Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccines Q&A

30 March 2021 - This page will be regularly updated.

COVID-19 vaccines protect you from severe illness and death from the virus by helping the body develop immunity. They may also help reduce the spread of the virus between people, so one person’s choice to get vaccinated could save many more lives.

COVID-19 vaccines are a key tool in ending the pandemic and getting societies back to normal. Mass vaccination campaigns should also help reduce the pressure on health workers and hospitals, allowing them to attend to patients with other conditions.

WHO recommends you get a COVID-19 vaccine as soon as one is available to you.

Yes. There are strict protections in place to help ensure the safety of all COVID-19 vaccines.

Before receiving authorization from WHO and national regulatory agencies, COVID-19 vaccines undergo rigorous testing in clinical trials to prove that they meet internationally agreed standards for safety and efficacy.

The Oxford-AstraZeneca, Pfizer-BionTech and Johnson & Johnson vaccines have been approved for use by WHO. These vaccines have been tried, tested and proven to be safe. Hundreds of millions of doses have been administered globally and millions of people have already safely received COVID-19 vaccines in Africa.

As with all vaccines, WHO and regulatory authorities continuously monitor their use to confirm that they remain safe for all who receive them.

More information on COVID-19 vaccine safety can be found here.

Like any vaccine, COVID-19 vaccines can cause side effects, although many people do not experience them.

The vast majority of side-effects are mild and short-lived. They can include pain where you received the injection, tiredness, fever, chills, nausea or a headache. Severe events after vaccination are extremely rare.

For COVID-19 vaccines that require two injections, side effects from the second shot may be greater than after the first. This shows that your body is building protection and should go away within a few days. If side effects worsen or don’t go away after a few days, contact your healthcare provider.

COVID-19 vaccines are proven to significantly reduce the risk of severe illness and death from the virus.

Yes. Data from clinical trials and now data coming from use in real life settings is showing that COVID-19 vaccines authorised for use are highly effective in protecting against severe illness and death from COVID-19.

Ensuring the safety and quality of all vaccines is one of WHO’s highest priorities and WHO works closely with national authorities to ensure that global norms and standards are developed and implemented to assess the quality, safety and efficacy of vaccines.

WHO recommends that those most at risk of severe illness, death and exposure to COVID-19 get vaccinated first.
These include frontline health workers (especially those providing COVID-19 patient care), older people and those living with other diseases, or existing conditions including hypertension, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, HIV or cancer.

COVID-19 vaccines save lives. When you get the call, get the vaccine.

It usually takes a few weeks after vaccination for the body to develop immunity, so it is possible that you could be infected just before or just after vaccination and then get sick because the vaccine did not have enough time to provide protection.

People should continue using proven safety measures like regular hand-cleaning, using masks and practicing social distancing to reduce transmission of the virus.

COVID-19 vaccines are effective in preventing severe disease and death, yet because these vaccines have only been developed in recent months it is still too early to know the exact duration of the protection they provide.

Research is ongoing to answer this question. However, it’s encouraging that the available data suggests that most people who recover from COVID-19 develop an immune response that provides protection against reinfection for some time, although we’re still learning how strong this protection is, and how long it lasts.

Check with your national health authorities or a local healthcare provider:

  • if the vaccine is available to you;
  • when it will be your turn to get the vaccine;
  • where and how to get your COVID-19 vaccine; and,
  • whether you need to register for it.

It's not recommended to take over the counter medicines, like ibuprofen or antihistamine immediately before getting vaccinated.

On the day of your vaccination make sure you give yourself enough time to complete all the steps required, including being monitored after vaccination on site for at least 20 minutes.

It takes time for your body to build protection after vaccination. COVID-19 vaccines that require two shots may not fully protect you until about two weeks after your second shot. COVID-19 vaccines that require one shot take around two weeks for your body to build immunity.

If you experience side effects from the vaccine, to reduce pain and discomfort where you got the shot, apply a clean, cool and wet cloth to the area. You can also use or exercise your arm. To reduce any discomfort from fever, drink plenty of fluids and dress lightly.

For COVID-19 vaccines that require two injections, side effects from the second shot may be greater than after the first. This shows that your body is building protection and should go away within a few days. If side effects worsen or don’t go away after a few days, contact your healthcare provider. Severe events after vaccination are extremely rare.

Even after you’ve been fully vaccinated against COVID-19, you should keep taking precautions in public places like wearing a mask, staying 6 feet apart from others, avoiding crowds and poorly ventilated spaces, and washing your hands often.

Yes. Of course, it will depend on which vaccines your country receives, but as more vaccines are approved, there will be multiple safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines for countries to choose from.

The COVAX facility – which is a global initiative to ensure equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines for up to 20% of people in African countries – only distributes vaccines that have received WHO's Emergency Use Listing (EUL).

EUL is the WHO gold standard to confirm the quality, safety and efficacy of vaccines used in a public health emergency. It also allows countries to speed up regulatory approval and import the vaccine.

So far, three COVID-19 vaccines have received WHO Emergency Use Listing (EUL), the Pfizer, AstraZeneca, and Johnson & Johnson vaccines, which are available via the COVAX facility and for African countries to purchase.

Other vaccines are under review for EUL including the Novavax, Moderna, Sinopharm and Sinovac vaccines.

As more vaccines are approved, there will be multiple safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines for countries to choose from.

Scientists around the world are developing many potential vaccines for COVID-19. These vaccines are all designed to teach the body’s immune system to safely recognize and block the virus that causes COVID-19.

Several different types of potential vaccines for COVID-19 are in development, including:

  • Inactivated or weakened virus vaccines, which use a form of the virus that has been inactivated or weakened so it doesn’t cause disease, but still generates an immune response.
  • Protein-based vaccines, which use harmless fragments of proteins or protein shells that mimic the COVID-19 virus to safely generate an immune response.
  • Viral vector vaccines, which use a safe virus that cannot cause disease but serves as a platform to produce coronavirus proteins to generate an immune response.
  • RNA and DNA vaccines, a cutting-edge approach that uses genetically engineered RNA or DNA to generate a protein that itself safely prompts an immune response.

For more information about all COVID-19 vaccines in development, see this WHO publication, which is being updated regularly.

Yes. Senegal, South Africa, Egypt, Tunisia and Morocco are the only African countries with some vaccine manufacturing capacity.

For more African countries to develop these capabilities, we need more international cooperation and greater sharing of expertise.

With flexibility around technology transfer and the waiving of intellectual property rights during the pandemic, investment in African countries could start by focusing on filling and packaging COVID-19 vaccines. From this, further investment could help build up more complex capacities for manufacturing and research and development.

More detailed information on vaccine manufacturing capacity in Africa can be found here.

Vaccine development and clinical trials are a key research priority for COVID-19 in Africa. Voluntary clinical trials for COVID-19 vaccines are so far taking place in Kenya and South Africa. Testing vaccines in Africa ensures that data is generated on the safety and efficacy of promising vaccines for the African population.

These are not the first vaccines to be tested in Africa, with vaccines like the conjugate meningitis A and Ebola vaccines being tested on the continent before rollout.

All clinical trials for COVID-19 vaccines are voluntary. Hundreds of thousands of people have been involved in clinical trials around the world, which has provided crucial data to help make sure that COVID-19 vaccines work.

No, clinical trials for COVID-19 vaccines have not been rushed.

Given the urgent need for COVID-19 vaccines, unprecedented investment and scientific collaboration is changing how vaccines are developed. Some steps in the research and development process for COVID-19 vaccines have taken place in parallel, while still maintaining strict clinical and safety standards. For example, some clinical trials are evaluating multiple vaccines at the same time, but this does not make the studies any less rigorous than normal.

From your Ministry of Health, other official health authorities in your country or your local healthcare professional.