UPDATE: The FDA and CDC on April 13, 2021 recommended that states pause using Johnson & Johnson's COVID-19 vaccine "out of an abundance of caution" after six patients in the U.S. developed a rare disorder involving blood clots. Read more on the update here.

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Three manufacturers's COVID-19 vaccines have been federally approved for emergency use in the U.S. as of early March: Moderna, Pfizer-BioNTech, and Johnson & Johnson/Janssen. The first two require two shots — an initial one and a booster about three to four weeks later — and the third one is a single dose.

As of March 8, more than 92 million doses have been administered.

Here are answers to some important questions that Floridians may have about coronavirus vaccines and their availability.

Who can get vaccinated against COVID-19 right now?

As of April 5, all people age 18 and older can get vaccinated. Teens 16 and older are also eligible for the Pfizer vaccine. 

Other eligibilities include pre-K through 12 school employees, law enforcement officers, firefighters, health care personnel with direct patient contact, residents and staff of long-term care facilities, and extremely vulnerable populations with a state-issued waiver signed by their physician.

As we entered March, about 3.3 million doses have been administered to Floridians, as the numbers of eligible Floridians has expanded significantly since January.

Where in Florida can I get a vaccination?

Vaccination sites have been set up in counties and cities all over the state. Visit the Florida Department of Health Vaccine Locator site to find a location.

In the Central Florida and Tampa Bay areas, we're keeping county-by-county lists of signup sites, locations, what to bring with you, and more.

Federally-supported COVID-19 vaccination sites have opened in four Florida cities, including Orlando and Tampa. The location at Valencia College West in Orlando offers a choice of the Pfizer or Johnson & Johnson vaccine. State "satellite sites" have also opened in underserved communities.

It was announced Monday, March 29 that the four federally-supported sites will remain open for four additional weeks. These sites were previously expected to close on April 28 and will now close on May 26.

It was announced Friday, April 2 that starting Tuesday, April 6 the federal sites will distribute only one-dose Johnson & Johnson shots, and second doses of the Pfizer vaccine for those who got their first dose at the site.

Florida Dept. of Emergency Management says each site will be able to distribute up to 3,000 Johnson & Johnson shots a day.

After the first phase, when can the broader public expect to be able to get the vaccine?

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the federal government’s top infectious disease scientist, anticipates that by April, the U.S. will have advanced beyond restricting vaccinations to designated higher-risk groups such as the elderly and health care workers and will begin administering shots to the rest of the general public.

What are the coronavirus variants currently in Florida, and what do I need to know about them?

Florida by far leads all other states in coronavirus variants. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as of March 8, three variants have been found in the state: the B.1.1.7 variant, first detected in the United Kingdom; the P.1 variant, first detected in Brazil; and the B.1.351, which was first detected in South Africa.

These variants seem to spread more easily and quickly than other variants, which may lead to more cases of COVID-19, the CDC says. Click here to view an updated map by the CDC of variants in the U.S.

Medical leaders are warning about what these variants mean for children. Doctors are warning that specifically with the B.1.1.7 variant, which was first identified in the UK, children could play a major role in the rate of transmission. 

A report out of the National Institutes of Health stated it is “considerably more contagious” than the original virus, with evidence showing an increased risk of severe illness and death. 

Nationally, more and more young people are being hospitalized as cases of this new variant rise. And Dr. Michael Osterholm, an epidemiologist, said, "kids now are really major challenges in terms of how they transmit."

In late January, the White House COVID-19 Response Team announced that it was expanding efforts to identify and trace variants in the U.S.

Are the available COVID-19 vaccines effective against the variant COVID-19 strains?

A recent study shows that the Pfizer vaccine is only slightly less effective against the U.K. and South African variants of the COVID-19 virus

On January 25, Moderna announced that its vaccine "retains neutralizing activity against emerging variants" and that "out of an abundance of caution," it has launched a clinical program to boost immunity against the U.K. and South African variants. The company is currently looking to see whether an additional dose of the vaccine will give more protection and whether other versions of the Moderna vaccine might be more effective.

Johnson & Johnson said its vaccine provided protection that was "generally consistent" regardless of the virus variant.

Who is overseeing the administration of COVID-19 vaccines in Florida?

The state Health Department has assembled a workgroup that includes state Surgeon General Scott Rivkees, Deputy Secretary for Health Dr. Shamarial Robertson, as well as more than 40 experts in the fields of medicine, emergency coordination, immunizations, emergency medical response, children’s medicine, elderly health care, the National Guard, and law. 

When will children be able to get the vaccine?

Right now, Pfizer's vaccine is approved for children 16 and older, while Moderna and Johnson & Johnson are approved for people 18 and older. On January 29, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said he hopes to see children being vaccinated in the next few months (late spring or early summer). Before that can happen, though, testing must be completed that shows the vaccine is safe for younger children. That testing is currently ongoing, Fauci said.

What’s the difference between the various vaccines in testing and production, and which one is best for me?

There are dozens of coronavirus vaccines being tested. Two of the three that the federal government is funding for administration to Americans — Pfizer and Moderna — are very similar. Florida State University infectious disease expert Dr. Michael Muszynski says because both were made using similar manufacturing methods, both show a high level of effectiveness — about 95%. Both require a second dose two to three weeks after the first. Most places schedule your second shot while you're at your appointment for your first one.

Muszynski says people really have no reason to prefer one or the other and should get the one that’s available to them first.

Johnson & Johnson vaccine has shown an efficacy rate of about 66% worldwide and 72% in the U.S. against moderate to severe COVID-19 cases. The single-shot vaccine has an effective range of 85% against severe cases, Johnson & Johnson reported. Because it's the third vaccine to be approved for emergency use, it's not as readily available yet.

Two other vaccines were in phase 3 (final) clinical trials as of early March: AstraZeneca and Novavax.

Will I need to be vaccinated if I have already had COVID-19?

At this time, the medical community thinks that reinfection may still be possible for those who have already contracted the coronavirus. There have been anecdotal reports of people getting infected twice. For this reason, it’s a good idea to get vaccinated even if you have already been sick with COVID-19.

A recent study from Columbia University indicates that the variants, on the other hand, "raise the specter that reinfections could be more likely."

“The concern here is that reinfection might be more likely if one is confronted with these variants, particularly the South Africa one,” the study's lead author, Dr. David Ho, said.

If I take the vaccine, will I test positive for COVID-19?

None of the vaccines currently being used in the U.S. will return a positive coronavirus test result once administered. But because the purpose of the vaccine is to produce an immune response in the body, those who get vaccinated could possibly get a positive result on a test for COVID-19 antibodies.

After I get vaccinated, can I take off my mask? Gather with friends and family again?

Public health officials recommend continuing to wear masks and socially-distance. However, on March 8, the CDC issued fresh, optimistic guidelines for people who are "fully vaccinated," which it defined as people who are two weeks past receiving their second dose of Moderna or Pfizer, or their single dose of Johnson & Johnson.

CDC officials said people who are fully vaccinated can gather in small groups indoors, without masks or socially-distancing. However, if there's someone in the group who is at high risk for severe COVID-19 and not yet fully vaccinated, masks and social distancing is still urged.

The agency still urged people to wear masks in public and continue to keep their distance from others, since it would be undetermined who is vaccinated and who isn't.

Will getting a flu shot help reduce my chances of catching COVID-19?

There is no evidence that getting a flu shot will reduce your chances of catching the coronavirus. While a recent University of Florida study indicated that people who have had a flu shot and later come down with COVID-19 may be less likely to experience severe complications or hospitalization from it, the CDC says the flu shot "will not protect against COVID-19."

There are benefits to getting a flu vaccine during the COVID-19 pandemic, though, the CDC says. Those include:

  • Flu vaccines have been shown to reduce the risk of flu illness, hospitalization, and death.
  • Getting a flu vaccine can also save healthcare resources for the care of patients with COVID-19.

What are some possible side effects/symptoms I can expect after getting the vaccine? 

According to the CDC, some common side effects you can experience are:

  • Pain, redness, and swelling in the arm where you got the shot
  • Tiredness, headache, muscle pain, chills, fever, and nausea throughout the rest of your body

The CDC also notes that the side effects after your second shot may be more intense than the ones you experienced after your first shot. Officials say these side effects are normal signs that your body is building protection and should go away within a few days.

To help reduce the pain where you got the shot, you can apply a clean, cool, wet washcloth over the area or exercise your arm. Also, make sure to drink plenty of fluids and dress lightly if you experience a fever. 

The CDC recommends calling your doctor or healthcare provide if: 

  • The redness or tenderness where you got the shot gets worse after 24 hours.
  • Your side effects are worrying you or do not seem to be going away after a few days.

Remember, people are considered fully vaccinated two weeks after their second shot of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine, or after the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine. 

Read It: Florida Department of Health's Draft COVID-19 Vaccination Plan

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