With a strong start to the COVID-19 vaccines’ rollout, many anticipated the coronavirus pandemic to take a turn for the better this summer. But the delta variant has brought progress to a halt.
Cases and hospitalizations are surging again as the more contagious, now-dominant delta variant spreads across the United States and around the world. New cases in the U.S. are averaging more than 70,000 a day, above the peak last summer when no vaccines were available.
Though vaccination rates have picked up again in recent weeks, more than 90 million eligible Americans still haven’t gotten the shot. Health officials continue to try and overcome skepticism and outright hostility to the vaccine, saying it’s the ticket to ending the pandemic.
Here are answers to common questions about COVID-19 infection amid the spread of the delta variant. And for those who may still need to get the vaccine, below is information about the three different shots available and what side effects to expect.
What are COVID-19 symptoms?
Since the onset of the pandemic, people with COVID-19 have reported a wide range of symptoms. Even pre-vaccination, some experience no symptoms at all, some have mild symptoms and some become severely ill.
The delta variant hasn’t brought on any new symptoms — it’s just proven to be far more contagious. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said data shows that vaccinated people can spread the delta variant.
Some new studies also suggest the delta variant progresses quicker in hospitalized patients.
Regardless of if you’re vaccinated or not, the CDC says symptoms may appear 2-14 days after exposure to the virus and that anyone can have mild to severe symptoms, though those who are vaccinated still tend to have milder symptoms or even no symptoms at all.
The CDC says the following are the most common symptoms of COVID-19, though this list does not include all possible manifestations of the illness:
- Fever or chills
- Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
- Muscle or body aches
- New loss of taste or smell
- Sore throat
- Congestion or runny nose
- Nausea or vomiting
The CDC says the following are urgent symptoms in known COVID-19 patients that call for immediate emergency medical care:
- Trouble breathing
- Persistent pain or pressure in the chest
- New confusion
- Inability to wake or stay awake
- Pale, gray, or blue-colored skin, lips, or nail beds, depending on skin tone
How long are you contagious with COVID?
As more research is being done, the CDC has not definitively said when an infected person is no longer contagious from COVID-19, regardless of which variant they were infected with.
But the CDC provides guidelines for when an infected person can be around others again, based on their symptoms.
If you think or know you had COVID-19 and you experienced symptoms, the CDC says you can safely be around others after:
- 10 days since symptoms first appeared and
- 24 hours with no fever without the use of fever-reducing medications and
- Other symptoms of COVID-19 are improving
The CDC says the loss of taste and smell, which are common symptoms of COVID-19, may persist for weeks or months after recovery and do not need to delay the end of your isolation.
If you tested positive for COVID-19 but did not have symptoms, the CDC says you can be with others after 10 days have passed since your last positive test.
How long do COVID symptoms last?
Some symptoms, such as the loss of taste and smell, may persist for weeks or months after recovery. As the type and severity of symptoms vary by person, so can their duration.
A report from the World Health Organization says "the median time from onset to clinical recovery for mild cases is approximately 2 weeks and is 3-6 weeks for patients with severe or critical disease."
Additionally, the CDC says most people with COVID-19 get better within weeks of illness, though some people report experiencing post-COVID conditions — even if they did not have symptoms during infection.
Post-COVID conditions, also known as long COVID or long-haul COVID, can have different types and combinations of health problems for different lengths of time. Read more about long COVID from the CDC here.
Can you get COVID twice?
Cases of reinfection with COVID-19 have been reported but remain rare, according to the CDC.
With the information available, the CDC cannot say how likely reinfection is or how often it occurs. The CDC also does not know how soon after the first infection that reinfection can take place, or how severe the cases of reinfection can be.
The CDC has ongoing COVID-19 studies that will help to answer all of those questions, as well as to learn who might be at higher risk for reinfection and what reinfection means for a person’s immunity.
Which COVID vaccine is best?
Currently, three COVID-19 vaccines have been approved in the U.S. for emergency use: Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen.
The Pfizer and Moderna shots are similar because they both require two doses and are both mRNA vaccines, which means they contain material that teaches cells how to make a protein that triggers an immune response to COVID-19 inside our bodies.
The J&J vaccine requires one dose and is a viral vector vaccine, which means it uses a modified version of a different virus to deliver instructions to cells to create a harmless piece of the virus that causes COVID-19, which can then fight it off.
None of the vaccines inject the live virus that causes COVID-19, and none affect or interact with DNA in any way.
Overall, all COVID-19 vaccines currently available in the United States are effective at preventing COVID-19 as seen in clinical trial settings, and health experts say all three continue to provide protection against the delta variant.
Pfizer’s vaccine was found to be 95% effective at preventing infection in fully-vaccinated people aged 16 years and older in clinical trials.
Moderna’s vaccine was found to be 94% effective at preventing infection in fully-vaccinated people aged 16 years and older in clinical trials.
The J&J vaccine was found to be 66% effective at preventing infection in fully-vaccinated people in clinical trials.
Someone is considered fully vaccinated two weeks after their second dose in a two-dose series, or two weeks after their single dose of the J&J shot.
Side effects of COVID-19 vaccine
A vaccine is a product that stimulates a person’s immune system to produce immunity to a specific disease. It’s not a cure, nor does it 100% guarantee the recipient won’t become infected.
But it is a layer of protection that lessens the severity of an illness, sparing mankind from diseases that once ran rampant like polio, rubella, tetanus, measles and mumps — and now COVID-19.
Side effects are possible — and normal — after receiving any vaccine as they are a sign that your body is building protection. Some people have no side effects.
Common side effects of the COVID-19 vaccine include pain, redness and/or swelling on the arm where you got the shot.
Throughout the rest of your body, you may experience tiredness, a headache, muscle pain, chills, fever and/or nausea.
The CDC says side effects may be more intense after your second shot of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine.
The CDC says the side effects could affect your ability to do daily activities, but they should go away within a few days. If they do not subside, call your doctor.
Allergic reaction is also possible after getting the first shot of a COVID-19 vaccine. Known as anaphylaxis, an allergic reaction is considered severe when a person needs to be treated with epinephrine or an EpiPen or if they must go to the hospital.
Safeguards are in place and all people who get a COVID-19 vaccine should be monitored on-site for severe, immediate allergic reactions.
People who have had severe allergic reactions or who have had any type of immediate allergic reaction to a vaccine or injectable therapy should be monitored for at least 30 minutes after getting the vaccine, the CDC says. All other people should be monitored for at least 15 minutes.
A non-severe allergic reaction can happen within 4 hours of getting vaccinated and may include symptoms such as hives, swelling, and wheezing (respiratory distress), the CDC says.
The CDC has learned of reports known as "COVID arm" in which some people get a red, itchy, swollen or painful rash where they got the shot. These rashes can start a few days to more than a week after the first shot and are sometimes quite large.
At this time, the CDC says it’s OK to proceed with your second shot if you experience this rash but that you may still want to consult with your vaccination provider.
The CDC is also monitoring "increased reports" of myocarditis and pericarditis in adolescents and young adults after COVID-19 vaccination and maintains the vaccine benefits outweigh the known and potential risks.
The CDC recommends the vaccine for anyone 12 years of age and older.
Additionally, the CDC has acknowledged a rare risk of blood clots with low platelets as a side effect of the J&J shot. This risk has only been found in this specific vaccine and among women younger than 50. You can read more about that risk here.
Where can I get a COVID vaccine?
Vaccines are now widely available across the country. Visit vaccines.gov to find a provider near you.
You can also check with your local pharmacy to see if they’re accepting walk-ins or making appointments, or view a list of pharmacies participating here.
This story was reported from Detroit.