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COVID-19 vaccine details: New variants, when you can get vaccinated, hidden fees

You have a lot of questions about the coronavirus vaccine, and we don't blame you one bit. Here's what we know so far about everything including vaccines for kids, going back to work and international travel.

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You have questions about the coronavirus vaccine. We have answers.

Sarah Tew/CNET
For the most up-to-date news and information about the coronavirus pandemic, visit the WHO and CDC websites.

COVID-19 vaccine distribution is ramping up, with nearly 77 million doses already administered in the US (here's how to track how many doses in your state) -- a leap from the mere 1 million doses at the beginning of the year. With a new vaccine approved for emergency use, the number of vaccinations is expected to rise quickly. 

While you wait your turn, we can help answer questions you may have. For example: with new variants of the coronavirus spreading, are the vaccines still considered effective? Is there any circumstance in which you have to pay for the vaccine? Can you safely travel internationally after getting a vaccine? How do you know where you can get the COVID-19 shot (you can be put on a list for spare vaccines), and when will kids be able to get vaccinated? How long does COVID-19 immunity last after getting the shot?

As new information arises about the vaccine against COVID-19, we'll continue to update with new details. This story isn't intended to serve as medical advice.

Will the current vaccines be effective against the new COVID-19 variants?

With new variants of the coronavirus emerging -- the UK strain, Brazil strain, South African strain, California strain -- doctors and scientists are evaluating how effective different COVID-19 vaccine formulas are against the new strains. Mutations and variants are not unusual or unexpected, and scientists are tracking those of interest as they arise. However, many of the investigations into these variants are preliminary and require further study. 

Some initial studies have shown varied results. The South African variant is considered more contagious than the initial virus, for example, and could resist some of the vaccines, according to Johns Hopkins Medicine. The new variant might also have the potential to "re-infect people who have recovered from earlier versions of the coronavirus."

The California strain appears to be more infectious and deadly, Science reported Feb. 23. According to studies, the variant was "four times less susceptible than the original coronavirus to neutralizing antibodies from the blood of people who recovered from COVID-19, and two times less susceptible to antibodies from the blood of people vaccinated with the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines." 

Moderna is looking for a way to tweak its vaccine formula in order to remain effective against the new mutations, according to a Science report on Jan. 26. Experts continue to stress the importance of being vaccinated to stop the spread of disease, and therefore stop new mutations from formulating at a rapid rate.

As such, it's important to continue wearing a mask and engaging in social distancing to prevent these new mutations from spreading. 

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Which vaccines are approved in the US?

The Johnson & Johnson vaccine was authorized for emergency approval Feb. 27 by the Food and Drug Administration to join Moderna and Pfizer -- both of which have been making the rounds across the country. Johnson & Johnson is the first COVID-19 vaccine that only requires one dose, rather than two jabs.

So far, 76.9 million vaccines have been administered, with Pfizer slightly leading the way. Other vaccine brands will likely be approved in the US.

For Pfizer and Moderna vaccines to be effective, a second dose is required after a set period of weeks (depending on which vaccine you get, it could be 21 or 28 days). As a result, 20 million doses, for example, can vaccinate 10 million people. The US has a population of roughly 330 million people.

When will I be able to get vaccinated?

The CDC generated a list of who's in line to get the COVID-19 vaccine first (and last). However, although there are recommendations, states and counties have the final say in releasing vaccines to various groups, and how they do it. For example, some are putting out a call for anyone over the age of 65, or 70, or so on, to contact their care provider and seek an appointment. Other states are opening a waitlist for anyone to get the vaccine. 

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You'll need to get two coronavirus vaccine doses, weeks apart.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Every major global and domestic recommendation so far puts health care workers at the top of the priority list, in theory, with the general population last in line. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has posted guidelines, but again, each state will have the final word. 

Depending on who you are, you may have to wait until spring or summer, when there are enough vaccines to go around, in order to be immunized. 

Will my company require me to get a COVID-19 vaccine?

While it's currently not required in the US to get a vaccine, your employer certainly can make vaccination a term as part of employment policies. According to the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, US employers can require employees to receive vaccinations against diseases that have been recognized as pandemics. 

However, there are protections in place for some individuals, such as the Americans with Disabilities Act, which protects people who are unable to get the vaccine due to medical conditions The Civil Rights Act is also in place to help those with religious beliefs opposing vaccines.

Read more: Here's what it's like to get the COVID-19 vaccine

Where can I get my COVID-19 vaccine shot? Does it have to be at a hospital?

No. Much like the flu vaccine, the coronavirus vaccine is available at pharmacy stores, clinics, hospitals, doctors' offices and health departments. Walgreens and Walmart have now started administering shots.

Larger facilities, like schools and community centers, will serve as vaccination sites in the beginning, in order to accommodate more people, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. President Joe Biden called on high school gyms and NFL stadiums to serve as vaccination sites to help speed up the process. MLB is also offering up its stadiums until the start of season 2021.

Disneyland closed its doors as of Jan. 14 in order to serve as a vaccination site. It's offering refunds to those who hold Disneyland Resort Annual Passports.

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Everyone in the US could be vaccinated by the end of summer.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Do I have to pay to get the coronavirus vaccine?

Regardless of whether you have health insurance or not, the COVID-19 vaccine will be free for all Americans, according to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. The government organization also said it plans to make sure you can get reimbursed for any FDA-approved coronavirus treatments you're charged for. 

But just because the vaccine itself is free doesn't mean you won't get a bill. Many providers can legally charge an administration fee for giving the shot to patients, according to the CDC. You can file a claim with your insurance company, however, since they're required to cover approved preventive care under the Affordable Care Act

Read more: Vaccine for COVID-19 may be free, but you could still see a bill. Here's what we know

Can I travel internationally once I get the vaccine? 

Different airlines and countries may have certain policies about coronavirus protocols, like mask-wearing, and may ask you a series of questions regarding your health and any perceived coronavirus symptoms. You should also be aware that you'll be required to have a negative COVID-19 test before flying into the US. 

Your coronavirus vaccination card (more below) won't count as your ticket into the country. However, Europe is considering digital vaccination passports to be available before this summer.

Here's more information on traveling during the pandemic and whether it's safe yet.

Who should wait to get a COVID-19 vaccination right now?

The coronavirus vaccine is considered safe for the general population, but there may be some exceptions and some sensitive groups of people who are advised to consult their physicians first. For instance, children under 16 haven't yet been cleared to receive the COVID-19 vaccine -- although Moderna expects to have its label expanded for the vaccine to cover those aged 12-17 years old by the summer. Also, people who've experienced severe allergic reactions should speak to their doctors. Here's more information about who might not get a coronavirus vaccine yet.

Why isn't the COVID-19 vaccine approved for kids yet?

Kids will not be able to receive the coronavirus vaccines immediately. Dr. Jose Romero, a CDC advisor, said kids under the age of 18 could expect to get their shots in the second half of 2021, CNBC reported.

Moderna and Pfizer are both now testing their vaccines on kids between the ages of 12 and 17. For now, it's undetermined when the COVID-19 vaccine will be tested on kids ages 11 and younger.

When will I find out when my kids and I are eligible to get vaccinated? What should we do in the meantime?

Your state and local health providers will start to communicate who can get immunized against COVID-19 first and how to do it. We'll keep an eye out for more details and will update this section when we know more.

In the meantime, health experts stress that you should continue to wear a face mask, be socially distant from people outside your household, and wash your hands to slow the spread of disease. The US is currently over 28.6 million reported cases, with more than 513,000 known deaths. However, the cases appear to be slowly decreasing each day.

When will there be enough vaccines readily available for everyone to get shots?

Biden said on Feb. 11 the US will have enough COVID-19 vaccines for every American by the end of July. However, that doesn't mean everyone will get their shots by then. When you get the coronavirus vaccine will depend on which group you fall in. You could get it in March if you're a healthcare worker or if you're 65 or older, but you may have to wait until July if you're a younger adult with no preexisting conditions.

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Even if you get the vaccine, you should still wear a mask, per CDC guidelines.

Anne Dujmovic/CNET

If I get vaccinated twice, will I get additional immunity to the coronavirus?

Health experts recommend you don't take more than one complete course of the coronavirus vaccine. Extremely limited supply makes it important that there are enough doses to immunize everyone. Past research hasn't proved any benefit to receiving more than one vaccine for a given pathogen.

Is the coronavirus vaccine only given as a shot? Is there a different way to get it?

The current immunization works as a series of one or two injections (depending on the vaccine brand) administered a number of weeks apart for the full inoculation to take place. Vaccine developers are also working on other ways to administer the COVID-19 immunization such as infusion, in which the vaccine is delivered intravenously, or an adhesive patch that you affix to your skin for a period of time.

What are the COVID-19 vaccination cards and what can I do once I have one?

The vaccination card you receive after getting your COVID-19 shot will be used to document which vaccine brand you received -- not everyone will get the same vaccine, but it could be Pfizer or Moderna for now until Johnson & Johnson is distributed across the country. The vaccination card will also be used as a reminder for when you need to go back for the second shot if you get Moderna or Pfizer, which will take place between three and four weeks after the first injection, depending on the vaccine.

What it won't be used as is a vaccine passport. In other words, it is not an official immunity certificate that could allow immunized people to return to the workplace, enter restaurants and stores, or visit foreign countries that have quarantine protocols in place.

Also, the Better Business Bureau is now warning people not to share photos of their vaccination cards on social media. "Unfortunately, your card has your full name and birthday on it, as well as information about where you got your vaccine. If your social media privacy settings aren't set high, you may be giving valuable information away for anyone to use," the BBB posted on Jan. 29.

Can I select which coronavirus vaccine type I get?

It's uncertain if you'll have your choice of which vaccine brand or type you'll get. This may depend on how many doses of the vaccine are available in your area and where you are in line to receive it. When you schedule your appointment online, some locations will list which vaccine they're administering.

It also depends on if you live near a medical center with "medical-grade ultracold freezers," USA Today reports, as the Pfizer vaccine must be kept in cold, dry-ice temperatures. The Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines, on the other hand, can be stored at temperatures between 36 to 46 degrees Fahrenheit for up to 30 days, making them much more easily accessible.

Note that once you get the first vaccine shot, you'll have to stick with that brand for the second shot.

Expect other types of vaccines to emerge, like Novavax and AstraZeneca in partnership with Oxford University. Dozens more are in development as well, and different countries may use different vaccine formulations from different makers.

What can I do once I get vaccinated against the coronavirus?

Once you get the first coronavirus vaccine, you'll receive a vaccination card that details which shot you received and when you need to go back for the second (see above).

After you receive both doses of the COVID-19 vaccine, the CDC recommends that you continue practicing social distancing and wearing a mask when you're out in public. The CDC says it's important to do so while "experts learn more about the protection that COVID-19 vaccines provide under real-life conditions."

Even though scientific evidence so far shows reinfection is uncommon, there's still much we don't know about the new virus. That's why it's important to follow the CDC's guidelines for protecting yourself and others from the coronavirus, whether you've had the vaccine or not.

For more coronavirus vaccine information, here's why you should wear a mask even after getting COVID-19 or the vaccine and the CDC's priority list for who will get the vaccine first.

The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.