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Have questions about the COVID-19 vaccine?
Dr. Eloisa Gonzalez of the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health answers common questions about the COVID-19 vaccine. In this video series, she covers topics such as:
- What are the side effects?
- Do I need to wear a mask after I am vaccinated?
- Are the current vaccines effective against the new variants?
And many more questions.
Frequently Asked Questions
Frequently Asked Questions
This FAQ provides information on the three COVID-19 vaccines that are available in the US. These vaccines are made by Moderna, Pfizer, and Janssen/Johnson & Johnson (J&J).
COVID-19 vaccination is important because it is the best way to prevent COVID-19. The vaccines are extremely good at preventing people from getting sick from COVID-19 and ending up in the hospital or dying. They also reduce the risk of becoming chronically ill from COVID-19 and from missing work and school.
You are not considered to be fully vaccinated until 2 weeks after getting a J&J vaccine or 2 weeks after a second dose of the Pfizer (COMIRNATY) or Moderna vaccine. This is because it takes time for your body to build immunity to COVID-19 after you are vaccinated. It is possible to get infected while the vaccine is taking effect, so it is important that you continue to protect yourself against COVID-19 for the full 2 weeks.
The more people get vaccinated the less likely it is that COVID-19 will spread or that new variants of the virus will take hold. Even people who have had COVID-19 should get vaccinated because their natural immunity may not last long enough or be strong enough, and they could get infected again.
You can do your part to help stop the pandemic by getting vaccinated.
The vaccines work extremely well. Even with the Delta variant, all 3 vaccines greatly reduce the risk of getting sick from COVID-19 and are highly effective at preventing severe illness, hospitalization, and death.
You are not considered to be fully vaccinated until 2 weeks after getting a J&J vaccine or 2 weeks after a second dose of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine. This is because it takes time for your body to build immunity to COVID-19 after you are vaccinated. It is possible to get infected while the vaccine is taking effect, so it is important that you continue to protect yourself against COVID-19 for the full 2 weeks.
Once you are fully vaccinated, there is still a small risk that you could get infected. This is called breakthrough infection. When vaccinated people do get infected, they don’t usually get as sick as unvaccinated people and their symptoms don’t last as long. Sometimes they have no symptoms at all.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued Emergency Use Authorizations (EUAs) for three COVID-19 vaccines for use in the US. These vaccines are made by Janssen/Johnson & Johnson (J&J), Pfizer-BioNTech, and Moderna.
On 8/23/21 the FDA issued full approval for the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine to be used in a 2-dose series for people age 16 and over. The vaccine is now marketed under the brand name COMIRNATY but it is the exact same vaccine as the Pfizer vaccine that was first authorized in December 2020. This vaccine continues to be authorized as a 2-dose series for adolescents 12 through 15 years old, as an additional dose for some people with weakened immune systems, and as a booster for certain people age 18 and over.
Pfizer plans to request full approval for children ages 12-15 once it has collected and analyzed six months of safety data. Moderna has also submitted an application for full approval of its COVID-19 vaccine, and the FDA is currently reviewing that data.
All three of these vaccines continue to be recommended by the CDC.
For the COVID-19 vaccines, the 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. All the vaccines continue to be closely monitored for safety and efficacy.
For full approval of a COVID-19 vaccine, the FDA requires more data on safety, manufacturing, and effectiveness over longer periods of time as well as real-world data.
- The J&J/Janssen vaccine is given as a single dose.
- The Pfizer vaccine is given as 2 doses 21 days apart.
- The Moderna vaccine is given as 2 doses 28 days apart.
This is known as the primary series. With all 3 vaccines, you are not considered to be fully vaccinated until 2 weeks after your last vaccine.
If you are late getting the second dose of a 2-dose series, you do not need to start over. It is important to get the same kind of vaccine for both doses.
If you have a moderately or severely weakened immune system (immunocompromised) and already got 2 doses of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine, it is recommended that you get a 3rd dose of the same vaccine. This should be given 28 days or more after your 2nd dose. A follow-up dose is not currently recommended for those who have received the J&J vaccine because the FDA is still evaluating how well it works in people with weak immune systems. For more information, see Can people with weak immune systems get a COVID-19 vaccine? below.
A booster dose of Pfizer vaccine is now recommended for some groups of people (see below).
You are considered fully vaccinated against COVID-19 two weeks after:
- You got a single dose of Johnson & Johnson (J&J)/Janssen COVID-19 vaccine, or
- You got a second dose of a Pfizer (COMIRNATY) or Moderna COVID-19 vaccine, or
- You finished the series of a COVID-19 vaccine that has been listed for emergency use by the World Health Organization.
If you have met these criteria, you are considered fully vaccinated, even if you are now eligible for a booster dose or for an additional dose of vaccine but have not received it.
For more information, for people who are immunocompromised, see Can people with weak immune systems get a COVID-19 vaccine? below.
At this time, only people who have had 2 doses of the Pfizer vaccine who meet certain conditions are eligible for a booster dose.
- The following people should receive a booster dose of Pfizer vaccine 6 months or later following their 2nd dose of Pfizer vaccine:
- people aged 65 years and older
- people aged 18 years and older who live in long-term care settings
- people aged 50–64 years who have underlying medical conditions or who experience social and economic risks that place them at increased risk for COVID-19
- The following people may consider receiving a booster dose of Pfizer vaccine at least 6 months after their 2nd dose of Pfizer vaccine, based on their individual benefits and risks:
- people aged 18–49 years with underlying medical conditions
- people aged 18–64 years at increased risk for COVID-19 exposure and transmission because of their occupational or institutional setting*
If you have questions about the risks and benefits or whether a booster dose is right for you, talk with your doctor or healthcare provider.
*Examples of institutional settings include healthcare, schools, group homes, prisons, and shelters. The CDC currently defines occupations at increased risk for COVID-19 as:
- First responders (healthcare workers, firefighters, police, congregate care staff)
- Education staff (teachers, school staff, daycare workers)
- Food and agriculture workers
- Manufacturing workers
- Corrections workers
- U.S. Postal Service workers
- Public transit workers
- Grocery store workers
No. The vaccines are working well. The COVID-19 vaccines continue to be remarkably effective in reducing risk of severe disease, hospitalization, and death, including against the Delta variant. We continue to see highly effective protection against hospitalizations and severe outcomes for people who are fully vaccinated. However, public health experts are starting to see some signs of reduced protection against infection and mild to moderate disease among certain populations.
As the science and the virus evolves, so do vaccine recommendations. Booster doses are common for many vaccines. Scientists and medical experts continue to closely watch for signs of waning immunity in people of different ages and with different risk factors. They also look at how well the vaccines protect against new variants of the virus. FDA and CDC experts continue to review the latest evidence to decide whether booster doses should be recommended for more groups of people.
Not at this time. This is because the FDA has only authorized the Pfizer vaccine as a booster dose for people who already had 2 doses of Pfizer vaccine. Older people, people with medical conditions and those who work or live in high-risk settings who got the Moderna, or J&J vaccine will likely need a booster dose. More data on the effectiveness and safety of Moderna and J&J booster doses are expected in the coming weeks and recommendations will be made for people who received those vaccines.
Note that it is recommended that people with a moderately or severely weakened immune system who received 2 doses of Pfizer or Moderna vaccine get an additional dose of the same vaccine. This can be given at least 28 days after the 2nd dose (see Can people with weak immune systems get a COVID-19 vaccine?).
Vaccines are available at hundreds of locations throughout LA County including clinics, pharmacies, worksites, schools, places of worship, senior housing developments and long-term care facilities. There are also community vaccination sites and mobile or pop-up sites in places like metro stations and parks. In-home vaccination is available for people who are homebound. Many locations do not require an appointment.
Visit VaccinateLACounty.com and click on “How to Get Vaccinated“ to find a location or request an in-home vaccination. If you need help, you can call the DPH Vaccine Call Center at 833-540-0473, 7 days a week from 8am to 8:30pm. They can arrange in-home vaccination, free transportation to a vaccination site, or help with paratransit and other services for people with disabilities. Information is also available in multiple languages 24/7 by calling 2-1-1.
The CDC COVID-19 Vaccination Record Card (white card) is the official proof of vaccination. Everyone should be given one when they are vaccinated. Please keep it safe as it cannot be replaced. Consider taking a photo or making a photocopy of it.
Everyone who is vaccinated in California can request a digital COVID-19 Vaccination Record at myvaccinerecord.cdph.ca.gov. This is also an official record. It can be downloaded to the Google Pay digital wallet on an Android phone. (An Apple Wallet version will be available for iPhones soon). For more information, visit the Vaccination Records webpage.
*If you were vaccinated by a federal facility (e.g., Department of Defense, Indian Health Services or Veterans Affairs), you must request a vaccine record from the facility directly.
Vaccines work by preparing your body’s natural defenses to recognize and fight off germs that can make you sick.
- Some vaccines have dead or weakened versions of the germ.
- Others have substances made to look like part of the germ.
- The COVID-19 vaccines teach the body to make proteins that look like part of the virus that causes COVID-19. They do not have any form of the COVID-19 virus, live, weakened or dead. (See the question “How do the COVID-19 vaccines work?” for more information).
When you get any vaccine, your immune system responds by:
- Making antibodies. These are proteins produced naturally by the immune system to fight disease.
- Preparing your immune cells to respond to future infection.
- Remembering the disease and how to fight it. If you are exposed to the germ after getting the vaccine, your immune system can quickly destroy it before you become sick.
This is what makes vaccines so effective. Instead of treating a disease after it happens, vaccines can prevent us from getting sick in the first place.
All 3 COVID-19 vaccines work by teaching our immune cells how to make copycat spike proteins (the crown-like spikes on the surface of the COVID-19 virus). Making the spike protein does not harm our cells.
- Our immune system sees the spike protein and knows that it doesn’t belong there.
- Our bodies react by building an immune response. It makes antibodies that can act against the COVID-19 virus’s spike protein and it prepares immune cells. This will protect us if we are exposed to the virus in the future.
The COVID-19 vaccines differ in how they teach our cells to make the spike protein
- The vaccines made by Pfizer and Moderna are called mRNA vaccines. Messenger RNA (mRNA) is genetic material that tells our bodies how to make proteins. The mRNA in the vaccine is wrapped in oily bubbles (known as lipid nanoparticles). When the mRNA enters our cells, it teaches them how to make copies of the spike protein.
- The vaccine made by J&J/Janssen is called a viral vector vaccine. The vector (or vehicle) uses a harmless virus to carry the genetic material to our cells. Our cells read the genetic material and make mRNA, and this mRNA teaches our cells to make the spike protein. The viral vector is a harmless version of a common cold virus. It can’t replicate inside our cells or cause illness and it cannot change our DNA in any way.
You can learn more on the Understanding How COVID-19 Vaccines Work CDC website.
No, none of COVID-19 vaccines available for use in the United States contain any fetal tissue or fetal cells.
- Pfizer and Moderna did not use any fetal cell lines to develop or produce their COVID-19 vaccines. But they did use a fetal cell line for laboratory testing before their vaccines were tested on people.
- Johnson & Johnson used a fetal cell line to develop and test their COVID-19 vaccine. They also use it for production. The COVID-19 vaccines themselves do not contain any fetal cells.
The fetal cell lines were made in laboratories from cells from 2 abortions conducted in 1973 and 1985. None of the fetal cells used came from a recent abortion or from an abortion done for the sole purpose of vaccine development or other research.
The Catholic Church has reviewed the use of fetal cells for this purpose and has stated that “it is morally acceptable to receive COVID-19 vaccines that have used cell lines from aborted fetuses in their research and production process.” If this issue is of concern to you, we encourage you to review the document COVID-19 Vaccine and Fetal Cell Lines carefully so you can make an informed decision about getting vaccinated.
No. You cannot get COVID-19 from the vaccine. None of the COVID-19 vaccines have the virus that causes COVID-19 in them.
If you get COVID-19 shortly after getting vaccinated, it is because you were infected by someone with COVID-19 around the time you were vaccinated. It can take up to 14 days for symptoms to show after you have been infected. So, if you get infected right before getting vaccinated, you might not get sick until after you get your vaccine.
It is also possible to get infected after you get vaccinated, because it takes time for your body to build immunity. And even though the vaccines are very effective, no vaccine is 100% effective.
Sometimes people get a fever or feel tired for a day or two after getting a vaccine. These vaccine side effects are normal and are a sign that the body is building immunity. They should go away in a few days.
Yes. The CDC recommends vaccination for all people aged 12 years and older, including people who are pregnant, breastfeeding, trying to get pregnant now, or might become pregnant in the future. Pregnant people are more likely to get severely ill with COVID-19 compared with non-pregnant people. In addition, pregnant people are more likely to get complications like preterm birth if they have COVID-19.
There is no evidence the COVID-19 vaccines cause any problems with pregnancy, including the development of the placenta. Also, there is no evidence that female or male fertility problems are a side effect of any vaccine, including COVID-19 vaccines. The vaccines do not change a person’s DNA and there is no evidence they affect puberty or teen’s development.
For more information, see the CDC webpage COVID-19 Vaccines for People Who Would Like to Have a Baby.
After getting a COVID-19 vaccine, you may have side effects like the ones you get after a flu or shingles vaccine. For two-dose vaccines, side effects are more common after the second dose. These side effects may limit your ability to do daily activities, but they should go away within a day or two. Not everyone gets side effects. They may include:
- Fever, chills, and muscle aches
- Feeling tired
- Sore or red arm
Side effects are normal and a sign that the vaccine is working. It shows that your body is learning to fight the virus and is building immunity. Not everyone gets side effects. It is important to get the second dose even if you get side effects after the first dose unless a vaccination provider or your doctor tells you not to.
Contact your doctor if you have:
- Vaccine side effects that last more than 2 days
- New symptoms that start more than 2 days after you get the vaccine
- Cough, shortness of breath, runny nose, sore throat, or new loss of taste or smell (as these are not vaccine side effects)
- Symptoms that get worse or worry you.
Yes, serious side effects can happen but are very rare. Vaccine safety monitoring systems have identified four serious health problems, described below. If you receive a vaccine, see After You Get a Vaccine to learn about possible symptoms to look out for.
- Anaphylaxis - Anaphylaxis is a rare but serious allergic reaction that can happen after any vaccination. It has occurred in approximately 2 to 5 people per million vaccinated against COVID-19 in the US. Everyone is observed for a short time after getting a COVID-19 vaccine so that if anaphylaxis does happen, it can be treated right away. Learn more on the CDC webpage What to Do If You Have an Allergic Reaction after Getting a COVID-19 Vaccine.
- Thrombosis with thrombocytopenia syndrome (TTS): TTS is a rare but serious condition involving blood clots and low platelets. It has been reported in people who received the J&J vaccine. Women younger than 50 should especially be aware of their increased risk for this rare condition - about 7 per 1 million women age 18 to 49 who received the J&J vaccine got TTS. For women 50 years and older and men of all ages, the risk of TTS is even more rare. To learn more, visit the CDC’s J&J vaccine frequently asked questions webpage.
- Guillain-Barré Syndrome (GBS): GBS is a rare disorder where the body’s immune system damages nerve cells. This causes muscle weakness and sometimes paralysis. Most people fully recover from GBS, but some have permanent nerve damage. GBS has been reported in people who received the J&J vaccine. There were more cases in men, especially men age 50 and older. Nearly all of the people became ill within 6 weeks of getting the vaccine. Most became ill in the first 3 weeks. Overall, it is estimated that 7.8 people get GBS out of every million people who receive the J&J vaccine
- Myocarditis and pericarditis – Inflammation of the heart muscle (myocarditis) or outer lining of the heart (pericarditis) has been seen in people who received the Pfizer (COMIRNATY) and Moderna vaccines. Most of the cases were reported in male adolescents and young adults days after the second dose of the vaccine. Most people who received care improved with medicine and rest and felt better quickly. People who experience these conditions can usually return to their normal daily activities after their symptoms improve.
Overall, it is estimated that 3.5 people get myocarditis out of every million people who receive a 2nd dose of Pfizer or Moderna vaccine. It is important to note that myocarditis and pericarditis are more common in people who get COVID-19, and the risks to the heart from COVID-19 infection can be more severe. For more information, visit the CDC webpage Myocarditis and Pericarditis Following mRNA COVID-19 Vaccination.
To date, over 350 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine have been given in the US. Although side effects may happen, they are very rare. The benefits of getting vaccinated outweigh the risk.
If you have an adverse event (possible side effect) after you are vaccinated, even if you aren't sure that the vaccine caused it, please report it to VAERS. The Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System is an early warning system that the FDA and CDC use to detect possible safety problems. To make a report, call 1-800-822-7967 or visit https://vaers.hhs.gov/reportevent.html.
If you have signed up for V-Safe, CDC’s after vaccination health checker, you can also report your symptoms through the smart phone app.
Neither VAERS nor V-safe provide medical advice. If you have symptoms or health problems that concern you at any time following COVID-19 vaccination, please contact your healthcare provider or seek medical treatment.
No. Vaccines won’t cause you to test positive on a PCR or antigen viral test (swab or spit test) that looks for current COVID-19 infection. You may test positive on some antibody (blood) tests. This is because the vaccines work by teaching your body to make antibodies.
See the public health testing webpage ph.lacounty.gov/covidtests to learn more about COVID-19 tests.
Yes. You should still get vaccinated even if you already had COVID-19. We don’t know yet how long you are protected after you have had COVID-19. Getting vaccinated will boost your immunity for better and longer protection against COVID-19, including more infectious variants of the virus.
It is safe to get the vaccine after getting COVID-19, but you should wait until after your isolation period is over. This is so that you don’t infect healthcare workers and others when you go to get vaccinated. If you have had monoclonal antibody or convalescent treatment, you should wait for 90 days before getting a COVID-19 vaccine.
Children age 12 and up can be vaccinated with the Pfizer vaccine. Vaccines are currently being studied in children under the age of 12, and a vaccine may become available to younger children in the late fall or winter.
Over 4 million children have tested positive for COVID-19 in the US since the start of the pandemic. Even though COVID-19 is often milder in children than adults, some children can get very sick or have lasting health problems from COVID-19. Getting your child vaccinated lowers their risk of getting infected with the virus that causes COVID-19. The vaccine will also protect against Multi-system Inflammatory Syndrome in Children (MIS-C) - a rare but serious condition in young people who have had COVID-19.
Children who get infected can spread the virus to others even if they don’t feel sick. Getting vaccinated helps to protect friends and families, as well as the larger community. This includes protecting people with weak immune systems and children under 12, who can’t be vaccinated yet.
Once your child is fully vaccinated, they will be less likely to get infected if they visit with friends, play sports, travel to see family, and return to school. They won’t need to quarantine if a friend, family member, teacher or teammate gets COVID-19.
For more information see COVID-19 FAQs for Parents on the VaccinateLACounty.com webpage.
Yes. People with weak immune systems (immunocompromised) are strongly urged to get vaccinated because they are at higher risk of getting COVID-19. They are also more likely to become very sick if they do get infected. This is especially important now that the Delta variant is so common because it is more infectious than previous versions of the virus.
The vaccines may not work as well for people with certain health conditions or who are taking medicine that severely weaken their immune system (for example, blood related cancers or certain treatments for cancer, organ transplants, and certain autoimmune conditions).
If you have a moderately or severely weakened immune system and already got 2 doses of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine, it is recommended that you get a 3rd dose of vaccine. Talk to your doctor about the need to get an additional dose of COVID-19 vaccine and the best time to get it. The 3rd dose of mRNA vaccine should be given at least 28 days after the 2nd dose. The same type of vaccine should be used if possible. For example, if you got a series of Pfizer vaccine, try to get a Pfizer vaccine for your 3rd dose. A follow-up dose is not currently recommended for those who have received the J&J vaccine. The FDA is still evaluating data on how well the J&J vaccine works in people with weak immune systems.
If you have a weak immune system, it is very important to continue to protect yourself even if you get a 3rd dose of vaccine. This includes wearing a well-fitting mask, maintaining physical distance, avoiding crowded places or spaces with poor air flow, and washing hands often. Consider “double masking” (wearing a cloth face mask over surgical mask) or an N95 respirator for a higher level of protection. The people you are in close contact with can help to protect you by getting vaccinated too.
- People who are allergic to things like oral medication, food (including eggs), latex, pets, or pollen, or people who have a family history of allergies, can be vaccinated.
- If you have had an allergic reaction to a vaccine or injectable therapy talk to your doctor to decide if it is safe to get vaccinated.
- If you are allergic to Polyethylene Glycol (PEG), you should not get the Pfizer (COMIRNATY) or Moderna vaccine. Ask your doctor if you can get the J&J vaccine.
- If you are allergic to polysorbate, you should not get the J&J vaccine. Ask your doctor if you can get the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine.
There is a small risk of anaphylaxis (a severe type of allergic reaction) with any vaccine. This is why everyone is observed for a short time after getting a COVID-19 vaccine.
Information about allergic reactions may change. Be sure to check the latest guidance on the CDC COVID-19 Vaccines for People with Allergies webpage and talk to your doctor.
Yes. The CDC and pregnancy experts, including the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine, and the American College of Nurse-Midwives recommend that pregnant and lactating people be vaccinated against COVID-19.
There is no evidence that COVID-19 vaccination causes any problems with pregnancy, including the development of the placenta. As of July 2021, more than 139,000 pregnant people have been vaccinated and no unexpected pregnancy or fetal problems have occurred. There have been no reports of any increased risk of pregnancy loss, growth problems, or birth defects.
COVID-19 itself is a serious concern during pregnancy. Pregnant and recently pregnant people who get COVID-19 are more likely to become severely ill and be hospitalized than people who are not pregnant. They are also more likely to get pregnancy complications like preterm birth compared to pregnant people who do not have COVID-19.
COVID-19 vaccination can protect pregnant people from severe illness from COVID-19. In studies of people who have received COVID-19 mRNA vaccines, antibodies were found in the umbilical cord blood of babies and in breastmilk. This means that vaccination during pregnancy might also help protect babies against COVID-19.
The growing evidence about the safety and effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccination during pregnancy shows that the benefits of receiving a COVID-19 vaccine outweigh any known or potential risks. For more information, see the Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine guidance COVID-19 Vaccination if You Are Pregnant or Breastfeeding and the CDC webpage COVID-19 Vaccines While Pregnant or Breastfeeding.
If you are pregnant and have questions about getting vaccinated, talk to your doctor. You can also talk to experts at MotherToBaby who are available to answer questions in English or Spanish. This free and confidential service that is available Monday–Friday 8am–5pm. You can call 866-626-6847, text 855.999.8525, e-mail ContactUs@mothertobaby.org or start a chat on at mothertobaby.org/ask-an-expert/.
Yes. Experts, including the CDC, American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine, and the American College of Nurse-Midwives recommend that people who are breastfeeding be vaccinated against COVID-19.
Lactating people were not included in the vaccine studies. However, based on what we know about how these vaccines work, the vaccines are not thought to be a risk for the baby. Recent reports have shown that breastfeeding people who have received the Pfizer (COMIRNATY) or Moderna vaccines have antibodies in their breastmilk, which might help to protect their babies. These vaccines do not pass into breastmilk.
Most routine medical procedures or screenings can be done before or after getting a COVID-19 vaccine.
Note: if you are due for a routine screening mammogram and have been recently vaccinated for COVID-19, ask your doctor how long you should wait before you get your mammogram. People who have received a COVID-19 vaccine may get swelling in the lymph nodes (called lymphadenopathy) in the underarm near where they got the shot. This swelling is a normal sign that the body is building protection against COVID-19. This temporary swelling could cause a false reading on a mammogram, so it is important to tell the staff about your vaccination. For more details, see the Society of Breast Imaging’s Recommendations for Women Receiving the COVID-19 Vaccine.
The COVID-19 vaccine can also affect the results of some kinds of screening tests for tuberculosis (TB), see the CDC webpage COVID-19 Vaccination and Other Medical Procedures.
Some of the side effects from getting a vaccine are similar to symptoms of COVID-19. You should get tested and stay home and away from others if you have:
- Cough, shortness of breath, runny nose, sore throat, or new loss of taste or smell – these symptoms are NOT side effects of the vaccine
- Vaccine side effects (see above) that last more than 2 days after getting the vaccine
It is still important to watch out for symptoms of COVID-19 even if you have been vaccinated.
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