Ask Dr. Dunn

Please send any questions to [email protected].

I got vaccinated

Dr. Dunn Gets the COVID-19 Vaccine

The Benefit Funds’ Chief Medical officer, Van H. Dunn, MD, received his first COVID-19 vaccine on Monday, January 18, at Northwell Health in New Hyde Park. Read More

COVID-19 Vaccine FAQs

General questions about getting the vaccine:

I want to get vaccinated. What should I do?

That depends on where you are employed.

  • If you work at a hospital or nursing home, you should be notified by your employer when the vaccine becomes available to you.

  • If you are a home care worker, you should first check with your employer, who may be coordinating vaccine distribution. If not, you may make an appointment to get vaccinated through either the New York City or New York State website. If you need assistance making an appointment, you can contact your employer or your Outreach Coordinator. If you need additional assistance, you can directly email [email protected] or find your Outreach Coordinator’s contact information here.

In addition, you may also speak to your organizer. Please continue to check back for the latest information on how you can get vaccinated and keep in mind that because the Funds cannot provide medical advice, you should speak with your doctor if you have specific questions about your health regarding the vaccines.

Does the Benefit Fund cover the cost of getting vaccinated?

Yes. The vaccines are provided free of charge, and the Benefit Fund will cover the costs associated with getting the shot. If you are offered the vaccine at your workplace and are asked to present your 1199SEIU Health Benefits ID card, it is fine to do so. The Benefit Fund will cover the costs of administering the vaccination to you.

Do you have any advice for retired members who wish to take the vaccine?

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is requiring in Phase 1a that federal, state and local governments vaccinate healthcare workers, residents and staff at long-term care facilities first and has recently recommended that seniors 65 and older as well as those with serious health conditions also receive priority for the vaccine.

As we continue to learn more about the vaccine and its availability to retirees like you, we are committed to keeping you updated, so be sure to visit our website, and watch for details on upcoming online retiree information sessions. New York residents can also find information about making an appointment to get vaccinated through either the New York City or New York State website.

As a retiree, you know that you are at high risk for serious COVID-19 complications and we understand that it has been especially challenging to protect yourself and your family against the illness and encourage you to get the vaccine when it becomes available to you. Please keep in mind that because the Funds cannot provide medical advice, you should speak with your doctor if you have specific questions about your health regarding the vaccines.

Can I get COVID-19 from the vaccine?

No. The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines do not contain the virus. Instead, they contain instructions for your cells called “messenger RNA,” which tells your cells to make COVID-19 spike protein. Once your cells make the spike protein, your immune system will make the antibodies that fight COVID-19 and protect you from getting sick from this virus.

Can I get COVID-19 after being vaccinated?

It typically takes a few weeks for the body to build immunity after vaccination. That means it’s possible a person could be infected with the virus just before or just after vaccination and get sick. This is because the vaccine has not had enough time to provide protection.

Does the COVID-19 vaccine have side effects?

Some people who get a vaccine will experience side effects, particularly after the second dose of a vaccine. All three candidate vaccines have reported mild to moderate side effects, including pain at the injection site, fatigue, and aching muscles and joints for a day or two. If someone is going to have a bad reaction to a vaccine, it is likely to occur in the first six weeks after vaccination.

Does the vaccine prevent COVID-19? What are the benefits?

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the COVID-19 vaccine works by teaching your immune system how to recognize and fight the virus that causes COVID-19, which protects you from getting sick with COVID-19. Being protected from getting sick is important because even though many people with COVID-19 have only a mild illness, others may get a severe illness, have long-term health effects or even die. There is no way to know how COVID-19 will affect you, even if you don’t have an increased risk of developing severe complications. Getting vaccinated will greatly reduce your risks and can also help to slow the spread of the disease. Please keep in mind that because the Funds cannot provide medical advice, you should speak with your doctor if you have specific questions about your health regarding the vaccines.

What should you do if you have a fever after taking the vaccine?

It is not uncommon for symptoms such as fever, headache or chills to occur after being vaccinated for COVID-19. These should go away within a day or two. If your fever or other symptoms continue beyond that time frame, you should consult with your doctor or healthcare provider.

Can I mix and match COVID-19 vaccines?

No. If you get a two-dose vaccine, your second dose must be from the same vaccine as the first dose. Pfizer and Moderna vaccines require two doses to be maximally effective. The second dose of Pfizer’s vaccine is given 21 days after the first dose. The second dose of Moderna’s vaccine is given 28 days after the first dose.

Since the vaccines differ in composition, storage and time between the two doses, experts say people must take the same vaccine for both doses.

Can you be contagious if you are exposed to the virus after getting the vaccine?

Yes, it’s possible. While the Pfizer vaccine is 95 percent effective, there’s a small chance you could come in contact with someone infected and get sick and spread the virus. The Pfizer vaccine requires two shots given 21 days apart. Because it typically takes a few weeks for the body to build immunity after vaccination, you could become infected with the virus just before or just after vaccination if you came in contact with someone who has COVID-19, but you would be protected because you had been vaccinated.

Will I still need to wear a mask and practice social distancing once the COVID-19 vaccine is available, and once I get the vaccine?

Yes. We know that the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are 94 to 95 percent effective, and it’s possible that the vaccine will protect you from getting very sick with the virus, but it will not prevent you from spreading the virus to other people. There’s also no data that shows how long that protection can last—the protection may wane over time, and you may be susceptible again. Therefore, we will still need to wear masks and practice physical social distancing until a large proportion of the population is vaccinated and we are sure the vaccine provides long-term protection.

What does “herd immunity” mean?

If a vaccine not only protects against disease but reduces transmission, and continues to do so for many years, we are likely to reach a state of herd immunity (or herd protection), when masks and social distancing will no longer be required. Herd protection is achieved when a sufficient proportion of the population is made non-infectious through vaccination or natural infection so that the likelihood of an infectious individual transmitting to a susceptible individual is very low.

Are nursing homes and/or all hospital departments in the first rollout?

Yes, because the supply of Covid-19 vaccine is limited, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is requiring in Phase 1a that federal, state and local governments vaccinate healthcare personnel as well as residents and staff at long-term care facilities first.

Can we get a copy of your PowerPoint about the vaccine to share in our hospitals?

Yes, the presentation is available here for downloading.

Can you elaborate on the new strain of COVID-19 that is in Europe and if the vaccine can prevent it?

Here is what we know: The U.K. has identified a new, more contagious strain of Coronavirus, which has been linked to a recent surge in cases in England. There is preliminary evidence to suggest that the new strain results in a person having a higher viral load, which means the virus is easier to pass on to others. The new strain has already spread globally and has been identified in Denmark, Belgium, the Netherlands and Australia. A similar but different strain has also been identified in South Africa. There is no evidence as of now to suggest that the new strains of COVID are more deadly those in the U.S.

In addition, there are no signs yet that the current COVID vaccines won’t work against this new strain. The companies behind the first two vaccines to gain authorization in the U.S.—Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna—are now testing their shots to double-check that they are effective against it.

What are the reasons, if any, NOT to get the vaccine?

If you have a history of severe allergy or anaphylaxis to any component of the COVID-19 vaccine, you should not get vaccinated.

I have been reading about the vaccine and I am still hesitant about receiving it. I hear lipid nanoparticles have never been used in vaccines before and could be risky, and as a young, healthy person, is it even worth it?

Although many social media users have claimed the presence of lipid nanoparticles means the vaccine could be overly risky or even contain small robots or computers, this is false. The lipid nanoparticles in the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine protect and transport the vaccine component.

They do not contain little computers or robots. In addition, this is not the first time that nanoparticles have been used for medical treatment. The first lipid nanoparticle RNA-based therapy was approved in the US in 2018.

And although “young and healthy” individuals may have a relatively high rate of survival after contracting the virus, the group remains at risk for severe illness and potentially lingering long-term health effects, so getting vaccinated is still generally advisable. Please keep in mind that because the Funds cannot provide medical advice, you should speak with your doctor if you have specific questions about your health regarding the vaccines.

There is some information about the COVID–19 vaccine on the web that says the mRNA would alter the recipient's DNA. Is there any evidence to that, or is that all “fake news”?

The vaccine does not affect or interact with our DNA in any way—mRNA never enters the nucleus of the cell, which is where our DNA is kept. The cell breaks down and gets rid of the mRNA soon after it is finished using the instructions to make antibodies. Additionally, the vaccine cannot give someone COVID-19 because mRNA vaccines do not use the live virus that causes COVID-19.

Questions about the approval process and development of the vaccine:

I hear that the FDA is granting EUA status to Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine. What does EUA mean?

Sometimes, the FDA will allow a medical product that has not yet been fully approved to be used in an emergency to diagnose, treat or prevent a serious illness. This is called an Emergency Use Authorization (EUA). An EUA may be issued when the FDA determines that the product “may be effective” against the disease, based on all the available scientific evidence. This is a lower standard than what’s required for full approval of a product, but it still uses early data gathered from clinical trials.

How does the COVID-19 vaccine approval process work?

In the United States, vaccines must be approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) before they can be used. The FDA bases its decision to approve or not approve a vaccine on data from clinical trials. The data is reviewed by independent experts who are not part of the government or the pharmaceutical companies, and by career scientists and physicians at the FDA who are not politically appointed and are experts in vaccine safety and effectiveness.

The scientists look out for unexpected side effects that the vaccine might have caused, which helps determine the vaccine’s safety. In general, the fewer and less severe the side effects are, the more the vaccine is considered safe. If the clinical trial data shows enough evidence of efficacy and safety, the FDA will approve the vaccine and license it for use in the United States.

Is there a major safety difference between the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines?

So far, there are no clear, known differences between the efficacy and safety of the two vaccines. Both registered efficacies of over 90 percent in extensive trials, while neither produced an unacceptable rate of serious side effects. The differences between the two that are known at this time include storage requirements, the time between first and second doses and age limits. Please keep in mind that because the Funds cannot provide medical advice, you should speak with your doctor if you have specific questions about your health regarding the vaccines.

COVID-19 vaccines were developed in record time, but are they safe?

The messenger RNA (mRNA) vaccines produced by Pfizer and Moderna are faster to develop as they do not require vaccine manufacturers to produce protein or weakened pathogen for the vaccine. These mRNA vaccines appear to be safe and no riskier than tried and tested ones, like the childhood measles vaccine.

Did clinical trials for the COVID-19 vaccine include people from the population groups most affected by the virus, especially Black, Latinx and older people?

Yes. While vaccines work the same in people of different races or ethnicities, it is important to make sure vaccines are tested in diverse population groups before they are released. The phase 3 clinical trials conducted by Pfizer and Moderna included significant numbers of participants from the population groups most at risk for COVID-19. In Pfizer’s U.S. trial, 13.1 percent of participants were Hispanic or Latinx, 10.1 percent were Black, 5.5 percent were Asian-American and 1 percent were Native American. About 45 percent of participants were between 56 and 85 years of age.

Moderna did not report precise numbers for its U.S. trial, but said that 20 percent of participants identified as Hispanic or Latinx and 10 percent identified as Black or African American. Moderna also said that its trial included 23.3 percent of participant who were over the age of 65, as well as 16.7 percent of participants who were under the age of 65 but who had high-risk chronic diseases, such as diabetes, severe obesity and cardiac disease.

AstraZeneca has said its trial participants included diverse racial and geographic groups but gave no clear, specific information.

Would it have made a difference if the vaccine was produced using the old method? How long would it have taken then?

On average, it can take 10 to 14 years to develop a new vaccine. Scientists first have to determine the genetic code of the virus—and they cracked the COVID-19 code in record time. Using technology developed over a decade, Pfizer and Moderna were able to develop their messenger RNA (mRNA) vaccines faster because they did not have to produce protein or a weakened pathogen (a disease-causing organism) for the vaccine.

Traditional vaccines typically use a weakened version of the pathogen or a protein piece of it, and because these are grown in eggs or cells, developing traditional vaccines take a long time. By contrast, the mRNA vaccines use only the genetic material that makes the spike protein on the surface of the coronavirus, which infects human cells—so the design and manufacture of these vaccines are simplified and cut years from the process.

Is there an update on the Johnson & Johnson vaccine which uses only one shot? And does it use mRNA technology or dead, attenuated coronavirus?

Johnson & Johnson started Phase 3 of their clinical trial in December, in which they enrolled about 45,000 participants to test their single-dose COVID-19 vaccine. They are hoping to present the results of their clinical trial to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration by the end of January 2021.

The Johnson & Johnson vaccine is a recombinant adenovirus vaccine that uses a live pathogen. There can be drawbacks to recombinant vaccines. One example is that booster shots may be required over time. Examples of similar types of vaccines are pneumococcal vaccines and vaccines for meningococcal disease. Early results show that a single dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine could induce 97% of study participants to make antibodies that effectively neutralized the virus in the laboratory, but the results of their clinical studies to see how well the vaccine actually prevents the disease are awaited.

Moderna has never developed vaccines before; why should we trust their vaccine?

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) authorized the vaccine to be administered to people 18 years and older to prevent COVID-19. FDA staff reviewed the safety and efficiency of their vaccine based on data from their clinical trial of 30,000 people, while Moderna provided all required information. As a result, the FDA concluded the vaccine was highly effective at protecting against COVID-19 with symptoms, with no specific safety concerns that would preclude authorization. The FDA also considered the input from a committee of outside advisers, which voted 20 to 0, with one abstention, that the vaccine’s benefits outweighed its risks.

Did people in the study get Bell’s palsy?

Yes, however this is a rare side effect. Reports released from Pfizer and Moderna show that seven COVID-19 vaccine trial participants experienced Bell’s palsy, in the weeks after vaccination. The frequency of these cases is no greater than the frequency of Bell’s palsy in the general population. In addition, symptoms of Bell’s palsy almost always resolve themselves.

Questions from members with pre-existing conditions or in specific age groups:

Can pregnant women take the vaccine?

Yes. Pregnant women who contract COVID-19 are more likely to experience severe illness and be hospitalized. While the Pfizer vaccine was not tested in pregnant women, there are no safety data specific for use in pregnancy, but the vaccine does not contain the virus nor does it use what’s known as an adjuvant to enhance the efficacy. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists have stated that the vaccine is safe for use in pregnant and nursing mothers and recommends that physicians review the data on the risks and benefits of vaccination with pregnant patients – including the risk of not getting vaccinated. Be sure to consult with your doctor before getting the vaccine.

I am breastfeeding. Is it safe to get the COVID-19 vaccine?

Although there is no clinical data regarding the safety of the vaccine for nursing mothers, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists has stated that the vaccine is likely safe for use in pregnant and nursing mothers and recommends that physicians review the data on the risks and benefits of vaccination with patients – including the risk of not getting vaccinated. In addition, the Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine has stated that there is little biological plausibility that the vaccine will cause harm in nursing mothers and that antibodies in milk may in fact protect the breastfeeding child. Please keep in mind that because the Funds cannot provide medical advice, you should speak with your doctor if you have specific questions about your health regarding the vaccines.

Should you get vaccinated if you have allergies?

The FDA feels that it should be safe for most people with allergies to take the Pfizer vaccine. However, the FDA recommends that individuals who have had a previous severe allergic reaction to vaccines or ingredients in the Pfizer vaccine should avoid getting the COVID-19 vaccine. If you have allergies, you should talk with your doctor to make sure that you are not allergic to any components of the vaccine. The FDA website lists the ingredients in the Pfizer vaccine, which your doctor can reference to determine if you would be allergic.

I have serious allergies and have had bad reactions to some vaccinations – should I get the vaccine?

The CDC recommends that people who have experienced severe reactions to prior vaccines or injectable drugs can still get the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine, but they should first discuss the risks with their doctor. If they do get the vaccine, they should be monitored for 30 minutes afterward. Your physician can check the list of ingredients in the Pfizer vaccine on the FDA website to determine if you would be allergic.

I am allergic to the egg dye in the flu vaccine, is it safe for me to get the COVID-19 vaccine?

COVID-19 vaccines were developed differently than flu vaccines. The COVID-19 vaccine uses mRNA technology, as opposed to growing the virus in eggs. There is no egg or egg-related component in mRNA vaccines. This has been confirmed by the CDC. For these reasons, getting the COVID-19 vaccine should not trigger an allergic reaction in patients who must avoid egg products. Please keep in mind that because the Funds cannot provide medical advice, you should speak with your doctor if you have specific questions about your health regarding the vaccines.

If I already had COVID-19, do I need to get a vaccine?

There is not enough information currently available to say if or for how long after infection someone is protected from getting COVID-19 again. Early evidence suggests natural immunity from COVID-19 may not last very long. Therefore, vaccination is still recommended.

I’m a retiree. Is the vaccine effective for older people?

So far, the answer is yes. Pfizer and Moderna clinical trials have shown that for the most part, the vaccines provide similar protection for older and younger people. As people get vaccinated, the drugmakers and the CDC will continue to follow them to monitor the vaccines’ effectiveness in people 65 and older, whose immune response to vaccinations isn’t as strong as that of younger people. What is certain is that the threat posed by serious COVID-19 complications are a bigger risk for this group.

Can children get vaccinated?

The Pfizer vaccine is recommended for people age 16 and up, as the company’s clinical trials did not include children or pregnant women. Pfizer has just begun a new trial, with 2,000 participants, for children ages 12 to 15.

If you have cancer, can you take the vaccine?

Yes, 30,000 people in the vaccine trials had chronic conditions, so If you have cancer or a condition such as diabetes, hypertension or obesity, you can take the vaccine. It is especially important for cancer patients to get the COVID-19 vaccine. Some cancer treatments can weaken your immune system and increase your risk of severe illness from the virus. Be sure to consult with your doctor before getting the vaccine.

Can I get the vaccine if I have Hashimoto’s disease?

According to immunologists and infectious disease specialists, the vaccine is safe for people who have autoimmune disorders, which include conditions such as lupus or Hashimoto’s disease. If you do have an autoimmune disease and are concerned about taking the coronavirus vaccine, you should have a conversation with your doctor. The drugmaker Pfizer did have a small number of volunteers with autoimmune disease in its clinical trial, and they had no apparent worsening of their disease. More will be known in the coming months as manufacturers will be required to do continue monitoring vaccine recipients. Please keep in mind that because the Funds cannot provide medical advice, you should speak with your doctor if you have specific questions about your health regarding the vaccines.

I am allergic to penicillin; will it be safe to get the vaccine?

Yes. An allergy such as anaphylactic reaction to penicillin and other drugs is not a contraindication or reason to avoid the Pfizer vaccine unless you are allergic to Polyethylene glycol (PEG)—an ingredient in the vaccine.

In addition, the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology feels individuals with common allergies to medications, foods, inhalants, insects, and latex are no more likely than the general public to have an allergic reaction to the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine. They feel that patients should be informed of the benefits of the vaccine versus its risks.

However, please keep in mind that because the Funds cannot provide medical advice, it is very important to speak with your doctor or healthcare provider if you have specific questions about your health regarding the vaccine and to determine if it is OK for you to receive it. In addition, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also recommends that anyone with allergies discuss their situation with their physician to assess their risk.

The Benefit Funds do not provide medical advice. You should always seek medical advice from your physician or a qualified health provider regarding any medical questions, conditions or treatment.


General questions about the virus:

What are the symptoms of COVID-19?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has advised that symptoms of COVID-19 are fever, coughing, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, runny nose, nausea, chills, repeated shaking with chills, muscle pain, sore throat, headache and loss of sense of taste or smell.

I think I may have been exposed to COVID-19: What should I do?

If you think you may have been exposed to someone with COVID-19, avoid traveling on public transportation and waiting in crowded waiting rooms and call Teladoc at 800-TELADOC (835-2362) or visit, and they will help you get the care you need.

Can COVID-19 mutate?

It’s possible that the virus could mutate, but more studies are needed to better understand this.

Questions about how to avoid the virus:

I don’t have symptoms, but how can I protect myself from COVID-19?

You can take the same steps to protect yourself from COVID-19 as you would to protect yourself against colds and the flu:

  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds—especially after going to the bathroom, before eating and after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing.
  • Cover your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • Stay home if you are sick, except to get medical care.
  • Clean and disinfect objects and surfaces you touch.
  • Practice “social distancing.”

Check Dr. Dunn’s page on our website for the latest preventive information as well as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s website,

What is social distancing?

Social distancing means keeping several feet of space between yourself and others whenever possible. Maintaining a distance from others will reduce the risk of an infected individual communicating the disease to you. In addition to practicing social distancing on an individual basis, it’s a good idea to avoid gatherings involving close contact with others.

How can I protect myself from the COVID-19 virus when taking public transportation?

If you have to take public transportation, try to avoid touching grab bars, and if you must touch them, use hand sanitizer or wash your hands before touching your face. You should also try to distance yourself from others as much as possible.

Questions about COVID-19’s effect on members with pre-existing conditions:

My wife has asthma—is she at greater risk if the virus is transmitted to her?

When people with asthma get respiratory infections or viruses, it can trigger or worsen their asthma symptoms.

People of all ages can be infected by the coronavirus. Older people (over 60) and people with pre-existing medical conditions (such as asthma, diabetes, heart disease) appear to be more vulnerable to becoming severely ill with the virus.

If you or your wife develops fever, coughing and shortness of breath, call your primary care doctor or Teladoc, at 800-TELADOC (835-2362), immediately.

I have a respiratory condition and commute to work every day. I’m afraid of taking public transportation. Is there any type of leave available to me?

I understand your apprehension and fears as a healthcare worker with underlying health conditions. Our members are on the frontlines of caring for patients who may have COVID-19, and I commend your dedication and service to those who are sick. We have forwarded your question to the Union, as the Funds do not administer employment leave. Members who have a health condition and are concerned about potential exposure to COVID-19 should talk to their employers about their situation.

Questions about testing and treatment:

What if I need to get the test?

The Teladoc doctor will connect you with the city or state health department for diagnostic testing, tell you about any quarantine requirements you may need to follow and notify your primary care physician.

Do I have to pay for the test?

No, your Benefit Fund has you covered – there are no out-of-pocket costs for COVID-19 testing.

I'm asthmatic and am even more worried than the average person. Should I start feeling sick, does 1199SEIU fully cover the care associated with being treated for the coronavirus and the associated testing?

Yes. The Benefit Fund covers the diagnostic testing for coronavirus, or COVID-19, with no out-of-pocket cost to you. If you experience symptoms such as fever, cough or shortness of breath, call Teladoc 800-TELADOC (835-2362). You can speak with a doctor who can answer all of your questions about COVID-19, and determine if you need to be examined and tested. The Teladoc doctor can help find a medical center or a doctor who can provide all the services that you may need, as well as notify your primary care physician. Teladoc will even call ahead and let the doctor know that you may have COVID-19, so you can receive care as quickly as possible.

I am an 1199SEIU home care worker and don’t have symptoms of COVID-19, but I want to be tested for the virus. I have diabetes and live with family members who are at-risk, and I just want to be safe.

Under current federal guidelines, only those who are exhibiting symptoms and have been evaluated by a doctor who orders the test can be tested for the COVID-19, which the Fund covers. If you are in close contact with someone with COVID-19 and have or develop symptoms (fever, sore throat, nasal congestion, runny nose or cough), call your healthcare provider or Teladoc at 800-TELADOC (835-2362) and tell them about your condition and your exposure. If you haven’t created a Teladoc account, please do so as soon as possible at to cut down on wait time. They can’t help you if you don’t have an account. A Teladoc physician will determine whether you need to be tested, but keep in mind that there is no treatment for COVID-19. People who are mildly ill may be able to isolate and care for themselves at home.

We Are Here for You

“Stop the Spread of Germs” Fliers from the CDC

If you are experiencing any symptoms of the flu or the coronavirus, please call your healthcare provider or Teladoc right away.

For more information, visit