The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval of multiple COVID-19 vaccines brings hope to many, especially those living with Alzheimer’s and dementia and their caregivers who have been critically impacted by the pandemic. Learn more about what you can expect from a COVID-19 vaccine.

About the coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccine

Several vials of the COVID-19 vaccine are lined up on a table.Who is eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine?

Every state has opened eligibility to the general public, so anyone age 12 or older can be vaccinated. However, vaccine providers may prioritize high-risk groups such as frontline health workers, long-term care residents, essential workers, and adults over a certain age. Consult the CDC’s How Do I Find a COVID-19 Vaccine for information on how to find a vaccine provider in your state.

How much does the vaccine cost?

The vaccine is free of charge to all people living in the United States, regardless of their immigration or health insurance status.

Are the vaccines safe for people living with Alzheimer’s and other dementias?

Based on information from the FDA, the COVID-19 vaccines were tested in large clinical trials to make sure they meet safety standards. Many people were recruited to participate in these trials to see how the vaccines offer protection to people of different ages, races and ethnicities, as well as those with different medical conditions. If you are concerned about the safety of these vaccines, it is important to talk to your health care provider.

How many doses do the vaccines require?

It depends on which vaccine is administered. To be fully vaccinated:

  • The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine requires two doses administered three weeks apart.
  • The Moderna vaccine requires two doses administered four weeks apart.
  • The Johnson & Johnson vaccine requires only one dose.

How long do I need to wait for the vaccine to take effect?

It typically takes two weeks after you have received the full vaccine (one or two shots, depending on which vaccine you receive) for your body to build maximum immunity against the virus that causes COVID-19. Until that time has passed, you should continue to follow CDC guidelines by wearing a mask, staying six feet away from people outside your household or bubble, and washing your hands frequently.

Does the vaccine protect me against all the variants of the COVID-19 virus?

The current data suggests that the vaccines currently available in the United States should work against variants of the COVID-19 virus. The CDC is not sure if the vaccines will be less effective against some variants. They will continue to monitor the situation and release more information as it becomes available.

What are the potential side effects?

In clinical trials, side effects reported from the vaccines were mild and temporary, including swelling, redness or pain at the injection site; fever, tiredness and muscle pain. You should contact your doctor if the redness and tenderness at the injection site gets worse after 24 hours, or if your side effects are worrying you or don’t seem to get better after a few days

Is the Johnson & Johnson vaccine safe?

A very small number of people who received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine have had an extremely rare side effect. Following a pause for further study, the CDC recommended resuming use of the vaccine. However, women under 50 should be aware of the risk of a rare blood clotting syndrome associated with the vaccine. If you have received this vaccine in the past three weeks and develop severe headache, abdominal pain, leg pain, or shortness of breath, you should seek medical care right away.

Should people with severe allergies get vaccinated?

During the initial rollout of the Pfizer vaccine, there were isolated reports of adverse reactions for people with severe allergies. These complications were not life-threatening. If you have concerns about a loved one living with allergies, it is important to consult the person’s health care provider. If someone believes they are having a severe allergic reaction after receiving the vaccine, call 911 or seek immediate medical care.

COVID-19 vaccine information for people living with Alzheimer’s and dementia

A health care worker administers a COVID-19 vaccination to an older Black man who is wearing a mask.Should people living with Alzheimer’s and other dementias get the COVID-19 vaccine?

Vaccines are an important step in protecting the health and safety of long-term care residents and staff, and the Alzheimer's Association strongly encourages their use. It is important that individuals and families consult with health care providers about any questions related to an individual and the vaccine.

When will those living in a long-term care setting get the vaccine?

Each state is responsible for developing and administering a vaccine distribution plan. We recommend talking to your contact at the long-term care community — the administrator or director of nursing — about the specific vaccination plan.

My family member or friend has dementia but doesn’t live in a long-term care setting. When will they have access to the vaccine and how will they get it?

All states have made the vaccine available to the general public, which includes anyone age 12 or over. Consult the CDC’s How Do I Find a COVID-19 Vaccine for information on how to find a vaccine provider in your state. 

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My family member or friend is in long-term care, and I want/don’t want them to be vaccinated. What do I need to do?

It is important to ask your long-term care provider about the current availability and status of vaccine delivery. It is also important to discuss the risk and benefits with the resident’s health care provider. With this important information, discuss the choices regarding vaccines directly with their health care provider.

What if the person living with dementia is unable to provide consent for vaccination?

Consent for the coronavirus vaccine should be considered in the same manner as other vaccines and health care decisions. If a resident cannot consent, health care providers will talk to the individual’s dedicated power of attorney or other determined family member. 

What if someone elects not to take the vaccine? 

We believe vaccines are an important step in protecting the health and safety of long-term care residents and staff, and we strongly encourage their use. Forced vaccinations are extremely rare in any situation for any disease. If vaccines are not used, other protocols including PPE, rapid point of care testing and other safety measures must be implemented to ensure a secure and safe environment for visitation.

How can I be sure that staff at my loved one’s long-term care community are being vaccinated?

While vaccines are an important step to protect the health and safety of residents and staff in long-term care settings, vaccines are not currently mandated. If you have concerns, ask your provider about their staff vaccination policy. 

COVID-19 vaccine information for dementia caregivers

As a caregiver in close contact with the person living with dementia, should I get vaccinated even though I am not in the priority group?

All states have made the vaccine available to the general public, which includes anyone age 12 or over. The CDC recommends that you receive the vaccine as soon as you are eligible. Consult the CDC’s How Do I Find a COVID-19 Vaccine for information on how to find a vaccine provider in your state.

It is important to consider the risks and take additional safety precautions for people living with dementia. Read the Alzheimer's Association dementia caregiver tips for promoting your loved one's safety during the COVID-19 pandemic, whether at home or in a residential care setting.

My loved one in long-term care has been vaccinated. Is it safe for me to visit? 

Recent guidelines from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) and CDC have expanded visitation options in light of increasing vaccination rates across the country.

The Alzheimer’s Association supports these important CMS guidelines:

  • Ensuring facilities, residents, and families adhere to the core principles of COVID-19 infection control, including maintaining physical distancing and conducting visits outdoors whenever possible. This continues to be the safest way to prevent the spread of COVID-19, particularly if either party has not been fully vaccinated.
  • If residents are fully vaccinated, the new CMS guidelines do allow for close contact, including touch. In these situations, visitors must still wear a well-fitted mask while also physically distancing themselves from other residents and staff in the facility.
  • Adhering to CMS guidance that limits or restricts visitation when less than 70% of the residents in the facility are fully vaccinated, or visitation to residents who are in quarantine including those with a confirmed COVID-19 infection.

What safety precautions should I take when visiting a loved one in long-term care?

Given the vulnerability of individuals living with Alzheimer’s and other dementia, the Alzheimer's Association encourages visitors and caregivers to make appropriate considerations and take additional safety precautions when visiting care communities, including:

  • Before your visit, check with the care community on its visitation policies.
  • If you are unvaccinated, consider getting tested prior to visiting. Also, limit the number of unvaccinated individuals who visit at any one time.
  • During your visit, follow community guidelines for visitation. Limit your visit to approved areas only and avoid going into other parts of the community. Keep your distance from other residents as much as possible.
  • Conduct visits outdoors when feasible to minimize risk of transmission. 
  • If you have been exposed to anyone with the virus within 14 days, postpone your visitation. 
  • Inform staff immediately if you develop a fever or symptoms consistent with COVID-19 within 14 days of your visit.
  • Bring your own face mask, put it on before entering the facility and wear it at all times. Masks should be well-fitted and be secured over your mouth and nose.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds and avoid touching your face. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol.

The Association recognizes that ending social isolation and reuniting families is of the utmost importance and we now have the tools and resources to make this possible. We believe vaccinations are a very important step in protecting the health and safety of long-term care residents and staff. Even as vaccines are used, other protocols including PPE, rapid point of care testing and other safety measures must continue to be implemented to ensure a secure and safe environment for visitation.

For additional information on dementia care, read the Association's emergency preparedness tips for professional dementia caregivers.

Talk with a dementia expert now — Call 800.272.3900

Whether you have questions about a COVID-19 vaccine, Alzheimer's and dementia or anything in between, we're here to help. Call our free 24/7 Helpline at 800.272.3900 to connect with specialists and master's-level clinicians who offer confidential support and information to people living with the disease, caregivers, families and the public.

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