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COVID-19 FAQ

You probably have questions about COVID-19, and we’re here to help. You can find more information on the CDC’s COVID-19 website.

General

What is COVID-19?

What is COVID-19, and how is it spreading?
COVID-19 is a respiratory (lung) disease caused by a novel (new) virus. The most common way for the virus to spread is through person-to-person transmission, including:
  • Through the air (by coughing or sneezing).
  • Through close, personal contact (like touching or shaking hands).
  • By touching an object or surface that has the virus on it, then touching your eyes, nose, or mouth.
Information from the CDC about how COVID-19 spreads
What is the Omicron variant?
SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, continues to mutate and cause different variants, including the Omicron variant. Like the Delta variant, Omicron is a variant of concern. Scientists are still studying Omicron to learn more about it.

According to the CDC, it likely spreads more easily than the original SARS-CoV-2 virus. Scientists don’t know how easily Omicron spreads compared to Delta. While breakthrough infections from the Omicron variant can occur in those who are fully vaccinated, vaccines have been effective in preventing severe illness and other serious complications.

The best way to reduce your risk from the Omicron variant is to get vaccinated and to get boosters when you are eligible. Getting vaccinated can slow virus transmission and reduce the chance of other variants emerging.
What is the Delta variant?
Viruses constantly change through mutation. SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, has mutated many times. Those mutations have caused different variants of COVID-19 to appear around the world. One variant of concern circulating globally is the Delta variant.

According to the CDC, the Delta variant causes more infections and spreads faster than early forms of SARS-CoV-2. In many areas, the Delta variant has become less prevalent as Omicron infections have increased, but both variants can be present in a community. Unvaccinated people are at the greatest risk of getting the Delta variant.

The best way to reduce your risk from the Delta variant is to get vaccinated. The COVID-19 vaccines authorized in the United States are highly effective at preventing severe disease and death, including against the Delta variant.

How long do I need to isolate?

How long do I need to isolate if I think I’ve been exposed to COVID-19?
Given what scientists know about COVID-19 and its variants, and the protection provided by vaccination and booster doses, the CDC shortened the recommended isolation time for the public to five days. Isolation protects the public by separating sick people with a contagious disease from people who are not sick.

If you test positive for COVID-19, you should follow CDC isolation guidelines, regardless of your vaccination status.
  • Stay home for five days.
  • If you have no symptoms or your symptoms are resolving after five days, you can leave your house.
  • Continue to wear a mask around others for five additional days.
Important: If you have a fever, continue to stay home until your fever resolves.

If you were exposed to someone with COVID-19, you should follow CDC quarantine guidelines. These guidelines vary depending on your vaccination status. While quarantining protects people, it is different from isolation because quarantine is used before you know whether you have an infection. Quarantine separates people exposed to a contagious disease to see if they become sick.

Symptoms

What are the potential symptoms of COVID-19?
People with COVID-19 have mild to severe symptoms, including some or all of the following:
  • Fever or chills
  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
  • Muscle or body aches
  • Fatigue
  • Headache
  • New loss of taste or smell
  • Sore throat
  • Congestion or a runny nose
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Diarrhea
This list does not contain all possible symptoms. These symptoms may appear 2-14 days after exposure. Older people and individuals with health conditions like heart disease, lung disease, and diabetes are at a higher risk for developing serious COVID-19 symptoms.

Information from the CDC about COVID-19 symptoms

What can I do?

Take preventive actions:
  • Avoid close contact by practicing social distancing.
    • Maintain 6 feet of distance between yourself and people who do not live in your household.
  • If you are sick, stay home.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and running water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water are not available, use hand sanitizer that contains at least 60 percent alcohol.
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a mask when you are around others.
  • Monitor your health daily.
  • Cover coughs and sneezes.
  • Frequently clean and disinfect high-touch surfaces.

Information from the CDC about how to protect yourself and others

Mask guidelines

Can I stop wearing my mask after I get my vaccines?
You should still follow federal, state, and local requirements and regulations. Keep in mind that guidelines where you live, work, or travel may change and it is important to take safety precautions, like wearing a mask in certain situations when they are recommended by federal, state, or local authorities. Remember, your mask should fit snugly against the side of your face and should not have any gaps.

If you need additional information, you can read more about when to wear a mask in the CDC’s Guide to Masks.

Treatment

Testing

I think I might have COVID-19. How do I get tested?
Visit our COVID-19 testing page to read about how to get tested for COVID-19.
How much will testing cost?
Visit our COVID-19 coverage for members page for more information about the cost of diagnostic COVID-19 testing based on your coverage type.

Coverage

What else is covered if I need care related to COVID-19?
Visit our COVID-19 coverage for members page for more information about what’s covered based on your coverage type.

Monoclonal antibodies

What is monoclonal antibody treatment for COVID-19?
If you test positive for COVID-19 and are at risk of severe disease or hospitalization, UPMC offers a treatment called monoclonal antibodies. It works like the antibodies your body naturally produces when fighting infections. This treatment is given in an outpatient clinic through an IV infusion in your arm, and it should help keep your symptoms from getting worse. It is for people with mild to moderate COVID-19 symptoms who are at risk for severe disease.

Due to scarce supply, to receive the monoclonal antibodies from UPMC, you must test positive for COVID-19, have had mild to moderate symptoms for no more than seven days and must still be symptomatic, and have a medical condition or be receiving certain treatments that place you at increased risk of severe disease. The most current list of eligibility criteria is available on the UPMC monoclonal antibodies website.
Are monoclonal antibodies safe? Is this a new type of treatment?
Monoclonal antibodies have been used to treat different conditions—including rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis, cardiovascular disease, and certain types of cancer—for many years. As with all drugs, they are subject to review and approval by the FDA to ensure that they are safe and effective before they can be used. For more information:
Does UPMC Health Plan cover monoclonal antibody treatment? Is it covered at no cost?
Monoclonal antibody treatment, when used in accordance with FDA guidelines, is a covered service under most plans. Your cost for monoclonal antibody treatment depends on the type and details of your health insurance coverage. To see whether your plan covers the cost for this treatment, visit the COVID-19 coverage for members webpage and select your coverage type from the drop-down menu.

Vaccine

Appointments/Scheduling

Can you schedule an appointment for me at UPMC?
If you wish to receive a vaccine or booster, call a Health Care Concierge at the number on your member ID card or chat with us.
What happens if I can’t receive my second vaccine dose when I’m supposed to?
The second dose should be administered as close to the recommended interval as possible. However, if a delay in vaccination is unavoidable, you can still get your second dose and be considered “fully vaccinated” without restarting the primary vaccine series. This CDC guidance is subject to change as we learn more about the effects of vaccine timing, including the use of boosters.

Coverage

Does UPMC Health Plan cover the COVID-19 vaccine? Is it covered at no cost?
Yes. The COVID-19 vaccine is covered no matter where you are and no matter where you go in the U.S.

Safety

Can I get the COVID-19 vaccine if I had the virus?
Yes. In most cases, you should still get vaccinated even if you already had COVID-19. Experts do not yet know how long you are protected after you recover from an infection. Although rare, it is possible to get sick again after recovering from COVID-19. You should also get vaccinated if you have not had COVID-19. Getting the vaccine can help protect you from getting the virus or becoming severely ill if you do get it.

If you have other questions, you can learn more about the COVID-19 vaccine.
Can I get the COVID-19 vaccine if I’m sick?
No. You should not get the COVID-19 vaccine if you have the virus, have recently been exposed to COVID-19, or if you have another respiratory illness. If you have symptomatic or asymptomatic COVID-19 or have been exposed to COVID-19, you should not get vaccinated until you meet the CDC’s guidelines for ending isolation (if sick) or quarantine (if exposed but asymptomatic). Talk to your provider about rescheduling your appointment.

If you have another respiratory illness, talk to your provider about when it is recommended for you to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.
Will I feel any side effects after I get the COVID-19 vaccine?
Like many vaccines, the COVID-19 vaccines may come with some side effects. This is because the vaccine triggers an immune response in your body. Some common side effects include pain and swelling where you got the shot, fever, chills, fatigue, and headache. These should go away in a few days. Rare and serious side effects have been reported, but the risk of developing these side effects is far less than the risks if you get COVID-19 and are unvaccinated.
What are ACIP COVID-19 vaccine recommendations and is the CDC endorsing them?
The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) for the prevention of COVID-19 recommends that individuals receive an mRNA COVID-19 vaccine over Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine. Discussing several factors led ACIP to make this unanimous recommendation:
  • The latest evidence on vaccine effectiveness
  • Vaccine safety and rare adverse events
  • Consideration of the U.S. vaccine supply
The CDC is endorsing these updated ACIP recommendations.

It is important to note additional guidance from ACIP given the current state of the pandemic. ACIP reaffirmed that receiving any vaccine is better than being unvaccinated. Individuals who are unable or unwilling to receive an mRNA vaccine will continue to have access to Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine.
Should I be worried about getting a COVID-19 vaccine?
It’s normal to have questions about the COVID-19 vaccine. These vaccines are safe. Each COVID-19 vaccine has gone through large trials. Each developer followed safety protocols, including human testing. The results are continuously monitored to ensure ongoing safety. In the U.S. alone, more than 200 million people have been fully vaccinated, and millions more have received at least one dose of the vaccine.

If you have questions about the safety of the vaccine, talk to your doctor. He or she can offer guidance that may help to ease your mind.
Is the vaccine safe? Does UPMC recommend that everyone get the vaccine?
We strongly believe in vaccination. The more people who are vaccinated, the better protected our loved ones and communities. For the health and safety of all, we encourage you to get vaccinated. Your vaccine will be provided at no cost to you wherever you receive it in the U.S.

Vaccines are a safe and effective way to protect yourself and those around you from serious illnesses. Like all vaccines in the U.S. before being made available, the COVID-19 vaccines underwent clinical trials and scientific evaluation that included multiple levels of review for safety and effectiveness. Even after authorization, vaccination results are continuously monitored across millions of patients to ensure ongoing safety. This process is administered by the FDA and the CDC Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP).

If you have questions about whether the COVID-19 or any vaccine is recommended for you, you should talk to your doctor.

How does the COVID-19 vaccine affect mammograms?
A mammogram is an important screening for women. It can find changes in breast tissue and lead to early detection and diagnosis of breast cancer.

Some women have developed swelling in the lymph nodes under the arm in which they received the COVID-19 vaccine. This is a rare side effect caused by the vaccine activating your immune system. It typically goes away within a few days or weeks. However, this side effect could alter the reading of your mammogram because swollen lymph nodes are also a rare sign of breast cancer.

If your mammogram shows swollen lymph nodes, your radiologist will typically recommend a follow-up exam. Because of that, it’s important to keep the timing of your COVID-19 vaccine and your mammogram in mind.
  • If you already have a mammogram appointment: You do not need to reschedule it around the COVID-19 vaccine. If you feel strongly about rescheduling, you should reschedule your mammogram for a date that is before your vaccine appointment date. If your mammography appointment is less than four weeks after your vaccine, tell your technician which arm you received the vaccine in and whether you received the first or second dose.
  • If you do not currently have a mammogram appointment: You may want to consider scheduling your mammogram around the vaccine—as long as you’re not delaying care. Some experts recommend scheduling your mammogram either:
    • Before getting the COVID-19 vaccine.
    • Four weeks after getting your final dose of the vaccine.

Where can I get the vaccine?

Can I get a COVID-19 vaccine at home?
Yes. We offer no-cost vaccinations at outdoor clinics, hospitals, churches, community centers, and other locations. If you can’t get to one of these locations, you can get the vaccine in your home (if you are 5 years or older). A qualified clinical provider will come to you and administer either the Pfizer or Johnson & Johnson/Janssen COVID-19 vaccine to you in your home at no cost. If you need help scheduling your COVID-19 vaccine, call a Health Care Concierge at the number on your member ID card or chat with us and indicate that you are homebound when scheduling your vaccine. Help is available Monday through Friday from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Remember, the COVID-19 vaccine is covered at no cost, no matter where you are and no matter where you go in the U.S.
Do I have to get the COVID-19 vaccine from a primary care provider (PCP)?
No.
Do I have to get the COVID-19 vaccine from a network provider?
No.
Can I get the COVID-19 vaccine at a pharmacy?
Yes.
I’m currently in a state other than Pennsylvania – will the COVID-19 vaccine be covered no matter where I get it in the U.S.?
Yes.

Why get vaccinated?

Getting a vaccine will help protect you and those around you from COVID-19. According to the CDC, getting vaccinated may protect you from getting seriously ill, having to be hospitalized, or possibly dying.

What about the COVID-19 vaccine and pregnant women?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends vaccination for women who are pregnant, breastfeeding, trying to become pregnant now, or who may become pregnant in the future. Pregnant women are at higher risk for COVID-19 complications, including severe illness, so vaccination is a key preventive step. The benefits of receiving a COVID-19 vaccination outweigh any known or potential risks of vaccination during pregnancy.

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) and the Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine (SMFM) also recommend COVID-19 vaccination for pregnant women.

For those who use UPMC Magee-Womens Hospital for their care, visit the UPMC Magee-Womens webpage for information regarding safety, visits, etc. during the COVID-19 pandemic.

What about the COVID-19 vaccine and children?


Questions your child may have about the COVID vaccine

Is the vaccine safe?
Yes, vaccines are safe. All of the COVID-19 vaccines you can get went through a lot of thorough testing. Health experts are also still monitoring the vaccines. Millions of people in the United States and around the world have already been safely vaccinated.
Will getting a vaccine hurt?
At first, it will feel like any shot you get. For the first few hours and up to a few days after you get the shot, your arm may be sore. You also might feel a little tired and achy. You could have a fever or a headache. Remind your child to tell you right away if he or she notices any of these things.
Why should I get the vaccine?
Like all vaccines (“shots”), this one will help keep you from getting sick. If you do get an infection, it will also help keep you from giving COVID-19 to your family, teachers, coaches, friends, and others that you are around. If you get the vaccine you will also be able to safely get back to school, sports, and other activities you’ve missed like being with your friends.
Does the vaccine work? What does it do?
Yes! The COVID-19 vaccine helps your body learn how to protect you against the COVID-19 virus (germs). If you do get sick, it also helps prevent serious complications.

General questions about vaccinating your child

Are any COVID-19 vaccines or boosters authorized for use in children?
Yes. The Pfizer vaccine is authorized for use in children ages 5 to 15, and it has full FDA approval for recipients who are ages 16 or older. The Moderna vaccine also has full FDA approval for recipients ages 18 or older. The Johnson & Johnson vaccines is authorized under emergency use guidelines for recipients who are ages 18 or older. For ages 12 and older who are moderately or severely immunocompromised, only the Pfizer booster is currently authorized. Use of the vaccine outside of the currently authorized/approved age groups is not recommended and is considered to be off-label.
When will COVID-19 vaccines be available for children under age 5 years?
Studies to evaluate the safety and efficacy of the COVID-19 vaccine in younger children are underway. In early February 2022, Pfizer and BioNTech asked the Food and Drug Administration to authorize a two-dose Covid-19 vaccine regimen for children under 5. While there is no definitive timeline at for this authorization to be granted, researchers are hopeful that they now have enough information on safety and effectiveness to begin vaccinating children under age 5 later in 2022.
After getting the vaccine, when is my child fully protected?
Your child is not protected against COVID-19 until 2 weeks after receiving the second dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine. Pfizer-BioNTech is the only vaccine currently available to children ages 5 and older. The CDC is also recommending a booster shot for some children.
When do I need to bring my child back for the second vaccine and booster?
Persons ages 5 years and older should receive 2 doses of Pfizer-BioNTech (mRNA vaccine) COVID-19 vaccine at least 21 days apart. Children ages 12-17 years old should receive the Pfizer-BioNTech booster 5 months after their second dose. The CDC also recommends children ages 12-17 years old who are moderately or severely immunocompromised should receive a second Pfizer-BioNTech booster shot at least 3 months after their first booster.
What are the side effects of the vaccine?
COVID-19 vaccines are safe. However, your child could have some short-term side effects. These are signs that the body is building protection.

Possible side effects on the arm where your child got the shot:
  • Pain
  • Redness
  • Swelling

Possible side effects throughout the rest of the body:
  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Headache
  • Tiredness
  • Nausea
  • Muscle pain
Call your pediatrician and ask about medicines that can reduce these symptoms. Symptoms usually go away in a few days.

While very rare, some people have had serious allergic reactions to the COVID-19 vaccine. This is why your child will need to wait for 15 to 30 minutes after receiving a vaccine. If your child has a reaction, there are medications to quickly treat it.

As for long-term side effects, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that these are unlikely. Research and monitoring on other vaccines show that side effects almost always happen within six weeks of getting a vaccine. While it is important to monitor for both allergic reactions and other side effects after vaccination, the current vaccines have been safely given to more than 200 million people across the United States (and many millions more worldwide) under the most intense safety monitoring in U.S. history. Allergic reactions are rare and no long-term side effects have been detected.

Types of vaccines

What are the differences between the vaccines authorized to prevent COVID-19?
There are three vaccines authorized or approved for use in the United States. The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) for the prevention of COVID-19 recommends that individuals receive an mRNA COVID-19 (Moderna or Pzifer-BioNTech) vaccine over Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine.

The CDC is endorsing these updated ACIP recommendations.

It is important to note additional guidance from ACIP given the current state of the pandemic. ACIP reaffirmed that receiving any vaccine is better than being unvaccinated. Individuals who are unable or unwilling to receive an mRNA vaccine will continue to have access to Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine.

Pfizer-BioNTech ModernaTX, Inc. Janssen Pharmaceuticals Companies of Johnson & Johnson
Type of vaccine mRNA mRNA Viral vector
Recommended Age 5+ years old 18+ years old 18+ years old
Number of Primary Shot 2 shots, 21 days apart 2 shots, 28 days apart 1 shot
First Booster Shot Ages 18+ years old. Can receive either Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna for booster, 5 months after 2nd shot.

Ages 12-17 years old. Only can receive Pfizer-BioNTech, 5 months after 2nd shot. If moderately or severely immunocompromised, can receive Pfizer-BioNTech 3 months after 2nd shot.
Ages 18+ years old. Can receive either Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna for booster, 5 months after 2nd shot. Ages 18+ years old. Can receive either Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna for booster, 2 months after shot.
Second Booster Shot Ages 50+ years old. Can receive either Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna for second booster, at least 4 months after Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, or Johnson & Johnson/Janssen first booster.

Ages 12-17 years old who are moderately or severely immunocompromised. Only can receive Pfizer-BioNTech, at least 4 months after Pfizer-BioNTech first booster.
Ages 50+ years old. Can receive either Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna for second booster, at least 4 months after Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, or Johnson & Johnson/Janssen first booster. Ages 50+ years old. Can receive either Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna for second booster, at least 4 months after Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, or Johnson & Johnson/Janssen first booster.

Learn more about the different COVID-19 vaccines by visiting the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

What happens after I get my vaccine?

What happens after I get my vaccine?
After getting your vaccine, you may feel some common side effects like pain and swelling where you got the shot, fever, chills, fatigue, and headache. These should go away after a few days. Even when you are up to date with your vaccines, you should still follow the current CDC guidelines to protect yourself and those around you.
When do I get a COVID-19 vaccine card and what do I do with it?
When you go to your first COVID-19 vaccine appointment, you should receive a vaccine card. It should include the following information:
  • What COVID-19 vaccine you received
  • The date you received it
  • The place where you received it
If you are getting a two-shot series, bring the card to your second appointment. Also bring your card when getting your boosters. This will allow the provider to fill in the information about your second dose and boosters. If you didn’t get a card at your vaccine appointment, contact the health care provider office or site where you got vaccinated. You can also call your local health department to find out how you can get a card.

Who is eligible to get boosters?

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have authorized boosters for certain people.

First Boosters

  • People ages 12+ can receive a Pfizer-BioNTech booster if they:
  • People ages 18+ can receive a Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna booster if they:
    • Received a second Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna shot at least 5 months ago.
    • Are moderately or severely immunocompromised and received a second Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna shot at least 3 months ago.
    • Received a Johnson & Johnson/Janssen shot (only 1 shot needed) at least 2 months ago.

Second Boosters

  • You can receive a second Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna booster if you are 50 years of age and older and received your first Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, or Johnson & Johnson/Janssen booster at least 4 months ago.
  • You can receive a second Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna booster if you are moderately to severely immunocompromised and received your first Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, or Johnson & Johnson/Janssen booster at least 4 months ago.
    • People ages 12-17 will receive the Pfizer-BioNTech booster.
    • People ages 18+ will receive either the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna booster.

Keep in mind that these guidelines can change over time as we learn more about COVID-19 vaccines and boosters, For the most current information, check the CDC website.

Please bring your official CDC card with you to receive boosters.

You can schedule a booster shot by calling a Health Care Concierge at the number on your member ID card or chatting with us.

If you have questions about your coverage, see your plan documents or contact a health care concierge for the most up-to-date information regarding your benefits.

Benefits, copayments/coinsurance may change on January 1st of each year or on the date that your plan renews.

*These recommendations are not intended for health care settings, correctional facilities, or homeless shelters. Staff, visitors, and residents in these settings should continue to follow the rules as posted by the facility, including universal masking.

This applies to all of our comprehensive medical coverage products, including Medicare Advantage (UPMC for Life), Special Needs Plan (UPMC for Life Complete Care), Medicaid (UPMC for You), CHIP (UPMC for Kids), UPMC Community HealthChoices, and all UPMC commercial group and individual (Pennie/Marketplace) products. Members of Community Care Behavioral Health (CCBH) should contact their Physical Health MCO regarding coverage. Coverage does not apply for standalone dental, EAP, wellness-only, or other limited scope benefit products. Coverage applies to the FDA-emergency use authorized vaccines administered in the United States.

aFor more information on monoclonal antibody treatments, visit UPMC.com/AntibodyTreatment or call 1-866-804-5251 (TTY: 711) from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m., seven days a week.

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