The SC Clinical and Translational Science Institute (SC CTSI) is engaging in multiple initiatives and efforts relating to the COVID-19 vaccine in Los Angeles county. These efforts are focused on information gathering through focus groups and town halls held in local communities (especially within the Latinx and African American communities), message strategy and development, education, dissemination based on audience segmentation, and positive calls to action. 

Below is a list of our current partners and collaborators. If you are interested in collaborating with us, please email

Below are answers to commonly asked questions about the COVID-19 vaccine:

How are vaccines developed?
Most vaccines have been in use for decades, with millions of people receiving them safely every year. As with all medicines, every vaccine must go through extensive and rigorous testing to ensure it is safe before it can be introduced in a country’s vaccine program. 
Each vaccine under development must first undergo screenings and evaluations to determine which antigen should be used to invoke an immune response. This preclinical phase is done without testing on humans. An experimental vaccine is first tested in animals to evaluate its safety and potential to prevent disease.
If the vaccine triggers an immune response, it is then tested in human clinical trials in three phases.

Do I need the vaccine if I already had COVID-19?

We don’t know how long natural immunity – the immunity you get from having been sick – lasts. We also don’t know if it is complete. There have been a few well-documented cases of people being infected twice. So even if you have had COVID-19 and recovered, you will benefit from the vaccine.

The vaccine was developed too fast. I do not trust that it’s safe.
These vaccines could be made fast and still be safe for three simple reasons. 

  1. There was a lot of research done on the kind of virus that causes COVID-19 before this virus showed up. So scientists had a big head start about the kind of vaccine that would work best to fight this virus. 
  2. A lot of government money - from the U.S. and globally - was spent to get many companies to work on this vaccine and to put all of their scientists to work on it around the clock. And the high incidence of COVID-19 made it easier to complete trials quickly.
  3. While every step that has to be followed to make a new vaccine and be sure it is safe was followed, some of the steps were done at the same time instead of one after another. It is like cooking several parts of a meal at once instead of cooking one course at a time. You get done sooner but it’s just as good.

Am I more likely to die from getting the vaccine than from getting COVID-19?
COVID-19 is a lethal disease - it kills one of a hundred people who are infected, compared to one in a thousand people who get the seasonal flu. No one has died from the two approved vaccines. Some people wonder if that could be just because volunteers who took part in vaccine trials were not tracked for long enough for us to know if there will be deaths. It’s true that we only have 3 months of experience watching people who got these vaccines, but we do have experience with other vaccines and the vast majority of ill effects show up within hours or days. There is no basis for believing we will see something different here.

Will the vaccine make me sick with COVID-19?
No. You cannot get the disease from the vaccine. 

  • The current vaccines do not include the virus in any form – no live virus, no weakened virus, no dead virus. Some other vaccines use the virus they are fighting in some form to charge up an immune response. The current COVID-19 vaccines do not work that way.
  • You might feel some side effects for a while after getting the vaccine. The side effects are regular symptoms of an immune response, which means that the vaccine is at work developing antibodies to protect the body from COVID-19. They are not symptoms of COVID-19.
  • It is possible to catch the disease in the first few days after your vaccination before the vaccine has a chance to work, but that would not mean you got sick from the vaccine. For most people, the vaccine needs 7 days before it starts to work. And both these vaccines require a second dose before a person is fully protected from getting sick from the virus.

I want to wait to let others get it first. When will we know if it’s safe?
The vaccines already got the government’s stamp of approval. Waiting to see how others react will likely not give us new information on serious safety issues. We know from the way vaccines work and how we study them that new side effects are unlikely to occur more than 6-8 weeks after administration. Researchers have been following the volunteers for more than 3 months with no reports of long-term problems due to the vaccine.

Why should I trust Big Pharma to make a safe vaccine if they’re just out to make money?
The development of these vaccines has been carried out in the public eye. The U.S. government holds all drug developers to strict requirements. In fact, reviews of vaccine safety and efficacy (a term used to mean that the vaccines work) have been published for anyone to read. That means you or your doctor can read the reviews and decide whether the research seems solid and the findings are believable. The people reviewing the research include medical leaders from diverse settings all over the country and observers (non-voting members) representing a wide range of medical groups, including some that have fought hard against medical racism. They have not been paid for this work – they have been involved to verify the quality of the research and to assure that equity is protected throughout the process. For a list of names of the reviewers and the places they work, visit the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) website. You can learn more about these people by looking them up online.

Can the vaccines cause autism or other serious health problems?
No. Like other approved vaccines, scientists believe the COVID-19 vaccine does not cause disorders like autism or other problems.

  • Childhood vaccines are one of the best and safest protections against dangerous diseases that have been developed and these vaccines have been carefully tested for safety as well. The autism rumor was started by an English doctor who was later shown to be a fraud. The lie lived on because some celebrities bought in and ran with it. The result? Millions of dollars wasted on proving the truth over and over (for example, one study looked at every single baby born in Denmark for 8 years and showed there was absolutely no link). Even so, some scared parents still avoid vaccines and we see deadly outbreaks of diseases we could totally prevent.
  • The list of ingredients in the COVID vaccines is pretty simple – mRNA, plus some fats (called “lipids,” which is another word for fats) plus some salt and sugar to stabilize the mix. You can actually find the ingredients on the Food and Drug Administration’s COVID-19 vaccine website. Nothing you’ll see is out of the ordinary.

Is there a microchip in the vaccine that can be used to track me?
No. This story seems to have spread on the Internet based on a Facebook post that said Bill Gates was planning to use a microchip to identify people who have been tested for COVID-19. In fact, Mr. Gates had commented on a research study that had nothing to do with COVID-19 and nothing to do with anything being implanted. The study was about a method to be sure who has gotten vaccinated in countries that have high death rates from vaccine preventable diseases and poor health data systems. Like the story about autism, this is a story that is hard to stop even after it has been debunked over and over.

Will the vaccine affect my or my partner’s ability to have a baby?
There have been headlines and rumors in the media and on social media about the vaccine causing infertility for women. This is not true. Health experts say that there is no evidence that receiving the vaccine causes infertility, affects DNA or egg cells.

Can the genetic material in the virus change my genes?
No. The genetic material in these vaccines, called mRNA, tells your body to make a protein that kicks your immune system into action. The mRNA lets your body get a message from the virus without having to run into the virus directly. The food you eat contains genetic material, but your body breaks them down into basic chemicals. Like the food you eat, the mRNA you get in a vaccine does have an effect on your health, but it doesn’t change your genes or your DNA.

What is the difference between each brand of vaccine, which one is better?
As of January 2021, there are two brands of vaccines (the Pfizer and the Moderna vaccines) that have been authorized by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for emergency use in individuals 16-18 years of age and older. Both the Pfizer and the Moderna vaccine were shown to be about 95% effective in large-scale studies that included thousands of participants. What does that mean, exactly? This article from the New York Times breaks it down. The CDC also explains the process for ensuring vaccine work on this page.

Do we have a choice of the specific brand of vaccine we get?
Generally, hospitals and clinics will vaccinate individuals with whichever brand of vaccine is available at that time. The good news is, the vaccine brands that are currently available (as of January 2021, this includes the Pfizer and the Moderna vaccines) have been authorized by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for emergency use in individuals 16-18 years of age and older. 

Do I have to get the same brand of vaccine for both of my appointments?
Yes. It is very important that you receive the same brand of vaccine for both of your appointments to ensure you get protection from the COVID-19 virus. For example, if you receive the Pfizer vaccine in your first appointment, you should receive the Pfizer vaccine in your second appointment.

Can I go elsewhere to take the vaccine of my preference?
If you are able to find out what specific brand of vaccine that your healthcare provider is offering and prefer to take that vaccine, work through your physician’s office or hospital to schedule your appointments. However, due to national and international vaccine shortages, public health experts encourage individuals to receive the vaccine whenever it becomes available to them.

Should I get my second dose of vaccine if I experience a severe/minor allergic reaction to the first dose?
All information regarding severe and/or minor allergic reactions can be found here on the CDC’s website about allergies and the vaccine.

I just received my first dose. How do I ensure I get my second dose?
Your healthcare provider should set up your second dose to occur within weeks of you receiving your first dose. When you get your first dose, you will receive a vaccine record card that indicates your next appointment day and time. Your healthcare provider may also send out reminders via email, phone call or text to remind you of your second appointment.

Providers should also have a record of your vaccine in their medical records system. They also enter this information into state and local immunization registries, so they will also be able to pull information about what vaccine you received and when.

How bad are the vaccine side effects? 
The side effects are similar to those from other vaccines: pain at the injection site, headache, muscle soreness, fatigue and fever. About half of the volunteers who tested these vaccines experienced some side effects. Most of these effects were mild and did not require any treatment or change in daily activity and lasted for 1-2 days.

Should I get my second dose of the vaccine if I experience a severe/minor allergic reaction to the first dose?
All information regarding severe and/or minor allergic reactions can be found here on the CDC’s website about allergies and the vaccine.

Does the vaccine cost money?
No. COVID-19 vaccine will be given to Los Angeles County residents at no cost and regardless of immigration status. Your doctor or pharmacy may charge a fee for giving the vaccine, but it should be covered by public and private insurance companies. People without health insurance can get COVID-19 vaccines at no cost. There are no out-of-pocket payments. 

If someone says they can get you a special, low cost deal, or get you the vaccine under the table, it’s a scam. If someone tries to sell you a place on a vaccine waiting list, again, it’s a scam. More info on COVID-19 vaccine scams: COVID-19 vaccine scams

I am or someone I know does not have health insurance. Can we still get the vaccine? Will I have to pay?
No. Your doctor or pharmacy may charge a fee for giving the vaccine, but it should be covered by public and private insurance companies. People without health insurance can get COVID-19 vaccines at no cost. There are no out-of-pocket payments.

Black and Latinx communities are being singled out to get the vaccine but it hasn’t really been proven to be safe.
There are certainly historical reasons for Black and Latinx communities to fear being singled out. The concern is justified because people of color and marginalized groups have, in the past, been coerced and subjugated to participating in drug trials and medical procedures without informed consent, patient protections, or ethical practices. That is not the case here, however. Black and Latinx communities have not been singled out to get the vaccine. But groups are being offered the vaccine based on the risks faced by the people in the group. So, the answer is NO to singling anyone out but YES, Black and Latinx communities could be offered the vaccines earlier than other communities where infection, hospitalization and death rates have not been as high. Consider the following: 

  • The two vaccines now available were tested on diverse populations. In fact, efforts were made to assure inclusion of Black and Latinx volunteers in proportions equal to their proportion in the population just to make sure there weren’t factors that would make a vaccine less effective or less safe in either of those groups. A big effort was made to include members of those groups, to assure that they would not be victims of medical neglect, which is the other side of the coin in regard to medical racism. 
  • The very top priority for getting vaccinated now that the vaccines are available are frontline workers in healthcare. This includes clinical staff such as doctors, nurses, and therapists as well as people who work in other areas like laboratories and hospital environmental services. They are prioritized because they are at higher risk of being exposed to the virus and they are critical to keeping other people alive. These same criteria are being used to decide who is next in line, as we need to prioritize vaccinating some people before others while there is limited supply of the vaccine. Once there is plenty of vaccine available, everyone who wants to get vaccinated should have easy access to the vaccine. 
  • There is good reason for Black and Latinx communities to demand equal and early access to vaccination. Black and Latinx residents, along with Native Americans and Native Hawaiians, have been most likely to be infected (often as a result of poor working or living conditions), most likely to require hospitalization if infected, and most likely to die from COVID-19. They‘re also the communities that suffer most severe consequences if illness excludes them from the workforce. If you see billboards or hear advertising encouraging Black and Latinx residents of LA to opt for vaccination, it reflects these concerns. LA wants those who have been hardest hit to have the opportunity to be vaccinated as soon as possible. 

The stakes for Black and Latinx residents of LA are high. Please read what you can about the vaccines from reliable sources and talk to well-informed people you trust – your doctor, a science teacher you know, a pharmacist – and ask them to respond to your questions and concerns. Your questions are important and deserve to be answered by knowledgeable and trusted individuals.

I am or someone I know is undocumented. Can we still get the vaccine? Will we be reported for being undocumented?
You can still get the vaccine regardless of your immigration status, and you will not be reported. The vaccine will not cost money. Your doctor or pharmacy may charge a fee for giving the vaccine, but it should be covered by public and private insurance companies. People without health insurance can get COVID-19 vaccines at no cost. There are no out-of-pocket payments.

How do I know when I am eligible to receive the vaccine? The state of California is currently giving out the vaccine in phases based on their vaccine plan. Click here to access the vaccine plan. If you want to sign up to receive updates about when it will be your turn to receive the vaccine, go to: 

You should also sign up to receive regular updates within your county: Los Angeles County:  Orange County: “Othena” is an app provided through the Orange County Health Care Agency that will provide residents with information on when and how to schedule a vaccination. 

How is the vaccine distribution being decided?
Vaccines are being distributed by the state of California based on a tiered system. Learn more about the tiers and who is included in each tier by clicking here.

When can I get the vaccine?
Right now the vaccine is only being offered to healthcare workers and people who live in long-term care facilities (for example, nursing homes). Essential workers who cannot work from home are likely to be offered the vaccine next because they are at high risk of being exposed to the COVID-19 virus. Older adults, and adults with medical conditions might also be next because they are more likely to become very sick if they get COVID-19. As more vaccine becomes available, it will be offered to everyone. This will likely take months. The vaccine may not be offered to the general public until spring or summer 2021.

When will children get the vaccine?
Children will not be offered vaccines in the near future. The Pfizer vaccine has only been authorized by the U.S. FDA (Food and Drug Administration) for people age 16 and over and the Moderna vaccine is only authorized for people age 18 and over.

What should I do to stay safe while I wait to get the vaccine?
The same precautions that you have been advised to take still apply. This means you should continue wearing a mask that covers your nose and mouth, practicing social distancing, avoiding gatherings with people outside of your household, and washing hands and/or sanitizing them frequently when soap and water is unavailable. You will still have to follow these guidelines even after receiving your vaccine.

I am a USC employee. Should I get the vaccine when it becomes available from my doctor, or should I get it from USC?
Public health experts recommend individuals to get the vaccine as soon as it becomes available to them based on the distribution phases. If this means it becomes available to you sooner through your doctor, you should receive the vaccine through your doctor. If it becomes available to you sooner through USC as an employee, you should receive the vaccine through your employer.

I don’t have an email address or a smartphone. How can I stay updated?
Check the websites below regularly for updates:

  • For COVID-19 updates in Los Angeles County, click here for vaccine distribution updates and click here for case updates. Please call 833-540-0473 between 8 a.m. and 8:30 p.m., 7 days a week, for inquiries.
  • For COVID-19 updates in Orange County, click here for vaccine distribution updates and click here for case updates.

NIH Funding Acknowledgment: Important - All publications resulting from the utilization of SC CTSI resources are required to credit the SC CTSI grant by including the NIH funding acknowledgment and must comply with the NIH Public Access Policy.