Frequently Asked Questions About the COVID-19 Vaccine

The COVID-19 vaccination rollout continues across New Jersey. We will update this page regularly with new information as it becomes available.

Dr. John F. Bonamo, MS, FACOG, FACPS, Chief Medical and Quality Officer, RWJBarnabas Health, answers a variety of questions about the safety, effectiveness, and availability of the COVID-19 vaccines.

RWJBarnabas Health is now vaccinating our healthcare workers in accordance with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and New Jersey Department of Health (NJDOH) guidelines. We continue to be at the forefront of the battle against the virus, working every day to keep our communities safe and healthy.

Below are some frequently asked questions about the safety, effectiveness, and availability of the vaccines.

What COVID-19 vaccines are available now?

Currently, the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine and the Moderna vaccine have been given Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Distribution of both has already begun in New Jersey and around the country.

Who gets the COVID-19 vaccine first?

In New Jersey, the priority order in which the COVID-19 vaccines are distributed aims to be fair, ethical, equitable and timely. They are being distributed in a phased rollout to people who live, work, and are educated in New Jersey. The NJDOH is providing guidance to healthcare organizations to ensure that the most vulnerable populations receive the vaccines first. Because initial supplies are limited, the first doses are being given to healthcare personnel and long-term care residents. Then the vaccine will be offered to other groups such as essential workers, those over 65, and people with co-morbidities and risk factors before it is available more broadly to the general population.

Who should NOT get the COVID-19 vaccine?

If you are allergic to any of the ingredients in the vaccines, you should not get the vaccines.

How safe are the COVID-19 vaccines?

COVID-19 Vaccination - Employee Anthony Patten
“I got the vaccine to show others that it’s safe and let’s get COVID under control. I think this is the right thing for us to do, not only for ourselves but for the patients. Because if we want to take good care of our patients, we have to be in good health.”
– Anthony Patten, Jr., PA-C, Assistant Director, Hospital-based Providers/Cardiothoracic Surgery Physician Assistant, Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital New Brunswick
The FDA is responsible for making sure that, just like any other medications, any FDA-authorized or approved COVID-19 vaccines are safe and they work. Clinical trials testing vaccines are conducted according to rigorous safety standards. When vaccines receive approval or authorization, you can rest assured that they have been deemed safe for distribution. Pfizer-BioNTech’s and Moderna’s vaccines were tested in clinical trials on tens of thousands of people.

Note that the vaccines have not been authorized for use on all populations; the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine has been authorized for use on individuals 16 years and older, and the Moderna vaccine for individuals 18 years and older. Effects on pregnant or breastfeeding women are still not known.

If I'm pregnant or breastfeeding, should I get the COVID-19 vaccine?

The CDC recommends that if you are pregnant or breastfeeding, talk with your healthcare provider about your options.

How effective are the COVID-19 vaccines?

Pfizer-BioNTech’s and Moderna’s vaccines have been shown in phase 3 clinical trials to be more than 94 percent effective in preventing COVID-19 in study participants.

How do the COVID-19 vaccines work?

Both the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines work by training your body to produce antibodies that can protect you from the virus. Unlike many other vaccines that use a weak or inactive version of the virus to help your body recognize it, these vaccines use a modified bit of genetic code in messenger ribonucleic acid (mRNA) that teaches your cells how to develop a spike protein on the outside of them just like the one on the virus. Your body will identify the spike protein and develop an immune response, creating antibodies that can protect you from the real virus.

Can I get COVID-19 from the vaccines?

No, you cannot get COVID-19 from the vaccines. The actual virus is not part of the ingredients, so you cannot be infected by them.

What are the possible side effects of the COVID-19 vaccines?

The vaccines may have localized side effects at the injection site, as well as mild symptoms of short-term discomfort. In rare cases, allergic reactions may occur. For details on the specific vaccines’ ingredients and possible side effects, visit:

When can I get the COVID-19 vaccine?

Vaccines are being distributed in a phased rollout according to priority groups as established by the New Jersey Department of Health. Currently, vaccinations are taking place for individuals who qualify under Phase 1A and Phase 1B, including all healthcare and frontline personnel as well as residents and staff of long-term care facilities, sworn law enforcement, fire professionals, other first responders, essential workers, individuals 65 and older, and adults ages 16-64 with medical conditions, as defined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, that increase the risk of severe illness from the virus.

After these qualifying individuals have been served, the vaccine will be available more broadly to the general population.

For more information on New Jersey's vaccine distribution phases and groupings, please visit the official NJ State page on who is eligible.

Decisions about priority groups and how the doses will be spread across the state may change based on changes in vaccine supply and public demand. The goal of the NJDOH is to vaccinate 70 percent of the adult population in the state — 4.7 million adults — by June 2021.

Where can I go to get the COVID-19 vaccine in New Jersey?

As the vaccine becomes available more broadly, there will be many locations throughout the state for vaccination, including state and county mega-sites, smaller vaccine centers including several of our Medical Group practice sites and retail pharmacies.

Six mega-sites throughout New Jersey will open shortly to serve as vaccination hubs:

  • Atlantic County: Atlantic City Convention Center
  • Bergen County: Racetrack at Meadowlands, East Rutherford
  • Burlington County: Moorestown Mall
  • Gloucester County: Rowan College of South Jersey, Sewell — Now open!
  • Middlesex County: New Jersey Convention and Exposition Center, Edison — Now open!
  • Morris County: Rockaway Townsquare — Now open!

The sites will distribute vaccines according to the State’s designated priority groups. Registration for appointments is required at this time.

How can I schedule my COVID-19 vaccination?

People who qualify as Phase 1A and 1B should register for a vaccine on the NJ Vaccine Scheduling System, or make an appointment at one of the sites designated for healthcare workers.

If you don't qualify for Phase 1A or 1B, register on the NJ Vaccine Scheduling System and you will be notified when the vaccine is available for you. This online portal enables you to find a vaccination site, pre-register, and schedule an appointment.

After I get the COVID-19 vaccine, will I still have to wear a mask and practice social distancing?

Yes. In some cases, COVID-19 vaccines may protect against severe infection, but may not necessarily prevent mild or asymptomatic infection. If this is the case, an infected person could still spread the virus. This is why it is expected that even after a vaccine becomes available, people will need to continue wearing masks and practicing social distancing measures for some time.

If I can’t get the COVID-19 vaccine yet, what should I do in the meantime?

Keep doing what you can to minimize your exposure to the virus. Avoid large gatherings of people. When in the company of others, try and maintain six feet of distance between you to prevent transmission. Until the vaccine is widely available, the CDC recommends wearing cloth face coverings in public settings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain (e.g., grocery stores and pharmacies). Wash your hands frequently for 20 seconds or longer and avoid touching your face. For more guidance, read COVID-19 Prevention Strategies.

If I experience side effects from the COVID-19 vaccine, what should I do?

If you have a severe allergic reaction, call 911 or go to the nearest hospital.

Report vaccine side effects to FDA/CDC Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS). The VAERS toll-free number is 1-800-822-7967. Or, report online to https://vaers.hhs.gov/reportevent.html.

More Information

For the most current information about when and where you can expect to receive the vaccine in New Jersey based on your age, risk factors and other criteria, visit the NJDOH website.