Frequently Asked Questions About COVID-19 Vaccine Benefits and Safety

An Important Note on the COVID-19 Vaccines
When discussing the COVID-19 vaccines, it is important to acknowledge the understandable mistrust of the medical community held by many Black, Brown and LGBTQ people. The medical community has an extensive history of performing unwanted medical procedures on LGBTQ people, and many also fear being discriminated against by medical staff once their identities are disclosed. Many Black and Brown people recall stories of medical abuse that were inflicted on their communities. While acknowledging this mistrust, the Human Rights Campaign seeks to answer community questions about the COVID-19 vaccines so as to better protect LGBTQ people, especially those in communities of color.

We were joined by Dr. Anthony Fauci, HRC President Alphonso David and other health care leaders for a live town hall event focused on keeping our community safe, the vaccines and getting to the other side of the pandemic.

What are the available vaccines?
The FDA has issued emergency use authorizations for three COVID-19 vaccines, the first developed by Pfizer-BioNTech, the second by Moderna and the third by Johnson and Johnson. These vaccines have been approved after thorough testing to confirm that they are safe and effective.

If I’ve been diagnosed with COVID-19 or tested positive for antibodies, should I still get vaccinated? If I tested positive, how long do I have to wait to get the vaccines?
Yes. According to the CDC, reinfection with COVID-19 is possible, and it is advisable to receive a vaccination even if you have previously tested positive for COVID-19. If you were treated for COVID-19 symptoms with monoclonal antibodies or convalescent plasma, you should wait 90 days before getting a COVID-19 vaccine.

How soon after vaccination will I be protected?
Protection due to the vaccines may reach a peak at least two weeks after receiving the Johnson and Johnson vaccine or two weeks after the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines. After receiving the COVID-19 vaccine, your body will begin to produce T cells and B cells to fight the virus, a process that typically takes a few weeks to grant maximum immunity. According to the CDC, “It is possible that a person could be infected with the virus that causes COVID-19 just before or just after vaccination and then get sick because the vaccine did not have enough time to provide protection.” We encourage you to continue taking measures such as social distancing and regular mask wearing to protect yourself and others from infection.

Can people who have been vaccinated still be contagious?
The Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines underwent rigorous testing and were found to be highly effective at preventing illness. However, initial vaccine trials did not test whether the vaccines prevent asymptomatic infection. Data collection is continuing as the vaccines become more readily available, and we will continue to learn more about whether the vaccines can prevent infection. In the meantime, it is advisable to continue safe practices such as social distancing, mask wearing, avoiding crowds and regular hand washing in order to protect those around you.

What if the second dose isn’t available 3-4 weeks after I get my first dose?
According to the FDA, the ideal time between doses for the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine is 21 days, and 28 days for the Moderna vaccine. The Johnson and Johnson COVID-19 vaccine requires a single shot with no need to schedule a second dose. Once you receive your first dose of the COVID-19 of the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccine, you may be asked about scheduling an appointment to receive your second dose. We recommend that you ask about scheduling an appointment to receive your second dose at your first appointment or attempt to schedule online. After your first appointment, you will be given a vaccination card that you may need to schedule the second dose. The CDC recommends receiving the second dose as close to this schedule as possible. However, if delay is unavoidable, it is still safe to receive the second dose up to six weeks (42 days) after your first dose.

What are the short-term side effects of the COVID-19 vaccines?
The FDA lists the following common side effects for both the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines: “pain at the injection site, tiredness, headache, muscle pain, chills, joint pain, swollen lymph nodes in the same arm as the injection, nausea and vomiting, and fever.” These side effects may be more prevalent after receiving the second dose of the vaccine. Despite these side effects, COVID-19 vaccines have been thoroughly tested and are both safe and effective. The CDC recommends you receive your second dose even if you experience side effects after your first dose, unless your doctor or vaccine provider advises against it.

What are the long term side effects/complications of getting the vaccines?
There is strong evidence that the current FDA approved COVID-19 vaccines will not cause long-term adverse effects. Historically, delayed reactions to vaccines have occurred within two months of vaccination. The first doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccine were administered in December 2020. They have not been shown to cause long-term side effects and will continue to be monitored as the vaccine rollout progresses.

How do we explain to others that the COVID-19 vaccines are safe?
Many LGBTQ people, particularly older LGBTQ folks and LGBTQ people of color, are wary of receiving the vaccine because medical institutions have pathologized sexual orientation and gender identity in the past. This distrust is often coupled with stories of past dangerous clinical trials, which perpetuate uncertainty among vulnerable communities of color. If someone you love is concerned about the vaccine, it is important to show empathy and take their concerns seriously. It is important to meet people where they are, and advice from a trusted friend or family member can go a long way toward motivating those with mistrust to receive the vaccine.

How were the vaccines developed so quickly?
In contrast to previous vaccines, which used proteins from or weakened forms of viruses, the mRNA vaccines currently approved to treat COVID-19 use the genetic material on the surface of the COVID-19 coronavirus. This simplified the design and manufacture of the vaccine and allowed for rapid development. Large scale clinical trials were conducted at the same time as manufacturing of the vaccines, allowing for the vaccines to be available shortly after they were confirmed safe and approved by the FDA.

Can the COVID-19 vaccines cause infertility?
According to the FDA, “There is no scientific evidence to suggest that the vaccine could cause infertility [in child bearers].” Nor has COVID-19 infection been shown to cause infertility, showing that infertility is not part of the immune system’s response to the virus.

Is being HIV positive considered a risk factor and/or do we have priority on the vaccines?
According to the CDC, studies are ongoing to learn how COVID-19 affects those who are living with HIV. Based on the limited available data, the CDC believes that “people with HIV who are on effective HIV treatment have the same risk for COVID-19 as people who do not have HIV.” People living with HIV who are at greatest risk include people with a low CD4 cell count and people not on effective HIV treatment (antiretroviral therapy or ART). People with compromised immune systems due to HIV may be considered for priority vaccination. It is encouraged that you visit your state government’s website to view their COVID-19 vaccine eligibility requirements.

I have a compromised immune system. Can I still receive the vaccines?
Adults with certain underlying medical conditions are at increased risk for illness due to COVID-19. According to the CDC, “mRNA COVID-19 vaccines may be administered to people with underlying medical conditions provided they have not had a severe or immediate allergic reaction to any of the ingredients in the vaccine.” To make an informed decision about whether to receive the vaccine, please refer to the latest CDC guidelines for people with weakened immune systems.


The Human Rights Campaign reports on news, events and resources of the Human Rights Campaign Foundation that are of interest to the general public and further our common mission to support the LGBTQ community.

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