Responding to COVID-19

COVID-19 Vaccination

COVID-19 Vaccination Update

As part of our ongoing commitment to an equitable, effective, and efficient vaccination rollout, UT Southwestern is pleased to launch an online portal where eligible Texas residents can sign up to receive a COVID-19 vaccine.

Here’s how our expanded vaccine registration works:

  1. Members of the public who are not UT Southwestern patients and who meet the necessary eligibility criteria may visit our COVID-19 Vaccine Registration portal and fill out a short survey. They will then receive a MyChart activation code within three to four business days to start the process of booking an appointment.
  2. We will keep the registration portal open until all appointments are booked. Once 10,000 people sign up, we will briefly pause registration. Those individuals who entered their information and meet the eligibility requirements can be assured of receiving their first of two doses of COVID-19 vaccine within a three-week window.
  3. Eligible UTSW patients who are seeking vaccination and who have been seen by one of our providers within the past three years should continue monitoring their MyChart accounts for available appointments. Once you log in to your account, click the orange "Schedule a COVID-19 Vaccine" icon under the Quick Links section to get started. UTSW patients should not sign up through the portal. Please see the “How to schedule a COVID-19 vaccine via MyChart” tip sheet for more information.

We continue to coordinate with state and local leaders. Additionally, we have opened a vaccination site at RedBird Mall in southern Dallas, providing more convenience for eligible individuals who live and work in that area. We hope to offer more locations in North Texas as our supply of vaccine increases.

Our public vaccination sites, available by appointment only, are:

As a state-designated vaccination hub, we are following state and federal guidelines and currently vaccinating Texans who meet Phase 1A or 1B criteria, or who have other conditions identified by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as potentially high risk for severe illness from COVID-19 infection, including asthma, hypertension, and dementia. Additionally, education and child care personnel who meet specific criteria are now eligible to be vaccinated in Texas. The Texas Department of State Health Services’ COVID-19 Vaccine Information webpage lists the requirements, which you can also find in our Vaccine Eligibility and Distribution FAQ below.

Our goals remain threefold: To improve awareness of the benefits of vaccination, increase access to available supply, and provide those who register with UTSW a definitive timeline for when they will be vaccinated.

Please find additional frequently asked questions below, arranged by topic.

Vaccine Action Center

Vaccine Delivery Day

In mid-December, UT Southwestern received its first shipment of COVID-19 vaccines, and many frontline workers were eager to receive their shots so they could help protect themselves, their families, and their patients from the virus. "This is history, and as health care personnel we owe it to society to be leaders. It's part of what we do to take care of everyone else."

Vaccine Eligibility and Distribution

How is UT Southwestern determining who gets vaccinated?

UT Southwestern is following state and federal guidance for distribution. We began by vaccinating those in Phase 1A, which included our health care workers, and expanded our distribution to include those in Phase 1B and those with conditions the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has identified as high risk or potentially high risk for severe illness:

  • Individuals 65 years of age or older
  • Individuals 16 years of age or older with at least one chronic medical condition that puts them at increased risk for severe illness from the virus that causes COVID-19, such as but not limited to: cancer; chronic kidney disease; COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease); Down syndrome; heart conditions such as heart failure, coronary artery disease or cardiomyopathies; solid organ transplantation; obesity and severe obesity (body mass index (BMI) of 30 kg/m2 or higher); pregnancy; sickle cell disease; or Type 2 diabetes mellitus
  • Individuals 16 years or older with at least one chronic medical condition that might put them at increased risk, including asthma (moderate to severe); cerebrovascular disease (affects blood vessels and blood supply to the brain); cystic fibrosis; hypertension or high blood pressure; immunocompromised state (weakened immune system) from blood or bone marrow transplantation, immune deficiencies, HIV, use of corticosteroids, or use of other immune weakening medicines; neurologic conditions such as dementia; liver disease; overweight (BMI > 25 kg/m2, but < 30 kg/m2); pulmonary fibrosis (having damaged or scarred lung tissues); thalassemia (a type of blood disorder); or Type 1 diabetes mellitus

Additionally, based on a federal directive, the following education and child care personnel are now eligible to be vaccinated in Texas:

  • Those who work in preprimary, primary, and secondary schools
  • Those who work in Head Start and Early Head Start programs (including teachers, staff, and bus drivers)
  • Those who work as or for licensed child care providers, including center-based and family care providers
How were the vaccine eligibility phases determined?

Because the initial supply of the vaccine is limited, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) provided recommendations to state and local governments about who should be vaccinated first. CDC’s recommendations are based on those from the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP), an independent panel of medical and public health experts.

Recommendations are made with these goals:

  • Decrease death and serious disease as much as possible.
  • Preserve functioning of society.
  • Reduce the extra burden COVID-19 is having on people already facing disparities.
Do I need to have a MyChart account to be vaccinated?
  • Existing UTSW patients: Yes. MyChart is the easiest way to schedule your vaccination and to read important updates. If you are already enrolled in MyChart, now is a good time to make sure your information is up to date. If you have never used MyChart, this website provides useful tips on how to get started. We also encourage you to download the MyChart app, available in the App Store or Google Play.
  • All other members of the public: Yes. If you are not a current UTSW patient and meet the required criteria, you may visit our COVID-19 Vaccine Registration portal to enter your information and receive a MyChart activation code within three to four business days to start the process of booking an appointment.
How fast will I be able to get vaccinated?

The speed with which we can vaccinate people who meet these criteria will be determined by vaccine supply, which continues to be substantially less than needed for all those eligible. UTSW will distribute vaccines as quickly as possible when they are received.

If I can’t get an appointment at UT Southwestern, where can I go?

Additional vaccine locations can be found on the Texas Department of State Health Services map of COVID-19 vaccine providers.

How much will a vaccine cost?

Vaccines have already been paid for by the federal government with taxpayers’ money, so officials have said repeatedly they will be free. Vaccine providers may charge an administration fee, but it would likely be covered by health insurance.

Will we have enough of the vaccine?

Supplies will be limited at first, which is why state and federal authorities have created a phased release schedule. Operation Warp Speed pre-purchased hundreds of millions of doses from six manufacturers, all of whom have been producing vaccine while seeking FDA approval.

Pfizer has plans to produce 1.3 billion doses by the end of 2021 and Moderna’s totals range between 500 million and 1 billion doses.

Will vaccines be available at all UTSW facilities?

At this time, we are providing COVID-19 vaccinations at three locations in Dallas, by appointment only:

As vaccine supply increases, we anticipate being able to offer vaccinations in other areas where we provide care, such as Collin and Tarrant counties. Please visit our Vaccination Page and monitor your MyChart messages for updates.

Tracing Coronavirus Variants

New strains of the SARS-CoV-2 virus emerging in the U.K., South Africa, and Brazil have raised concerns about whether the current vaccines will fully protect people during the COVID-19 pandemic. Dr. David Greenberg, an infectious diseases specialist at UT Southwestern, and Dr. Vineet Menachery, a virologist at UT Medical Branch at Galveston, are tracking the variants – and the vaccines’ response to them.

COVID-19 Second Dose

When should I receive my second dose of COVID-19 vaccine?

The Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines each require two doses. The recommended time frame for second doses is as follows*:

  • Pfizer: 21 days after your first dose
  • Moderna: 28 days (or more) after your first dose

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and UTSW infectious disease experts stress the importance of getting fully vaccinated to achieve maximum efficacy, but there is flexibility in the time frame for your second dose.

*While the second dose should be administered as close to the recommendations as possible, the second dose of Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines may be scheduled for administration up to 6 weeks (42 days) after the first dose.

Doses that are given after the recommended time frame are considered valid and do not require the series to be restarted.

How will I be notified when it’s time to receive my second dose?

You will receive a MyChart scheduling reminder. Please note that appointments will not be available until UTSW has received its dedicated second-dose shipment of vaccines, so continue to check for open slots in MyChart as you near your due date. Do not be alarmed if appointments do not become available until the last minute. If you received your first dose of vaccine at UTSW, you are guaranteed your second dose.

When vaccines are available, you will have the option to schedule a COVID-19 vaccine either through the orange “Schedule a COVID-19 Vaccine” quick link icon or through a scheduling ticket. You can find more detailed instructions in the “How to schedule a COVID-19 vaccine via MyChart” tip sheet.

I have a scheduling ticket for my second dose, but no scheduling quick link icon is visible. What do I do?

If you have a scheduling ticket and the “Schedule a COVID-19 Vaccine” orange quick link is not visible, please try the following:

  1. Go to the “Appointments” icon.
  2. Click on “Scheduling Tickets” from the drop-down menu and look for your COVID-19 Vaccination scheduling ticket.
  3. After clicking on “SCHEDULE NOW,” appointment times will display as slots become available. (Note: we have had no interruptions in our vaccine supply and do not anticipate any).
Will I have any trouble getting my second dose on time?

UT Southwestern has not experienced and does not anticipate any delays in receiving our second-dose shipments. Both the state and the vaccine manufacturers have assured us that second doses will be available to us on time.

As part of our own protocols at UT Southwestern, we are prioritizing second doses when we allocate and schedule vaccination appointments. We are confident that you will receive your second dose on time.

What should I do if I test positive for COVID-19 before I receive my second dose?

If you test positive for COVID-19, it is recommended that you wait until you have fully recovered and been cleared by your provider, before receiving your second dose. After that, you can receive your vaccine even if beyond the recommended 21-day mark for second-dose Pfizer and 28 days for Moderna. Having COVID-19 essentially primes your immune system, and so it is acceptable to delay the second vaccine up to 90 days without having to restart the series. 

Although the CDC indicates that you can wait up to 90 days to be vaccinated since the risk of reinfection is low, there is no minimum time you need to wait for your second dose after you have recovered.

The only exception is if you received a monoclonal antibody or plasma COVID-19 treatment. If so, then you should wait 90 days before receiving the second dose because these treatments may make the vaccine less effective if administered within 90 days. Please speak with your provider if you have any questions.

Can I get my second dose if I have been exposed to someone with COVID-19?

If you are exposed to someone who is positive for COVID-19, you should wait until you are cleared from your quarantine period, 14 days after exposure, before receiving the second vaccine dose.

COVID-19 Vaccine FAQs

UT Southwestern’s frontline workers and infectious disease specialists were among the first in line to get the vaccine, and they are eager to share evidence-based answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about it. As you know, the pandemic is a fast-evolving situation, so the answers to the FAQs below will be updated regularly.

About the Vaccine

Which COVID-19 vaccine(s) will UT Southwestern be delivering to patients, and can I choose which one I get?

UT Southwestern is receiving both the Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccines. A Vaccine Science Review Committee established at UT Southwestern independently reviewed clinical trial data to identify any differences between the vaccines and determine if there were groups who should receive one over the other. UT Southwestern, along with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, says both vaccines have nearly identical degrees of effectiveness and safety and that you should get whichever vaccine you have access to first. Both vaccines require two doses, given three to four weeks apart.

What’s in the vaccine and how does it work?

The FDA authorized for emergency use vaccines created by Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna. It uses what’s called messenger RNA (mRNA), which in this case is a synthetic material that carries the genetic code used to make the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein. The spike is the part of the virus that attaches to human cells. The mRNA is showing your immune system a part of the virus, so that when your body encounters the whole virus in real-life, it recognizes the invader and is able to mount a quick immune response, activating antibodies (B and T-cells) to fight it. That’s how the mRNA vaccines work.

While many vaccines use a weakened or inactive version of the virus to create an immune response, mRNA doesn’t contain any live virus, so there is no risk of it causing disease. The mRNA also never enters the nucleus of the cell and does not affect a person’s DNA. The body also contains enzymes that break down mRNA quickly, reducing chances for long-range side effects.

Vaccines using mRNA are new but the technology has been around for decades and has been used in treatments for other diseases such as cancer and cystic fibrosis. Another benefit to mRNA is that manufacturing large quantities of it is easier because scientists don’t have to grow live virus in a lab to make the vaccine.

How effective are the vaccines?

In Phase three clinical trials involving thousands of people, both vaccines were nearly 95% effective in preventing COVID-19, which is about as good as it gets, according to the nation’s top infectious disease experts, including Dr. Trish Perl, Chief of UT Southwestern’s Infectious Diseases Division.

For context, the FDA had suggested a coronavirus vaccine would need to be at least 50% effective to earn emergency authorization. Most experts had hoped for 70%. The early results put COVID-19 vaccines in the efficacy realm of shots for chickenpox (92%), measles-mumps-rubella (97%); and polio (99%).

In addition to preventing COVID-19, clinical trial data showed that patients who received the vaccine and contracted COVID-19 had no serious complications. This indicates that even if one gets COVID-19 after receiving the vaccine, the vaccine may prevent the most severe complications, much like the results of the influenza vaccine.

UT Southwestern’s Vaccine Science Review Committee independently reviewed clinical trial data of the vaccine candidates prior to administering a vaccine to employees and patients.

Read the Pfizer scientific review.
Read the Moderna scientific review.

Will the vaccines protect against new strains of the virus, such as the one in the U.K.?

UT Southwestern infectious diseases experts say there is no reason to think that this mutation will impact the effectiveness of the two vaccines that are currently available. Several mutations of the SARS-CoV-2 virus have been documented since the beginning of the pandemic. This new lineage, which has been detected in Dallas and other parts of Texas, has three mutations in the spike protein, which may affect its ability to bind more effectively to host cells. The variant appears to be about 50% more transmissible or contagious and could become the dominant virus lineage in the U.S. by March. The emergence of these new variants reinforces the importance of getting a COVID-19 vaccine when one becomes available to you. We must continue to practice even stricter observance of the safety measures to reduce the spread of COVID-19. The variant does not appear to cause more severe disease and it does not affect the effectiveness of the vaccine or treatments such as monoclonal antibodies.

Why do the vaccines require two shots, and what happens if you miss the second shot?

The first shot triggers the immune response, and the second one, often called a “booster,” primes the body to memorize the virus so it will recognize it immediately in the future and fight it off. Many vaccines require boosters, such as tetanus, shingles, and MMR.

The COVID-19 vaccines each require a second shot (21 days apart for Pfizer; 28 for Moderna). If you skip the second shot it’s less likely you’ll develop full immunity. Health care providers will try to make it as convenient as possible to set up both appointments at the same time and will provide reminders to get the second shot.

Do I need to get the same vaccine (Pfizer/Moderna) for my second dose?

Yes. While the approved vaccinations are both mRNA vaccines, they are not identical. Clinical trials did not examine data regarding combining shots, so you should receive the same vaccine booster as your first dose.

Do the vaccines work in older and more vulnerable people?

The vaccines appear to maintain high efficacy rates regardless of age, sex, and ethnicity. For example, Pfizer’s vaccine was 94% effective in adults over age 65, according to safety data. Both vaccines have also been tested in people with stable pre-existing conditions such as diabetes and cancer, and efficacy rates held at essentially the same levels.

Why do some vaccines need to be stored in such cold temperatures?

Cold chain requirements vary and are based on the formulation of the vaccine. In some, such as the Pfizer vaccine (stored at -70 degrees Celsius; think dry ice), the molecules become unstable and degrade if they are left out in warmer temperatures. Moderna’s vaccine needs to be stored at -20 degrees Celsius, or about the temperature of a regular freezer.

With additional studies being conducted, it could become apparent that the vaccines don’t require such low temperatures, but they were developed and tested in a specific way during the clinical trials so that is the protocol to follow. Several other vaccines in development, such as one from Johnson & Johnson, require only refrigeration.

Do people who have recovered from COVID-19 need to get vaccinated?

It’s unclear how long natural immunity lasts after recovering from COVID-19, and there has been some data to suggest it begins to wane after 90 days. Similarly, the level of immunity you have after COVID-19 therapies such as convalescent plasma or monoclonal antibodies is unknown. There have been a few reported cases of reinfection, so the CDC may advise people to get a vaccine even if they have been sick with COVID-19 before.

Understanding COVID-19 Vaccine Reactions

As the first wave of people receive the COVID-19 vaccines, a few cases of anaphylactic reactions have created concerns among people with severe allergies. Dr. Rebecca Gruchalla, Chief of UT Southwestern’s Division of Allergy and Immunology, explains what might be causing these rare events, and advises how people with severe allergies should proceed.

Vaccine Safety

How do we know steps weren’t skipped to produce the vaccines faster?

There is a well-established testing and clinical trial regimen that must be followed for the FDA to consider approving a vaccine. For these COVID-19 vaccines, the research was performed concurrently, rather than consecutively, and the wait times for review of the research were substantially reduced through Operation Warp Speed, a federal program that invested in development and manufacturing of the vaccines.

No steps were skipped, and safety was not sacrificed for speed.

An independent and transparent monitoring board of experts reviewed the trial data, and career scientists evaluated it at the FDA. Clinical trial information has been published in peer-reviewed journals.

Is it safe to get the COVID-19 vaccine?

Vaccinology is one of the safest interventions we have in patient care and disease prevention, and it has a long history of protecting the public – from smallpox to polio to measles. Yes, there are low-grade side effects, but they are minor compared with the protections that a safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine can provide.

Are the vaccines safe for children and pregnant women?

Vaccines are typically tested in adults first to ensure they’re safe before pediatric trials begin. While historically, pregnant women have not been included in vaccine trials, a small number of women in the Pfizer clinical trial became pregnant during the study, without any short-term complications.

The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices has said it will issue guidance soon on when or if pregnant patients should get vaccinated and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends the vaccine for women who are pregnant, wanting to become pregnant, or breastfeeding. Women should discuss this with their personal physician.

At this time, vaccinations are approved for ages 16 and older. Since the clinical trials did not include children or expectant mothers, we expect to see additional data as phase three and phase four trials continue to expand. Results could be available in early spring.

Are the COVID-19 vaccines safe for people with a history of allergic reactions?

Severe allergic reactions to vaccines are very rare, even for people who have a history of allergies to food, pets, environmental factors, or oral medications. Still, UT Southwestern is following the CDC’s recommendations and observing patients for 15 minutes in a safe environment after vaccination to monitor for any adverse effects.

Patients who have had a severe allergic reaction to a vaccine, an intravenous medication, or an injectable in the past should discuss COVID-19 vaccination with their provider. In the majority of cases, you can still get the vaccine but with a 30-minute observation period instead.

If you’ve had a severe allergic reaction to one of the components in the COVID-19 vaccines, such as polyethylene glycol or polysorbate, it is recommended that you do NOT get one of the currently available COVID-19 vaccines. Also, if you’ve had a severe or immediate allergic reaction to the first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, you should NOT get the second dose until you discuss the specifics of the reaction with your provider.

If I am having symptoms or feeling unwell, is it recommended or safe to get the vaccine?

If you are feeling unwell or are having symptoms of COVID-19, please speak with your provider who may recommend that you defer your vaccination until a later date.

Do the vaccines affect fertility in women?

There is no evidence or reason to think COVID-19 vaccines affect fertility, despite some claims to the contrary circulating on the internet. Those reports are rooted in the theory that because the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein resembles the syncytin-1 protein, which is crucial for formation of the placenta, the COVID-19 vaccines might prompt an immune response that targets the placenta protein. But virologists say the two proteins are completely unrelated and not similar enough to confuse antibodies that attack the virus.

Understanding the COVID-19 Vaccine

Join Dr. Trish Perl, Chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases and Geographic Medicine at UT Southwestern, as she takes us on a deep dive into the science behind the COVID-19 vaccine and answers questions about this groundbreaking research.

After Vaccination and Side Effects

Should I take anti-inflammatory medication such as Advil or Tylenol prior to getting my vaccine to prevent post-vaccination side effects?

No. Although these drugs could help with potential side effects, they could also affect your immune response, making the vaccine less effective. It is recommended that you take them after your vaccine only if you are experiencing pain, swelling, or fever.

Do the vaccines have any serious side effects?

The most common side effect is soreness at the injection site and headache, with most side effects lasting less than 48 hours.

Clinical trial participants reported arm soreness, fatigue, chills, fever, or headaches that lasted a day or two, most often after the second shot. But that reaction is typically a sign that the vaccine is working – triggering the immune response (or inflammation) indicating your body recognizes this never-before-seen pathogen and is mounting a protective response against it.

The clinical trials will continue to monitor patients for side effects long after patients are vaccinated. The state of Texas will use the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS), a national system co-managed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and FDA, to track vaccine safety and side effects. Texas will also employ an app called V-safe, which sends vaccine recipients text messages and check-in emails to keep tabs on their health, as well as remind them when it’s time to get their second shot.

Will the side effects from the vaccine be seen immediately or is it possible to experience them at a later date?

It is possible to have a delayed reaction or side effect starting more than seven days after your vaccination including fever, body aches, headache, and injection site reactions. Delayed injection site reactions have been reported including pain, swelling, itching, and redness. This is not considered an allergic reaction and does not prevent you from receiving your second vaccination. In addition, these reactions are a positive sign that your immune system is responding to the vaccination. If you have any concerns, please speak with your primary care provider.

Do the vaccines present any long-term health risks?

Phase three vaccine trial participants were monitored for 60 days after receiving their second shot, which is required before any safety data can be submitted to the FDA. Typically, if a patient hasn’t experienced severe side effects in 60 days, it is extremely unlikely they will. But because these vaccines are so new, significant long-term data are still being collected.

According to clinical trial safety documents released by the FDA on Dec. 10, there were four cases of Bell's palsy, a condition that temporarily weakens the facial muscles, among Pfizer clinical trial participants who received the vaccine. The rates of Bell’s palsy, however, were no different than what occurs in the general population and there is no evidence the vaccine caused the problem. Still, the FDA is likely to recommend follow-up investigation.

How long does it take for immunity to develop after getting vaccinated?

The FDA documents said the Pfizer vaccine showed 95% immunity seven days after the second shot and the Moderna vaccine showed 94.5% immunity 14 days after the second shot. The full response takes time to develop after the second vaccine, and therefore one is not considered fully vaccinated until two weeks after the second dose.

The booster is necessary to strengthen the immune response and provide full protection. Also, keep in mind that exposure is still possible between doses, so continue to wear a mask and follow hand-washing and physical distancing recommendations.

How long will immunity to COVID-19 last?

There’s no definitive way to tell yet, but some studies have indicated it could last years, even decades. The research showed that patients who contracted COVID-19 early in 2020 had robust antibodies six months later. Studies of survivors of SARS, also caused by a coronavirus, showed that participants carried immune cells 17 years after being infected. So there are some reasons to be encouraged, but scientists will need to continue monitoring the length and strength of immune responses in vaccinated patients.

If I get the vaccine, does that mean I can’t get COVID-19 or transmit the disease?

Although both vaccines are very effective, they are not 100% effective, so it is still possible, but highly unlikely, that you could contract COVID-19.

Vaccine trials tested whether participants would produce antibodies to shield them from developing COVID-19 symptoms or severe illness, but it is still not clear if vaccinated people could develop asymptomatic infection and potentially transmit the virus. It is imperative that you continue to wear masks, practice social distancing and wash your hands.

Once I am fully vaccinated, will the antibodies from the vaccine lead to a positive COVID-19 test?

No. The vaccines will not influence the results of PCR or antigen COVID-19 tests, as the vaccine does not contain the virus itself – rather it prompts the body to produce antibodies specific for the spike protein. The spike protein is like a key the virus uses to “unlock” and enter our cells. The PCR and antigen tests look for the genetic code of the virus itself, which is not contained in the vaccine, but rather is only present during the viral infection.

Will I still need to wear a mask and social distance after getting vaccinated?

Yes. People will be getting vaccinated throughout much of 2021. Until a majority of the population has been vaccinated – some estimates say vaccinating 80% of Americans would help us reach herd immunity – wearing a mask, washing your hands, practicing physical distancing, and avoiding large, indoor gatherings will continue to be important tools to limit spread.