least six feet apart
  • Washing hands for 20 seconds
  • Getting the COVID-19 vaccine when it’s available to you

 

Availability and eligibility

When can I get a COVID-19 vaccine?

The goal is for everyone to be able to easily get a COVID-19 vaccine when large amounts are available. The vaccine supply will be very limited at first. That’s why the state made this list with three phases:

Phase 1: Includes those at high risk for getting COVID-19 when the supply is limited. 

Phase 2: Targets more high-risk groups not included in Phase 1 as more shots become available. 

Phase 3: Available to everyone when there is a lot of supply. The state estimates that the public can get the shot this summer. Note: This will depend on how soon vaccines are produced and other vaccines become available.

The state says it will provide a COVID-19 vaccine to everyone in California who wants it.

For full details, see the state site on phased rollout and access.

Who is on the list for the first limited supply?

The following phases are based on state guidelines that focus on people who:

  • Have higher risk for severe disease or death (due to age or other reasons)
  • Are unable to work at home
  • Live or work in places that have been affected
  • Are most likely to spread disease to other workers or the public

Groups currently eligible for vaccinating may vary by county and provider due to continued limited supply.

Now Vaccinating! Phase 1A, as defined by the California Department of Public Health, includes:

  • Healthcare workers at risk through their work in any role in direct health care or long-term care settings such as:
    • Skilled nursing facilities
    • Assisted living facilities
    • Similar places for older or medically vulnerable people
  • Long-term care residents in the places listed above

Now Vaccinating! Phase 1B includes:

  • People who are 65 years or older
  • Those at risk of exposure at work in the following sectors:
    • Education and childcare
    • Emergency services
    • Food and agriculture

You can read details about the essential worker categories.

Who will be eligible next?

Starting March 15, as vaccine supply increases, vaccine providers may expand access to people ages 16-64 if they have:

  • Cancer, current with weakened immune system 
  • Chronic kidney disease, stage 4 or above
  • Chronic pulmonary disease (COPD), oxygen dependent
  • Down syndrome
  • Solid organ transplant leading to a weakened immune system 
  • Pregnancy
  • Sickle cell disease
  • Heart conditions, such as heart failure, coronary artery disease, or cardiomyopathies (but not hypertension)
  • Severe obesity (Body Mass Index ≥ 40 kg/m2)
  • Type 2 diabetes with hemoglobin A1c level greater than 7.5%
  • Or if as a result of developmental or other severe high-risk disability, one or more of the following applies: 
    • Individual is likely to develop severe life-threatening illness or death from COVID-19 infection
    • Getting COVID-19 will limit the person’s ability to receive ongoing care or services vital to their well-being and survival, or 
    • Offering adequate and timely COVID care will be difficult because of their disability

For full details on these groups, see the state site. Note that priority groups may vary in other states.

You can check your county or local site to see which phases are getting shots in your area.

Are there certain groups that should not get the COVID-19 vaccine?

Yes:

  • Anyone who has had a severe allergic reaction to the first dose should not get the second dose.
  • Children under 16, at this time. Only the Pfizer vaccine is approved for use in teens 16 to 17 years. Moderna is approved for ages 18 and older. Clinical trials are currently being conducted for children and more information will be available later. 

According to the CDC, you should talk with a doctor first before getting a COVID-19 shot if you:

  • Have severe allergies or carry an epinephrine (Epi-Pen, Auvi-Q, etc.) injector
  • Have had a severe allergic reaction to other vaccines or injections
  • Are immunocompromised, such as if you are HIV-positive
  • Have a moderate to severe illness or are feeling sick (in which case, you should likely wait to get vaccinated) 

Can pregnant or breastfeeding women be vaccinated against COVID-19?

Yes. Pregnant women have a higher risk for complications from COVID-19. There are no study results available yet on the safety of COVID-19 vaccines in pregnant women. However, experts believe that the vaccines are unlikely to pose a risk to the woman or the fetus. If you’re pregnant or breastfeeding, you should talk with a doctor about your risk of COVID-19 and how you might benefit from the vaccine. Read these FAQs from the state if you’re pregnant or breastfeeding.

How can I find out if I'm eligible?

Register online at myturn.ca.gov to be notified as soon as it’s your turn to get a vaccine. If you live in Los Angeles or San Diego counties, and are currently eligible for the vaccine, you can even use the site schedule an appointment. New counties will be added in the coming weeks.

You can also check your county’s website for updates on local plans and vaccination sites in your area. 

Do I get to choose which vaccine I get?

No. Inventory of vaccines will be distributed based on how the provider can store the vaccine. At some sites, only one type of vaccine may be available. You can check with your healthcare provider on which vaccine they are using when the time comes.

Can I get vaccinated outside of the state?

California residents

Yes. During the public health emergency, members who reside in California may get vaccinated in other states.

Residents in other states

Members who reside in other states may receive vaccines in their state. Please check your state, county, or local public health resources for details. You can also check the CDC for information about where to get a vaccine in each state.

Find out where you can get a vaccine.

How much will the COVID-19 vaccine cost?

COVID-19 vaccines will be provided at no out-of-pocket costs to members.

Vaccines have been bought by the U.S. government. Vaccination providers will be able to charge administration fees for giving the shot. These will be paid for by Blue Shield of California, Blue Shield Promise, or the government. Those who receive the vaccine, even if uninsured, will not be charged for the vaccine or vaccine administration.

 

Getting a vaccine: what to expect

How can I get the COVID-19 vaccine?

At this time, you must fall into one of the phases or tiers that are eligible to get vaccinated.

As of January 13, 2021, Phase 1A and Phase 1B are eligible for vaccination. Please note, availability is currently limited. It varies from county to county. 

If you are eligible, see Where to get a vaccine for more resources.

What will I have to do to get my shot when I’m eligible?

1. Make an appointment. Because of limited supply, you will need to make an appointment to get vaccinated. 

See Where to get a vaccine for locations and websites to help you find a vaccination site.

2. Make sure to schedule an appointment for your second dose, as well.

Timeframes will be based on which vaccine is available at the provider. 

  • 21-day window for Pfizer
  • 28-day window for Moderna

3. When you get vaccinated, you may need to wait for about 15-30 minutes after getting the shot. This helps the healthcare team see if you have any bad reaction to it. 

4. You should receive a vaccination card or printout that tells you:

  • What COVID-19 vaccine you received
  • The date you received it
  • Where you received it

Take a picture of this card or printout so you have a copy in case you lose it.

The CDC has info on what to expect at your appointment.

I need help getting to the vaccine site. What resources are available to me?

If you have a Blue Shield Medicare Advantage or Blue Shield Promise Medi-Cal and Cal MediConnect plan, you may have access to transportation benefits. Refer to your Evidence of Coverage for benefit information or call Customer Care at the number on the back of your ID card.

To schedule a pick up, call Call the Car at:

  • Blue Shield Medicare Advantage plans: Call (855) 200-7544 (TTY:711)
  • Blue Shield Promise Medi-Cal and Cal MediConnect plans: Call (877) 433-2178 (TTY: 711)

This includes roundtrip transportation to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. Call the Car is available 24/7. You should try to schedule your ride 24 hours in advance. 

What if I miss my appointment for the second dose? Does timing matter?

You should get your second dose as close to the three to four week waiting period as possible. This will help ensure you get the best protection possible. 

Can I mix vaccines? For example, if I get the Pfizer vaccine for my first dose, can I get the Moderna vaccine for the second dose? 

No, this is not recommended. It’s better that you get the first and second doses from the same manufacturer. To ensure this happens, it’s best to go back to the location where you got your first vaccine if you can.

If you must go to a different location, the California Immunization Registry allows providers to check which vaccine you received for your first dose if needed.

If I get a vaccine at one location, do I have to go back to the same location?

It is preferred that you return to the same provider that gave your first dose. However, this may not always be possible. For example, long-term care residents may have received their first vaccine in the facility but then get discharged. In this case, they can go to another location that provides the same type of vaccine they first received. The type of vaccine you received is listed in your Medical Record or on the immunization card given to you after the first shot.

Also, the California Immunization Registry allows providers to check which vaccine you received for your first dose. This can help ensure you receive the same vaccine for your second dose. 

You may also receive a reminder card for your follow-up dose. Keep this card handy as it should also include the type of vaccine you received. You can also take a photo of this card so you have it in case you lose the card. 

Will I still need to wear a mask after getting a COVID-19 vaccine?

Yes. Experts still need to learn more about the protection that COVID-19 vaccines provide under real-life conditions, per California's COVID-19 website.

This means you should continue to use all the tools available to help stop this pandemic. This includes:

  • Wearing masks
  • Washing hands often
  • Social distancing
  • Minimizing mixing with other households

Also, it takes about one to two weeks after the second dose for the vaccine to be fully effective. 

Will I be exempt from stay at home orders/restrictions if I get a vaccine?

No. Until as many people as possible are vaccinated, it’s important to continue to with preventive measures as noted above. 

Learn about other FAQs about the COVID-19 vaccine from the CDC.

Vaccination support from community groups

You can find more useful info online through these groups:

National Medical Association: The National Medical Association (NMA) is the largest and oldest national organization representing African American physicians and their patients in the United States. 

National Hispanic Medical Association: Established in 1994 in Washington, DC, the National Hispanic Medical Association is a nonprofit association. It represents the interests of 50,000 licensed Hispanic physicians in the United States.

California Department of Aging: The California Department of Aging runs programs that serve:

  • Older adults
  • Adults with disabilities
  • Family caregivers
  • Residents in long-term care facilities

Last updated: 2/19/2021

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