What you need to know about COVID-19 vaccines

Answers to the most common questions about coronavirus vaccines.

Vaccination for teachers
03 June 2021

Vaccines save millions of lives each year. The development of safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines is a huge step forward in our global effort to end the pandemic and to get back to doing more of the things we enjoy with the people we love.

We’ve gathered the latest expert information to answer some of the most common questions about COVID-19 vaccines. We will continue to update this article as more information becomes available.

How do COVID-19 vaccines work?

Vaccines work by ‘teaching’ our immune system to rapidly identify an infectious agent and to effectively respond against it.

Traditionally, vaccines have done this by introducing a weakened form of an infectious agent that allows our immune system to build a memory of it. This way, our immune system can quickly recognize and fight it before it makes us ill. 

For more information on how vaccines work, please visit WHO.

Are COVID-19 vaccines safe?

Yes, even though COVID-19 vaccines are being developed as rapidly as possible, they must go through rigorous testing in clinical trials to prove that they meet internationally agreed benchmarks for safety and effectiveness. Only if they meet these standards can a vaccine receive validation from WHO and national regulatory agencies.

UNICEF will only procure and supply COVID-19 vaccines that meet WHO’s established safety and efficacy criteria and that have received the required regulatory approval.

How were COVID-19 vaccines developed so quickly?

Thanks to the unprecedented investment in research and development and global cooperation, scientists were able to develop safe and effective vaccines against COVID-19 in record time. All the standard safety procedures and rigorous regulatory standards were maintained.

In addition to the COVID-19 vaccines currently in use in many countries around the world, it is hugely encouraging to see there are more than 200 vaccine candidates in different stages of development. A number of these are in Phase III clinical trials – the final step before a vaccine is approved. 

Which COVID-19 vaccine is best for me?

All WHO-approved vaccines have been shown to be highly effective at protecting you against severe illness from COVID-19. The best vaccine to get is the one most readily available to you!

Will the COVID-19 vaccines work against the new variants?

WHO says that the vaccines approved to date are expected to provide at least some protection against new variants.

Experts around the world are continuously studying how the new variants affect the behaviour of the virus, including any potential impact on the effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines.

Should any of the vaccines be shown to be less effective against one or more of these variants, it will be possible to change the composition of the vaccines to protect against them. In the future, changes to vaccinations such as the use of booster shots and other updates may be necessary.

But in the meantime, the important thing to do is to get vaccinated and continue measures to reduce the spread of the virus – which helps to reduce the chances for the virus to mutate – including physical distancing, mask wearing, good ventilation, regular handwashing and seeking care early if you have symptoms.

When shouldn’t you get a COVID-19 vaccine?

As health experts continually improve their understanding of COVID-19 and the development of COVID-19 vaccines, the science and knowledge base around vaccine safety and efficacy is constantly increasing.

If you are feeling ill, have comorbidities or a history of allergic reactions to any ingredients of a COVID-19 vaccine, or have any questions about whether you should receive a COVID-19 vaccine, please consult your doctor prior to getting vaccinated.

Should I get a vaccine if I’ve already had COVID-19?

Yes, you should get vaccinated even if you’ve previously had COVID-19. While people who recover from COVID-19 may develop some natural immunity to the virus, we do not yet know how long it lasts or how well you are protected. Vaccines offer more reliable protection.  Please consult with health workers on how long you should wait to get the vaccine, after recovering from COVID-19.

What is a COVID-19 booster and should I get one?

A COVID-19 booster is an additional vaccine shot administered after the initial primary dose(s). The protection offered by COVID-19 vaccines decreases over time.  COVID-19 boosters are recommended as they can enhance or restore this protection.  Furthermore, as COVID-19 is still present not only in its original form, but with new additional variants, it is important to maintain a high level of protection and to stay up-to-date with recommended vaccines.  Please consult your doctor or health worker on when you should get your COVID-19 booster.

Should I get the COVID-19 vaccine if I’m pregnant or breastfeeding?

COVID-19 vaccination is recommended for women who are pregnant, breastfeeding, trying to get pregnant now, or might become pregnant in the future.

Can COVID-19 vaccines affect fertility?

No, you may have seen false claims on social media, but there is no evidence that any vaccine, including COVID-19 vaccines, can affect fertility in women or men. If you are currently trying to become pregnant, you do not need to avoid pregnancy after receiving a COVID-19 vaccine.

Should my child get a COVID-19 vaccine?

Children’s immune systems are different from those of adults and can vary depending on their age. Currently in Indonesia, children aged 6-17 years old can get a COVID-19 vaccine.

It is important, however, to make sure that your child is continuing to receive routine childhood vaccinations.

What is COVAX?

COVAX is part of a global effort aimed at accelerating the development and manufacture of COVID-19 vaccines, and to guarantee fair and equitable access around the world. No country will be safe from COVID-19 until all countries are protected.

There are 190 countries and territories engaged in the COVAX Facility, which account for over 90 per cent of the world’s population. Working with CEPI, GAVI, WHO and other partners, UNICEF is leading efforts to procure and supply COVID-19 vaccines on behalf of COVAX.  

I’ve seen inaccurate information online about COVID-19 vaccines. What should I do?

Sadly, there is a lot of inaccurate information online about the COVID-19 virus and vaccines. Misinformation in a health crisis can spread paranoia, fear and stigmatization. It can also result in people being left unprotected or more vulnerable to the virus. Get verified facts and advice from trusted sources like your local health authority, the UNUNICEFWHO, s.id/cekhoaks, cekfakta.com and WhatsApp chatbot “Kalimasada” (Send “Hi” or “Hello” to +62-859-2160-0500).

If you see content online that you believe to be false or misleading, you can help stop it spreading by reporting it to the social media platform.

Can COVID-19 vaccines affect your DNA?

No, none of the COVID-19 vaccines affect or interact with your DNA in any way. Messenger RNA, or mRNA, vaccines teach the cells how to make a protein that triggers an immune response inside the body. This response produces antibodies which keep you protected against the virus. mRNA is different from DNA and only stays inside the cell for about 72 hours before degrading. However, it never enters the nucleus of the cell, where DNA is kept.

Do the COVID-19 vaccines contain any animal products in them?

No, none of the WHO-approved COVID-19 vaccines contain animal products.

How can I protect my family until we all receive a COVID-19 vaccine?

Safe and effective vaccines are a gamechanger, but it is still not clear the degree to which they can protect us against infection and transmission. For the time being, even once vaccinated we need to continue taking precautions to protect ourselves and others. This includes wearing masks, physical distancing and regular handwashing.

>> For more info on COVID-19, and what you can do to protect yourself and your family, please visit this page: COVID-19: What you should know and how to protect yourself

>> Read what you need to know before, during, and after receiving COVID-19 vaccine