One year into the pandemic, things are still pretty serious in most parts of the world. A new, more contagious variant has spread in multiple countries and the U.S. is at nearly half a million deaths. How did we get here?

Although it’s scary and you should be taking your healthcare, and the health of your community seriously, there are bright spots. The COVID vaccine is being distributed and experts say it’s effective against the new variants. But there’s a lot of confusion, and it’s hard to know if you can get vaccinated or when.

We’re breaking it down step by step today to help demystify and explain. Will it make you sick? Doesn’t it have distribution problems? Let’s talk COVID vaccine 101.

How Does The COVID Vaccine Work?

According to the CDC, to understand how the COVID vaccine works it’s easiest to start by talking about how the body fights illness in the first place. When your body encounters germs or virus cells, they enter the body. Then they attack and multiply, making you sick. Your body has two types of blood cells; red cells distribute oxygen and white cells fight back against germs, viruses and infection. They’re the backbone of your immune system.

There are three types of blood cells, according to the CDC:

  • Macrophages digest germs and dead or dying cells. They leave behind parts of the invading germs called antigens. The body stimulates antibodies to attack the antigens.
  • B-lymphocytes are defensive. They produce antibodies that attack the pieces of the virus left behind by the macrophages.
  • T-lymphocytes are another type of defensive cell. They attack cells in the body that have already been infected.

The COVID-19 vaccine “teaches” your body how to fight coronavirus and although it can take a few weeks, your body will build up T-lymphocytes and remember how to fight the virus if you encounter it again, like being in close contact with someone who is carrying the virus.

There are three main types of COVID vaccines in circulation, but the premise for them all is the same. They contain or deliver weakened virus cells, or parts of cells, so your body knows what to look for the next time. This is the same idea for almost all other vaccines, too.

Is The COVID Vaccine Safe?

It’s natural to have concerns about what you’re putting into your body, we get it. The good news is that vaccine safety studies have determined the COVID vaccine to be very safe, according to Hopkins Medicine. All FDA-approved versions of the vaccine (the only kind you can get) have been through multiple large clinical trials.

“Even though the coronavirus vaccines were developed more quickly than other vaccines in the past, they have been carefully tested and continue to be monitored,” Hopkins Medicine’s website says. “[Vaccine] safety has been a top priority.”

In the latest COVID vaccine news, President Biden now says there will be enough doses for all adults in the U.S. by the end of May. In other COVID vaccine news, the initial vaccines may not be quite as effective against new global variants, but companies are already working on vaccine updates and will be able to get them quickly approved—all with vaccine safety studies and regulatory oversight, of course!

How Do I Get Vaccinated?

Not everyone is currently able to get a COVID vaccine. If you live in the U.S., the rollout is different in each state. Your best bet is to call your doctor or local health department to find out if you qualify. Many county health departments are also providing regular COVID vaccine updates and waiting list sign ups online.

The vaccine is being rolled out in different phases, and each state may be in a different phase. If you’re wondering who will get the COVID vaccine first, priority is being given to health care workers, at-risk groups like seniors, and will then be available to the general public. If you work for a healthcare facility or hospital, you may have already been offered the vaccine. If you work in an at-risk industry you might also ask your employer if they plan to offer employees the vaccine.

The CDC has more information about the different stages, but still, the best bet is to call a local healthcare provider.

What About Side Effects?

It’s true there may be side effects of getting the COVID vaccine, much like there are sometimes side effects when you get the flu shot or any vaccine. Symptoms at the site of injection could include:

  • Pain
  • Swelling

In the rest of your body, you may experience:

  • Fever
  • Fatigue
  • Chills
  • Headache

Again, these symptoms are also common when you get the flu shot, and they are a good sign! It means your body is learning to fight the virus, and that the vaccine is working. If you don’t have any symptoms, though, don’t worry. That doesn’t mean it’s any less effective.

Remember that the vaccine can take a couple of weeks to work, and the two doses are delivered 21 days apart with some vaccines, so it’s possible you could get COVID-19 right before your vaccination or between doses. That doesn’t mean the vaccine made you sick.

Are There Distribution Issues?

In terms of distribution, yes, there have been snags. People have tried to destroy vaccine stocks because they believe the pandemic is a hoax, and some state governments have struggled to create efficient selection and delivery processes, in part because this is the first nationwide, emergency vaccine rollout the United States has needed in a long time.

But ask yourself—do you know anyone who spent their life in an iron lung fighting to survive polio? Probably not, and that’s because the United States has a solid history of delivering life-saving vaccines. The COVID vaccine is no different. We’re learning to face new challenges and making adjustments to improve as we go. Like any pandemic there are bound to be mistakes. However, getting vaccinated, wearing a mask, washing your hands, and doing what you can to protect the health of your community is something we’re all responsible for every day.

How Can I Get A COVID Test?

Just as with finding the best place to get the COVID vaccine, you’ll want to contact your local health department or doctor to find out how to get a COVID test according to the FDA. Many cities and states are offering drive-though testing for free, but rapid results may cost money. It may also cost more to see your physician instead of the government-run testing.

If you think you’re sick or just want to be sure, go get tested! It’s better to know and not take the risk of infecting someone you care about.

Although there’s a lot of disinformation and fear, the COVID vaccine isn’t really all that different from previous vaccines. It teaches your body to fight back, protecting you and others. How cool is that? Don’t forget to thank your body for being so amazing—that immune system of yours is incredible!